Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.
As the number of vaccines ramps up across the country, provinces are scrambling to boost their own efforts to get doses into arms. The increased availability of doses is still falling far short of the demand.
British Columbia finally opened its online registration portal on Tuesday, allowing people born in 1950 or earlier to register to get a confirmation code. The code allows them to book an appointment for a shot when they are contacted by e-mail, text or phone.
But the continued scarcity of the resource was underlined even as British Columbia received more vaccines over the weekend and into this week. About 700,000 British Columbians between the ages of 55 and 65 can expect a chance to book a COVID-19 vaccine at their local pharmacy by the end of the week, but only about 200,000 doses of AstraZeneca are expected to be available.
Meantime, the 300,000 front-line workers who were promised priority access to that stream of vaccine supply in mid-March still have no answers about when they will be back in line as Canadian health officials reconsider the safety of the vaccine for younger populations.
“We do not have enough vaccine to provide it to everybody, but it’s a way of jump-starting that part of the age group,” Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, said Tuesday.
Meantime, case counts across the country continue to surge, driven by highly contagious variants.
“On present course, the pandemic will blight the spring and shorten the summer for millions of Canadians,” said David Naylor, the co-chair of the federal COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.
The surge “cannot be contained without tough public health measures and a substantial acceleration of the current vaccine rollout.”
Alberta brought in new measures Tuesday, announcing it would reimpose restrictions on restaurants, gyms and other activities as more transmissible and lethal variants spread without restraint.
Premier Jason Kenney said the province will return to the first phase of its reopening plan as Alberta forecast 1,000 people with COVID-19 will be in hospital by the end of the month. Restaurants will be closed for indoor dining as of Friday and gyms must stop group activities Wednesday. Retailers and shopping malls must reduce capacity to 15 per cent of fire code, down from 25 per cent.
Alberta’s retreat comes less than a month after Mr. Kenney bowed to pressure from inside his own caucus to loosen the rules. But the variants of concern, which now make up about 43 per cent of Alberta’s 10,809 active cases, are undoing progress to contain infections and threaten to overwhelm the health care system. Alberta projected 2,000 new daily cases of COVID-19 by the end of the month.
“We must defeat these variants,” Mr. Kenney said. “This wave is here.”
Cases are also climbing in British Columbia, but new restrictions weren’t imposed here.
B.C. posted another 1,068 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and the province identified more than 200 new cases involving the variants of concern. Health officials blame the rise in cases on social interactions and non-essential travel in defiance of health orders, and expressed alarm at the rising number of younger residents who are now in hospital. Restaurants and bars have been closed for in-dining service since March 30.
Health Minister Adrian Dix urged British Columbians to follow the existing rules while the mass vaccination program continues to roll out.
On Monday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu highlighted the discrepancies between the available shots and the number administered, but on Tuesday she and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were careful not to directly criticize the premiers.
“We all need to speed up the vaccination process,” Mr. Trudeau said in French.
Ms. Hajdu was not able on Tuesday to say how quickly the federal government expects provinces to administer vaccines once they receive them. The federal public health agency wasn’t able to provide data on how fast shots are being given, and neither were provinces such as Ontario and B.C.
That information is crucial to ensuring an effective vaccination campaign, Dr. Naylor said.
“You absolutely have to have a sense of your inventory and how fast it’s moving so that you can determine how sites are performing relative to the demand they’re facing,” he said.