U.S. President Joe Biden wasted no time addressing the COVID-19 pandemic after his inauguration. One of the first executive orders he signed as president requires masks to be worn and physical distancing measures to be followed in federal buildings, on federal land and by federal employees and contractors. The policy is a marked departure from former president Donald Trump, who often refused to wear a mask.
The 46th president of the United States is also directing the government to rejoin the World Health Organization.
During his inauguration speech on Wednesday, Biden spoke of the damage done by the global pandemic, calling it a “once-in-a-century virus that silently stalks the country.”
The virus, he said, has “taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War Two.”
Biden urged people to come together and not “retreat into competing factions.”
“My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we’re going to need each other,” he said in his first address as president “We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter.”
The U.S. is entering what may be the “toughest and deadliest” period of the pandemic, Biden said.
“We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation — one nation.”
As he stood on stage before a physically distanced crowd, Biden asked people to join him in a prayer for all those who have died as a result of COVID-19.
“Those 400,000 fellow Americans — moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, neighbours and co-workers — we’ll honour them by becoming the people and nation we know we can and should be.”
– From The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 5:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
As of 6:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had reported 725,495 cases of COVID-19, with 68,413 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,462.
Vaccine distribution remained a concern in several provinces as supplies ran low and federal officials worked to answer questions about when new doses would arrive.
Canada won’t be getting any Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines next week and will be getting 50 per cent fewer than expected over the next month, officials said Tuesday, prompting the leader of Canada’s most populous province to ask Biden to share a million doses from Pfizer’s Michigan plant.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout and distribution of vaccines, called it a major reduction, but said Pfizer is still expected to meet its contractual obligation to ship four million doses to Canada by the end of March.
Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, said he’s angry. He asked Biden to help Canada out, noting there’s a Pfizer plant in Michigan.
“Our American friends, help us out,” Ford said. “You have a new president, no more excuses. Help us out.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, stressed the pandemic’s severe impact on the province’s hospitals Wednesday afternoon. There are 744 COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals.
“It is important to remember that it is the number of people currently in hospital that I am providing, not all those who have ever needed hospital care since the spring,” she told a news conference Wednesday.
“To put this into context, over the last 10 years, we have had an average of just over 1,500 total hospital admissions for influenza annually. For COVID-19, the comparable number comes from less than a year of data. More than 5,000 people have needed hospital care since the pandemic began for COVID-19 in Alberta.”
The province reported 21 more COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and 669 new cases of the illness.
B.C. health officials announced 500 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 more deaths on Wednesday. In a written statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix put the number of hospitalized patients at 320 people, 66 of whom are in intensive care. Hospitalizations are at their lowest level since Nov. 30, though the 14 deaths represent the second-highest total recorded in January.
Ontario reported 2,655 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 89 additional deaths, bringing the death toll in the province to 5,568. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 stood at 1,598, with 395 in intensive care units, according to a provincial dashboard.
Saskatchewan reported 234 new cases of COVID-19 and four new deaths on Wednesday.
Manitoba reported six new deaths and 154 more cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, though health officials said case numbers are headed in the right direction overall. The province also announced the release of a new online dashboard to provide information about its immunization campaign. Officials are expected to announce the loosening of some pandemic restrictions on Friday.
Quebec on Wednesday reported 1,502 new cases of COVID-19 and 66 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 9,208. Figures published by the province on Wednesday showed a slight decrease in hospitalizations, with 1,467 COVID-19 patients in Quebec hospitals including 216 in intensive care.
Public health officials in New Brunswick, meanwhile, reported 31 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one additional death from the disease.
“We have never been in a situation like this since the pandemic began,” Premier Blaine Higgs said Tuesday. “I cannot stress enough that this is a critical moment. … Stay home as much as you possibly can and avoid interacting with people outside your household bubble.”
As of midnight Tuesday, the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton regions were set to join the Edmundston region at the red level of the province’s COVID-19 recovery plan.
Nova Scotia reported three new cases and one new death Wednesday. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the province is 1,564.
Yukon and Newfoundland reported no new cases Wednesday.
Here’s a look at what else is happening with COVID-19 across the country:
– From CBC News, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press, last updated at 6:45 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
WATCH | ‘The world was not prepared,’ says WHO interim pandemic report:
As of Wednesday evening, more than 96.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 53 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to a database maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.
In the Americas, five trucks carrying oxygen from Venezuela have arrived at Manaus, a city of two million people in the Brazilian rainforest where the local health system has collapsed amid a devastating second wave of COVID-19 and a severe shortage of oxygen for breathless patients.
Venezuela’s consul in Manaus says the trucks delivered 132,000 litres of oxygen late Tuesday. They came from the state of Bolivar in southern Venezuela and travelled more than 1,500 kilometres to Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the move Sunday night. He is a political adversary of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has drawn criticism for his handling of the crisis in Manaus as well as the pandemic in general, which has caused more than 207,000 deaths in Brazil.
Dozens of merchants protested Wednesday in Colombia’s capital city of Bogota against the local government’s pandemic restrictions. Some protesters carried signs suggesting keeping their businesses closed will make them go bankrupt. The city is set to experience the third weekend in a row under a strict lockdown.
Mayor Claudia Lopez has said the restrictions are in response to an increase in COVID-19 infections and the high occupancy of hospital intensive care units.
Colombia has recorded 1,939,071 COVID-19 cases and 49,402 deaths, according to the latest report from the country’s Ministry of Health. Government data shows more than 91 per cent of ICU beds are currently in use.
In the Asia-Pacific region, China’s capital Beijing said it will investigate all individuals who entered the city from abroad from Dec. 10 and shut down a subway station after reporting the biggest daily jump in new COVID-19 cases in more than three weeks.
South Korea may secure additional coronavirus vaccines for 20 million people from U.S. drugmaker Novavax Inc., President Moon Jae-in said, according to a statement from the presidential office.
In the Middle East, Kuwait has registered its first cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant in two Kuwaiti women who had been in Britain.
The government of Dubai on Wednesday ordered all hospitals to cancel non-essential surgeries for the next month as coronavirus infections surge to unprecedented heights in the United Arab Emirates. For the ninth consecutive day, the UAE shattered its record for new infections, reporting 3,509 cases. Daily infections in the country have nearly tripled since November.
In Africa, Nigeria will seek to procure vaccines that are less dependent on cooling facilities, as more than 2,600 Nigerian physicians have contracted COVID-19 and dozens have died.
In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Germany may need to consider border crossing curbs if other European countries do not act to halt the spread of the coronavirus, particularly its new, more transmissible variants.
The spread of the coronavirus in France could sharply accelerate in the coming months due to the emergence of a more contagious variant, two Paris hospital executives said on Wednesday, raising fears of a third lockdown in the country.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 5:15 p.m. ET