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

YVES HERMAN/Reuters

The federal government is urging provinces not to waste thousands of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine that are due to expire in a few days.

In a letter to her provincial and territorial counterparts, federal Health Minster Patty Hajdu encourages provinces that aren’t able to get their AstraZeneca doses into people’s arms by the end of the month to give them to provinces that can.

She offers federal support to help ensure the doses are not wasted.

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Hajdu says the Public Health Agency of Canada can assist with logistics and co-ordination should a province or territory conclude that it can’t use all its doses before the expiration date and wants to transfer them elsewhere in the country.

The issue is set to be discussed further today during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s regular pandemic conference call with first ministers.

It’s not clear how many doses are at risk of going to waste, but Ontario is scrambling to use some 45,000 AstraZeneca shots by the end of May, with another 10,000 set to expire in June, while Manitoba has said it has 7,000 doses that will expire in a few days.

Most provinces stopped giving first doses of AstraZeneca earlier this month due to the risk of recipients developing a rare but potentially fatal blood clotting condition. The risk of blood clots is far less after the second shot.

Last Friday, Ontario announced that it would start giving second doses of the vaccine to those who received a first AstraZeneca shot between March 10-19.

But since then eligible people trying to access those second shots have run into difficulty finding pharmacies that actually have any AstraZeneca vaccines to administer.

In her letter to her provincial counterparts Wednesday, Hajdu notes “a growing concern regarding doses of the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine, which will be expiring at the end of May.”

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“In particular, I want to offer support to ensure that these doses are used before they expire in order to allow us to continue to offer second doses to Canadians and avoid wastage of vaccines,” she says.

“Minimizing wastage will allow us to offer second doses of Astra Zeneca to fully vaccinate people faster, which in turn will support safe reopening of our communities and economy.”

If a province or territory can’t use all its AstraZeneca doses before their expiration date, Hajdu urges them “to communicate with other provinces that may be well positioned to administer these doses within their system.”

Quebec shortens delay between doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to eight weeks

Quebec is shortening the delay between first and second doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to eight weeks.

The Health Department said today in a news release second doses of the vaccine will start being administered at walk-in clinics on May 29.

Quebec had established a delay of 16 weeks between first and second doses of all COVID-19 vaccines authorized in Canada.

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The Health Department says the decision to shorten the delay for AstraZeneca is based on advice from the province’s immunization committee.

Quebec stopped administering first doses of that vaccine on May 13 over concerns about rare cases of blood clots. It had previously been limited to people 45 and over.

While the government recommends people receive two doses of AstraZeneca, people who have received a first dose of that vaccine can choose to receive a booster shot of a different vaccine — but they will have to wait 16 weeks between doses.

PEI aims to reopen to Atlantic travellers on June 27, some other Canadians by Aug. 8

Prince Edward Island has become the first province in Atlantic Canada to set a date for ending pandemic-related travel restrictions for the rest of the country.

Dr. Heather Morrison, the province’s chief public health officer, said today her team is aiming to reopen the province to Atlantic Canadian travellers on June 27 and to some Canadian travellers on Aug. 8.

She says fully or partially vaccinated Atlantic Canadians will be able to visit the Island beginning June 27 without self-isolating.

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Beginning Aug. 8, she says fully vaccinated Canadians from outside Atlantic Canada can visit without self-isolating as long as they’ve been pre-approved for travel, adding that she expects the pre-approval requirement to be lifted on Sept. 12.

Morrison says all travellers will be tested upon arrival and will have to provide proof of their vaccination status, but says her team is still working out details.

She says each of the dates she announced today are contingent upon the province hitting certain COVID-19 vaccination targets.

Calgary mayoral candidate arrested in connection with an anti-masking incident

A Calgary mayoral candidate has been arrested in Edmonton in connection with an anti-masking incident at a shopping centre earlier this month.

Officers arrested Kevin J. Johnston, 49, without incident yesterday on a Criminal Code warrant for causing a disturbance and for being part of an illegal public gathering in contravention of the Court of Queen’s Bench Order.

It’s alleged that on Saturday, May 22, Johnston entered several stores at the CORE Shopping Centre in downtown Calgary without a mask, and reportedly verbally abused any employees who asked him to put one on.

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He then left the stores, and returned moments later with several other unmasked people, who verbally confronted the employees while livestreaming the event.

The City of Calgary says authorities are still investigating the incident.

Johnston has been a vocal supporter of anti-lockdown protests, and faces earlier charges for allegedly violating COVID-19 health restrictions.

He is due in court on June 16 for violating a restraining order that he stay at least 100 metres away from Alberta health officers and not publish any threats or hate speech directed at them.

Members of the military will start working tomorrow in Manitoba, as province extends restrictions

Members of the military are being deployed to Manitoba where surging COVID-19 cases have overwhelmed the health-care system.

Premier Brian Pallister requested the help last week as Manitoba posted the highest daily case numbers, per capita, in the country.

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The province’s intensive-care units are so full, 23 critical patients have been transferred to Ontario.

The Canadian Armed Forces members will start a four-week mission Friday and it will include critical care nurses and lab technicians.

Manitoba announced Thursday it is extending its COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and businesses for another two weeks.

The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, says case numbers and hospitalizations remain high and the health system is under great strain.

The announcement means a ban on social gatherings, both indoors and out, that was due to expire Saturday will now run until June 12.

The same goes for a rule that requires only one person per household to enter a store or other business.

Public schools in Winnipeg, Brandon and some other areas that have switched to remote learning will have to continue until the week of June 7.

Infectious disease specialist voices concerns about Alberta’s reopening plan

An Alberta infectious disease specialist says she has some concerns about the province’s three-stage reopening plan.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who is with the University of Alberta, says there is little data to draw from on potential effects of resuming large public events.

She also points out vaccination uptake in the province is patchy – high in some areas and low in others.

Her comments come after Premier Jason Kenney announced yesterday a reopening plan that is dependent on COVID-19 vaccination benchmarks and hospitalization numbers.

It calls for hair salons and restaurant patios to reopen on Tuesday, indoor dining to resume in mid-June and nearly all orders to be scrapped in time for the Calgary Stampede.

B.C.’s restart plan welcomed, but couple postpones wedding again

British Columbia’s COVID-19 restart plan has left some people scrambling to figure out whether they should put off milestone events like weddings.

Emily McManus and her partner decided they would set a third wedding date, this time in July 2022, after cancelling their big day last August and now this August.

McManus says they could have stuck with their date this summer but decided they’d rather wait to have a big bash without worrying about whether their guests were vaccinated.

Event planner Eron Jaskow says she had a flurry of calls and emails after the government announced the four-stage reopening plan.

She says she’s telling future bride and grooms that if they can live without the big party then they should plan for this year, however if they wait they may find caterers, D-Js and venues booked for 2022.

Provincial measures introduced this week allow for up to 50 guests at outdoor events but McManus is worried those restrictions may not be eased by summer anyway.

The province is aiming to administer first doses to at least 70 per cent of eligible residents as more restrictions are eased, but COVID modeler Caroline Colijn (CO’-lane) of Simon Fraser University says the that number should be 90 per cent to reduce transmission as more people start gathering, especially indoors.

British Columbia is planning for a return to normal life after Labour Day as part of its four-step COVID-19 reopening plan. Premier John Horgan says the province's strong immunization rate allows B.C. to slowly bring people back together. The Canadian Press

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