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Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, watch a health-care work fill a vile with the coronavirus vaccine as he tours a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Peel Region during the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario is going into emergency shutdown for at least four weeks, starting Saturday; people born in 1961 and before can sign up for vaccination at city megasites

  • 12:04 p.m.: Quebec is reporting 1,271 new cases of COVID-19

  • 10:19 a.m. Ontario is reporting 2,557 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 62,300 tests completed

  • 9:44 a.m.: Schools in Ontario will remain open, the education minister says

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.

6:10 p.m. British Columbia is reporting 832 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths, The Canadian Press reports.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C.’s total number of deaths has now reached 1,463 people, according to CP.

She says 296 people are in hospital being treated for COVID-19, with 79 people in intensive care.

5:20 p.m. The Ontario Nurses’ Association says it is deeply disappointed that the Ford government has failed to implement funding for workers who are forced to self-isolate due to exposure or who are off sick.

Nurses and health-care professionals continue to be at great risk for contracting COVID-19 due to exposure to confirmed and suspected cases, the ONA said in a statement.

“When they are forced to self-isolate or are ill due to COVID-19, some are unable to access pay benefits because they work part-time or casual. No one should have to experience personal economic hardship for caring for their patients, residents and clients,” the statement said.

“The ONA strongly urges the Ford government to fund social supports including isolation pay and sick pay for workers, which will go a long way in protecting the health of all Ontarians and help to stop COVID-19 in its tracks.”

In its statement, the ONA said it wants the Ford government to expedite the second dose of the vaccines for all healthcare workers. “We have heard from many members that they would like to proceed with the original stated time between doses to ensure protection.”

5:06 p.m. Canada hit a new daily record and passed a new milestone for vaccinations this week, but will need to up its game to get a single dose to every eligible person by Canada Day, The Canadian Press reports.

It’s doable on paper, but potential barriers loom, according to CP. Export controls in Europe and India and the risk of production issues for brand-new vaccines are among them, along with fears that anxious Canadians will reject the troubled Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The number of people vaccinated with at least one dose topped five million as of Thursday morning, leaving about 27 million people over 16 still needing a first dose. About 1.4 million doses are needed to add kids between 12 and 15, who should soon be eligible to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after a successful trial concluded this week.

Current projections are that Canada will receive between 32 million and 36 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine before June 30.

Provinces and territories injected nearly 220,000 doses of vaccine Wednesday, besting their previous record of 217,000 set five days earlier. They averaged more than 185,000 doses a day over the last seven days, the highest seven-day average to date.

They will need to average somewhere between 310,000 and 330,000 doses a day to get one dose to all Canadians 12 years of age and older over the next three months.

Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, said almost three in four Canadians over the age of 80 have now received at least one dose, and so have nearly one third of people between 70 and 79 years old.

“What we are seeing in terms of vaccine rollout is encouraging,” said Njoo.

But the risks of problems continue. The delivery of 590,000 doses of Moderna vaccine was delayed almost a week after a backlog in quality assurance checks in Europe. Those doses were supposed to arrive March 27, but didn’t leave Europe by plane until April 1. Fortin said provinces should start getting them on Saturday.

Europe’s increased export controls haven’t yet prevented shipments to Canada but approvals are needed by the European Commission every week for the shipments to continue. That includes 17.8 million Pfizer doses and 12.3 million Moderna doses expected in the next three months.

Joelle Paquette, director general in charge of vaccines at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said Thursday that India’s ban on exports from the Serum Institute of India will delay Canada’s April shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine from there. Canada is expecting one million doses in April and 500,000 in May. Paquette said the doses will come eventually but can’t put a date on it now.

She said she didn’t expect an impact from a problem with Johnson & Johnson’s manufacturing that forced the company to toss 15 million doses this week after a mix-up at a Maryland production facility.

Fortin said the first 300,000 doses from the international vaccine-sharing program known as COVAX are expected next week, and Canada is supposed to get another 1.6 million of those by the end of June.

4 p.m. Saskatchewan is reporting 199 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, 115 of which are in the capital city, which has become a hot spot for variants of concern, The Canadian Press reports.

Health officials warned that the number of faster-spreading variants is also beginning to rise elsewhere in southern Saskatchewan, particularly Moose Jaw and Weyburn, according to CP.

The province is expanding vaccine eligibility to people 58 and older as of Friday.

So far, 200,633 doses have been administered.

3 p.m. People born in 1961 and before can sign up for vaccination appointments at city-run megasites, starting 8 a.m. Friday, said Mayor John Tory.

Speaking at the city’s COVID-19 briefing, Tory added that move followed the province approving a request from Toronto.

Tory urged those eligible to get vaccinated: “Do it this weekend!”

(To get vaccinated at a city-run site, you have to go through the provincial booking system. Go to or call 1-888-999-6488. You can sign up for a loved one with their health card number, birthdate.)

The mayor welcomed the Ontario’s move to impose a province-wide lockdown.

“It’s the right thing to do.”

Tory said Ontario was in the third wave of the pandemic and that the spread of variants of the virus meant “decisive action was needed.”

The move and public adherence to health measures will save lives and enable a careful reopening, Tory said.

He welcomed the province-wide approach.

“We’re not an island. Toronto can’t hold the virus back on its own,” he said. “The status quo is not a viable option.”

Torontonians must wear masks, maintain a distance from one another and remain within their houshold circle, he said.

Fifty-two pharmacies have been added to the list of drugstores where people can get vaccinated, including in the northwest and northeast parts of the city, hardest hit by the virus.

“We must act in solidarity with one another and with businesses and follow the public health measures to save lives and stay healthy with one common goal: to have a summer,” Tory said.

“I want this to be the last lockdown.”

People must get vaccinated and follow the public health measures to get back to normal, Tory said.

“A healthy economy requires healthy people,” the mayor said.

Asked about all the chopping and changing of lockdowns businesses have faced, Tory suggested that the advent of highly contagious variants of the virus were to blame for the most recent of these.

He said he felt sorry for restaurants and bars who have opened their patios.

Asked what the city was doing to address the relatively low percentage of people getting vaccinated in the parts of the city hardest hit by the virus, Tory said it’s opened clinics there, got 280 “ambassadors” to help overcome hesitancy among people about taking the vaccine, added pharmacies where people can get vaccinated and taken measures to bring the vaccine to place where the elderly live.

2:41 p.m. Toronto has announced the cancellation of in-person spring break CampTO camps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as case counts resurge and following Thursday’s announcement from the Government of Ontario.

The cancellation is based on recommendations from the City’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa.

The City’s spring break in-person camps were scheduled to run from April 12 through to April 16 at more than 85 locations. Approximately 1,085 participants had registered for in-person spring break camps. The city is issuing refunds automatically to all CampTO registrants.

1:58 p.m. The entire province is going into an “emergency brake shutdown“ for at least four weeks starting at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday after officials warned a third wave was imminent and the province risked further lockdown.

Indoor and outdoor public events and gatherings are prohibited, this includes patios which recently re-opened in Toronto. Capacity on outdoor events will be limited to five unless people are in the same household. In-person shopping is limited, and personal care services and gyms must close (were never opened in Toronto).

1:52 p.m. Remote learning is being extended beyond Easter break for schools in Regina due to concerns over surging infections of COVID-19 variants of concern in the city.

Students with Regina Public Schools, Regina Catholic School Division and Prairie Valley School Division will not return to class until April 26.

Greg Enion, director of education for public schools, says the decision was made with the encouragement of the city’s medical health officers.

He says it was the most prudent and proactive step to minimize the health risks to students, staff and their families.

Online learning began last month as health officials warned that COVID-19 variants were taking a foothold in Regina.

Saskatchewan reported 191 new cases of the novel coronavirus Wednesday — 98 of which were in Regina.

1:17 p.m. Ontario is offering Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to residents aged 55 and older.

The number of pharmacies offering shots is expanding to include locations in every public health unit.

Ontario expects 583,400 shots of the vaccine to arrive today and the government says pharmacies could start offering doses as early as Saturday.

It says more primary care offices and community locations across all 34 public health units will also start administering the vaccine.

Oxford-AstraZeneca shots were initially offered at more than 300 pharmacy locations in Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Kingston, going to people aged 60 and older.

Some physicians’ offices in six health units were also initially distributing the shots to patients in that age cohort.

1:05 p.m. Health Canada says almost three in four Canadians over the age of 80 have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as have one in three people between 70 and 79.

Overall, almost one in six Canadians have now been given at least one dose, with 5.1 million people vaccinated as of Thursday morning.

About 690,000 of those have received both doses.

Health Canada also issued new data by province today, showing Quebec ahead of the rest of the country in vaccinations, with 17.5 per cent of the adult population in Quebec vaccinated with at least one dose, followed by Saskatchewan at 14.9 per cent, Alberta at 14.6 per cent and Ontario at 13.9 per cent.

Nova Scotia trails way behind at 5.6 per cent, with Manitoba second-to-last at 11 per cent.

1 p.m. Newfoundland and Labrador health authorities are reporting one new case of COVID-19.

Officials say the case involves a man between 20 and 39 years old and his infection is related to travel within the country.

Public health says contact tracers are still trying to chase down the source of another infection announced Wednesday.

Newfoundland and Labrador hasn’t reported a case of COVID-19 whose source wasn’t quickly traced to travel or an existing infection since an outbreak swept through the St. John’s region in February.

12:45 p.m. Peel police have charged a woman with allegedly using a fraudulent COVID-19 document after arriving from an international flight at Pearson Airport in Mississauga.

A Canada Border Services Agency border services officer did an inspection of a woman’s entry documents on March 29 around 4 p.m.

Police were called in as the border services officer suspected the COVID-19 document to be fraudulent. They also had it reviewed by Peel Public Health.

A 26-year-old woman from Brampton was arrested and charged for uttering forged document.

She was released on an appearance notice and is scheduled to attend the Ontario Court of Justice on May 17 in Brampton.

12:23 p.m.: Ontario’s science advisers say stay-at-home orders are needed to control the third wave of COVID-19, which is being driven by rising rates of the more deadly variants of concern.

The Ontario Science Advisory Table makes the findings in its latest pandemic modelling data released today.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the group, says short-term case projections will depend entirely on the public health measures implemented by the government and vaccination rates.

He says the province’s vaccine rollout is not reaching the highest risk communities and that is delaying its impact as an effective strategy to fight the pandemic.

Stay-at-home orders expired weeks ago when the province transitioned to a colour-coded pandemic response system.

Read the full story here.

12:05 p.m.: A decision by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal says anyone denied service for refusing to wear a mask must be ready to prove they have a disability if they intend to file a complaint.

The warning is contained in a screening decision published Wednesday as tribunal member Steven Adamson addresses what he describes as a large volume of complaints alleging discrimination related to mask requirements.

Screening decisions are among the first steps in a tribunal investigation and are rarely released, but Adamson says he’s publishing his findings because there have been many similar complaints since last October.

12:04 p.m.: Quebec is reporting 1,271 new cases of COVID-19 today and nine more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one in the past 24 hours.

It’s the highest number of new daily cases reported in the province since late January.

Health officials say hospitalizations rose by two, to 487, and 119 people were in intensive care, a drop of one.

The province says it administered 41,406 doses of vaccine Wednesday for a total of 1,391,649; it says about 16.4 per cent of the population has received at least one dose.

Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday schools and non-essential businesses in Quebec City, Gatineau and Levis will be closed for at least 10 days starting at 8 p.m. this evening. The nighttime curfew in those cities has been advanced to 8 p.m. from 9:30 p.m.

Legault also moved four regions from the orange to the red pandemic-alert level — the highest level in Quebec’s colour-coded alert system.

10:19 a.m. Ontario is reporting 2,557 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 62,300 tests completed. Locally, there are 743 new cases in Toronto, 484 in Peel, 311 in York Region, 131 in Ottawa, 119 in Hamilton and 107 in Durham.

10:15 a.m. (will be updated) New variants of COVID-19 double the risk anyone catching the virus could end up in a hospital intensive care unit. Hospitalizations in Ontario surged 42 per cent in last two weeks, says new computer modelling.

10:06 a.m. Ontario government expanding AstraZeneca vaccine program in 700 pharmacies to everyone aged 55 and over starting Saturday. Age threshold is currently 60.

10:05 a.m. (updated) With Ontario set to go into a 28-day lockdown, new computer modelling of COVID-19 shows people who catch highly contagious new variants of the virus are twice as likely to end up in a hospital intensive care unit.

It is sweeping through some homes with a vengeance, said Steini Brown, head of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and co-chair of the science table of experts advising Premier Doug Ford.

“Whole families are now showing up in intensive care,” he told a briefing Thursday before Ford announced full details of the lockdown to begin Saturday.

The risk of dying is 1.5 times higher with the dominant B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, the odds of ending up on a ventilator are three times higher and the risks of transmitting it quickly to another person are 2.5 times higher.

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson

9:44 a.m.: Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce tweeted that schools in the province will remain open. “Schools will remain open — critical for students’ mental health & learning. The Chief Medical Officer of Health has said schools remain safe. Against third wave & VOCs, strong protocols have kept 98.7% of schools open and 74% without any cases. Students deserve to be in class,” Lecce said.

Read the full story by the Star’s Kristin Rushowy here.

8:49 a.m.: (updated) With intensive care units seeing more COVID-19 patients than ever, 153 ICU doctors have signed a letter to provincial leaders urging them to act now to save lives and combat the third wave of the virus.

The doctors say Ontario’s current framework and approach to tackling the surging number of cases that are fuelled by highly contagious so-called variants of concern are failing and new measures are needed, otherwise more people will die.

“If we continue to allow cases to grow exponentially, the ICU demand will outstrip supply of staffed beds. Once overwhelmed, we could be forced to triage the critically ill, deciding who gets ICU care and a chance to survive, and who receives palliative care and dies,” they said in the letter addressed to Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“As ICU doctors, we are the last line of defence, and we are ringing the alarm bell. Please hear it. We are imploring you to act now.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Olivia Bowden

8:21 a.m. Vaccination efforts in the GTA will continue throughout the Easter weekend at most hospitals and at all of Toronto’s city-run mass-immunization clinics, local hospitals and the city say.

Scarborough Health Network vaccine clinics at Centenary Hospital and Centennial College are now open seven days a week, with Good Friday and Easter Monday no exception.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s clinic and the two Unity Health Toronto clinics, at St. Michael’s Hospital and St. Joseph’s Health Centre, will also be operating on the holidays and the weekend.

University Health Network, the city’s largest health network, said only one of the four clinics it operates will be open all four days, with the other three closed due to insufficient supply.

Read the full story from the Star’s Ben Cohen

7:45 a.m. Toronto is asking the Ontario government to let all people who will be aged 60 and over this year be vaccinated against COVID-19 at city clinics, down a decade from the current cutoff, citing grave danger from virus variants.

Mayor John Tory told reporters at a Wednesday briefing that he made the request to Premier Doug Ford. “He wholeheartedly supported this change and we hope to announce details of when this will happen very soon.

“We really want to just get on with administering more vaccinations faster and our participation in the provincial (appointment booking) system requires us to make this request,” which would require the province to change which health cards and matching birthdates are accepted by their online portal, Tory said.

“This change will ensure that we continue to fill up all available appointments and work to get as many eligible people vaccinated as our supply allows throughout the holiday weekend and beyond.”

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider

7:25 a.m. Lani Singer sat in her car in a McDonald’s parking lot near the Melbourne airport, waiting to hear if her Canadian partner was able to board one of the last United Airline flights out of Australia.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she cried into her Happy Meal, before a text finally came through, confirming he had made it through security.

Singer laughs at herself now as she tells the story of that goodbye — how a three-week holiday in March of 2020 with Antonio Carvallo, who she lived with in Toronto, turned into a six-month-separation after Australia began to close its borders to non-residents and citizens alike in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

And how afterwards, she drove back from the airport to her parents’ house — where she hadn’t lived since she was 21 — by herself and turned into the moody teenager she had been long ago.

“Is it glamorous?” she asks wryly, as she tells the story that started just over a year ago. “Is it ready for a movie? Probably not.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Patty Winsa

6:38 a.m.: France’s prime minister defended the government’s plans to close schools for at least three weeks and to ban domestic travel for a month to slow a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jean Castex led a parliamentary debate on the new nationwide measures as the National Assembly, France’s lower house, prepared to vote on them Thursday.

Castex told lawmakers that the government has acted “consistently and pragmatically.”

Opposition parties were expected to boycott the vote. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the leftist La France Insoumise party denounced it as a “bad April Fools’” prank.

While French schools are temporarily closed, Castex confirmed aid for families with children who rely on free school meals.

6:37 a.m.: Thailand on Thursday began halving the quarantine time for vaccinated visitors as a first step to allowing inoculated people into the country without the need to isolate.

The pandemic has devastated Thailand’s tourism industry, a key income earner, but strict border measures have left the country relatively unscathed.

Tanee Sangrat, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that travellers — Thais and non-Thais — are no longer required to have fit-to-fly documents issued by Thai consulates from Thursday. Foreigners, however, still have to show a negative COVID-19 test result.

He said that people who are certified to have been vaccinated will be allowed to spend seven days in special quarantine hotels, compared to the previous 14 days. Unvaccinated people have to spend 10 days in quarantine unless they arrive from one of 11 countries — all in sub-Saharan Africa — in which case they have to do the full two weeks.

He said that those vaccinated must have certificates approved by Thai FDA and/or the World Health Organization. Thailand has approved seven vaccines including Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna.

6:36 a.m.: Seeking to overcome vaccine hesitancy, the Biden administration is unveiling a coalition of community, religious and celebrity partners to promote COVID-19 shots.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ “We Can Do This” campaign features television and social media ads, but it also relies on a community corps of public health, athletic, faith and other groups to spread the word about the safety and efficacy of the three approved vaccines. The campaign comes amid worries that reluctance to get vaccinated will delay the nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Vice-President Kamala Harris and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy will meet with the more than 275 inaugural members of the community corps on Thursday to kick off the effort.

The focus on trusted validators stems from both internal and public surveys showing those skeptical of the vaccines are most likely to be swayed by local, community and medical encouragement to get vaccinated, rather than messages from politicians.

Courtney Rowe, the White House’s COVID-19 director of strategic communications and engagement, briefed governors on the new initiative Tuesday, telling them that people “want to hear from those they know and trust.” She added that the initiative would be “empowering the leaders people want to hear from.”

5:47 a.m.: Officials in the nation’s capital are watching the crowds as cherry blossom season begins in earnest.

The distinctive white and pink petals reached full bloom last Sunday, about a week earlier than expected. It’s an event that normally brings in thousands of visitors and signals the unofficial start of D.C.’s peak tourist and convention season.

But Washington remains largely locked down because of the coronavirus pandemic, with limitations on outdoor gatherings and Smithsonian museums and galleries and its National Zoo shuttered.

“We’re starting to open slowly,” said Cherry Blossom Festival President Diana Mayhew. “We really hope that people are being smart. We’ve all gone through enough this past year that we don’t want to revert.”

The National Park Service stands poised to limit access to the Tidal Basin and its high concentration of cherry blossom trees if the crowds there grow too thick.

Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said local virus metrics have been encouraging, but vigilance was still the order of the day.

5:46 a.m.: The Toronto Blue Jays start their season in New York today against the Yankees.

Where they finish remains a mystery.

Hyun-jin Ryu gets the start for the second opener in a row for Toronto as the Blue Jays face their American League East rivals to kick off a three-game series.

The Blue Jays have said they will play all home games through the end of May at their spring-training facility in Dunedin, Fla., because of COVID-19 restrictions. The home opener is April 8.

The team has said it hopes to return to Toronto’s Rogers Centre at some point this year. Buffalo, N.Y., the team’s home last year, also is a possibility for home games later in the year.

The Blue Jays are scheduled to conclude their campaign with a home game against the Baltimore Orioles on Oct. 3.

5:45 a.m.: Ontario is expected to announce a 28-day provincewide “shutdown” today to stop the spread of COVID-19 as an alarming spike in cases threatens the critical care system.

A source with knowledge of the restrictions discussed at an hours-long cabinet meeting Wednesday night says the final details of the new measures will be worked out this morning.

The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the announcement, says schools will remain open after the Easter weekend.

Premier Doug Ford urged Ontarians earlier this week to stay home and not make plans for the Easter long weekend in anticipation of the new rules.

Read more on this here.

5:44 a.m.: Canada will soon add another COVID-19 vaccine to its supply, with procurement minister Anita Anand announcing this week that initial shipments of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose jab are to arrive by the end of April.

Canada approved the vaccinein early March and had pre-ordered 10 million doses, but manufacturing problems from the company led to shipment delays to Canada and elsewhere.

Anand did not have details when she made her announcement Tuesday about how many doses would be included in the first shipment.

Johnson & Johnson gives Canada four distinct vaccines — along with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca — and its one-and-done element adds flexibility to the country’s plan to immunize the majority of its residents by September.

Read the full article here.

5:43 a.m.: Eastern Health is struggling with call volumes on its vaccine hotline as numerous Newfoundland and Labrador residents over the age of 70 grow increasingly impatient. Some have received no contact for an appointment even weeks after pre-registering.

“If you have pre-registered, there is no need to call,” provincial Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said Wednesday, the same day the health authority put out a notice saying it is now contacting those in the 70-79 age range for vaccination appointments

Haggie said the authority hopes to offer a vaccine to everyone age 70 or over by April 23.

The calls about bookings have jammed the line for others who are trying to pre-register but can’t go online, he said.

“One of the challenges that they are having is that that phone line is being bombarded by people who are asking if they’ve successfully registered, and it’s proving to be taxing.”

5:42 a.m.: Malawi is vaccinating health care workers, the elderly and those with health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19, using the AstraZeneca doses that arrived early in March.

People are lining up to get the jabs at hospitals and clinics in Blantyre, the southern African country’s largest city, in the first phase of the inoculation drive.

Malawi, one of the world’s least developed countries, has launched its vaccine drive with the 360,000 doses that it received through the global COVAX initiative, which aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to vaccines.

Malawi aims to vaccinate about 11 million people of its population of 19 million. Malawi has recorded a cumulative total of 33,525 cases of COVID-19 including 1,116 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

5:41 a.m.: Maine had set Earth Day 2020 as the kickoff date for its plastic bag ban. But after the pandemic hit, the state gave struggling businesses until this July to comply.

Now, with momentum already faltering, some lawmakers want to scrap the ban.

They seized on the delay to write three pieces of legislation that would kill the ban altogether. While the Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted to keep the ban in place, the issue will still go to the full legislature, fanning the flames of the repeal effort.

Maine Rep. Jeffrey Hanley, a Republican who opposes the bag ban, said the governor’s decision to delay implementation provided an example for opponents to build on.

5:40 a.m.: There isn’t any room at Sion Hospital in India’s megacity, Mumbai — approximately all 500 beds reserved for COVID-19 patients are occupied. And with new patients coming in daily, a doctor said the hospital is being forced to add beds every second day.

Waiting lists in some hospitals in the city are so unreasonable that “numbers can’t define the burden on hospitals,” said Dr. Om Shrivastava, an infectious diseases expert.

Scenes like this were common last year, when India looked set to become the worst affected country with daily cases nearly crossing 100,000. For several months, infections had receded, baffling experts, then since February, cases have climbed faster than before with a seven-day rolling average of 59,000. On Thursday, India reported more than 72,000 cases, its highest spike in six months.

“I think it’s going to be worse (than last year),” said Shrivastava. “If it doesn’t quell in a few months time, we may be in for the long haul.”

Experts say there is a pressing need for India to bolster vaccinations, which started sluggishly in January. The country is expanding its drive to include everyone over 45 years from Thursday.

But scaling up vaccinations in India has implications beyond its borders. Spotlight on Serum Institute of India — the world’s largest maker of vaccines and key global supplier — to cater to cases at home has resulted in delays of global shipments of up to 90 million doses under the UN-backed COVAX program, an initiative devised to give countries access to vaccines regardless of their wealth. Serum Institute declined to comment.

5:39 a.m.: Germany’s health minister says he personally would be prepared “without hesitation” to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, but it isn’t his turn yet.

On Tuesday, Germany’s independent vaccine expert panel said AstraZeneca shots shouldn’t routinely be given to under-60s because of a rise in reported cases of unusual blood clots in the days after vaccination.

The German government followed the recommendation and said the vaccine would be prioritized for people age 60 and older, although exceptions can be made in consultation with doctors.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is 40, was asked Thursday whether he would be prepared to get the vaccine. He replied: “Yes, I would get vaccinated without reservation and without hesitation with AstraZeneca too.”

He said cases have to be looked at individually. Spahn said there are situations where there is a risk of a blood clot but “because I, without having consulted intensively with a doctor, don’t see this risk for me, I personally would be prepared” to take the vaccine.

But Spahn, who defended this week’s decisions, noted that his turn to get vaccinated is some way off.

5:38 a.m.: Slovakia’s president on Thursday swore in a new coalition government to end a political crisis triggered by a secret deal to buy Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

President Zuzana Caputova appointed the new Cabinet led by Prime Minister Eduard Heger two days after the previous government of Igor Matovic resigned.

It was the first European government to collapse due to its handling of the pandemic but the move kept the same four-party coalition in power and avoided the possibility of an early election.

The crisis erupted when a secret deal came to light a month ago involving Slovakia’s agreement to acquire 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine. The populist prime minister orchestrated the deal despite disagreement among his coalition partners.

Two of them, Freedom and Solidarity and For People, demanded his resignation in order for the coalition — which holds a comfortable parliamentary majority — to survive.

The crisis paralyzed the government in one of the hardest-hit European Union countries. The nation of 5.4 million has registered 9,790 deaths.

5:36 a.m.: Hong Kong will resume administering the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday following a 12-day suspension over packaging defects detected in one batch, officials said.

An additional 300,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive on Friday, Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip said Thursday.

Health officials said an investigation by BioNTech found no safety issues in the batch with packaging defects for some vials, as well as in a separate, unused batch of the vaccine.

“BioNTech believes that the efficacy of the vaccine has not been affected, so members of the public who have taken the BioNTech vaccine need not be worried,” said Constance Chan, Hong Kong’s director of health.

Random checks will also be stepped up to ensure that vaccine packaging is safe, she said.

Thursday 5:35 a.m.: There isn’t any room at Sion Hospital in India’s megacity, Mumbai — approximately all 500 beds reserved for COVID-19 patients are occupied. And with new patients coming in daily, a doctor said the hospital is being forced to add beds every second day.

Waiting lists in some hospitals in the city are so unreasonable that “numbers can’t define the burden on hospitals,” said Dr. Om Shrivastava, an infectious diseases expert.

Scenes like this were common last year, when India looked set to become the worst affected country with daily cases nearly crossing 100,000. For several months, infections had receded, baffling experts, then since February, cases have climbed faster than before with a seven-day rolling average of 59,000. On Thursday, India reported more than 72,000 cases, its highest spike in six months.

“I think it’s going to be worse (than last year),” said Shrivastava. “If it doesn’t quell in a few months time, we may be in for the long haul.”

Experts say there is a pressing need for India to bolster vaccinations, which started sluggishly in January. The country is expanding its drive to include everyone over 45 years from Thursday.

Read Wednesday’s coronavirus news.

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