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Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott speaks during a news briefing at a mass vaccination centre, in Toronto, on March 30, 2021.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s deputy premier says the government will likely extend the province’s current stay-at-home order, which is set to expire next week.

Christine Elliott says experts are currently advising the government to “stay the course” on the restrictions that are set to lift on May 20.

Elliott says while COVID-19 daily case counts and hospitalizations have declined slightly in recent weeks, they currently remain far too high to lift the order.

She says the province will continue to monitor the numbers over the next week and will receive further advice from Ontario’s top doctor and scientific advisers.

Ontario declared another state of emergency and invoked the stay-at-home order in early April as it battled the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario is also adding health-care workers to a list of high-risk employees prioritized for their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The province says the workers can begin booking second doses by the end of this week, and further details will be provided in the coming days.

Health-care workers were among the first groups to be prioritized for a first dose of the shot when Ontario began administering the vaccines earlier this year.

However, the province later extended dosing intervals for COVID-19 vaccines from 21 days to four months, which means many workers are still waiting for the second dose.

The province says a wide array of health-care workers will now be able to get their second dose faster.

The eligible groups include all hospital and acute care staff in front line roles, medical first responders and long-term care home and retirement-home health care workers.

Also on Monday, the Ontario government announced it is lowering the age of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to 40 across the province on Thursday as it continues to expand its rollout.

People with health conditions deemed “at risk,” such as heart disease and dementia, will be able to make an appointment starting Tuesday morning.

Over the weekend, hundreds of pharmacies in COVID-19 hot spots began offering Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots to people aged 18 and over.

Ontario reported 2,716 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, along with 19 more deaths related to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said 807 of the new infections are in Toronto, 707 are in Peel Region and 294 in York Region.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s fiscal watchdog said it will take the province approximately three and a half years to clear the surgical backlog from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Financial Accountability Office projects that the backlog of cancelled surgeries will reach 419,200 procedures by the end of September.

The FAO estimates it will cost the province $1.3-billion to clear the backlog, and notes the government has allocated $610-million in its latest budget to address the issue.

The watchdog said its projections on clearing the backlog assumes hospitals will be able to operate at 11 per cent above pre-pandemic volumes in the coming years.

Overall, the FAO said the province will have a $61.9-billion spending shortfall in the health-care sector over the next nine years.

It says if the province intends to reach its health sector spending targets it will need to introduce new spending-restraint measures.

Nova Scotia closes provincial boundaries to non-essential travel

Nova Scotia’s provincial boundaries were closed to non-essential travel on Monday, as the province reported 121 new cases of COVID-19.

Health officials said they had identified 94 cases in the central zone, which includes the Halifax area, 16 in the province’s eastern zone, six in western zone and five in the northern region.

The new health order, which closes boundaries to previously exempted Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, also applies to anyone moving to the province. Nova Scotia had prohibited non-essential travel to most of the country since April.

The new restrictions also apply to parents from out-of-province who were hoping to pick up or drop off students. Under the new rules, rotational workers returning home from so-called outbreak zones such as the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, Alta., must self-isolate for 14 days.

Nova Scotia’s travel rules are in force until at least the end of the month and an application process for most travellers will be introduced by May 14.

Premier Iain Rankin announced the new restrictions on Friday as part of measures aimed at reining in the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Atlantic Canada since the pandemic began.

Rankin also extended school closures to the end of May and introduced rules that took effect Saturday requiring all retail stores offering in-person shopping to impose a limit of one shopper per household. As well, retail stores that sell essential products have to limit in-person service to a maximum of 25 per cent of store capacity.

Nova Scotia instituted a provincewide lockdown on April 28 when it became clear the virus was spreading at a rapid rate. The majority of the cases have been identified in the Halifax area.

The province reported 328 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend and had 1,626 known active cases as of Sunday with 50 people in hospital, including seven in intensive care.

Rankin and chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang are expected to hold a COVID-19 briefing later on Monday.

Tighter restrictions in effect in Quebec’s Estrie region as COVID-19 cases rise

People wear face masks as they walk through the Atwater Market in Montreal on May 8, 2021.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Tighter restrictions came into effect in Quebec’s Estrie region on Monday as it moved from the orange to red alert level due to rising COVID-19 cases.

The new designation under the province’s pandemic response plan means restaurants and gyms must close in the region east of Montreal, and places of worship will limit capacity to 25 people.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Estrie surged last week even as they remained stable in much of the rest of the province.

Are COVID-19 restrictions intensifying or easing in my province? A guide to the rules across Canada

On Monday, the region reported 43 new infections. Of the region’s 512 active cases, more than two-thirds are in the Sherbrooke and Lac-Megantic areas.

Anik Beaudoin, owner of Restaurant Auguste and head of a merchants’ association for downtown Sherbrooke, says restaurant owners were shocked when they learned of the shift to red-zone rules announced late Saturday.

Beaudoin maintained restaurants are safe when the rules are followed for distancing, family bubbles and Plexiglas dividers. “There was a wave of exasperation among restaurant owners, along with all the workers we lose each time. We have to start at zero each time we reopen,” she said in an interview from Sherbrooke.

She and other restaurant owners gathered outdoors for a morning coffee Monday to talk about how to support each other. “There’s a lot of incomprehension on the part of restaurant owners,” she said.

Beaudoin said she hopes the Quebec government presents a comprehensive reopening plan for restaurants across the province in the coming weeks. While restaurants in some regions had been able to open for dining, in Montreal, restaurant dining rooms have been shuttered since October 2020.

The Quebec City region and parts of the Outaouais saw a loosening of some restrictions Monday, returning to the red alert level after several weeks of strict emergency lockdown measures that included the closure of schools and non-essential businesses and an 8 p.m. nightly curfew.

The changes came as the province reported 662 new COVID-19 cases and six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials said hospitalizations rose by four, to 543, and 123 people were in intensive care, a drop of one.

On Monday, Quebec’s minister responsible for seniors announced all long-term care residents in Quebec who had received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine have now received their booster. “Good news for our seniors and another milestone in our collective fight against COVID19,” Marguerite Blais tweeted.

Quebecers age 30 and up are now eligible to book vaccine appointments as the province continues to expand its rollout.

Iqaluit elders home evacuated after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

An elders home in Iqaluit was evacuated on the weekend after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

Four of the home’s six residents were flown to a seniors living residence in Ottawa, while two others were transferred elsewhere in the territory.

Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says staff at the home must isolate for 14 days and he isn’t sure when it will reopen.

COVID-19 cases are also rising in the city’s shelters and correctional facilities.

Six clients of the Iqaluit men’s shelter and 12 people at the Baffin Correctional Centre have tested positive.

There are 23 people, including shelter clients, isolating in two hotels in the city.

There are 70 active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut – all in Iqaluit – and three hospitalizations since the city’s first infection was reported on April 14.

Vaccinated students attending University of Lethbridge eligible to win full tuition for this fall

The University of Lethbridge says it’s worth a shot for students to get vaccinated before school starts this fall.

The university has announced students who receive a COVID-19 vaccination before Sept. 9 are eligible to win one of nine grand prizes of full tuition for this fall, which are worth about $3,600 each.

U of L President Mike Mahon says the school is not making vaccinations mandatory to attend, but notes the contest is a great idea to encourage people to get their shots.

He says he also hopes to have a vaccination clinic at the university when classes begin in the fall.

Mahon says encouraging 10,000 students and staff to get vaccinated is a significant part of Lethbridge’s population, which is about 100,000 people.

More than half of the students enrolled at the school are from Alberta, but Mahon says the contest is also open to international students as long as they’re living in Canada.

Opposition, Ottawa, media looking for COVID-19 disaster, Alberta justice minister says

Alberta’s justice minister says a COVID-19 disaster is what the provincial Opposition, the federal government and the media “were looking for and want” in the province.

Kaycee Madu, in Facebook comments posted Friday, said the province can’t risk giving the disease a chance to “overwhelm our health-care system, then create public panic, and see Albertans in field and makeshift hospitals gasping for breath because we have run out of ventilators, manpower etc.

“I don’t think it will be responsible to simply wait until we have a disaster on our hands,” he added.

“That’s what the NDP, the media and the federal Liberals were looking for and want.”

Madu was not made available for an interview Monday.

His spokesman, Blaise Boehmer, said in a statement: “The minister was referring to the increasing tendency of different groups, including the NDP, to exploit the pandemic for their own political purposes.

“We see this every day with the NDP’s overcooked and incendiary rhetoric both in the legislative assembly and on social media.

“The minister won’t apologize for stating the obvious.”

NDP health critic David Shepherd said “what we want, and what we’ve wanted for the last 14 months, is to see responsible action from (the United Conservative) government so that we would not be in the position now of Alberta being the worst jurisdiction in North America for COVID-19 new cases.”

Political scientist Jared Wesley said Madu’s comments raise concerns about the line in politics between respecting opponents while trying to defeat them politically versus trying to delegitimize them altogether.

“When you start accusing your opponents of literally wishing death on Albertans, that’s a bridge too far,” said Wesley, who’s with the University of Alberta.

“When it comes to being a minister of the Crown, when you are governing on behalf of the entire population, there’s an extra onus on you to rise above that type of tribalistic rhetoric and behaviour.”

Kenney’s government, in recent weeks, resisted calls for new health restrictions as Alberta COVID-19 cases climbed to record levels and doctors were given guidelines on how to triage patients should the health system become overwhelmed.

Kenney acted last Tuesday, sending all schoolchildren home to learn online while imposing sharper restrictions on capacity in businesses and in worship services.

The province also promised a renewed effort at enforcement. On the weekend, police made arrests and handed out violation tickets in Calgary and in central Alberta for public gatherings that violated health rules.

Madu’s comments came days after Kenney, facing criticism that his government waited too long to react to the third wave, said no one should point fingers and politicize the fight against COVID-19.

Kenney and his minsters have repeatedly accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government of hamstringing the relief effort and, as late as April 29, Kenney blamed Alberta’s entire third wave on Ottawa for a slow vaccine rollout.

Trudeau reached out last week, offering extra help if needed. Kenney declined the offer.

On Monday, Alberta recorded 1,597 new COVID-19 cases for a total active case count of 25,438. There are 690 people in hospital. Of those, 158 patients are in intensive care — the highest since the pandemic began.

Also Monday, Alberta opened up vaccine bookings for those as young as 12, with thousands getting processed soon after the online bookings went live at 8 a.m.

Alberta Health Services said it had booked almost 130,000 appointments by 4 p.m.

The expanded eligibility means that 3.8 million Albertans, out of a population of 4.4 million, are eligible to get vaccinated.

All of B.C. will eventually ease out of COVID-19 restrictions at same time, Dr. Henry says

British Columbia’s provincial health officer says COVID-19 measures will eventually be loosened across the province at the same time despite lower transmission rates in some regions.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says two previous attempts last year to lifting restrictions regionally did not work because people travelling from one area to another brought the illness along or took it back home with them.

She says Nova Scotia is an example of how a low number of cases can quickly climb, so everyone in B.C. will need to follow the same rules as rising vaccination levels and fewer hospitalizations allow a return to normal life.

Henry says people who have received two doses of a vaccine can’t yet return to post-pandemic activities with each other because vaccines do not provide 100 per cent protection and people who have been immunized can get infected again.

She urges everyone who is eligible to book an appointment to get vaccinated and says that compared with teachers, fewer child-care workers have chosen to get immunized.

The province recorded 1,759 cases of COVID-19 over the last three days, along with 20 deaths, most of them among people over the age of 70.

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