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Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Howard Njoo speaks in Ottawa on Nov. 26, 2020.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A top public health official said Thursday that priority groups in Canada should start receiving COVID-19 vaccine doses early next year as new restrictions for those entering New Brunswick effectively popped the so-called Atlantic bubble.

“There has been a great deal of preparation taking place behind the scenes to ensure Canada is well positioned to obtain COVID-19 vaccines and, building on our well-established systems, provide access to every Canadian who wants one in 2021,” deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo told reporters.

The first batch is expected to be delivered during the first three months of 2021, but supplies will be limited initially. Those first in line will include seniors, people with serious health conditions and essential workers and Njoo said if all goes well, three million people could be vaccinated in the first quarter of the year.

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Ottawa has finalized agreements with five vaccine makers and is in advanced negotiations with two more. The deals would secure 194 million doses with the option to buy another 220 million, said Arianne Reza, the assistant deputy minister with Public Services and Procurement Canada.

The hopeful vaccine update was countered by deflating news out of Atlantic Canada, as New Brunswick announced anyone entering the province must isolate for 14 days. That province reported 12 new cases on Thursday.

COVID-19 news: Updates and essential resources about the pandemic

Is my city going back into lockdown? A guide to COVID-19 restrictions across Canada

How many coronavirus cases are there in Canada, by province, and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

New Brunswick’s move follows Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island’s temporary withdrawal from the Atlantic bubble earlier this week. Previously, residents of the four Atlantic provinces had been able to travel freely within the region without isolating while outside travellers were subject to strict quarantine rules.

“At this point, community transmission has not been confirmed here but the threat is real. So taking swift action right now is important,” said Premier Blaine Higgs.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported 1,464 new infections on Thursday, the province’s highest daily tally since the pandemic began.

It also recorded 32 additional deaths, eight of which took place in the last day.

Ontario recorded 1,478 new cases and 21 more deaths.

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New data out of that province suggests the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is expected to hit 200 next month and stay there for some time, potentially causing surgeries to be cancelled. Hospitalizations in Ontario rose by nearly two-thirds in the past month.

Two weeks ago, provincial health advisers predicted there could be as many as 6,500 new daily infections by mid-December if nothing was done to limit the spread of the virus.

Also Thursday, Ontario said it would start voluntary asymptomatic testing for students, faculty and staff for four weeks in regions where there are high rates of transmission: Toronto, neighbouring Peel and York regions, and Ottawa.

In the North, Ottawa is pledging $19 million to help Nunavut deal with its COVID-19 outbreak. On Thursday the territory reported no new infections for the first time since Nov. 6, when it announced its first case. There are currently 153 active cases.

Meanwhile, Manitoba announced that 70 per cent of its total 266 COVID-19 deaths happened this month, as it reported 383 new cases on Thursday.

Saskatchewan reported 299 new infections and said the Saskatoon Correctional Centre is no longer accepting inmates after 68 offenders tested positive for the virus.

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Countries around the world are working on a coronavirus vaccine, including right here in Canada. Globe and Mail science reporter Ivan Semeniuk discussed the timeline and challenges in developing COVID-19 vaccines during a Facebook live. The Globe and Mail

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

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