Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday

The latest:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Wednesday said he has “serious, serious problems” with a new report released by Ontario’s auditor general that criticized the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report said Ontario’s decision not to give Dr. David Williams, its chief medical officer of health, the lead role in its COVID-19 response is “unusual.”  

“The buck stops with me,” Ford said at a televised news conference Wednesday afternoon. “Dr. Williams has been riding shotgun with me from day one.”

Ontario reported 1,373 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 445 in Toronto and 415 in Peel Region. Health officials reported 35 additional deaths, bringing the cumulative death toll in the province to 3,554.

The number of people with COVID-19 in the province’s hospitals stood at 523, with 159 in intensive care, according to a provincial dashboard.

The province on Thursday provided guidance on how people should handle the upcoming holiday season amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott urged residents to follow public health guidelines and celebrate only with their immediate family. Those who live alone are encouraged to find one family to celebrate with.

WATCH | Ontario prempier discusses holiday safety:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford appealed to Ontarians to avoid large gatherings over the holidays to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.   1:07

Elliott underscored the importance of people continuing to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We know this is hard,” she said. 

“But there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, referring to promising clinical trial results for several new vaccines. “We’re almost there.”

What’s happening across Canada

As of 2:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 345,446, with 57,623 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 11,689.

British Columbia reported a record high COVID-19 case number on Tuesday as neighbouring Alberta declared a public health emergency and put forward targeted measures aimed at slowing transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Alberta — which reported 1,115 new cases and 16 additional deaths on Tuesday — is temporarily banning indoor private social gatherings and moving all students in Grade 7 and above to at-home learning.

Premier Jason Kenney opted to keep businesses, including retail and clothing stores, open with 25 per cent capacity. Casinos will be allowed to run their slot machines at 25 per cent capacity and churches will still be allowed to hold services with one-third their normal audience. Restaurants can still offer in-person dining.

Kenney, who has not ruled out the possibility of further restrictions in the weeks ahead, said Tuesday’s measures were needed to keep the province’s health-care system from being “overwhelmed” and to protect the vulnerable.

“They are also needed to protect Albertans from the health, social and economic damage that a crushing lockdown would inflict.”

But some in the province were quick to criticize Tuesday’s orders, saying they didn’t go far enough. 

Mike Parker, president of a major union of health-care workers, called the measures “inadequate” and took issue with Kenney’s leadership, saying the premier “continues to put business interests ahead of the well-being of all Albertans.”

As of Tuesday, Alberta had 13,349 active cases of COVID-19 and 348 people in hospital, with 66 in intensive care.

WATCH | Respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta says Alberta response not aggressive enough to curb COVID-19:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney bypassed a renewed lockdown as part of new COVID-19 restrictions, despite having more COVID-19 cases per capita than Ontario. Restaurants and retail can stay open with reduced capacity, though indoor private gatherings are banned and the school year has been altered again. 2:36

British Columbia, meanwhile, reported 941 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday — a new daily high in the province, which also announced a new public health measure.

Health officials in B.C. had already introduced a mask requirement for indoor public spaces and new rules around social gatherings, but on Tuesday they also moved to temporarily ban indoor group fitness activities.

“We need to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our province and that needs to happen now,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement. “That is why we have paused all gatherings, events and indoor group fitness activities.”

Saskatchewan reported 164 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 3,012. Premier Scott Moe and the province’s chief medical health officer are expected to announce new restrictions later Wednesday.

The tough new rules have sparked outcry from some small business owners, who argue they unfairly clamp down on small retailers while big-box stores that sell essentials like groceries are still allowed to sell “non-essential” products.

Quebec, which has seen the most cases of any province to date, recently provided its own guidance around Christmas.

Premier François Legault has said that people in that province can attend up to two social gatherings (with a maximum of 10 people in attendance at each event) from Dec. 24 to 27. People who plan on attending these gatherings are also asked to quarantine a week before and a week after.

Quebec reported 1,100 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 28 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 655, with 93 in intensive care, according to a provincial dashboard.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, meanwhile, urged people to be “very, very observant” of the province’s public health guidelines over the holidays. He waded into the broader debate about how to handle the holiday season this week, calling Quebec’s plan “dangerous.”

Manitoba reported 476 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 12 additional deaths, bringing the province’s death toll to 248.

In Atlantic Canada, where a travel bubble that tied the provinces together has been temporarily popped, Nova Scotia‘s premier is once again urging people to “stay the blazes home.”

After announcing 37 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday — the most the province has seen since late April — health officials put forward new regulations that will see a range of closures in the Halifax area beginning later this week. Restaurant dining rooms will close, as will public spaces like libraries, casinos and recreation centres.

“If you haven’t woken up to the second wave, this is your wake-up call,” Premier Stephen McNeil said.

WATCH | N.S. cracks down on Halifax to stop COVID-19 surge:

‘It’s very scary what’s happening out there,’ says Toronto respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta. He says the rising coronavirus caseload means sick people are at ‘high risk’ of being turned away from the ICU.   1:27

Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, saying the individual was a contact of a previous case.

New Brunswick reported five more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. There were no new cases in Prince Edward Island.

In the North, Nunavut reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases in the territory to 153. 

Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said there are over 300 people in isolation in Arviat. No one in Nunavut is hospitalized because of COVID-19 and Patterson said those infected have mild to moderate symptoms.

There were no new confirmed cases reported in Yukon or the Northwest Territories on Tuesday.

What’s happening around the world

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 3:00 p.m. ET

As of early Wednesday afternoon, there were more than 60 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 38.4 million of those listed as resolved or recovered, according to a coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.4 million.

Robert Lugo, left, helps manage Zoom calls as Santa Larry, right, speaks with a virtual visitor at the Santa Experience in the Mall of America on Tuesday in Bloomington, Minn. The owners had initially set up a socially distanced set, featuring a cabin with a plexiglass window, but moved completely online after new COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

In the Americas, U.S. president-elect Joe Biden appealed for unity Wednesday in a pre-Thanksgiving address, asking Americans to “steel our spines” for a fight against coronavirus he predicts will continue for months.

“Each of us has a responsibility in our own lives to do what we can to slow the virus,” he said in remarks in Wilmington, Del.

But record hospitalizations and a surging death toll appeared did not seem to be keeping travellers at bay before for this weekend’s American Thanksgiving, raising fears that the unchecked spread under way is a prelude to further contagion at Christmas time.

Daily U.S. deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 2,000 for the first time since May on Tuesday, and hospitalizations reached a record 88,000 on Wednesday as the country recorded 2.3 million new infections in the past two weeks alone.

Nearly one million passengers a day have been screened at airport security checkpoints for the past week, with Sunday’s total of 1.047 million being the highest number since the early days of the pandemic in mid-March.

“We know we’re taking a risk, but we want to see the family, and it has been a long time … so we want to see them and have fun,” said Daliza Rodriguez, a 33-year-old childhood educator, as she travelled to Texas from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday.

In Minnesota, a surge of COVID-19 cases throughout the state is affecting staffing levels at many nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. That’s forcing the state to send the National Guard to help out in some homes, while the administration is also asking state employees to consider volunteering in facilities with critical staff shortages.

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden holds up a face mask while speaking about the coronavirus in a pre-Thanksgiving address at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., on Wednesday. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The Star Tribune reported Wednesday that Minnesota Department of Health data shows 90 per cent of the state’s nursing homes and 58 per cent of assisted-living facilities have active outbreaks.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Tuesday that 47 long-term care facilities are in “a crisis staffing situation” and are receiving active support from the state, including help from federal health nurses.

Gov. Tim Walz’s administration is also taking the unusual step of emailing all state employees and asking them to consider volunteering for two-week stints in long-term care facilities, particularly in greater Minnesota.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore, which once had the highest COVID-19 rate in Southeast Asia, said it was nearly virus-free and Australia’s most-populous state eased restrictions, while Tokyo will urge bars and restaurants to operate with shortened hours.

WATCH | Some Canadians in Australia favour aggressive approach to COVID-19:

Australia became one of the few countries in the world, and one with many similarities to Canada, to beat back a second wave of COVID-19 and bring its case count near zero. 5:13

South Korea said 60 new army recruits at a boot camp have tested positive for the coronavirus, the military’s largest cluster infection. The Defence Ministry said in a statement the recruits had been taking basic training at an army unit in Yeoncheon, a town near the tense border with North Korea, at the start of their 18 months of mandatory military service.

It said more tests are underway to determine whether 860 other recruits and troops at the Yeoncheon unit have been infected with the virus, too.

In Europe, France will start easing measures to curb the virus this weekend so people will be able to spend the holiday with their families, and said a vaccine could start being administered by the end of year if approved by regulators.

An employee works to prepare orders for Christmas at JoueClub toy shop in Paris as non-essential stores prepare to reopen after weeks of lockdown to combat a resurgence of the coronavirus in France. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

Britain’s government reduced its commitment to foreign aid on Wednesday, pledging to spend 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product on aid in 2021 as opposed to the normal 0.7 per cent figure, Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said.

While expressing “great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target,” Sunak said that “sticking rigidly” to it “is difficult to justify” to people at a time when the economy has been so battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday that his government was considering limiting Christmas celebrations to six people in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Health experts and scientists have advised that six is a sufficiently low number to help stop the virus, Sanchez said, adding that the final details of the restrictions will be negotiated with regional authorities.

In the Middle East, Israel’s central bank urged the government to approve a 2021 state budget as soon as possible to avoid further fiscal restraint when the economy needs stimulus to weather the crisis.

Iran registered on Wednesday a daily record high of 13,843 new cases, the health ministry said, pushing the national tally to 894,385 in the Middle East’s worst-hit country.

The World Health Organization said the coronavirus pandemic has “slowed down” in the past week although death rates continued to rise, with more than 67,000 new deaths reported.

The UN health agency said in its latest epidemiological update Wednesday that even though there was a “downward trend” in the number of cases in Europe, the region still has the biggest proportion of new cases and deaths globally. WHO noted that Africa reported the highest increase in new cases and deaths, driven by South Africa, Algeria and Kenya.

In Asia, WHO noted that Japan reported the largest number of daily cases since the beginning of the outbreak, with more than 2,000 reported every day for five consecutive days, a 41 per cent increase from the previous week. Myanmar reported a 74 per cent jump in cases last week, with more than 11,000 new cases and a 36 per cent increase in deaths, at 188.