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Variant cases have almost quadrupled in Canada in the last 2 weeks, says Tam

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Canada’s chief medical officer on Saturday said coronavirus variants of concern have almost quadrupled in the country in the last two weeks.

Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada had seen 24,995 variant cases as of Thursday. That’s compared to 6,325 such cases on March 24.

“Where #VariantsOfConcern are surging, jurisdictions have tightened restrictions,” read a post by Tam on Twitter.

“This is difficult & discouraging for all of us, but more so for healthcare & essential workers who continue to provide vital supplies, care and supports to us.”

What’s happening across Canada

As of 8:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had reported 1,052,545 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 70,619 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,287.

British Columbia officials have lowered the age for vaccine eligibility from 65 to 60 years old.

Alberta reported 1,293 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths on Saturday. Of the new cases, 876 are variants — a single-day record.

Starting on Monday, the province will expanding its COVID-19 vaccine rollout to include nurses, doctors, dentists, and any health-care workers in patient care facilities or providing direct patient care in the community. The rollout will make more than 240,000 health-care workers eligible to begin booking vaccine appointments as part of Phase 2C, according to a news release Saturday.

WATCH | Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions get pushback from Kenney’s caucus:

The recent renewal of COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta has frustrated some residents, and Premier Jason Kenney is facing vocal pushback from some members of his own caucus. 1:49

Saskatchewan logged 236 new cases but no new deaths as the province makes gains in its vaccination efforts.

The Lighthouse Supported Living Inc. and the Saskatchewan Health Authority have distributed 440 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to front-line workers in Saskatoon thanks to extra doses left over once Lighthouse clients were inoculated, and Regina expanded eligibility at a drive-thru vaccination clinic to include those ages 52 to 54.

Manitoba identified 135 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and one death.

Ontario registered 3,813 cases of COVID-19 and 19 additional deaths.

The latest figure comes just days after the province ordered hospitals to halt non-emergency surgeries. A memo was sent to hospitals Thursday night telling them to postpone their non-emergency surgeries effective Monday, everywhere but in northern Ontario. Pediatric specialty hospitals are excluded from the order. 

WATCH | New emergency orders for Ontario hospitals:

The Ontario government’s health agency has issued two emergency orders to help hospitals cope with a surge in COVID-19 patients. One order allows hospitals to transfer patients without their consent if facilities are overwhelmed. The other allows health-care professionals and staff from the province’s community care agencies to be redeployed to work in hospitals. 4:06

Quebec confirmed 1,754 new cases and 13 more deaths Saturday. It was the biggest single-day increase in the province since Jan. 17.

The Quebec City region continues to be the hardest hit area of the province, with more than 400 cases reported for the third consecutive day.

Emergency measures in Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau, as well as towns in the Chaudière-Appalaches region, have been extended until at least April 19. They were initially set to be lifted on Monday.

People wearing face masks are seen inside a restaurant in Gatineau on Saturday. (Olivier Plante/Radio-Canada)

In New Brunswick, the Edmundston and Haut-Madawaska areas will be placed under tighter restrictions effective Saturday at 11:59 p.m. AT — forcing all non-essential businesses to close — due to a surge of variant cases.

Additionally, the province is reversing a decision to send students back to high school full-time on Monday. The decision comes a day after an elementary school in the Edmundston area confirmed two variant cases, prompting hundreds of household to self-isolate.

Nova Scotia reported eight new cases, bumping active cases in the province to 43.

Newfoundland and Labrador saw four new infections.

What’s happening around the world

As of Saturday, more than 134.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll had increased to more than 2.9 million.

In Asia, State TV reported that Iran has begun a 10-day lockdown amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. Iran’s coronavirus task force ordered most shops closed and offices were restricted to one-third capacity in cities declared as “red-zones.” 

The severe surge in infections follows a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Millions traveled to the Caspian coast and other popular vacation spots in defiance of government health guidelines.

A vendor closes their shop following the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in Tehran on Saturday. (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

In Europe, Romania passed one million confirmed COVID-19 infections since its first recorded case in February last year. 

The bleak milestone came as hospital intensive care units in the country — which has a population of more than 19 million — are struggling to cope with record numbers of ICU patients, currently just short of 1,500. Another 12,000 COVID-19 patients are receiving hospital care. 

In the Americas, Brazil’s Sao Paulo state will begin easing restrictions from Monday, vice-governor Rodrigo Garcia said, after the country set on Thursday a daily record of 4,249 deaths.

COVID-19 has taken more than 345,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States. One in four global deaths from the pandemic this week were in Brazil, where a brutal wave is overwhelming hospitals and setting records of more than 4,000 deaths per day.

In Africa, Tunisia’s government will review the 7 p.m. curfew it has brought in to slow infections after the president and a powerful labour union said it would hit shops, cafes and restaurants in the month of Ramadan that starts next week.

So far, more than 9,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the North African nation. The country’s intensive care units are nearly full, while it has only slowly been rolling out a national vaccination campaign.

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