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 aimed to immunize three million Canadians during the first three months of 2021, with vulnerable people, like seniors and certain health-care workers, first in line.
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 what it’s calling a two-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown on Monday after seven new cases of the virus were reported over the weekend.
The province reported four new cases on Monday, all of whom are close contacts with those announced on the weekend.
All Islanders in their 20s are being asked to be tested for COVID-19 even if they have no symptoms.
Visitors are being kept out of hospital and long-term care homes, except under compassionate circumstances.
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.
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.
More than 75 public health and economics experts signed an open letter published in Montreal’s La Presse newspaper recommending all non-essential businesses in the province close for two weeks to stem the spread of the virus.
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.