Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the largest mass immunization effort in Canadian history could begin as early as next week, as tough new measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 took effect in Prince Edward Island and Ontario hit a new daily infection record.
Trudeau said Monday that by the end of December, Ottawa expects to receive up to 249,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
Health Canada approval is expected this week and first shipments are on track to arrive next week.
Immunization requires two doses administered weeks apart, so the initial batch would be enough for nearly 125,000 Canadians.
The vaccine, which must be stored in ultracold temperatures, is to be delivered to 14 sites across the country, with doses divvied up among the provinces on a per-capita basis. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the former NATO commander in charge of the vaccine rollout, said it takes a day or two to thaw and prepare the vaccine.
Ottawa has said previously that it is aiming to immunize three million Canadians during the first three months of 2021.
Trudeau said even though there is good news on the vaccine front, now is not the time for Canadians to let their guard down — especially as caseloads and hospitalizations continue to climb in many provinces.
“Just because we’re getting closer to vaccines, doesn’t mean we can afford to become complacent,” he said.
“On the other hand, just because the numbers are spiking doesn’t mean we should give up in despair.”
In Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island entered a two-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown on Monday after seven new cases of the virus were reported over the weekend.
Restaurant dining rooms, fitness facilities, bingo halls and libraries are closed, while social gatherings are capped at 10 people and stores are limited to half capacity.
The province reported four new cases Monday, all of whom are close contacts with those announced on the weekend.
P. E.I. imposed the restrictions despite it faring better than most other provinces. As of Sunday, it had seven cases per 100,000 people, whereas Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had hundreds.
But Susan Kirkland, a community health and epidemiology professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said there’s no second chance for an aggressive start.
“Once COVID gets out of control, as it has in many other provinces, you can’t back up. If you take a very hard, very aggressive approach early on, you have the potential to get back to zero,” she said.
“Every other province, except those in the Atlantic region, has lost this opportunity.”
Nova Scotia reported eight new cases on Monday, while New Brunswick had two and Newfoundland and Labrador had none.
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 1,925 new virus cases Monday, beating the record set a day earlier by one. Twenty-six more people have died from COVID-19, according to the province’s latest update.
Premier Doug Ford said vulnerable seniors, their caregivers and health-care workers will be among the first to receive the vaccine. Adults in Indigenous communities, residents of retirement homes and recipients of chronic home health care will also be priority groups, but it may be April before the shots are widely available to others.
Retired general Rick Hillier, who is leading Ontario’s vaccine task force, said the province should be able to vaccinate 1.2 million people during the first three months of 2021.
Quebec reported 1,577 new cases of COVID-19 and 22 additional deaths linked to the virus, three of which took place in the last 24 hours.
Quebec said the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine could be administered in the province as early as next week.
Health Minister Christian Dube said the province plans to give its first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to about 2,000 people in long-term care homes.
Dube says Quebec also expects to receive enough Pfizer vaccines between Dec. 21 and Jan. 4 to vaccinate 22,000 to 28,000 people.
Manitoba, which has the most active cases per capita in Canada, recorded 325 new infections and 12 more deaths. Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin is urging people to stay home as much as possible and cancel all non-essential travel as the health-care system faces a heavy workload.
Saskatchewan reported 247 new infections. Regina Public Schools, one of the province’s largest school divisions, is moving to remote learning as classrooms deal with a spike in infections and administrators struggle to find enough healthy staff to work.
Alberta, which has Canada’s highest number of new infections per capita, reported 1,735 new cases, down from Sunday’s count of 1,836. Another 16 people in the province also died from the novel coronavirus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2020.
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press