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Today’s coronavirus news: UK vaccination drive expands as virus toll nears 100,000; Rioting youths in Dutch village torch virus testing centre

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The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Sunday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

9:43 a.m.: Egypt on Sunday launched a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus, with the first shots of Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm’s vaccine given to healthcare workers in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia.

Health Minister Hala Zayed told a televised news conference that they would prioritize vaccinating healthcare workers in 40 hospitals that are designated to isolate and treat COVID-19 patients across the country.

Next, they would vaccinate elders and those suffer from chronic diseases, Zayed said. She did not offer a timeframe for vaccinating the whole population.

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Zayed said people would receive two doses of the vaccine over 21 days. The Chinese-made vaccine is 86 per ent effective, she added.

Sinopharm’s shot relies on a tested technology, using a dead virus to deliver the vaccine, similar to polio immunizations.

The vaccine is believed to be able to travel at a temperature of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, a major draw for areas of the world where nearly 3 billion people live without stable electricity and refrigeration.

8:53 a.m.: Four Zimbabwean Cabinet ministers have died of COVID-19, three within the past two weeks, highlighting a resurgence of the disease that is sweeping through this southern African country.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the coronavirus is reaping a “grim harvest” in the country.

“The pandemic has been indiscriminate. There are no spectators, adjudicators, no holier than thou. No supermen or superwomen. We are all exposed,” Mnangagwa said on a nationally televised address.

Mnangagwa presided at the burial of one Cabinet minister last week, shortly after the death of the foreign minister was announced. Then came the death of the transport minister. Several other high-profile politicians and prominent Zimbabweans have also died recently.

8:24 a.m.: France’s government may impose a third lockdown in the coming days if an existing 12-hour-a-day curfew doesn’t significantly slow virus infections.

Exactly a year after France announced Europe’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in an interview published Sunday in the Le Parisien newspaper that if infections don’t drop, and “if the variants start to spread everywhere, we will take extra measures. And that’s called confinement. … We will close down.”

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An official in French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said Sunday that “everything is on the table” but no firm decisions will be made until the effect of the nationwide 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew is clear in the coming week.

In addition to the curfew, French restaurants, tourist sites and many other public places have been closed since October. But virus infections, hospitalizations and deaths have started rising again this month. France, which has lost at least 72,877 lives to the pandemic, has vaccinated more than 1 million people amid bureaucratic and logistical delays.

7:49 a.m.: Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators clashed with Israeli police in two major cities on Sunday, as authorities faced new difficulties in enforcing coronavirus restrictions in the country’s religious communities.

The clashes occurred in Jerusalem and Ashdod as police attempted to close religious schools that had opened in violation of lockdown orders.

Throughout the pandemic, many major ultra-Orthodox sects have flouted safety regulations, continuing to open schools, pray in synagogues and hold mass weddings in funerals. This has contributed to a disproportionate infection rate, with the ultra-Orthodox community accounting for over one-third of Israel’s coronavirus cases, despite making up just over 10% of the population.

In Jerusalem, police fired tear gas and putrid-smelling water to disperse a crowd of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox residents outside a reopened school. Demonstrators cried “get out of here, Nazis” at officers who were filmed arresting participants. In the coastal city of Ashdod, police scuffled with dozens of protesters outside an ultra-Orthodox school.

7:38 a.m.: The president of the European Council vowed Sunday to make drug companies fulfil their vaccine contracts with EU countries, but acknowledged it will be hard for the bloc to meet its goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of the adult population by late summer.

Amid criticism in EU countries of disruption of vaccine deliveries from Pfizer, Charles Michel said on France’s Europe-1 radio: “We plan to make the pharmaceutical industry respect signed contracts.” He said EU officials “pounded our fist on the table” with Pfizer last week to ensure the delays end by this coming week.

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However, given logistical challenges and the slow rollout of vaccines in the EU so far, he said “it will be difficult” to meet the aim of the EU’s executive Commission of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by the end of the summer.

The EU has sealed six vaccine contracts for more than 2 billion doses, but only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been approved for use so far. The European Medicines Agency is scheduled to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday.

7 a.m.: Canada’s taxpayers’ ombudsperson says his office has seen a steep spike in complaints compared to one year ago, delivering an early warning about how complicated returns should be handled this year.

François Boileau says the number of complaints from taxpayers about the Canada Revenue Agency was up 93 per cent in December from the same month in 2019.

Urgent requests, for people in dire financial straits, are up 120 per cent since the start of the pandemic, he says.

Boileau says the statistics paint a portrait of the difficult circumstances some Canadians find themselves in as a result of COVID-19, and the need for the agency to improve services for the coming tax season.

He says too many Canadians still spend hours trying to get through to a call centre agent.

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Boileau adds that delays are especially frustrating for people who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit last year and are now trying to sort out whether they have to repay some of the aid.

6:48 a.m.: Rioting youths protesting on the first night of a Dutch curfew torched a coronavirus testing facility and threw fireworks at police in a Dutch fishing village.

Police said Sunday they fined more than 3,600 people nationwide for breaching the curfew that ran from 9 p.m. Saturday until 4:30 a.m. Sunday and arrested 25 people for breaching the curfew or for violence.

Video from the village of Urk, 80 kilometres (50 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, showed youths breaking into the coronavirus testing facility near the village’s harbour before it was set ablaze Saturday night.

The police and municipality issued a statement Sunday expressing their anger at rioting, “from throwing fireworks and stones to destroying police cars and with the torching of the test location as a deep point.”

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“This is not only unacceptable, but also a slap in the face, especially for the local health authority staff who do all they can at the test centre to help people from Urk,” the local authorities said, adding that the curfew would be strictly enforced for the rest of the week.

On Sunday, all that remained of the portable building used to administer coronavirus tests was a burned-out shell.

6:42 a.m.: Britain is expanding a coronavirus vaccination program that has seen almost 6 million people get the first of two doses — even as the country’s death toll in the pandemic approaches 100,000.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that three-quarters of the U.K.’s over-80s have received a vaccine shot. He said three-quarters of nursing home residents have also had their first jab.

Almost 5.9 million doses of vaccine had been administered by Saturday. Health officials aim to give 15 million people, including everyone over 70, a first vaccine shot by Feb. 15, and cover the entire adult population by September.

Britain is inoculating people with two vaccines — one made by U.S. pharma firm Pfizer and German company BioNTech, the other by U.K.-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca and Oxford University. It has authorized a third, developed by Moderna.

3 a.m.: New Brunswick’s Edmundston region is now in a 14-day lockdown.

Health officials in the province say the order is needed to curb a rise in daily infections that they fear is about to get out of control.

As of now, non-essential travel is prohibited in and out of the area, which borders Maine and Quebec’s Bas-St-Laurent region.

The order also forces non-essential businesses, schools and public spaces to close, including outdoor ice rinks and ski hills.

The province says all indoor and outdoor gatherings from people of different households are prohibited.

Provincial officials say they will evaluate the situation in the region every seven days, and cabinet may extend the lockdown if necessary.

Click here for Saturday’s coronavirus news

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