Saying he is extremely concerned about the situation in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford announced a provincewide stay-at-home order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 4:02
Ontario has issued a four-week stay-at-home order effective Thursday, one of several provinces imposing tighter public health restrictions amid a surge in COVID-19 cases fuelled by more transmissible coronavirus variants and growing pressure on hospitals.
Premier Doug Ford urged Ontarians to “hunker down” Wednesday as he declared a third provincewide state of emergency.
“To boil it down as simple as possible, folks, please, unless it’s for an essential reason, please stay home, because the situation is extremely serious,” he said.
Under the order, people are required to remain at home except for essential purposes such as grocery shopping, accessing health care, work that cannot be done remotely, and outdoor exercise. Non-essential retailers will be limited to curbside pickup and delivery, while big box stores will be limited to selling essential items.
The province is keeping schools and child care open. However, officials in hard-hit Toronto and Peel Region this week invoked a Section 22 order — which allows a public health unit’s medical officer of health to strengthen rules beyond what the province has put in place — to send nearly 600,000 students to online-only classes just days ahead of a rescheduled week-long spring break.
WATCH | ‘No choice’ but to close Toronto schools, says medical health officer:
The high community spread of the coronavirus, particularly the variants, was the key factor in the decision to close Toronto schools, says Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health. ‘The risk was going up,’ she said. 5:00
The update comes as Ontario health officials reported 3,215 new cases of COVID-19 — the most on a single day since Jan. 17 — and 17 additional deaths on Wednesday. According to updated provincial COVID-19 data, hospitalizations stood at 1,397, with 504 patients in intensive care units. Of the ICU patients, 311 were on a ventilator.
Ford also announced the province is expanding vaccine eligibility for more people over the age of 18 in regions hardest hit by the virus, starting with Toronto and Peel Region. Education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods will be allowed to book vaccinations starting next week, the premier said.
Meanwhile, Alberta doctors are calling for a circuit-breaker lockdown one day after the province announced it would reinstate stricter public health measures.
Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday that customer capacity in retail stores will be lowered to 15 per cent, restaurants must close to in-person dining and low-intensity group fitness activities will once again be banned.
But targeted restrictions won’t bend the curve as highly contagious variants of the virus continue to spread, the Calgary and Area Medical Staff Society and the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association said at a joint news conference Wednesday.
The groups want the province to immediately introduce sweeping prohibitions, including stay-at-home orders and a prolonged closure of non-essential businesses, provincial classrooms and places of worship.
Alberta reported 1,351 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, its highest total of 2021, and one additional death. According to the province, there were 333 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 79 in ICU beds.
In Quebec, health officials on Wednesday reported 1,270 new cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province stood at 543 hospitalizations, with 123 people in intensive care.
The updated figures come a day after Premier François Legault announced more restrictions for harder-hit parts of the province on Tuesday, saying what happens in the month of April will be “critical.”
Starting next Monday, students in Grades 9, 10 and 11 in red zones, including Montreal, will attend school in person on alternate days and extracurricular activities will be cancelled. Legault said gyms in red zones must close as of Thursday, and that places of worship will have to limit attendance to 25 people.
“At this time, we’re able to manage the increase in hospitalization, but that can change very quickly,” Legault said, urging people to be “very careful.”
Meanwhile, Quebec is expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines to Montrealers who are essential workers or who have chronic illnesses.
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET
Here’s a look at what else is happening across Canada
As of 6:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had reported 1,028,047 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 62,136 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,173.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 14 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and one additional death, saying a person in the Edmundston region between the ages of 30 and 39 had died “as a result of underlying complications, including COVID-19.”
WATCH | How vulnerable are kids to variants of concern?
Two infectious disease specialists discuss whether children are more vulnerable to COVID-19 variants and whether teachers should be given higher priority when it comes to vaccinations. 7:58
“I offer my heartfelt sympathy to the loved ones of this person,” New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said in a statement. “This death is a sad reminder that COVID-19 does not discriminate, and that we must all continue to do everything we can to keep one another safe.”
In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials posted one case of COVID-19 — the first new case in the province in almost a week. Nova Scotia reported two new cases,a day after loosening some public health restrictions. Prince Edward Island had not yet reported updated figures for the day.
WATCH | Cape Breton pharmacist uses old ambulance as vaccine clinic:
Pharmacist Michael Natt of Port Hawkesbury, N.S., bought a used ambulance from Kijiji a few years ago with the idea of using it for deliveries. Now, he’s converted it into a fully equipped mobile vaccination clinic. 7:39
Across the North, there were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories on Wednesday.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 109 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Wednesday. The province also dropped the vaccine eligibility age again, with anyone 62 or older and First Nations people 42 and older now able to get immunized at a supersite or pop-up clinic.
As well, anyone over 65 can now receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in addition to people age 55 to 64 with certain conditions that place them at risk. Appointments can be booked with family doctors and in pharmacies.
Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 189 new cases and two additional deaths on Wednesday. The province also extended its existing COVID-19 public health orders by an additional two weeks, including recently tightened rules in Regina.
At the same time, the province’s chief medical health officer offered some good news on the vaccine front. Dr. Saqib Shahab predicted that by mid-May, all residents in the province aged 18 and over could have access to their first dose — well ahead of officials’ previously stated goal of end of June.
British Columbia on Wednesday reported 997 new cases and two new deaths. Health officials said 330 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 105 in intensive care.
Meanwhile, Premier John Horgan has no plans to impose travel restrictions between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland, despite warnings that a recent spike in COVID-19 infections is at least partly the result of travel.
Horgan said in an interview with On The Island it’s “absolutely outrageous” that some people are travelling to Vancouver Island for vacations. “But what do we do? Arrest them?”
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
Pharmacists transport a cooler containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Glangwili General Hospital in Carmarthen, Wales, on Wednesday. (Jacob King/Reuters)
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 132.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.8 million.
In the Americas, Brazil has for the first time reported a 24-hour tally of COVID-19 deaths exceeding 4,000. That made Brazil the third nation to cross the threshold. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has long downplayed the risks of the coronavirus and remains fully against lockdowns as too damaging to the economy.
A variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain is now the most common strain circulating in the United States.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, says the strain, formally known as B117, is “now the most common lineage circulating in United States.” The strain has been shown to be more transmissible and infectious among younger Americans, which Walensky says contributed to rising case counts in recent weeks.
Walensky says new outbreaks have been tied to youth sports and daycare centres. She particularly encouraged states with rising caseloads to curtail or suspend youth sports activities to slow the spread of the virus.
The U.S. leads the world with 30.8 million confirmed cases and more than 556,000 confirmed deaths.
A vaccination site opened to people without previously scheduled appointments Tuesday in Hagersville, Md., resulting in long lines. Some 200 people without appointments were able to get vaccinated, officials said, with the hopes of accommodating more on Wednesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
In Europe, the U.K. is administering the first doses of the Moderna vaccine, the third COVID-19 shot authorized in the country. The rollout comes as the U.K. medical regulator provided an update about the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which has been given to more than 18 million people in Britain.
On Wednesday, the European Union’s drug regulator said it has found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare clotting disorder, but said the benefits of the shot still outweigh the risks. In a statement, the European Medicines Agency placed no new restrictions on using the vaccine in people 18 and over.
In the U.K., the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said in a statement that the “benefits of vaccination continue to outweigh any risks,” but the agency advised that “careful consideration be given to people who are at higher risk of specific types of blood clots because of their medical condition.”
The country’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization also noted that the benefit outweighs the risk, but advised that those under 30 without underlying health conditions should “be offered an alternative COVID-19 vaccine, if available.”
Meanwhile, Belgium has imposed a four-week ban on administering the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to people under age 56. Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke says the ban will be reassessed after a month and that it should have little impact on the vaccination campaign since few from that age group are in line to get shots this month.
In France, the switch to online learning has not been smooth for the country’s 12 million pupils. Many children couldn’t connect Wednesday and teachers scrambled to find solutions after more than seven months of in-person classes.
Paris prosecutors opened an investigation into possible hacking into key systems. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer announced a cyberattack on a state distance-learning network and blamed overwhelmed private networks and servers for other glitches. But frustrated parents are blaming bad planning.
“There were too many people connected at the same time,” Esther Baumad of Open Digital Education, a leading online teaching platform, told broadcaster France-Info.
The European Union denied blocking shipments of 3.1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to Australia, as the bloc steps up scrutiny of vaccine exports to address shortages.
In the Asia-Pacific region, India has hit another new peak with 115,736 coronavirus cases reported in the past 24 hours. New Delhi, Mumbai and dozens of other cities are imposing curfews to try to slow the soaring infections.
India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 78,000 cases per day and has reported 12.8 million virus cases since the pandemic began, the highest after the United States and Brazil.
Thailand has diagnosed 24 cases of the coronavirus variant B117 first detected in Britain, a virologist said, its first reported domestic transmission of the highly contagious mutation.
South Korea reported its highest single-day number of new cases in three months amid a rise in cluster infections, as it approved a Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a bid to expedite its inoculation campaign.
A health worker prepares to inoculate a patient with the Chinese-made Vero Cell COVID-19 vaccine in Kathmandu on Wednesday. (Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)
In Africa, South Africa signed an agreement with Pfizer for 20 million dual-shot vaccine doses, boosting plans to start mass vaccinations from April.
In the Middle East, Iran shattered its daily record for new coronavirus infections for the second consecutive day, with 20,954 cases reported.
The Wednesday record comes amid one of the most severe surges of COVID-19 in Iran to date. It follows a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, when millions travelled to vacation spots across the country and gathered in homes in defiance of government health guidelines.
For months, Iran has struggled to curb the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East. Wednesday’s cases brought the total number of infected to 1.98 million, according to official figures.
The Supreme Committee to Combat Coronavirus in Oman said Omani citizens coming to the Sultanate through various land, sea and air ports will be exempt from the mandatory institutional quarantine but still must quarantine at home.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 5 p.m ET