Today’s coronavirus news: A year of COVID-19 interrupted progress on aiding the poor, Canadian officials says; India’s confirmed coronavirus cases cross 10 million

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

8:04 a.m.: California hospitals are battling to find beds to house patients amid fears that the exploding coronavirus infection rate will exhaust resources and health care workers.

As of Friday, nearly 17,000 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections — more than double the previous peak reached in July — and a state model that uses current data to forecast future trends shows the number could reach an unfathomable 75,000 by mid-January.

More than 3,500 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients were in intensive care units.

Some areas of California are “just right at that cusp of getting overrun,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, said during an event organized by the California State University system.

Corona Regional Medical Center southeast of Los Angeles has converted an old emergency room to help handle nearly double the usual number of ICU patients. It’s using space in two disaster tents to triage ER patients because the emergency room is filled with patients who need to be hospitalized.

Ambulances can sit for two hours unless they are bringing in patients with critical, life-or-death emergencies.

“There’s no room at the inn, so to speak,” hospital chief executive Mark Uffer said. “Literally every nook and cranny of the hospital is being used.”

It’s a scene playing out across California. According to state data Friday, all of Southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley to the north had exhausted their regular intensive care unit capacity and some hospitals have begun using “surge” space.

7:44 a.m.: International Development Minister Karina Gould isn’t running any victory laps despite ending 2020 by doing what so few of her political predecessors could — wrestling a sizable increase in Canadian foreign-aid spending.

Gould announced a $485-million increase in Canada’s $5.9-billion overseas development assistance budget this week, money earmarked for new international efforts to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries.

As welcome as a vaccine will be, it won’t cure the damage the global COVID-19 pandemic inflicted over the course of this year.

Gould says the pandemic, in less than one year, wiped out a decade’s worth of progress in improving the plight of the world’s poorest people, especially children.

The damage includes a dramatic drop in kids going to school, declining access to vaccines already used to combat preventable diseases, declining nutrition and soaring food insecurity.

It’s a warning that Gould has sounded often since the pandemic descended in the spring.

“What we’re talking about in international development is a decade of lost gains,” Gould said in an interview with The Canadian Press this past week.

“That has been my consistent message to colleagues and partners around the world: that we cannot lose focus; we must stay the course on the importance of directives that we have in development, in addition to responding to COVID-19.”

Gould cited the 270 million people who have fallen into extreme food insecurity, double the amount previously, as well as the fact that millions of girls around the world have been deprived of school.

The longer girls are out of school, the less likely they are to return, she said.

“We’re talking about an additional 10 million child brides,” said Gould. “There are a lot of things to be worried about.”

7:43 a.m.: The largest mass immunization effort in Canadian history began Dec. 14 in Ontario and Quebec after the country received its first COVID-19 vaccine shipment over the weekend.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada has signed a contract to receive up to 168,000 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine by the end of December, ahead of their planned January arrival and part of 40 million Moderna doses Ottawa has secured for delivery by the end of 2021.

The Moderna vaccine has not yet been approved by Health Canada, but Trudeau said deliveries could begin within 48 hours of it getting the green light.

Canada is also set to receive about 200,000 of its total early shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech doses next week, on top of 30,000 this week. They are bound for 70 distribution sites across the country — up from 14 now — where the vaccine can be administered.

A vaccine maker said vials may yield more doses than expected.

7:42 a.m.: Friday was the second time in a week that five new COVID-19 cases were reported by Public Health in one day, but Newfoundland and Labrador health officials say it’s par for the course.

“At this point, we expect to see cases. We expect to see travel-related cases,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald. “With regard to the epidemiology elsewhere, it only makes sense that we will start to see more travel-related cases. This is a realistic expectation that everybody should have.”

The key, she said, is that everyone follow pandemic health orders, including quarantining upon arrival from outside the province.

With rare exceptions, cases have been either travel-related, or passed on by close contacts of another case.

Three of Friday’s cases were in the Central Health region and two were in Eastern Health. All but one of the latter cases were traced to travel. That other case is under investigation.

While one of the Central Health cases is a school-age child, Public Health has said it was a member of a household that was already self-isolating, so there is no risk to the school community.

The new cases spurred Public Health to issue two travel alerts as an extra precaution.

Passengers who travelled on Air Canada Flight 8862 from Halifax to Gander arriving Monday, Dec. 7 are asked to call 811 to arrange COVID-19 testing.

The same goes for passengers who travelled on Air Canada Flight 8862 from Halifax to Gander that arrived Tuesday, Dec. 15.

Fitzgerald said she hopes everyone finds safe ways to celebrate over the Christmas season, and challenged residents to get creative.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see some new traditions created this year that take hold into next year.”



She also warned shoppers not to let their guard down during the last weekend before Dec. 25.

“As you are running your errands or finding that last-minute holiday gift, remember the importance of physical distancing and proper non-medical mask wearing,” she said. “Non-medical masks should allow for easy breathing, fit securely to your head with ties or ear loops, fully cover your nose and mouth, be clean and dry, and be comfortable and large enough to comfortably cover the nose and mouth.”

7:41 a.m.: Although Iran faces crushing U.S. sanctions, there are still ways for Tehran to obtain coronavirus vaccines as the country suffers the Mideast’s worst outbreak of the pandemic.

After earlier downplaying the virus, Iran has since acknowledged the scope of the disaster it faces after 1.1 million reported cases and over 52,000 deaths. Getting vaccines into the arms of its people would be a major step in stemming the crisis.

But while Iran is able to obtain vaccines, challenges remain ranging from sanctions imposed under President Donald Trump to the logistics of making mass vaccinations happen.

7:40 a.m.: India’s confirmed coronavirus cases have crossed 10 million with new infections dipping to their lowest levels in three months, as the country prepares for a massive COVID-19 vaccination in the new year.

Additional cases in the past 24 hours dropped to 25,152 from a peak of nearly 100,000 in mid-September. The epidemic has infected nearly one per cent of India’s more than 1.3 billion people, second to the worst-hit United States.

The Health Ministry on Saturday also reported 347 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 145,136.

Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, said India is keeping its fingers crossed as the cases tend to increase in winter months.

“If we can sustain our declining trend for the next two to three months, we should be able to start the vaccination program and start moving away from the pandemic,” Guleria told The Associated Press.

7:39 a.m.: Sydney’s northern beaches will enter a lockdown similar to the one imposed during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March as a cluster of cases in the area increased to 41.

From late Saturday afternoon until midnight Wednesday, residents will only be permitted to leave their homes for five basic reasons: medical care, exercise, grocery shop, work or for compassionate care reasons.

An additional 23 cases were recorded in the 24 hours, including 10 already announced, taking the new cases to 41. All but two of those are from the so-called Avalon cluster, named after a community of about 10,000 people on the northern beaches about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from downtown Sydney.

New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the restrictions are essential if Sydney has any hope of a semi-normal Christmas.

“We’re hoping that will give us sufficient time to get on top of the virus, so that we can then ease up for Christmas and the New Year,” she said.

7:37 a.m.: The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the coronavirus vaccine made by Moderna for emergency use, allowing the shipment of millions more doses across the nation and intensifying the debate over who will be next in line to get inoculated.

The move will make Moderna’s vaccine the second to reach the American public, after the one by Pfizer and BioNTech, which was authorized just one week ago.

The FDA’s decision sets the stage for a weekend spectacle of trucks rolling out as expert committees begin a new round of discussions weighing whether the next wave of vaccinations should go to essential workers, or to people 65 and older, and people with conditions that increase their risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19.

Jockeying for the next shots in January and February has already begun, even though there is still not enough of the two vaccines for all the health care workers and nursing home staff members and residents given first priority. Uber drivers, restaurant employees, morticians and barbers are among those lobbying states to include them in the next round along with those in the more traditional categories of the nation’s 80 million essential workers, like teachers and bus drivers.

Saturday 7:36 a.m.: China will soon begin coronavirus inoculations for workers in health care, transport and border control, a senior official said Saturday.

Vice Minister of the National Health Commission Zeng Yixin gave few specifics but said the government was prioritizing those most at risk of catching the virus.

Workers in logistics and in markets selling fresh meat and seafood would also be placed higher on the list of those receiving vaccines, along with the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

China says it has largely contained the spread of the virus domestically, announcing just three new cases of local infection on Saturday, two of them in the capital Beijing and one in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

Vaccines produced by Chinese companies are pending approval in Turkey, Indonesia and Brazil, as manufacturers continue testing the vaccines in more than a dozen countries including Russia, Egypt and Mexico.. Bahrain became the second country in the world to approve a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine, joining the United Arab Emirates.

Read Friday’s coronavirus news.