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Deaths rise along with vaccine hopes as Canada faces grim coronavirus winter

Click to play video 'Health officials say Canada is on ‘rapid growth trajectory’' Health officials say Canada is on ‘rapid growth trajectory’
WATCH: Health officials say Canada is on 'rapid growth trajectory' – Dec 11, 2020

Canadians have one more weekend to wait through before vaccinations begin against the novel coronavirus, bringing a glimmer of hope amid a pandemic that is now killing people at a rate not seen since the late spring.

Another 142 deaths from COVID-19 were reported Friday, the highest number in a single day since May. The country has seen an average of over 100 deaths per day over the past week.

Since the pandemic began early this year, a total of 13,251 Canadians have died from the disease.

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Friday also saw 6,766 new infections — the third highest daily total on record — which represents over six per cent of all tests performed over the past 24 hours. Nearly every province and territory reported new cases.

The country has now seen 448,471 cases to date, 362,300 of whom have recovered. Of the 72,920 active cases remaining, 3,129 patients are receiving care in hospital, slightly down from the record high of 3,145 recorded Thursday.

Read more: Federal government to create ‘pan-Canadian’ vaccine injury support program

Canada’s chief medical health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned Friday that the country could see up to 12,000 cases per day by January unless tougher public health restrictions are introduced, imploring provinces and territories to strengthen their responses “now.”

The updated modelling Tam presented suggests that Canada’s caseload could climb by at least 90,000 new infections by Christmas Day, and that number may go as high as 135,000.

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“Knowing access to safe and effective vaccines for all Canadians is within sight might lead some to think COVID-19 is no longer problem,” Tam told reporters. “But the reality is very different.”

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Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Canada could see up to 12,000 daily cases in January without tougher restrictions, officials say' Coronavirus: Canada could see up to 12,000 daily cases in January without tougher restrictions, officials say
Coronavirus: Canada could see up to 12,000 daily cases in January without tougher restrictions, officials say – Dec 11, 2020

The vaccinations set to begin Monday will be targeted to at-risk populations and front-line health workers, with officials reminding that mass inoculations for the general public won’t get underway until more doses of multiple vaccines are delivered later in 2021.

Health Canada has only approved one vaccine so far, made by Pfizer-BioNTech, which requires deep freeze storage conditions that makes it difficult to be distributed to long-term care homes, Indigenous reserves and other rural communities.

Moderna’s vaccine is expected to be the next one approved, which officials have said could happen before the end of the year. Two other candidates, made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, are also under review.

Read more: Canada can’t stop corporations from buying coronavirus vaccines: Hajdu

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The federal government is covering the cost of all vaccinations and is developing an injury support program to assist Canadians in the event of severe reactions to the vaccine. Reports out of the U.K. of allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine in two recipients are being watched closely, but Health Canada has assured the vaccine is safe and effective.

In the meantime, health officials across the country are imploring people to limit their contacts and wear face coverings to limit the spread of COVID-19 as the country heads into the winter.

Ontario, Quebec and Alberta once again posted the highest daily case counts in the country Friday.

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Coronavirus: Canadian government to handle all COVID-19 vaccine costs – Dec 11, 2020

Quebec saw 1,713 new infections and reported 53 more deaths, although only six of those occurred within the past 24 hours.

Ontario announced 1,848 new cases and 45 more deaths. The provincial government put two more regions — York and Windsor-Essex — into lockdown starting Monday due to a rise in cases, joining the already locked-down Toronto and Peel Region.

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In Alberta, 1,738 more people tested positive while 18 more died. The province’s new, harsher restrictions kick in at midnight Sunday, with health officials urging people not to rush into businesses or host parties in the hours before the partial lockdown takes effect.

Read more: Health officials hope Canada will approve Moderna coronavirus vaccine by year’s end

Elsewhere in the Prairies, Saskatchewan reported 252 new cases, although officials said no new deaths occurred. Manitoba saw another 447 infections and 14 more deaths.

British Columbia officials announced 737 new cases, while confirming 11 more people had died.

In Atlantic Canada, nine more people tested positive in Nova Scotia while Newfoundland and Labrador posted just one new case. New Brunswick announced eight more cases, along with the province’s eighth death — the first fatal case in over two weeks.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Hillier says no ‘specific threats’ identified as Ontario prepares to begin COVID-19 vaccine roll-out' Coronavirus: Hillier says no ‘specific threats’ identified as Ontario prepares to begin COVID-19 vaccine roll-out
Coronavirus: Hillier says no ‘specific threats’ identified as Ontario prepares to begin COVID-19 vaccine roll-out – Dec 11, 2020

Cases also rose in two of the three northern territories, including the first cases in the Northwest Territories in nearly a month. The five cases were all based in Yellowknife and were related to travel.

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Nunavut reported 16 new cases, all in the town of Arviat, which remains under lockdown after restrictions were lifted elsewhere in the territory.

Only Prince Edward Island and the Yukon were spared from new infections Friday.

Globally, the coronavirus has infected over 70 million people and killed more than 1.59 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The United States remains the country hardest hit by the pandemic, with 15.8 million cases and 294,000 deaths to date.