Today’s coronavirus news: COVID-19 vaccine arrives in remote First Nations across Canada; Britain ramps up national vaccination program

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Sunday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

9:00 a.m.: Thousands of people 80 and older have started receiving invitations to get the coronavirus vaccine in England, officials said Sunday, as Britain ramps up its national vaccination program in a bid to meet its target of inoculating about 15 million people by the middle of February.

More than 600,000 invitations are due to arrive at doorsteps across England this week, asking the elderly to sign up for jabs at new mass vaccination centres near them.

The government has given a first dose of the vaccine to more than 1.2 million people so far.

The seven new large-scale vaccination centres join some 1,000 other sites across the country, including hospitals, general practitioners’ clinics and some drugstores.

Officials are hoping a speedy mass vaccination rollout will help get Britain out of its third national lockdown, which was ordered this month to curb an alarming surge of COVID-19 infections and deaths. Britain has seen 81,000 deaths in the pandemic, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

8:00 a.m.: Frederik Andersen has an interesting way of looking at the NHL season ahead:

“It’s going to be both a sprint and a marathon,” the Maple Leafs goalie says.

He’s not wrong. It will count as a full season, but it will be only 56 games, 26 games shorter than usual. The spectre of COVID-19 will hang over teams’ heads, the possibility of postponed games or games played with fewer than normal players.

There will be constant testing. Repeated quarantining. A taxi squad of four to six players, including a mandated extra goalie, existing outside the salary cap, and practising with the regular team, designed to be at the ready to fill in at a moment’s notice.

“Obviously, we’re going to rely on more guys,” Andersen says. “There’ll be less games in a really tight schedule. It’s going to put a lot of pressure on guys to have to work hard, and perform, and play well when we do get chances to play.”

Read the full story here: The NHL thinks it can play through a pandemic. Here’s how the league plans to go about it

5:13 a.m. More than 380 people have tested positive in a growing COVID-19 outbreak south of Beijing in China’s Hebei province.

Hebei health authorities said that 40 new cases had been confirmed Sunday morning, bringing the total to 223. Another 161 people tested positive but showed no symptoms. China does not include such asymptomatic cases in its official tally.

The outbreak has raised particular concern because Hebei borders the nation’s capital. Travel between the two has been restricted, with workers from Hebei having to show proof of employment in Beijing to enter the city.

Almost all the cases are in Shijuazhuang, the provincial capital, which is about 260 kilometres (160 miles) southwest of Beijing. A handful have also been found in Xingtai city, 110 kilometres (68 miles) farther south.

Both cities have conducted mass testing of millions of residents, suspended public transportation and taxis, and restricted residents to their communities or villages for one week.

Earlier Sunday, China’s National Health Commission reported that 69 new cases had been confirmed nationwide the previous day, most of them in Hebei. The others included 21 people who had arrived recently from overseas.

Beijing had one new case, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 32 in a smaller outbreak that surfaced about three weeks ago. Almost all the cases have been in Shunyi in the city’s northeastern suburbs.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

Japanese opposition lawmakers slammed the government’s emergency declaration as too late to stem the surging coronavirus cases. They also pushed for more testing, which have lagged in Japan, being expensive and hard to get unless people who take them are severely ill. “It’s essential to consider the worst possible scenario, but the response has always been based on an overly optimistic outlook,” Yukio Edano, a former economy minister, said on public broadcaster NHK TV.

Opposition lawmakers Toranosuke Katayama and Kazuo Shii also criticized the state of emergency as too limited in scope, area and duration. The declaration, which kicked in Friday, centres around asking restaurants to close at 8 p.m. It lasts a month and focuses on the Tokyo area. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga defended the measure and stressed that the rising curve will get flattened in a month.

Deaths related to COVID-19 have totalled about 4,000 nationwide. Worries are growing about hospitals getting stretched thin. Tokyo’s cases have surged recently to more than 2,000 a day. Other urban areas have also asked the central government for similar emergency measures.

Sunday 4:01 a.m.: First Nations across Canada have begun to receive doses of COVID-19 vaccines as provincial immunization programs get underway and Indigenous leaders encourage people to roll up their sleeves.

Six of 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island were priority recipients of doses of Moderna’s vaccine last week, said Mariah Charleson, vice-president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council that serves about 10,000 members.

The council employs nurses who are among those administering vaccinations so people see a familiar face they know and trust, she said.

Health officials need to work with communities to ensure the COVID-19 vaccination program is culturally appropriate, she said, given impacts of the residential school system and discrimination in health care as outlined in a recent report by former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

“There are many people in our communities who our nurses may not have ever seen, because (they) will just never go for help,” said Charleson.

Released in November, Turpel-Lafond’s report sheds light on widespread racial profiling based on harmful stereotypes that affect the care Indigenous patients receive in British Columbia. Of more than 2,700 Indigenous people surveyed as part of the investigation, 84 per cent reported experiencing some form of health-care discrimination.

It’s understandable that many are reluctant to trust Canadian health officials, said Charleson, who’s encouraging people to get vaccinated.

“If you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for the elders in the community and the vulnerable,” she said in an interview.

Chief Simon John of Ehattesaht First Nation said he noticed some hesitancy about COVID-19 vaccines among residents of the Ehatis reserve on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.

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The community of about 100 members was hit with an outbreak of COVID-19 that spread to 28 people last month, so when John learned they would soon receive Moderna’s vaccine, he decided to lead by example.

“For us, as council, to take it first was our priority,” he said.

John said he received his first dose last Monday along with about 30 other Ehatis residents and 40 people in the nearby village of Zeballos, including some elders and band members living off-reserve.

B.C. has allocated 25,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to at-risk members of remote First Nations for distribution by the end of February. As of last Monday, 10,700 doses of Moderna’s vaccine were available to First Nations and 5,300 had been distributed to 18 communities.

Indigenous Services Canada had confirmed nearly 10,000 cases of COVID-19 in First Nation communities across the country as of Friday, including 3,288 active infections, 452 hospitalizations and 95 deaths.

Canada’s advisory committee on immunization has identified Indigenous communities among priority groups for vaccine that’s in limited supply.

In Alberta, residents of remote First Nations and people age 65 or older living in any First Nation or Metis community are among those the province is prioritizing in its third phase of immunization starting in February.

In Saskatchewan, 4,900 doses of Moderna’s vaccine have so far been sent to northern regions, where health-care workers, staff and residents of long-term care homes, and people age 80 or older are first in line to be immunized, including those living in First Nation communities.

Initially, “First Nations were not really engaged in terms of where this vaccine should be allocated,” said Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, medical health officer for the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority.

More recently, communication about vaccine distribution has improved between communities and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, he said.

The province said it’s expecting to receive 5,300 more doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, with smaller cities serving as regional distribution hubs.

Manitoba, meanwhile, began shipping 5,300 doses of Moderna’s vaccine last week in order to reach people in all 63 First Nations in the province.

Saturday 9:45 p.m.: The post-Christmas surge of coronavirus cases is worsening in Los Angeles County, a much-feared scenario that officials say will result in more crowding at already overwhelmed hospitals and an increase in deaths. On Saturday, L.A. County reached new milestones in the pandemic: more than 12,000 dead from COVID-19 and more than 900,000 cases of the coronavirus.

The coming days are expected to be critical in determining how bad this surge will get and how much it will affect conditions at hospitals.

L.A. County’s average number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday, Friday and Saturday was 17,879 — significantly above last week’s average of 14,000.

Saturday 8:55 p.m.: A small protest broke out in Montreal’s Plateau district shortly before the curfew was set to take effect. Some chanted “freedom,” while one carried a sign urging people to disobey the lockdown.

A helicopter trailed the group through the residential neighbourhood and police cruisers lined the streets.

It ended after about 15 minutes, as officers arrested some of the protesters and others dispersed into a nearby park.

Saturday 8 p.m.: A curfew meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 has now taken effect across Quebec.

Premier Francois Legault says the 8 p.m. curfew is needed to prevent gatherings that have fueled the rampant spread of the virus.

The rules will see most residents face police questions or stiff fines if they’re out between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.

There are exceptions for essential workers, people walking dogs, and those who have medical reasons to be out, such as a doctor’s appointment.

Under the rules, grocery stores and convenience stores will have to close at 7:30 p.m. in order to allow workers and customers to get home. Stores connected to gas stations can stay open to serve essential workers.

Click here for all of Saturday’s coverage about COVID-19.

TORONTO STAR