TORONTO — A lockdown and stay at home order is being extended in Canada’s largest city until at least March 8.

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A man walks past a COVID-19 retail supplies sign in Toronto this month. Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via Associated Press

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Friday it was a difficult but necessary decision.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, asked the provincial government this week to extend the lockdown, saying she has never been more worried about the future because of new coronavirus variants. Toronto Mayor John Tory supported the request and said he wants this to be the last lockdown.

The shutdown in Toronto began on Nov. 23 after a second novel coronavirus wave hit the province.

Scientists say the U.K. variant found in Ontario spreads more easily and is likely more deadly, but so far existing vaccines appear to be effective against it.

Canada has had a shortage of vaccines until this week. The federal government expects to get 6 million Pfizer and Moderna doses before the end of March and 23 million more in April, May and June and 55 million in the three months after that. Canada has a population of 37 million. The western Canadian province of Alberta plans to start vaccinating seniors 75 and older starting Feb. 24 while teachers have not been prioritized.

Schools just reopened in Toronto this week and retail stores had been scheduled to reopen Feb. 22.

“I know we are tired. I know we have all sacrificed so much. But there is hope on the horizon. The federal government has assured us that the vaccines, in which we are in desperate need of, are on the way,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.

The stay-home order was lifted for the majority of the province earlier this week as the government moved ahead with an economic reopening despite warnings it could set off a third wave of infections.

Toronto and Canada previously flattened the epidemic curve and is doing so again in this second wave.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said there are currently fewer than 33,000 active cases in Canada, a 60% drop compared to a month ago. But Tam said Canada may not be able to avoid a rapid acceleration of daily cases, predicted to hit 20,000 by mid-March, without continued vigilance.

“We are at a critical point in the pandemic and our efforts have begun to tip the balance in our favor,” Tam said.

“Protecting our progress and limiting the impact of variants of concern will require stronger action.″

More than half of Alaskans over the age of 65 have received a COVID-19 vaccination

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska public health officials say 58 percent of residents 65 and older have received a COVID-19 vaccination since distribution efforts began.

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Plastic surgeon Daniel Suver receives the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine from Andrea Castelblanco during a vaccine clinic in December in Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska public health officials say 58 percent of residents 65 and older have received a COVID-19 vaccination since distribution efforts began. Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News via Associated Press

State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin tells Alaska’s News Source the state hopes to move the process along faster as more contagious and potentially deadly strains of the coronavirus emerge.

McLaughlin said a variant strain first discovered in the United Kingdom in September is the most concerning to emerge.

About 1,300 cases of the variant have been detected in the U.S. One of those cases was in Alaska, he said.

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink says the state wants more Alaskans 65 and older to receive vaccinations.

First Pfizer dose 85% effective against virus, Israeli study says

The first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine offers up to 85 percent protection between two to four weeks after the shot, according to an Israeli study whose results were published Thursday in Britain’s Lancet medical journal.

The findings could bolster decisions by some governments to delay administering a second shot, in order to partially vaccinate a wider swath of the population.

The Israeli study offers some of the first real-world data on the vaccine, which was shown to be 95 percent effective in clinical trials. Pharmaceutical companies such as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech are closely tracking the impact of mass vaccinations as concerning variants of the virus emerge around the globe.

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A foreign worker receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Feb. 9. AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Researchers in Israel monitored more than 7,000 health-care workers who were immunized at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, the country’s largest hospital. They saw an 85 percent reduction of symptomatic infections between 15 to 28 days after the first shot, Reuters reported.

When including asymptomatic patients, overall infections were reduced by 75 percent, the study said.

One of its authors, Gili Regev-Yochay, said she is not necessarily calling for governments to hold off on administering the second shots, the Times of Israel reported. The study did not measure the long-term effectiveness of a single dose of the vaccine.

But “what we see is really very high effectiveness just two to four weeks after the first shot,” said Regev-Yochay, who heads the infection prevention and control unit at the Sheba Medical Center.

A letter covering the study and published in the Lancet said the early reduction in COVID-19 rates provides support for “delaying the second dose in countries facing vaccine shortages and scarce resources, so as to allow higher population coverage with a single dose.”

Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Christine Ritchie estimates that about 2 million U.S. residents are homebound. Another 5 million have trouble leaving home or need help doing so. Many of them may need vaccines brought to them as well.

This population generally includes older people with lower-than-average income levels and serious medical problems like dementia, advanced heart conditions or arthritis.

Ritchie noted that homebound people draw less attention from public health officials than those who live in group settings like nursing homes, which are receiving vaccines from major drugstore chains.

Homebound people, Ritchie said, “tend to be sort of invisible to society.”

Cathay Pacific flight crews to work 21-day stints to avoid quarantine

Cathay Pacific Airways is taking extreme measures to cope with new rules that will require flight crew to quarantine in Hong Kong from Saturday, introducing a rotation policy that puts staff out of action for almost one month at a time after they’ve completed 21-day shifts.

Cathay Pacific Airways employees walk inside the terminal at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong in 2017. Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

Crew members who volunteer to take part in the airline’s so-called closed loop plan must isolate at Cathay’s Headland Hotel whenever they return to Hong Kong during their 21-day duty cycle. Once the three-week shift is over, they’ll need to self-isolate for 14 days in a hotel in Taikoo Shing on Hong Kong Island. Then they’ll get 14 days time off, bringing the full duty cycle to 49 days.

Cathay has said the requirement for crew to quarantine could add as much as HK$400 million ($52 million) to its monthly cash burn, which is already as high as HK$1.5 billion due to an unprecedented slump in demand for air travel. The new measures, which come after Hong Kong extended the mandatory quarantine period for people arriving in the city, are aimed at shoring up the border, even as new daily coronavirus cases ease to low double digits and authorities relax some social-distancing rules.

“As long as stringent quarantine measures continue to be in place in Hong Kong and elsewhere, the coming months will be extremely challenging,” Cathay’s Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said in a statement Wednesday.

Cathay flew just 30,410 passengers last month, an average of 981 a day — the first sub-1,000 reading since June. Passenger load factor was 13.3%, a record low. The airline is particularly exposed to the pandemic as it has no home market to serve while international routes are largely off-limits.

Cathay’s shares closed down 0.3% on Friday in Hong Kong. They’ve dropped 23% over the past 12 months.

Under the new shift cycle, crew will need to take covid-19 tests every time they arrive in Hong Kong, and they may be subjected to more when arriving in countries such as Australia, which also has strict border measures in place, a Cathay spokesperson wrote in an email to Bloomberg News. Enough staff have volunteered to take part in the program, the spokesperson said, without disclosing numbers. They’ll undergo medical surveillance for seven days after the 14-day hotel quarantine period.

There are some exemptions to the new quarantine restrictions, according to an internal Cathay memo seen by Bloomberg News. They include flights to and from mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, some flights with a layover in Anchorage, Alaska, and so-called turnaround flights where crew don’t leave the aircraft and no passengers are on board returning to Hong Kong.

Distribution of 6 million vaccine doses delayed because of winter storms

Some 6 million doses of the coronavirus vaccines — about three days’ supply — have been delayed in their journey to vaccination sites around the country, the White House announced Friday.

The bad winter weather has slowed the arrival of vaccine in all 50 states, according to Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser on the government’s response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

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A mass vaccination clinic site was closed because of snow in Odessa, Texas on Feb. 13. Eli Hartman/Odessa American via Associated PRess

During a White House coronavirus briefing, Slavitt said vaccine delays have occurred this week for three reasons. The vaccine shippers — FedEx, UPS and McKesson — “have all faced challenges as workers have been snowed in and unable to get to work,” he said. In addition, road closures in some areas have held up the delivery of vaccine. And more than 2,000 vaccination sites are in places where electricity was knocked out by the storms, so they have been unable to receive the vaccine.

Because the two vaccines allowed for emergency use — manufactured by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and by Moderna — require various degrees of cold storage, it has been important not to risk doses arriving in places where scarce doses could be wasted because they could not be properly stores in the storms. “The vaccines are sitting safe and sound in our factories and hugs,” Slavitt said.

He predicted all the delayed doses will be delivered within the next week, with 1.4 million doses in transit Friday. UPS and FedEx are prepared to make deliveries Saturday to places that are open to accept them, Slavitt said. And Moderna is reopening Friday, will work through the weekend and “will put vaccine on aircraft Sunday night for Monday delivery.”

Slavitt said the government is asking states and vaccination sites to extend their hours — to reschedule appointments lost because of the storms and to prepare to handle additional vaccine supplies expected in the next weeks and months.

G-7 vows ‘equitable’ world vaccine access, but details scant

LONDON — Leaders of the Group of Seven economic powers promised Friday to immunize the world’s neediest people against the coronavirus by giving money, and precious vaccine doses, to a U.N.-backed vaccine distribution effort.

But the leaders, under pressure over their vaccination campaigns at home, were unwilling to say exactly how much vaccine they were willing to share with the developing world, or when.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the G-7 leaders held a virtual meeting that fair distribution of vaccines was “an elementary question of fairness.”

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Volunteers wait to participate in a trial run for the COVID-19 vaccine delivery system in Ahmedabad, India on Jan. 8. AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

But she added, “No vaccination appointment in Germany is going to be endangered.”

After their first meeting of the year — held remotely because of the pandemic — the leaders said they would accelerate global vaccine development and deployment” and support “affordable and equitable access to vaccines” and treatments for COVID-19.

“This is a global pandemic, and it’s no use one country being far ahead of another,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he opened the virtual summit with the leaders of the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. The U.K. holds the G-7 presidency this year.

“We’ve got to move together,” Johnson said, speaking from the prime minister’s 10 Downing St. residence to the other leaders in their far-flung offices. “So, one of the things that I know that colleagues will be wanting to do is to ensure that we distribute vaccines at cost around the world.”

Wealthy nations have snapped up hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines, while some countries in the developing world have little or none.

G-7 leaders are eager to avoid looking greedy — and don’t want to cede the terrain of vaccine diplomacy to less democratic but faster-moving countries such as China and Russia.

Johnson, whose country has reported almost 120,000 virus-related deaths, promised to give “the majority of any future surplus vaccines” to the U.N.-backed COVAX effort to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable people.

Two young women in Florida ‘dressed up as grannies’ to get vaccinated, health official says

The coronavirus vaccine is so coveted that two women in Florida went to extremes Wednesday to get inoculated: They dressed as if they were elderly, health officials said.

The women, both younger than 45, “dressed up as grannies,” wearing bonnets, gloves and glasses to disguise themselves as older than 65, the age cutoff to be prioritized to get the coronavirus vaccine in Florida, according to Raul Pino, the director of the health department in Orange County, where Orlando is located. He attributed the deception to growing interest in the vaccine, giving the example of the women while explaining how high demand is in the area.

“This is the hottest commodity that is out there right now, so we have to be very careful,” Pino said at a news briefing Thursday.

Florida seniors line up for a health check before getting a second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Miami on Feb. 8. Associated Press/Marta Lavandier

The geriatric guise is the latest instance of people trying to cut the line to get vaccinated from the deadly virus. Last month, authorities identified a wealthy Canadian couple who had posed as locals in a remote Indigenous community to take doses meant for elders. Meanwhile, an Indiana health department issued a warning earlier this month against what it called “a substantial lack of morality” after people had lied to vaccination site workers about their addresses, jobs and ages.

The Florida women’s costumes may have succeeded before. Both had the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention card indicating they had received their first doses. Pino said he did not know how they could have been previously vaccinated, but on Wednesday, workers at the site at the Orange County Convention Center caught on.

Once the staff noticed the discrepancy with their birthdays listed on their driver’s licenses, the women, 44 and 34, were referred to deputies, who issued trespass warnings against them, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said.

The women, whom The Washington Post is not identifying because they have not been charged, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday evening.

They did not get their second shot, and security at the site was heightened in the wake of the incident, said Kent Donahue, a spokesman for the health department.

Dutch finance minister criticized for skating

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch finance minister was on thin ice for taking to a speed skating oval with one of the Netherlands’ greatest Olympians.

Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra faced criticism Friday for breaching the country’s tough coronavirus lockdown after posting a photo of himself on Twitter skating alongside Sven Kramer, the winner of four Winter Olympics gold medals in speed skating.

“Sport is incredibly nice and also healthy,” Hoekstra tweeted.

It is also currently banned at indoor venues such as the Thialf oval where Hoekstra skated.

“Indoor sports venues are shut, so this was not allowed,” Minister for Medical Care and Sport Tamara van Ark told reporters in The Hague.

Hoekstra quickly admitted he’d made a mistake.

Doctors race to find, vaccinate vulnerable homebound people

A group of health care workers hurried out of a Boston hospital on a recent weekday morning, clutching small red coolers filled with COVID-19 vaccines.

Their challenge: Beat traffic, a looming snowstorm and the clock. They had to get shots in the arms of their homebound patients before the vaccines expired in a few hours.

“That clock is in the back of my mind the whole time,” said Dr. Won Lee, a home care specialist at Boston Medical Center.

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Geriatrician Megan Young, left, offers support to Edouard Joseph, 91, moments after giving him a COVID-19 vaccination in Boston. Associated Press/Steven Senne

Millions of U.S. residents will need COVID-19 vaccines brought to them because they rarely or never leave home. Doctors and nurses who specialize in home care are leading this push and starting to get help from state and local governments around the country.

But they face several challenges. Researchers say many homebound people don’t receive regular medical care, which makes it hard to identify everyone who needs a vaccine.

Supplies also are limited, and both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines expire a few hours after syringes pull the vaccine from vials.

That makes it tough for one doctor to see many patients when they must also stay in someone’s home for at least 15 minutes after the shot in case an allergic reaction develops.

Africa reaches 100,000 known COVID-19 deaths as danger grows

NAIROBI, Kenya  — Africa has surpassed 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 as the continent praised for its early response to the pandemic now struggles with a dangerous resurgence and medical oxygen often runs desperately short.

“We are more vulnerable than we thought,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told The Associated Press in an interview reflecting on the pandemic and a milestone he called “remarkably painful.”

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A health worker disinfects family members during a burial of a person who died from COVID-19, in Harare, Zimbabwe in January. Associated Press/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

He worried that “we are beginning to normalize deaths,” while health workers are overwhelmed.

The 54-nation continent of some 1.3 billion people has barely seen the arrival of large-scale supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, but a variant of the virus dominant in South Africa is already posing a challenge to vaccination efforts. Still, if doses are available, the continent should be able to vaccinate 35% to 40% of its population before the end of 2021 and 60% by the end of 2022, Nkengasong said.

In a significant development on Friday, an African Union-created task force said Russia has offered 300 million doses of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine, to be available in May. The AU previously secured 270 million doses from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

Health officials who breathed a sigh of relief last year when African countries did not see a huge number of COVID-19 deaths are now reporting a jump in fatalities. The Africa CDC on Friday said overall deaths are at 100,294.

Deaths from COVID-19 increased by 40% in Africa in the past month compared to the previous month, the World Health Organization’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters last week. That’s more than 22,000 people dying in the past four weeks.

The increase is a “tragic warning that health workers and health systems in many countries in Africa are dangerously overstretched,” she said, and preventing severe cases and hospitalizations is crucial.

But the latest trend shows a slowdown. In the week ending on Sunday, the continent saw a 28% decrease in deaths, the Africa CDC said Thursday.

Africa has reached 100,000 confirmed deaths shortly after marking a year since the first coronavirus infection was confirmed on the continent, in Egypt on Feb. 14, 2020.

Decline in new cases in Germany slows, cases caused by variants rising

BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control agency warned Friday that the drop in new coronavirus cases has leveled off even as the share of more contagious variants is rising.

Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, said Germany may be heading toward another “turning point” in the pandemic after weeks of falling infections.

His agency reported 9,113 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past day, and 508 deaths. Germany has recorded almost 2.4 million cases and 67,206 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Earlier this week Health Minister Jens Spahn said the share of the more contagious variant virus first detected in Britain has reached about 22% in Germany, from 6% two weeks ago.

Spahn told reporters in Berlin that the government wants to double the number of vaccinations in the coming weeks, from about 140,000 per day at present.

Germany has administered almost 3 million first doses since late December. More than 1.5 million people have received their second shot.

Spahn confirmed a report by weekly Der Spiegel that the government has appointed a special adviser for vaccine production to liaise with manufacturers and speed up the delivery of additional doses to Germany.

Algeria will produced Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccie

ALGIERS, Algeria — President Abdelmadjid Tebboune says Algeria will start producing Russia’s Sputnik-V coronavirus vaccine in six or seven months.

The announcement came Thursday in a televised address. Health Minister Abderahmane Benbouzid said earlier this week that the vaccine will be produced by state laboratory Saidal. They did not provide details about production plans.

Algeria, a longtime Russian ally, used Sputnik to launch its vaccination campaign last month.

But some doctors have complained that initial deliveries of 50,000 doses of Sputnik and 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine fall far short of need.

Algeria is also expecting deliveries of China’s vaccines and is eligible to receive vaccines through the COVAX global program for developing countries.

New infections in the country have stabilized in recent weeks, and the government slightly relaxed curfew rules last week to let hairdressers, gyms and some stores to reopen.


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