Today’s coronavirus news: Red Cross warns that coronavirus cases are exploding in Asia; Panel suggests WHO should have more power to stop pandemics

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

7:50 a.m. Carlo Escario says he’s ready for his removal and return to his native Philippines — he just wants Canada to let him to stay here for 40 more days.

The 36-year-old from Quezon City worked at Toronto General Hospital since 2014 as a hemodialysis assistant. Until two weeks ago, he was working directly with COVID-19 patients in the intensive-care unit.

As a front-line essential health care worker, he received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in February, but says the appointment for the second shot isn’t until June 11.

With the Philippines now battling a second wave of COVID-19 and less than two per cent of the population having been vaccinated, Escario asked Canada Border Services Agency to defer his removal, scheduled for this Thursday, May 13 to June 22 (a date accommodating the 10-day buffer in case of any adverse effects from the second shot).

Read the full story from the Star’s Nicholas Keung

7:40 a.m. Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones will provide an update on the province’s COVID-19 vaccination plan at noon Wednesday.

7:30 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau summed up Tuesday the extent of the federal government’s COVID-19 reopening strategy: get everyone one shot of a vaccine by this summer and a second dose by fall.

“A one-dose summer sets us up for a two-dose fall when we’ll be able to talk about going back to school, back to work, and back to more normality,” he said.

“That’s what the coming months could look like.”

But what those months will look like in practice is largely up to the provinces, Trudeau said, as they’ll decide what restrictions can stay or go — and those decisions equally rest on what Canadians themselves are prepared to do.

“Everyone needs to do their part. Get the case numbers down and keep them down and get vaccinated,” he said.

“That’s how we get through this.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Stephanie Levitz

7:25 a.m. Before Ontario announced a pause on first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday, residents had already begun snubbing it in favour of Pfizer or Moderna.

A family health centre in Milton last month decided to offer the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It found hundreds of people drove in to be vaccinated from all over the province each week.

Uptake had been overwhelming — until now.

“Last week was relatively normal. We did 300 doses,” said Gina Mannella, the executive director of Prime Care Family Health Team, before the announcement Tuesday. “And then this week, it just died.”

After Ontario announced Friday that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which had mostly been distributed at city and hospital clinics, would be offered at more than 130 pharmacies, people called Prime Care asking what vaccines it offered.

“And they all wanted Pfizer or Moderna,” said Mannella.

Read the full story from the Star’s Olivia Bowden

6:32 a.m.: Thousands of Ontarians found themselves unexpectedly in immunization limbo Tuesday afternoon, following an announcement that the province was suspending the use of AstraZeneca following an uptick in rare blood clotting complications.

More than 850,000 doses of the beleaguered British vaccine have been administered in the province so far, many of them to jubilant Gen Xers who turned out in droves after the shot’s age of eligibility was dropped to 40 last month.

Many of those people are wondering what this announcement means for them, particularly with the time for a second dose rapidly approaching. So what happens now?

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex Boyd here.

6:30 a.m.: India has confirmed 4,205 more deaths, setting another daily record and taking its official COVID-19 toll past 250,000 as it battles a ferocious surge in infections.

Around 370,000 new cases were added in the last 24 hours, pushing India’s total past 23 million, according to the health ministry. The figures are considered vast undercounts due to insufficient testing and records among other factors.

On Tuesday, authorities warned that nearly 90% of districts in the country are seeing a high positivity rate, sparking fears the virus is spreading fast into rural areas.

India’s recent surge has been blamed on more contagious variants as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for religious festivals and political rallies.

Even though daily cases have shown very early signs of flattening, experts have cautioned authorities to not let down their guard. With nearly 4 million cases still active, health care systems remain strained with limited hospital beds, oxygen and medicine.

Many states have imposed their own restrictions to curb infections, and the southern state of Telangana became the latest to announce a 10-day lockdown on Tuesday. Calls and pressure for a nationwide lockdown have been mounting.

6:30 a.m.: Coronavirus infections in Pakistan have been on a decline for more than two weeks after rising for over two months amid a nationwide lockdown.

Pakistan reported less than 3,000 cases in the past 24 hours, showing a steady decline in COVID-19 cases. But experts say it is too early to assume Pakistan has peaked.

In an effort aimed at containing the spread of the virus, Pakistan’s government last week imposed a lockdown ahead of Eid al-Fitr which is likely to be celebrated on Friday subject to sight of moon.

Pakistan has also expanded its vaccination program to protect people from coronavirus by offering free vaccinations to those who are 30 years old or above.

Pakistan reported 104 single-day fatalities in the past 24 hours.

Since last year, Pakistan has reported 19,210 fatalities from coronavirus among 867,438 COVID-19 cases.

6:29 a.m.: A panel of independent experts who reviewed the World Health Organization’s response to the coronavirus pandemic says the U.N. health agency should be granted “guaranteed rights of access” in countries to investigate emerging outbreaks, a contentious idea that would give it more powers and require member states to give up some of theirs.

In a report released Wednesday, the panel faulted countries worldwide for their sluggish response to COVID-19, saying most waited to see how the virus was spreading until it was too late to contain it, leading to catastrophic results. The group also slammed the lack of global leadership and restrictive international health laws that “hindered” WHO’s response to the pandemic.

Some experts criticized the panel for failing to hold WHO and others accountable for their actions during COVID-19, describing that as “an abdication of responsibility.”

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Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University said the panel “fails to call out bad actors like China, perpetuating the dysfunctional WHO tradition of diplomacy over frankness, transparency and accountability.”

The panel was led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who were tapped by WHO last year to examine the U.N. agency’s response to COVID-19 after bowing to a request from member countries.

“The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented,” Johnson Sirleaf said.

6:28 a.m.: Coronavirus cases are exploding in Asia and the Pacific with over 5.9 million new confirmed infections in the past two weeks, more than in all other regions combined, the International Federation of the Red Cross said Wednesday.

It warned that the surge is pushing hospitals and health systems to the brink of collapse.

Seven out of 10 countries globally that are doubling their infection numbers the fastest are in Asia and the Pacific, it said. Laos took just 12 days to see its cases double, and the number of confirmed infections in India has doubled in under two months to more than 23 million, the Red Cross said in a statement.

It said Oxford University’s Our World in Data reported more than 5.9 million new COVID-19 infections in Asia and the Pacific during the two weeks. Official figures for much of the region are widely believed to be undercounts.

“COVID-19 is exploding across much of Asia, overwhelming hospitals and health care. More people have been diagnosed with the disease in Asia over the past two weeks than in the Americas, Europe, and Africa combined,” Red Cross Asia Pacific director Alexander Matheou said.

6:27 a.m.: A summer of backyard barbecues and picnics in the park?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s possible if people keep rolling up their sleeves and don’t ease COVID-19 public-health restrictions until cases are down.

“We can have that summer, we can have a one-dose summer … And a one-dose summer sets us up for a two-dose fall when we’ll be able to talk about going back to school back to work and back to more normality,” he says.

“That’s what the coming months could look like. That’s what I’m excited about.”

Canada hit a major milestone on the road to COVID-19 herd immunity Tuesday, with 40 per cent of Canadians — 15.2 million people — now vaccinated with at least their first dose.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said 75 per cent is the target for first doses so lifting restrictions doesn’t result in a fourth wave.

The news comes even as Ontario and Alberta announce they will no longer be giving first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Supply of that vaccine has been tight of late and there have been concerns about the risk of blood clots that come with that type of shot.

6:25 a.m.: Alberta’s justice minister says he was wrong to accuse Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Alberta’s Opposition NDP, and the media of rooting for COVID-19 to buckle his province’s health system.

“I would like to offer an apology for my recent comments on my personal Facebook account,” Kaycee Madu wrote on Twitter Tuesday night.

“Alberta is facing an unprecedented public health crisis. My comments were wrong, as all Canadians want this global pandemic to end as soon as possible.

“I fully support the premier’s recent call to avoid the divisive political rhetoric during what we all hope is the final period of this pandemic and will continue the important work of government in protecting Albertans from this virus.”

The apology came a day after Madu’s spokesman, Blaise Boehmer, told reporters in a statement that Madu was standing by his accusations, adding, “The minister won’t apologize for stating the obvious.”

Earlier Tuesday, prior to Madu’s apology, Trudeau rejected the accusations.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

In Canada, the provinces are reporting 340,259 new vaccinations administered for a total of 16,597,932 doses given. Nationwide, 1,285,391 people or 3.4 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 43,794.851 per 100,000.

There were 1,698,558 new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 19,853,152 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 83.6 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 Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

There are 1,299,572 confirmed cases in Canada (78,039 active, 1,196,819 resolved, 24,714 deaths). The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 5,373 new cases Tuesday. The rate of active cases is 205.34 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 49,623 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 7,089.

There were 32 new reported deaths Tuesday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 321 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 46. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.12 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 65.03 per 100,000 people.

There have been 32,867,352 tests completed.

TORONTO STAR