The two hardest-hit provinces in Canada reported new single-day high COVID-19 numbers on Wednesday, with 2,923 new cases in Ontario and 2,511 in Quebec.
Health officials in Ontario also reported 19 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,474. Hospitalizations increased to 1,177, with 323 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
The record-high figure in Ontario on Wednesday was reported the day after the Finance Minister Rod Phillips came under fire for travelling to the Caribbean for a vacation.
Ontario, which went into lockdown on Dec. 26, is advising against non-essential travel.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday he found out Phillips was travelling abroad roughly two weeks ago and should have pushed then for his immediate return.
Ford said his finance minister “never told anyone” he was going to Saint Barthélemy, a Caribbean island known popularly as St. Barts, on Dec. 13. But the premier learned of the trip shortly after it began.
Ford said he will have a serious conversation with Phillips on Thursday upon the minister’s return.
The premier’s comments come as opposition legislators are calling for Phillips to be removed from cabinet over his international vacation. They say the minister contravened the government’s own health guidelines by travelling abroad and it’s not believable he would do so without telling the premier.
WATCH | Ford promises ‘tough conversation’ with Phillips over trip:
Ontario’s finance minister isn’t the only politician facing criticism over holiday travel — Quebec Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand is apologizing after travelling to Barbados, while Coalition Avenir Québec MNA Youri Chassin says he left for Peru to be with his spouse, who lives there and whom he hadn’t seen for nearly a year.
Quebec reported 41 additional deaths on Wednesday, bringing the provincial death toll to 8,165. According to a provincial dashboard, hospitalizations there stood at 1,211, with 152 COVID-19 patients in ICUs.
In British Columbia, health officials say the number of cases linked to a ski resort outbreak near Kelowna has now ballooned to 111. Meanwhile, the province announced 485 new cases and 11 new deaths, and is ordering restaurants, bars and stores to stop the sale of alcohol after 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
In the Prairies, Manitoba registered 130 new cases and two additional deaths; Alberta surpassed 100,000 total confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic after reporting 1,287 new infections, along with 18 more deaths; and Saskatchewan recorded 147 new cases and three more deaths.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick added one new case; Prince Edward Island announced two, both travel-related; Nova Scotia recorded three; and Newfoundland and Labrador‘s active caseload remains at 18 after reporting no new infections.
In the North, the first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Nunavut on Wednesday on a scheduled Canadian North flight, although it will be another week before the territory announces details on how the vaccine will be distributed.
Other jurisdictions in Canada also received shipments of the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday — Saskatchewan will send their first doses to the Far North, while Ontario will send theirs to long-term care homes. Meanwhile, Alberta administered its first Moderna shot to a long-term care home resident in Medicine Hat.
As of 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 572,497, with 72,960 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,460.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across Canada:
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening across the U.S.
A Colorado man in his 20s has been reported as the first in the U.S. with the more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
He’s from a mostly rural expanse outside the Denver area and recovering in isolation, according to state officials. His condition was not disclosed.
Later on Wednesday, the variant was also identified in hard-hit California, with San Diego County officials saying the infected man was a 30-year-old with no history of travel.
The Colorado and California cases have triggered a host of questions about how the variant circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.
The U.S. has seen more than 19.5 million cases of COVID-19 and recorded more than 338,000 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 6:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Wednesday, more than 82.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been recorded worldwide, with more than 46.5 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins. The global death toll was approaching 1.8 million.
World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday the COVAX initiative — a program to help get coronavirus vaccines to all countries — needs $4 billion US “urgently” to buy vaccines.
In Europe, the United Kingdom extended its highest tier of restrictions to three-quarters of England’s population. Also Wednesday, the U.K. became the first country to approve the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine.
WATCH | U.K. health-care system strained by record COVID-19 cases:
In Asia, China’s National Health Commission is encouraging tens of millions of migrant workers not to travel home during February’s Lunar New Year holiday to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Authorities are carrying out a campaign to vaccinate 50 million people before the holiday.
In the Americas, Brazil will soon weigh emergency-use approval for AstraZeneca’s vaccine after Britain gave the green light on Wednesday. Rio de Janeiro-based Fiocruz has agreed to import and bottle some 100 million doses by June and eventually produce the vaccine locally.
In Africa, Zimbabwe has postponed the reopening of schools planned for next week due to a surge in coronavirus infections and a tropical storm sweeping through the region. A teachers’ union earlier petitioned the courts to stop the reopenings, saying it was not safe for students to return to class.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 2 p.m. ET