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Dr. Anthony Fauci says a lack of candour and facts about the coronavirus pandemic under former U.S. president Donald Trump “very likely” cost lives because it delayed getting sound scientific advice to the country.

“You know, it very likely did,” the top U.S. infectious disease expert said on CNN’s New Day on Friday. “When you start talking about things that make no sense medically and no sense scientifically, that clearly is not helpful.”

Fauci didn’t single out failings by any individual or administration official, saying he didn’t want that to “be a sound bite.” But Trump frequently dismissed the advice of his administration’s scientists and claimed the virus would “fade away.”

The pandemic has killed 410,000 people and infected more than 24.6 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. 

At a White House briefing Thursday, Fauci praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to “let the science speak.”

“The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence, what the science is … it is somewhat of a liberating feeling,” he said. 

At the same briefing, Fauci said coronavirus infections may be about to hit a plateau in the United States based on recent seven-day averages, though he cautioned the country was still in a “very serious situation” with the virus.

He also said that if 70 to 80 per cent of Americans are vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could experience “a degree of normality” by the fall.

Fauci said coronavirus vaccines can be modified to account for new variants of the virus, and that while the variant first identified in South Africa is concerning, it does not appear to be in the United States.

Another highly transmissible variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom has spread to at least 20 U.S. states, Fauci said.

Fauci said he expects current vaccines will be effective against the recently discovered virus mutations.

“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it for our alternative plans if we have to ever modify the vaccine,” he said. “But right now, from the reports we have … it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them.”

The United States still has a limited ability to track the presence of new variants in its population, he noted.

Fauci stood by Biden’s side earlier Thursday as the president unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office.

“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.

WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions:

The National

Biden also made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives,” he said.

Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.

The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defence Production Act,” according to the plan.

The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.

The president has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.

As of Thursday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 17.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine out of some 38 million distributed.

As of 2:45 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 736,255 cases of COVID-19, with 65,964 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,807.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the CEO of Pfizer has personally assured him that “hundreds of thousands” of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine will be shipped to Canada “the week of February 15 and in the weeks to follow.”

Pfizer’s move to slow deliveries to Canada and other countries as it upgrades its plants has prompted concern over the effect on Canada’s vaccination efforts. At a briefing on Friday, Trudeau reiterated that Pfizer still expects to get Canada its four million promised doses by the end of March.

Trudeau says he spoke to the Pfizer CEO last night, Dr. Albert Bourla.<br><br>”The next few weeks will be challenging when it comes to deliveries,” Trudeau says. “That said, Dr. Bourla assured me that hundreds of thousands of Pfizer doses will be delivered the week of February 15th.”

Trudeau also said the government is considering mandatory quarantine in hotels for travellers returning to Canada from abroad, repeating that it’s not the time to travel.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The Edmundston region in the northwest will go into lockdown Saturday at midnight amid climbing case numbers and a series of outbreaks.

Nova Scotia reported four new cases — and Premier Stephen McNeil said the province also detected two variants of the virus in cases previously reported in December. Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case on Friday; there is currently one person hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the province.

Quebec reported 1,631 new cases and 88 additional deaths on Friday, 18 of which occurred in the last 24 hours.

There were 1,426 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, with 212 in intensive care. Premier François Legault said on Thursday that there were still too many COVID-19 patients in hospital to consider lifting the provincewide curfew.

Ontario reported 2,662 new COVID-19 cases and 87 more deaths on Friday as its seven-day average of daily cases dropped to 2,703, marking 11 straight days of decreases.

While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.

WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says: 

World

Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.

The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.

At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.

WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:

The National

Manitoba reported 173 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths on Friday. The province also announced it will immediately halt bookings of new appointments at its immunization supersites in Winnipeg and Brandon after the federal government advised of another reduction in shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Saskatchewan reported 312 new cases and eight deaths on Friday.

In the North, Nunavut reported one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, the territory’s first case since Dec. 28.

The positive result is in Arviat and was part of followup surveillance testing in response to the earlier outbreak, said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer.

Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:

As of Friday afternoon, more than 97.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 53.9 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.

In Europe, more than 50,000 people have died after contracting the coronavirus in Germany, a number that has risen swiftly over recent weeks even as infection figures are finally beginning to fall amid a lockdown.

The country’s disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, said Friday that another 859 deaths were recorded over the past 24 hours, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 50,642.

Germany had a relatively small number of deaths in the pandemic’s first phase, but that has changed this winter. Among other European countries, the U.K., Italy, France and Spain, all of which have smaller populations, still have higher death tolls.

The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England decreased slightly in the latest week but prevalence overall remained high, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday.

The ONS estimated that around one in 55 people had COVID-19 within the community population in England in the week ending Jan. 16, a lower prevalence than the estimate of one in 50 people in the last full infection survey published two weeks ago.

WATCH | CBC goes inside unique inoculation site in U.K:

Canada

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea reported 346 new cases on Friday, its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in two months as officials express cautious hope that the country is beginning to emerge from its worst wave of the pandemic.

Health authorities have clamped down on private social gatherings since late December, including setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people. The 1,241 infections reported on Christmas Day were the country’s largest 24-hour jump of the pandemic.

In Africa, Mali plans to buy more than 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and expects to start a vaccination campaign in April, the council of ministers said in a statement on Thursday.

The sprawling country of about 20 million has recorded just over 7,900 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins.

In the Middle East, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that China had approved delivery of a second consignment of the CoronaVac vaccine and 10 million doses could arrive in Turkey by this weekend.

Turkey has already received an initial consignment of three million doses of the vaccine, produced by Sinovac Biotech, and has so far vaccinated more than 1.1 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people.

In the Americas, Mexico has posted new one-day highs for the pandemic, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths related to COVID-19.

Mexico has recorded over 1.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 146,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. However, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.

Officials also said Thursday that hospitals remained at 89 per cent capacity in Mexico City, which is the current centre of the pandemic in Mexico.

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