Today’s coronavirus news: Fauci vows full U.S. engagement with WHO; some provinces yet to say when jail inmates to be vaccinated against COVID-19

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

6:36 a.m.: Delayed vaccine deliveries have dialed up the pressure on health authorities facing tough decisions about how to deploy the doses they have.

Upgrades to a Pfizer factory in Belgium mean there will be no vaccine deliveries to Canada next week, and overall shipments will be cut in half for about a month, prompting multiple provinces to stretch out supply with a controversial idea: increasing the amount of time before people get their second shot.

It’s a tactic that Israel, one of the nations that has been cited as a leader in vaccine efficiency, is also now casting doubt on.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex Boyd.

6:30 a.m.: Several internal ministry documents related to Ontario’s back-to-school plan show safety proposals that were either abandoned or dialed back. Taken together with other changes to the ministry’s guidance over the summer months, particularly around class sizes, critics say the province repeatedly moved the goal posts in its schools plan, loosening safety measures at a time when COVID rates in the community were low.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rachel Mendleson.

6:09 a.m.: Germany is pushing its partners in the European Union to reduce coronavirus infections in an effort to keep a new variant first detected in Britain at bay, and says new border checks might be needed if they don’t co-ordinate.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors agreed on Tuesday to extend the country’s lockdown by two weeks until Feb. 14. Although Germany’s infection figures are finally declining, officials worry that more infectious variants could push them back up quickly if allowed to take hold.

Merkel said on Tuesday: “If countries were to go very different ways — which I don’t see at the moment, but it could happen, then we would have to be prepared … (to) say, then we have to reintroduce border controls.” She stressed that “we don’t want this.”

Her chief of staff, Helge Braun, on Thursday emphasized the need to push infections down “to keep the mutation out of core Europe.”

Braun told ARD television: “All countries must do this, and if a neighbouring country doesn’t do this we can hardly protect ourselves against the mutation, and then even tougher entry measures on our internal borders are unavoidable. And since everyone doesn’t want that, it’s important that we act together now.”

6:07 a.m.: The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says access to medical oxygen is a “huge, huge critical need” across the continent as Africa’s case fatality rate from COVID-19 is now above the global average and health centres are overwhelmed.

John Nkengasong said the case fatality rate across the African continent is 2.5% while the global average is 2.2%. And while confirmed coronavirus cases in the past week across Africa dropped by 7%, deaths rose by 10%.

“It’s beginning to be very worrying,” Nkengasong told reporters Thursday. He noted that a Nigerian colleague has said struggling health workers are having to decide which cases to manage and which not to manage in Africa’s most populous country.

Twenty-one of Africa’s more than 50 countries have case fatality rates above the global average, led by Sudan at 6.2%. The continent has seen more than 6,000 deaths in the past week, with more than 81,000 overall. Africa has had more than 3.3 million confirmed virus cases. Almost all African countries are still waiting for COVID-19 vaccines.

6:07 a.m.: Dubai’s tourism department Thursday announced an immediate halt to all live entertainment at hotels and restaurants, a day after suspending non-urgent surgeries at hospitals to deal with an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Both decisions come after months of Dubai promoting itself as the ideal pandemic-friendly vacation spot while coronavirus infections skyrocketed. Now, the sheikhdom is showing signs of strain.

Even as cases surged to previously unseen heights in the United Arab Emirates, the city-state of Dubai had been a glimmering desert oasis for tourists fleeing tough lockdowns elsewhere. Since reopening in the spring, the commercial hub has resisted more restrictions that would pummel its economy, built largely on aviation, hospitality and retail.

Despite the ubiquitous masks outdoors, a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy has prevailed in the city. Bands, dancers and DJs had been performing in bars and clubs for socially-distanced crowds. Hotel occupancy rates surged over 70% in December, nearing 2019 holiday levels. The city’s airport welcomed over 70,000 travellers for New Year’s weekend alone.

6:06 a.m.: Dr. Anthony Fauci says U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday will order the United States to support projects to deploy COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics to people in need around the world.

Fauci also says the United States will cease reducing U.S. staff counts at the World Health Organization and will pay its financial obligations to it.

Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser on the pandemic, told the WHO’s executive board that the president will issue a directive Thursday that shows the United States’ intent to join the COVAX Facility, a project to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world — whether in rich or poor countries.

Fauci also said the United States would support the “ACT Accelerator” — an umbrella effort including COVAX that also focuses on distributing diagnostic tools and therapeutics for the coronavirus to countries around the world.

6:04 a.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Thursday announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization after it faced blistering criticism from the Trump administration, laying out new commitments to tackle the coronavirus and other global health issues.

Fauci, speaking by video conference from pre-dawn United States to WHO’s executive board, said the U.S. will join the UN health agency’s efforts to bring vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to people in need, whether in rich or poor countries. He said the U.S. will also resume full funding and staffing support for WHO.

Fauci’s quick commitment to WHO — whose response to the coronavirus outbreak was repeatedly berated by the Trump administration — marks a dramatic and vocal shift toward a multilateral approach to fighting the pandemic.

“I am honoured to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” Fauci said. Just hours after Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, his administration announced the U.S. will revoke a planned pullout from the WHO in July that had been announced by the Trump administration.

Fauci said the Biden administration “will cease the drawdown of U.S. staff seconded to the WHO” and resume “regular engagement” with WHO. “The United States also intends to fulfil its financial obligations to the organization,” he added.

6:03 a.m.: India sent 1 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Nepal on Thursday, a gift that is likely to help repair strained ties between the two neighbours.

Nepal health minister Hridayesh Tripathi said the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, will be given to health workers and other front-line personnel within a week to 10 days.

Tripathi said Nepal would like to purchase 4 million more doses, and asked for the Indian government’s help. There was no immediate response from Indian officials who were the airport when the vaccine arrived.

Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali flew to India last week to formally request the vaccine.

6:02 a.m.: As the U.S. enters “what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” President Joe Biden is putting forth a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks — including a requirement that they be worn for travel.

Biden also will address inequities in hard-hit minority communities as he signs 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday, his second day in office.



“We need to ask average Americans to do their part,” said Jeff Zients, the White House official directing the national response. “Defeating the virus requires a co-ordinated nationwide effort.”

But Biden officials say they’re hampered by lack of co-operation from the Trump administration during the transition. They say they don’t have a complete understanding of their predecessors’ actions on vaccine distribution.

6 a.m.: A director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association believes provinces should set targets for vaccinating inmates in provincial jails — something half of jurisdictions have yet to do.

The Correctional Service of Canada has started vaccinations for federal prisoners who are older or considered “medically vulnerable.” But, as of last week, provinces had yet to start giving shots to inmates awaiting trial or serving shorter sentences in provincial jails.

“Prisoners are disproportionately impacted by health conditions that would make them very susceptible to serious illness and death as a result of COVID,” said Abby Deshman with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Because of a limited vaccine supply, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends people in correctional centres get inoculated behind those in long-term care homes, seniors 70 and older, critical health-care workers and adults in Indigenous communities.

British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia said that, as of last week, prisoners and staff are scheduled for vaccination in the second round of inoculations, with estimated start dates between next month and June.

Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec didn’t provide a timeline for when inmates will receive their shots. Newfoundland and Labrador said its inmates will be part of the second phase of its vaccine distribution, but didn’t specify dates.

Saskatchewan said the ranking of vulnerable groups is still to be determined.

6 a.m.: The COVID-19 pandemic is about to force another big break from tradition in the House of Commons: MPs using an app on their smartphones or laptops to cast votes remotely.

Party whips are still discussing some unresolved details, the most important of which is ensuring Canadians will be able to see how their MPs vote, in real-time, as they click yea or nay.

But government whip Mark Holland is optimistic that all parties will give unanimous consent to proceed with the voting app when the Commons resumes Monday after a six-week break.

Traditionally, MPs who support a bill or motion are asked to rise in the Commons and then nod their assent as their names are called, one by one, by the clerk. The same procedure is then followed for those opposed.

5:55 a.m.: Ontario’s plan to vaccinate the populations of its most remote First Nations communities against COVID-19 faces many challenges, but Indigenous leaders say that earning the trust of the people must be a priority.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a political organization that represents 49 of Ontario’s 123 First Nations, said that the most obvious hurdle of Operation Remote Immunity is geography, as those remote communities may not have an airstrip and must have their winter roads built in time for the vaccine to be delivered. But he said that even more important than the physical logistics of delivering the vaccine is ensuring that Indigenous people are willing to accept it.

“Making sure that communities are aware of the vaccine, that they understand the vaccine and why it’s important so they can consent to getting the vaccine is part of the challenge,” said Fiddler.

All 31 remote First Nations that are participating in Operation Remote Immunity are part of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, so Fiddler and his staff have been working with Ontario’s vaccine task force as a liaison between the individual communities and the government.

Communication has had to flow both ways before the vaccines start arriving on Feb. 1.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

In Canada, the provinces are reporting 41,760 new vaccinations administered for a total of 692,899 doses given. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 1,828.264 per 100,000.

There were 18,975 new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 907,515 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 76.35 per cent of their available vaccine supply.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

There are 725,495 confirmed cases in Canada (68,413 active, 638,620 resolved, 18,462 deaths). The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 5,744 new cases Wednesday from 68,508 completed tests, for a positivity rate of 8.4 per cent. The rate of active cases is 182 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 44,165 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 6,309.

There were 196 new reported deaths Wednesday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 1,034 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 148. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.39 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 49.12 per 100,000 people.

There have been 16,778,780 tests completed.