The federal government is buying four million more doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, has negotiated a faster delivery of shots, and is in talks to purchase still more doses from a manufacturer in India as it tries to get past a vaccine rollout that faltered in its first months.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday the government will speed up the distribution of the crucial shots in April, and all 44 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot will be delivered by September. Both vaccines require two shots to give people maximum protection against the virus.
Canada also has contracts to buy five other vaccine candidates.
The contracts with Moderna and Pfizer will provide more than enough shots to cover everyone in Canada, but Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the federal government is finalizing talks for an eighth vaccine contract. Those negotiations are with the Serum Institute of India, which is making AstraZeneca’s shot.
Health Canada will review the doses from India separately from the main AstraZeneca application because the Serum Institute uses a different process. Both applications are awaiting Canadian approval. The federal government is already buying 20 million doses directly from the company and 1.9 million through an internationally managed fund that was primarily set up for low- and middle-income countries.
The mass vaccination campaign will start after what experts warn could be a very difficult March if new, more easily transmissible and deadly variants of the coronavirus become the dominant version in Canada.
As part of an effort to slow the spread of those variants, a requirement for people returning by air from non-essential travel to stay in quarantine hotels will begin on Feb. 22, Mr. Trudeau said on Friday. The new rules will take effect more than three weeks after the Prime Minister announced the plan.
“We’re not trying to punish people. We’re trying to keep people safe,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Travellers must show a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight. Upon arrival at airports, they will take another test and await the results at a quarantine hotel at their own expense. Those who test positive will be transferred to a facility for the rest of their quarantine, and the government will cover the costs. Travellers who test negative for COVID-19 will be allowed to complete their 14-day quarantine at home.
The hotel stay is expected to cost about $2,000 for accommodation, food, security and measures for infection prevention and control. People will not have to stay at the hotel for the full three days if they receive their test results faster, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Friday. She said the hotels can change their billing “as they see fit.”
Travellers will have to make their reservations at the hotels before they return to Canada, and bookings open on Feb. 18.
Non-essential travellers entering Canada at its land borders will have to start showing a negative COVID-19 test as of Feb. 15. Then, starting on Feb. 22, the federal government says it will open testing sites at 16 of Canada’s busiest land border crossings, and travellers will be required to take a test upon entry. A news release says Ottawa will supply all other ports of entry with test kits for travellers. All non-essential travellers crossing at land borders are also required to quarantine for 14 days. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said those who don’t present a negative test can face a fine of up to $3,000, and be sent to a designated quarantine facility.
No matter where travellers complete their quarantine, they must also take a self-administered COVID-19 test on the 10th day. That will be sent to a lab via courier at government expense.
The Conservatives have called for exemptions to the new quarantine hotel rules on compassionate grounds such as family reunification, or if the travel is related to medical care. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said border service officers can waive some of the requirements for people with a “compelling rationale” for why their trip is outside the definition of non-essential travel.
The new travel rules come months after the new variants were first identified abroad. The variants have already led to community spread in Canada.
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said on Friday that eight provinces are reporting cases of the variants identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. Canada already has more than 429 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first found in Britain, Dr. Tam said. That variant is linked to a deadly outbreak at a long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., where 69 people have died.
Dr. Tam said “even more diligence” is needed now.
Concern about the variants led Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisers to warn against the provincial government’s plan to lift its stay-at-home order. On Thursday, they said new modelling showed more contagious variants could cause 5,000 to 6,000 infections a day by the end of March. On Friday, Ontario reported 1,076 cases of COVID-19.
After several weeks of cancelled or reduced deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines, Ms. Anand reiterated the expectation that Pfizer and Moderna will meet their commitment to ship a total of six million shots to Canada by the end of March.
After that, Ms. Anand said the negotiated increase to deliveries means “more Canadians will be vaccinated more quickly.”
The federal government has not released the details of its contracts with the vaccine manufacturers, or disclosed how much it is paying for any of the 238 million shots it is buying. On Friday, Ms. Anand said the faster deliveries from Pfizer and Moderna were negotiated through contract amendments.
With reports from Jeff Gray and The Canadian Press
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.