Trudeau stresses vigilance, announces vaccine pact as COVID-19 cases reach 150,000

Trudeau offered assurances that Ottawa has taken steps to secure a COVID-19 vaccine

Quebeckers were urged to stop socializing, Ontarians were barred from late-night pub-hopping, and the entire country was sternly warned of “critical” containment measures required in coming weeks as soaring COVID-19 case counts edged past 150,000 on Friday.

The escalating pandemic drew repeated pleas for vigilance from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam in a joint press conference that also outlined a deal with AstraZeneca, which would guarantee up to 20 million doses of an experimental vaccine.

With cases surging in Ontario and Quebec hot-spots, Trudeau implored the public to adhere to public health guidelines, stressing that “what we do now, will be critical for the weeks and months to come.”

This was a repeated refrain across the country as political and public health officials took pains to tell the public it was time to scale back parties, dinners out, group activities and other individual actions they said were key factors in an alarming spike in transmission.

In Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dube told residents to a “make a special effort” to limit contact with other people for at least 28 days in order to contain spread and save hospitals from increased burden.

“I insist on this,” said Dube, nevertheless saying he had no problem with people dining in small numbers, within their bubble.

“We’re asking you (for) a month of effort to break the second wave.”

Dube called it a “28-day challenge” to flatten the curve, which on Friday pushed Quebec’s daily tally to 637 new cases, bringing the total number in the province to 70,307.

There have been 5,814 deaths in Quebec.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford said bars and restaurants must now close by midnight, with alcohol service to stop at 11 p.m., but that takeout and delivery will be permitted to continue into the wee hours.

All strip clubs will also close, he said, while explaining that the new restrictions strike a balance between public health needs and the province’s financial future.

“I don’t think it’s a huge ask if they can stop serving drinks at 11 o’clock and close their establishments at 12 o’clock,” he said during his daily media briefing.

The measures were not good enough for NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who criticized the Ford government for failing to provide “a proper, comprehensive and effective second wave strategy.”

Ontario reported 409 new cases of COVID-19 and one new death — about half of the new cases in Toronto and 65 per cent of them in people younger than 40.

The total number of cases in Ontario stood at 48,905, including 2,837 deaths.

Elsewhere, Alberta reported 17,190 confirmed cases, while British Columbia stood at 8,543 confirmed.

COVID-19 cases jumped in Manitoba, too, where masks will be mandatory in Winnipeg’s indoor spaces starting Monday.

Officials also limited indoor and outdoor gatherings to 10 people after 54 new cases emerged in the province — 44 of them in the capital region.

COVID-19 cases reached about 150,140 nationwide, with caseloads spiking dramatically in the four largest provinces over the past few weeks.

In the joint televised press conference with Trudeau, Tam said Canadians still have a chance to keep the epidemic from escalating, “if we all act together now.”

“Local public health authorities cannot do this alone. Each of us must take action to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities,” she said.

Despite the sombre warnings, Trudeau offered assurances that Ottawa has taken steps to secure a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one proves viable.

The latest deal is the sixth such arrangement to ensure Canadians have access to crucial supply.

Trudeau also addressed urgent calls to make more COVID-19 testing options available, stating “there are a number of rapid tests in the process of being evaluated by Health Canada, and they will be made available as quickly as possible.”

Tam added that Health Canada was trying to evaluate a variety of new tools including point-of-care devices and serological tests but suggested that work was hindered by a lack of clinical data from the companies seeking approvals.

“There was really little data submitted to the regulator, and you need basic, minimal clinical information. And so we’re also looking at how do we help in the assessment of those types of tests,” said Tam.

“The whole thing has to work in real life, if you like, but I think we’ll be providing more information to people next week and as things evolve.”

The Canadian Press

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