Quebec, Ontario weigh tighter COVID measures as officials raise concerns over Easter


TORONTO — The two provinces hit hardest by COVID-19 weighed stricter restrictions Wednesday while others adjusted their administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine following recent federal guidelines discouraging its use on younger patients.

The premiers of Ontario and Quebec have raised concerns about the rising number of active infections in the pandemic’s third wave, and suggested tighter measures could be imposed.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault is slated to make an announcement Wednesday afternoon, a day after issuing a warning to five regions where he said residents have been flouting pandemic rules.

The five regions under scrutiny, which include Quebec City and the Outaouais area across the river from Ottawa, had recently seen restrictions loosen.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford is poised to announce Thursday whether any new measures will be put in place to rein in the spread of the virus.

“I’m very, very concerned to see the cases go up,” he said Wednesday as the province reported 2,333 new COVID-19 cases and 15 more deaths, as well as a new high for the number of patients in intensive care units.

Canada’s top public health doctor, Theresa Tam, said while vaccine coverage is increasing across Canada and immunization programs are gaining momentum, the recent surge in infections and growing proportion of cases involving more contagious variants of the virus show “strong public health measures and individual precautions must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating.”

She stressed that abiding by public health practices remains important even for those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine, noting more information is needed on the shots’ ability to prevent transmission.

More people in British Columbia were able to schedule appointments to receive an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine Wednesday as bookings opened up to Lower Mainland residents between the ages of 55 and 65.

The response has been “overwhelming,” the pharmacy chain London Drugs said Wednesday, adding bookings at its three designated sites had been filled.

The province decided to bump up its age-based immunization plan for Oxford-AstraZeneca shots after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization opted to pause the use of that vaccine for anyone under 55 due to concerns over rare blood clots.

The move prompted several provinces to announce they would stop administering the vaccine to those under 55.

Out east, many doses initially earmarked for New Brunswick teachers were redistributed Wednesday to residents over the age of 55 in light of the committee’s decision.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was among the 200 or so people offered a vaccine at a clinic in Fredericton.

In Manitoba, the province’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force said its current supply of COVID-19 vaccines will run out in a week, noting there are concerns about delays in future shipments.

The task force said Wednesday a shipment of 28,000 Moderna vaccines has been pushed back at least a week. The province is expecting 40,000 doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine per week and 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine next week.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Canada said it will be asking Health Canada to broaden the authorization for the use of its COVID-19 vaccine to include children 12 to 15 years old.

The Pfizer-BioNTech shot is currently approved for those as young as 16, but initial clinical trials didn’t include younger adolescents.

On Wednesday, the drugmaker released preliminary data from a U.S. follow-up study involving 2,260 kids between 12 and 15, saying none of the children who got the vaccine developed a COVID-19 infection. In comparison, there were 18 infections among those given a placebo, the company said.

Officials across the country continued to urge caution regarding the upcoming Easter holiday, entreating residents to refrain from gathering with anyone outside their household and to limit non-essential travel.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press