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A man is screened before entering a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal, on April 21, 2021.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s premier and health officials sounded an optimistic note on Tuesday, as they reported fewer than 700 new cases for two consecutive days and said they will ease restrictions in the Gatineau, Que., area.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital has dropped by 54 over the last seven reporting periods, leading Premier François Legault to tell reporters Quebec is “heading in the right direction.”

“We are making it through the third wave,” Legault said, sounding hopeful.

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He said the government is close to releasing a plan to reopen the province. “I hope in the next few weeks to be able to arrive with a complete plan, a gradual return to normal life,” Legault said, adding that the “summer is shaping up to be very good.”

Emergency COVID-19 measures will end on Monday in Quebec’s Outaouais region, in the western part of the province by the Ontario border, Legault said. But he added that Quebec police will still be verifying that Ontarians aren’t crossing into Gatineau for non-essential reasons. The boundaries between the two provinces have been closed to non-essential travel since April 19.

Schools and non-essential business in Outaouais will reopen and the nighttime curfew will be pushed back to 9:30 p.m. from 8 p.m., Legault said. That region will join Montreal and Quebec City in the red pandemic-alert level, where gyms are closed and in-person dining at restaurants is still prohibited.

Three less-populated regions, however, are still worrying health authorities.

Emergency measures will remain in most of the Bas-St-Laurent region, northeast of Quebec City on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River – except for Rimouski, Que., where emergency measures will end next Monday. The Bas-St-Laurent region reported 55 new infections on Tuesday.

Emergency measures will also remain in Quebec’s Estrie region, east of Montreal, where 58 cases were reported on Tuesday. And emergency restrictions will also be maintained in parts of the Chaudiere-Appalaches region, south of the provincial capital.

Legault encouraged young people to get vaccinated. “Getting vaccinated means freedom, solidarity and a great summer,” he said.

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Earlier on Tuesday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube posted an open letter on Facebook calling on young adults to book vaccine appointments, which are open to people as young as 25.

Dube said he appreciates how the past year has been difficult for young adults, who he said have made remarkable sacrifices to protect the most vulnerable and the health-care system. He said he recognizes that young people’s mental health has taken a toll, as they have been relegated to distance learning and those in the hotel, restaurant and culture sectors have lost jobs.

Quebec is nearing the finish line, Dube said, adding that young people have a chance to play a crucial role in controlling COVID-19 transmission by getting vaccinated in large numbers.

The provincial government has said that by the end of the week, all Quebec adults will be offered the chance to book a vaccine appointment.

Quebec reported 660 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and nine more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one in the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by three, to 540, and 128 people were in intensive care, a rise of five.

The province said it administered 61,051 additional doses on Monday; more than 43 per cent of Quebeckers have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

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Quebec’s public health institute, called Institut national de sante publique du Quebec, released a survey Tuesday indicating about 85 per cent of respondents said they planned to get vaccinated or had already received a dose.

Quebec has reported a total of 359,456 cases of COVID-19 and 11,002 deaths linked to the virus.

Ontario to pause first doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines

Ontario’s top doctor says the province will stop giving out first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Dr. David Williams says the decision has been made out of an abundance of caution because of increased instances of a rare blood clotting disorder linked to the shot.

The move comes hours after Alberta said it won’t give out more first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the time being because there aren’t any confirmed shipments coming.

Ontario could reopen many outdoor spaces even if stay-at-home order is extended, science advisers say

Ontario’s science advisers say the province could safely reopen many outdoor recreational facilities even if it extends a stay-at-home order in the coming weeks.

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The scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says outdoor activities like golf, tennis and beach volleyball are low risk.

Dr. Peter Juni says that in some cases, if physical distancing cannot be maintained during the activity, people should wear masks.

Juni says public health officials must address activities linked with the sports – like carpooling or sharing a locker-room – which represent greater risk of COVID-19 exposure.

The province imposed a stay-at-home order last month that closed thousands of business and outdoor recreational facilities, except playgrounds.

The science table criticized the restriction of outdoor activities, saying they will not control COVID-19 and disproportionately harm children and those who don’t have access to their own green space.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday that the province was considering extending the stay-at-home order, which would mean the outdoor facilities would likely remain closed.

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The province’s top doctor said he would like to see “well below 1,000” daily cases before Ontario lifts the stay-at-home order. Dr. David Williams stressed that while the province is bending the pandemic curve, it has not brought the numbers down far enough.

Ontario reported 2,073 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 15 additional deaths from the virus.

The case numbers were based on more than 28,100 tests completed since the last daily report.

The province said there are currently 1,782 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 802 in intensive care units.

Meanwhile, people with at-risk health conditions in Ontario became eligible to book their COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday. That includes people with dementia, diabetes and sickle cell disease.

Another group of people who cannot work from home including grocery store, restaurant and transportation workers also became eligible to book a shot.

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Starting Thursday, anyone 40 or older will be able to book a shot anywhere in the province.

Nova Scotia’s top doctor urges residents to not leave communities as province reports 118 new cases

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health urged residents on Tuesday not to leave their communities as the province reported 118 new cases of COVID-19.

With health officials reporting more than 100 new cases a day since May 1, the total number of active cases stood at 1,591 as of Tuesday. There were 64 people in hospital with the disease, including 10 receiving intensive care.

“I want to thank Nova Scotians for their continued support, hard work and commitment to following the public health protocols,” Dr. Robert Strang said in a brief statement.

“We are asking people to stick as close to home as possible and only travel outside your community when absolutely necessary. Everyone needs to use their judgment about what is necessary.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Nova Scotia has recorded 4,152 cases of COVID-19, which includes 71 deaths and 2,490 resolved cases.

Meanwhile, the province announced Tuesday people aged 40 and older can book appointments for the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. This group had been able to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine since April 30.

Provincial officials say there are about 62,000 eligible Nova Scotians in the 40-to-44 age group.

The province has been dealing with a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases since mid-April, and a provincewide lockdown was imposed on April 28. Since April 1, Nova Scotia has reported 2,410 positive COVID-19 cases and five deaths, marking the worst outbreak in Atlantic Canada since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.

Nova Scotia’s two-week deadline for the latest lockdown is Wednesday, but it appears unlikely the province will lift the tighter public health restrictions.

Hospital in Windsor, Ont., applies to access surplus COVID-19 vaccines from Detroit

A hospital in Windsor, Ont., is calling on Ottawa to allow COVID-19 vaccines to be shipped across the border from Michigan.

David Musyj, CEO of Windsor Regional Hospital, says the border state has more than enough vaccines.

He says Health Canada has an emergency program that allows Canadians access to U.S. drugs.

Musyj says getting the vaccines into Windsor and beyond could happen within hours, if permission is granted.

The city’s mayor had proposed busing people into Detroit to get vaccinated.

However, that would trigger quarantine requirements upon their return to Canada.

Vaccine confidence in Canada holds steady despite AstraZeneca safety concerns, poll suggests

A medical worker prepares a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, on March 18, 2021.

YVES HERMAN/Reuters

A new Leger poll suggests Canadian confidence in COVID-19 vaccines is holding firm despite swirling confusion and concern about the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

It also suggests Canadians are largely open to the idea of vaccine passports but support them more for travel than for everyday activities like dining out or going to a concert or shopping mall.

The poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies surveyed 1,529 Canadians online for the poll between May 7 and May 9. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

More than eight in 10 Canadian respondents said they are either vaccinated already or plan to be when it’s their turn, almost identical to the number who said that in a similar poll taken a month ago.

It’s up from six in 10 people last October, and seven in 10 in January.

“Pretty much every government in the Western Hemisphere would be happy if 82 per cent of adults did get vaccinated,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

Almost 40 per cent of Canadians have now been vaccinated with at least one dose, and government officials have said at least 75 per cent need to be vaccinated to get close to herd immunity against COVID-19.

That overall confidence in the vaccine comes despite the potential link to a rare but serious blood clotting syndrome from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. In the two weeks before the poll was taken, 12 Canadians were diagnosed with VITT, and three of them died, out of more than two million people vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended April 23 that people at low risk from COVID-19 wait to get vaccinated until they can access Pfizer or Moderna rather than get AstraZeneca immediately. They said the same thing about J&J on May 3.

Confidence in those vaccines is down following those remarks.

More than eight in 10 people surveyed said they trust Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which aren’t linked to the clots at all. Comparatively fewer than half those surveyed expressed trust in AstraZeneca or J&J.

A month ago almost seven in 10 Canadians had confidence in J&J and a little more than half in AstraZeneca.

The vast majority of Canadians won’t have to worry about it, however, as about 85 per cent of vaccine doses given out as of May 1 were Pfizer or Moderna, and more than 88 per cent of doses expected in the next two months are the same. All Canadians over the age of 12 should have access to their first dose before the end of June.

The poll also suggests almost three-quarters of Canadians want a vaccine passport to be given out for free once they’ve been inoculated.

But support for such passports varies depending on how they are to be used.

About eight in 10 support them being required for domestic or international travel, compared to about six in 10 who think it’s OK for the government or business owners to require vaccine passports for everything from going out for dinner, to taking in a concert or a hockey game, or getting your hair done.

Only half said they think store owners should require them for non-essential retail shopping.

Support for vaccine passports overall is lowest in Alberta, at just over 50 per cent, and among people under 55.

The Canadian government has said it will align with international allies on a system for providing proof of vaccination status but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been very unenthusiastic about the idea of using vaccine passports for activities within Canada.

Bourque said support is also lowest for the idea of governments not allowing people to work in health care or other government jobs unless they get vaccinated.

“You can’t deprive somebody from making their living … I think that’s where Canadians seem to be setting the limit,” he said.

New Brunswick reports two new cases, moves entire province to yellow pandemic-alert level

New Brunswick is reporting two new cases of COVID-19 today, as part of the province’s northwest moves to the yellow pandemic-alert level.

Health officials say one new case is in the Fredericton area and the other is in the Bathurst region; both are under investigation.

New Brunswick has 136 active reported cases.

Seven patients are hospitalized with the disease in New Brunswick, including three in intensive care; four New Brunswickers are hospitalized with COVID-19 out of province.

Part of northwest New Brunswick that had been under the orange pandemic-alert level, including Edmundston, was moved to the yellow level at 12 a.m. today. The entire province is now at the yellow level.

New Brunswick has reported a total of 2,015 cases of COVID-19 and 41 deaths linked to the virus.

Saskatchewan Premier says there will be no ‘Trudeau summer,’ more second COVID vaccine doses

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians can expect a “one-dose summer” as more COVID-19 vaccines are delivered, but Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says people in his province can expect better than that.

“The fact of the matter is, we’re not going to have a Trudeau summer here in Saskatchewan,” Moe told a news conference Tuesday.

“We’re going to have a one-dose spring and quite likely a two-dose summer, as we are planning to have second doses available to everyone in the province by sometime in the middle of July.”

About 40 per cent of Canadians are vaccinated with at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Saskatchewan is running ahead of national numbers, with about 50 per cent of adults – and more than 70 per cent of those aged 40 and over – having already received their first dose.

That 70 per cent marker is one of the key thresholds in the first step of Saskatchewan’s reopening plan, which Moe said he expects will come into effect on May 30. That will be three weeks after 70 per cent of adults over 40 have had a first dose, and the province expects all Saskatchewan adults will be eligible to be vaccinated by that date as well.

B.C. COVID-19 case counts trending downward, vaccinations up

British Columbia recorded 515 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, continuing a downward trend of infections as the vaccination rate accelerates.

Health officials say in a news release that 6,020 people have active infections, 426 of whom are hospitalized, including 141 in intensive care.

Two more people have died, bringing the death toll to 1,624.

More than 2.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, 110,516 of which are second doses.

The government is also extending the provincial state of emergency through May 25, saying it would allow health and emergency management officials to keep using extraordinary powers to support the pandemic response.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix urged every adult to register amid “ample” vaccine supply.

“The number of people protected with a COVID-19 vaccine is going up every day, and the number of people requiring care in hospital is trending down,” the joint statement says.

“This is what we want to see and what we want to keep going.”

Most British Columbians are doing their part, but officials continue issuing tickets to owners, operators and event organizers who don’t, Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general, says in a statement.

“By following orders for the next while and avoiding non-essential travel, you’ll be doing your part to get us all through this sooner,’ Farnworth says.

Non-essential travel outside of a person’s health authority is currently prohibited.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports a temporary patent waiver aimed at enabling developing countries to make their own COVID-19 vaccines. He will only say his government is participating in World Trade Organization talks to figure out what the "right path forward" looks like. The Canadian Press

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