Today’s coronavirus news: Hajdu urges provinces to share AstraZeneca vaccines if can’t use before expiry; Halifax trial of Canadian-made COVID-19 vaccine having trouble finding participants

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

7:54 a.m. When the Canada Student Service Grant launched last June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted the program as a way for pandemic-battered students to give back to their communities, gain work experience and earn some cash in the process.

Just under one year later, exactly what was done with the $ 912 million Ottawa was prepared to spend on the ill-fated program is unclear, even as young Canadians stare down another pandemic summer blighted by poor job prospects.

When it was created, the CSSG was part of a $ 9-billion package of student-focused funding that also included the now-closed Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB).

Under the program, post-secondary students and recent graduates would have received $ 1,000 per 100 hours of work — a rate below minimum wage — by participating in paid volunteer opportunities offered by a range of non-profit organizations.

Read the full story from the Star’s Raisa Patel

7:30 a.m. Weeks after rocketing to some of the highest COVID-19 rates on the continent, Alberta has laid out an ambitious reopening plan that could see residents returning to some version of normal life before the end of June.

“Today we are truly near the end of this thing,” Premier Jason Kenney told reporters Wednesday. “We’re finally getting back to normal, and I think it means the best Alberta summer ever. This is due, in large part, to the miracle of modern medicine — the COVID-19 vaccines.”

The plan has three phases, each successive step triggered by how many people in the province have received their first vaccination dose and how many people are hospitalized. The first restrictions the province will loosen will be capacity rules for religious gatherings, starting Friday — and, if all goes according to plan, Alberta could hit the final stage of its reopening as soon as late June or early July, Kenney said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex Boyd

7:20 a.m. Toronto is launching a multi-pronged campaign to get the last 35 per cent of residents vaccinated against COVID-19, and to start getting second doses into those already partially protected.

“VaxTO” will use texts, emails, voice broadcasts, telephone town halls and multilingual social media posts to unvaccinated Torontonians they need to roll up their sleeves, city officials announced Wednesday.

The campaign got its start over the weekend, Mayor John Tory said, with a robocall to 150,000 homes in COVID-19 hot-spot neighbourhoods “which helped hundreds of people who answered the call,” to book a vaccine appointment.

More than 65 per cent of Torontonians have now received at least a first dose of vaccine. The two millionth dose was administered in the city Tuesday.

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider

7:13 a.m. Is it safe for students and teachers to return to schools for in-class learning — yes or no?

That’s the thorny question Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet ministers are wrestling with amid conflicting pandemic advice.

Parents, local medical officers of health and top pediatric experts are telling Progressive Conservative MPPs they want schools to open — even just for a few weeks before classes wrap up at the end of June.

But Ford is demanding a “consensus” from Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of health, the science table of doctors and epidemiologists, and others before proceeding.

Williams insisted Tuesday he’s eager for schools to reopen as early as next week, but said it’s a decision that has to be made “at the cabinet level” — and one he hopes will come soon.

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie and Kristin Rushowy

6:11 a.m.: It seems like every new restaurant opening in the past month is some sort of hybrid between pizza, fried-chicken sandwiches or burgers. Foods that are takeout-friendly and are more practical to sell than say, a three-course prix fixe. But when Toronto emerges from one of the longest indoor-dining bans in the world, what will the restaurant scene look like?

Read the full story from the Star’s Karon Liu.

6:05 a.m.: U.S. health officials have granted emergency authorization to a third antibody drug to help reduce hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.

The FDA said Wednesday it authorized the drug from GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology for people with mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19 who face extra risks of severe illness, including seniors and those with underlying health problems.

There has been low demand for two similar drugs already available, due mainly to the logistical hurdles of delivering them and confusion about their availability. U.S. health officials have been trying to raise awareness of the treatments, connecting people who test positive for COVID-19 with information about nearby providers.

The drugs are delivered as a one-time intravenous infusion at a hospital or clinic and should be given within 10 days of the start of symptoms.

6:03 a.m.: The city that was once Australia’s worst COVID-19 hot spot on Thursday announced a seven-day lockdown, its fourth since the pandemic began.

The lockdown for Melbourne and the rest of Victoria state comes after a new cluster in the city rose to 26 infections, including a person who was in intensive care.

Victoria Acting Premier James Merlino said: “Unless something changes, this will be increasingly uncontrollable.”

The new Melbourne cluster was found after a traveller from India became infected with a more contagious variant of the virus while in hotel quarantine in South Australia state earlier this month. The traveller was not diagnosed until he returned home to Melbourne.

Australia’s second largest city last year underwent a second wave of infections that peaked at 725 new cases in a single August day at a time when community spread had been virtually eliminated elsewhere in the country.

That lockdown lasted for 111 days. A third lockdown that lasted for five days in February was triggered by a cluster of 13 cases linked to hotel quarantine near Melbourne Airport.

Victoria accounts for 820 of Australia’s 910 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic.

6:03 a.m.: Production of another potential vaccine against COVID-19 will begin within weeks, its developers Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline said Thursday as they launched a large Phase III trial enrolling 35,000 adult volunteers in the United States, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The study will test the effectiveness of vaccine candidate formulas against the virus that spread from Wuhan, China, and against a variant first seen in South Africa, the pharmaceutical firms said.

If the trial is successful, regulators could approve the vaccine for use in the last three months of the year, the companies said in a statement.

“Manufacturing will begin in the coming weeks to enable rapid access to the vaccine should it be approved,” they added.

Their statement also quoted Thomas Triomphe, who leads vaccine research and development at Sanofi Pasteur, as saying:

“We are encouraged to see first vaccinations starting to take place in such an important, pivotal Phase 3 study.”

6 a.m.: China on Thursday accused the Biden administration of playing politics and shirking its responsibility in calling for a renewed investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic that was first detected in China in late 2019.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing that President Joe Biden’s order showed the U.S. “does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing.”

Biden told U.S. intelligence officials to redouble their efforts to investigate the origins of the pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory.

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After months of minimizing that possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is joining worldwide pressure on China to be more open about the outbreak, aiming to head off Republican complaints the president has not been tough enough to press China on alleged obstruction.

5:55 a.m.: A Calgary mayoral candidate has been arrested in Edmonton in connection with an anti-masking incident at a shopping centre earlier this month.

Officers arrested Kevin J. Johnston, 49, without incident yesterday on a Criminal Code warrant for causing a disturbance and for being part of an illegal public gathering in contravention of the Court of Queen’s Bench Order.

It’s alleged that on Saturday, May 22, Johnston entered several stores at the CORE Shopping Centre in downtown Calgary without a mask, and reportedly verbally abused any employees who asked him to put one on.

He then left the stores, and returned moments later with several other unmasked people, who verbally confronted the employees while livestreaming the event.

The City of Calgary says authorities are still investigating the incident.

5:55 a.m.: The federal government is urging provinces not to waste thousands of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine that are due to expire in a few days.

In a letter to her provincial and territorial counterparts, federal Health Minster Patty Hajdu encourages provinces that aren’t able to get their AstraZeneca doses into people’s arms by the end of the month to give them to provinces that can.

She offers federal support to help ensure the doses are not wasted.

Hajdu says the Public Health Agency of Canada can assist with logistics and co-ordination should a province or territory conclude that it can’t use all its doses before the expiration date and wants to transfer them elsewhere in the country.

The issue is set to be discussed further today during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s regular pandemic conference call with first ministers.

It’s not clear how many doses are at risk of going to waste, but Ontario is scrambling to use some 45,000 AstraZeneca shots by the end of May, with another 10,000 set to expire in June, while Manitoba has said it has 7,000 doses that will expire in a few days.

5:51 a.m.: Educators across the country are making plans to have students return to classes full time next fall. Many parents are worried what more than a year of disrupted schooling has meant for their children.

Experts say kids’ social and emotional needs and patience with academic achievements will be paramount when classroom doors reopen.

“They have just lived through something that is unprecedented,” said Tracy Vaillancourt, an education professor at the University of Ottawa, who specializes in research on children’s mental health.

Read the full story by the Canadian Press here.

5:50 a.m.: A Canadian-made COVID-19 vaccine undergoing clinical trials in Halifax is having trouble recruiting enough participants as vaccination rates increase in Nova Scotia.

The Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University is trying to complete the second stage of the Phase 1 trial for a vaccine developed by Edmonton-based Entos Pharmaceuticals but says it’s hard to find volunteers as more people get shots.

The centre’s director, Dr. Scott Halperin, said the search is on for about a dozen more people aged between 18 and 55 who haven’t been vaccinated yet and who haven’t been exposed to the virus. They are needed to complete the initial phase of the trial, which requires a total of 36 participants.

In an interview Wednesday, Halperin said recruitment remains a challenge, especially given the province announced an acceleration of its vaccine rollout this week, with plans to administer second doses two to four weeks earlier than originally planned.

He also noted that vaccination rates will only increase with vaccine now available in Nova Scotia to people 20 years of age and older.

“The rollout program for the vaccine is ahead of schedule, which means there are less people who would be eligible for a clinical trial,” said Halperin. “There is a decreasing number of people who are still not immunized.”

4 a.m.: The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Thursday, May 27, 2021.

In Canada, the provinces are reporting 301,113 new vaccinations administered for a total of 21,938,721 doses given. Nationwide, 1,743,426 people or 4.6 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 57,886.912 per 100,000.

There were 21,300 new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 25,390,194 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 86.41 per cent of their available vaccine supply.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Thursday, May 27, 2021.

There are 1,368,106 confirmed cases in Canada.

Canada: 1,368,106 confirmed cases (44,785 active, 1,297,960 resolved, 25,361 deaths).*The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 2,594 new cases Wednesday. The rate of active cases is 117.84 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 25,719 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 3,674.

There were 38 new reported deaths Wednesday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 295 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 42. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.11 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 66.73 per 100,000 people.

There have been 34,372,343 tests completed.

TORONTO STAR