Ontario marks COVID-19 death-toll milestone; Alberta brings in more restrictions

·4 min read

Ontario marked a grim COVID-19 milestone Thursday as its virus-related death toll passed 8,000 and Alberta brought in tighter public-health measures to try to get rapidly rising infection rates in hot spots under control.

The measures target six cities, including Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray, and one county east of the capital for at least the next two weeks.

Junior and senior high school students will have to learn from home and indoor fitness and sports are banned. Kenney said curfews will be considered if case numbers go higher.

"Ultimately, Albertans have to step up to the plate in the next few weeks,” Kenney said.

There were 2,048 new cases in the province and 632 people were in hospital, 151 of them in intensive care.

Kenney had said earlier this week that current restrictions would suffice if more people followed them. On Thursday, he said the new measures were "a hard but necessary step."

Alberta also opened up two more groups to be eligible for vaccines.

Other provincial health leaders sped up plans that could get more Canadians vaccinated in the coming months.

In Ontario, where there were 41 new virus-related deaths to bring the provincial total to 8,029, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the way out of the pandemic is vaccinations.

"The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day," she said as the province reported another 3,871 infections.

Ontario is forecasting everyone over the age of 18 will be able to book a shot by May 24. The province planned to lower the age eligibility for mass vaccination clinics to 55 and older starting Friday.

Regions are preparing to receive much larger volumes of vaccines.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the officer overseeing vaccine deliver for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said Pfizer-BioNTech's shipments are to double next week to more than two million doses.

Johnson & Johnson's first delivery of 300,000 doses landed in Canada on Wednesday.

Moderna, which is still struggling with production, intends to send one million doses that will be distributed to provinces in two weeks, Fortin said.

The increase in capacity was welcomed across the country as leaders laid out updated plans to ramp up vaccine appointments in the coming months.

Quebec reported 1,042 cases and 10 more deaths as the government opened vaccinations to the general public. Health Minister Christian Dubé said Quebecers between 50 and 59 could begin booking appointments Friday.

The age will continue to drop until May 14 when the government expects vaccines to be available for anyone over 18.

Dubé said every adult Quebecer would be able to get one dose by June 24.

The province's public health institute predicted the sped-up pace of vaccinations should lead to a rapid drop in new infections by mid-May or early June.

On another front, the impact of a targeted vaccination campaign in Indigenous communities across Canada has become clear, said Dr. Tom Wong, chief medical officer of public health for Indigenous Services Canada. Nearly 60 per cent of First Nations adults have received at least one dose.

"COVID active case rates in First Nations communities on-reserve is at the lowest since last November," Wong said.

There were 723 active cases Thursday, a significant decrease since the second wave brought surging infections across many communities last fall.

Nova Scotia, for its part, reported 70 new cases. That marked a slight decline in new infections after days of record-setting, single-day case counts that prompted a provincial lockdown.

That, and other outbreaks of more contagious variants, contributed to premiers in all four of the Atlantic provinces delaying the reopening of their travel bubble indefinitely.

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said leaders were optimistic travel would resume by summer.

Meanwhile, Manitoba's government was looking across the border to fulfil some of its vaccination needs. Premier Brian Pallister said he was finalizing a deal with North Dakota to have teachers and other education workers vaccinated in that state.

Pallister said the aim is to allow teachers to drive to the United States border to get a shot, but the plan was quickly panned by the teachers union. The Manitoba Teachers' Society said it falls short of prioritizing its members and includes too many hurdles.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2021.

— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa and Steve Lambert in Winnipeg

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had the incorrect day in the lead.