Alberta will not be further easing its COVID-19 restrictions at this time due to rising hospitalizations, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said on Monday.
“This is the safe move. It’s the smart move to make for our province right now, and it’s absolutely necessary to help us avoid a third wave that would take more lives and once again put more pressure on the hospital system,” Shandro said at a news conference that followed a meeting of the province’s COVID-19 committee.
Shandro said moving to Step 3 of the Alberta government’s four-part reopening plan depends on hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients being below 300 and declining.
“Today, while hospitalizations are indeed below 300, they’ve risen in recent days. The decline that we saw in January and early February has stopped. Alberta now sits at 280 COVID hospitalizations, which is a rise of 16 from a week ago,” he said, noting that the number is a “warning sign” the province has to take seriously.
Based on transmission rates, the province expects to have 300 people in hospital within a week.
Currently, retailers, restaurants, youth sports, and in-person worship services are open with capacity restrictions, but indoor gatherings remain banned and outdoor get-togethers are capped at 10 people.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, later announced 456 new cases of COVID-19 and five related deaths.
Elsewhere in the province, a judge has ruled that a jailed Edmonton-area pastor can be released immediately but must pay a $1,500 fine. Judge Jeffrey Champion said James Coates, who preaches at GraceLife Church, must pay the fine within 12 days.
Coates has been in jail for 35 days for not following a condition of his original bail release that he not hold church services. He was charged after officials said the church violated public health measures meant to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
The judge has agreed to all but one charge against Coates being dropped. He is still charged under Alberta’s Public Health Act for holding services that allegedly broke a restriction on the size of gatherings, and a trial is to begin May 3.
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What’s happening across Canada
As of 6:15 p.m. ET on Monday, Canada had reported 938,724 cases of COVID-19, with 35,844 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,716.
In Ontario, people aged 75 and older can now book a COVID-19 vaccination appointment. The change comes as the province on Monday reported 1,699 new cases and three additional deaths. According to provincial figures, there were 813 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 298 in intensive care.
In Montreal, people aged 60 and up can now register for vaccine appointments through the province’s online portal. The province is also for the first time allowing pharmacies to dole out the shot, beginning with locations in Montreal.
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In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases on Monday — the fourth consecutive day without a reported case — and recorded its 1,000th total recovery since last March.
Earlier, a business group called on public health officials to relax restrictions in the most populous part of the province. In a news release, the St. John’s Board of Trade urged authorities to move the Avalon Peninsula area, which includes the capital, to Alert Level 2, the same level as the rest of the province.
Nova Scotia reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, while Prince Edward Island health officials also reported two new cases.
New Brunswick health officials reported eight new cases on Monday.
Manitoba reported 66 more COVID-19 cases on Monday and one related death. Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said at a news conference that four Winnipeg schools have been notified of possible exposure to more transmissible coronavirus variants.
The people with the variants, their classes and other close contacts are isolating, he said.
Saskatchewan reported 205 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, while schools across the province are being shipped 100,000 rapid antigen tests to help prevent COVID-19 transmission.
A news release from the Saskatchewan government said teachers and school staff are not expected to administer the tests. It said rapid antigen tests can be administered by “laypeople” who have completed a training program through the Saskatchewan Health Authority lab.
The government said schools will work with their local medical health officers to determine when testing is appropriate. Rapid testing is expected to begin in schools next week.
British Columbia health officials on Monday announced 1,785 new COVID-19 cases over the last three days and 16 related deaths.
What’s happening around the world
As of Monday evening, more than 123.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine performed better than expected in a major late-stage trial, potentially paving the way for its emergency authorization in the United States and bolstering confidence in the shot after numerous setbacks.
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In Europe, German authorities were expected to extend lockdown measures again on Monday and possibly tighten some restrictions as the country faces a steady rise in new coronavirus infections, but leave schools open for now.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors, who in highly decentralized Germany are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions, held a videoconference on Monday, nearly three weeks after last agreeing on a multi-step plan paving the way to relax some rules.
Since then, infections have increased steadily as the more contagious variant first detected in the U.K. has become dominant. Most lockdown restrictions are currently set to run through March 28. The chancellery is proposing an extension until April 18.
Bells tolled across the Czech Republic at noon Monday to honour those who have died of COVID-19 in one of the hardest-hit European Union countries.
In the Americas, officials in Miami Beach voted on Sunday to extend an 8 p.m. curfew and emergency powers for up to three weeks to help control unruly and mostly maskless crowds that have converged on the party destination during spring break.
Cuba announced on Sunday it would vaccinate 150,000 front-line workers as part of the final phase of a clinical trial of the country’s leading COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Brazil’s government has been in talks since March 13 about potentially importing excess COVID-19 vaccines from the United States, Reuters reported.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistani authorities banned sports, festivals, cultural events and indoor dining at restaurants as part of new measures aimed at containing the ongoing third wave of the coronavirus, which has started flooding hospitals. The announcement was made after a high-level meeting in the capital Islamabad. The new measures will remain in force until April 11.
The latest development comes two days after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tested positive two days after he received his first vaccine dose. There has been a spike in COVID-19 in the capital and elsewhere in Pakistan in recent weeks.
India reported its most COVID-19 cases and deaths in months on the first anniversary of the start of a chaotic countrywide lockdown.
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, will announce a date for quarantine-free travel with Australia within two weeks, despite mounting pressure from businesses to open borders with neighbouring countries.
Health-care workers received the first shots in Taiwan’s COVID-19 vaccination drive on Monday, beginning a campaign that won’t use supplies from China amid uneven distribution of the vaccines globally. Taiwan has on hand 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which it is distributing to health-care workers across 57 hospitals.
Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang launched the drive by receiving the first shot at National Taiwan University Hospital in the capital Taipei. “After 30 minutes of rest, there’s no signs of any discomfort,” he said. The rest period is for monitoring recipients for any adverse reactions.
Papua New Guinea on Monday stepped up pandemic restrictions, ordering pubs, clubs and gaming sites to close from Wednesday, after reporting another jump in COVID-19 cases. The new curbs came in addition to tighter internal border controls, bans on large gatherings, school closures and mask-wearing mandates imposed last week as infections spiked.
Health officials in Papua New Guinea on Monday reported 242 new cases as of Saturday, bringing total confirmed cases in the South Pacific nation to 3,359. The death toll remained at 36. Police Commissioner David Manning, who is running the country’s pandemic response, said part of the country’s challenge was that many of the cases were asymptomatic.
In Africa, South Africa has concluded the sale of AstraZeneca AZN.L COVID-19 vaccines, which it had acquired but did not use, to other African Union member states, the Health Ministry said on Sunday.
In the Middle East, Jordan reported 109 new deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, the highest daily death toll since the pandemic surfaced in the country a year ago, the Health Ministry said.
Lebanon has eased its nearly two-month lockdown, with restaurants opening to the public for the first time in two months amid strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Restaurants will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity indoors with a two-metre distance between each table, while outdoors they will be allowed to have a 75 per cent capacity.
Many hope that opening restaurants will help Lebanon as it passes through its worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. The food and beverage sector employs tens of thousands of people.
Restaurant employees will have to conduct regular PCR tests to make sure they are not infected while working. Restaurants will have to close by 7 p.m. as a countrywide curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. remains in place.
The lockdown went into affect in early January following a sharp increase of coronavirus cases after the country opened up for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. On Sunday, Lebanon registered 2,253 new cases, raising the total in the country to 436,575. The small country also reported 51 new deaths, raising the total of fatalities to 5,715.
In Iran, meanwhile, total reported COVID-19 case numbers have surpassed 1.8 million, with nearly 61,800 reported deaths.