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

5:57 a.m.: Conspiracy theories, including those propagated by the once-fringe QAnon movement, have gained traction as the COVID-19 pandemic fuels fear, social and economic insecurity, and mistrust in authorities, experts in Canada say.

The reach and visibility of QAnon have grown as its followers’ beliefs mix with misinformation and debunked claims related to the pandemic, said Amarnath Amarasingam, a fellow with the Global Network on Extremism and Technology and a professor in the school of religion at Queen’s University.

It’s hard to say where the discredited QAnon belief system begins and ends, he said, describing it as a multi-faceted conspiracy theory that’s become increasingly overarching since the first so-called “Q drop,” a post by an anonymous user called Qon the online forum 4chan in late 2017.

QAnon draws on and fuels an array of beliefs, he said, from anti-Semitism to white nationalism to the idea that U.S. President Donald Trump is secretly working to take down a cabal of corrupt, Satan-worshipping liberal eliteswho are abusing and trafficking children for sex.

It’s so absurd it should be the perfect conspiracy theory to ignore, said Amarasingam.

But Trump’s refusal to denounce QAnon has pushed it into the mainstream, where its ideas are being cherry-picked and sprinkled throughout various movements, including those opposing public health rules aimed at fighting the spread of COVID-19, he said.

5:56 a.m.: Ontario is expected to provide an update today on its plans to rollout the COVID-19 vaccine.

The province has said that it will begin immunizations with its first shipment of 6,000 doses on Tuesday.

Retired gen. Rick Hiller says University Health Network in Toronto and the Ottawa Hospital will administer the first shots to health-care workers.

An additional 90,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine expected later this month in the province are to be provided to 13 hospitals across Ontario.

Hillier says the province also expects to receive between 30,000 and 85,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the new year, pending its approval by Health Canada.

The province is also expected to announce additional restrictions for regions in the province as case counts rise.

5:54 a.m.: The federal government says the largest mass immunization effort in Canadian history could begin as early as next week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa expects to receive up to 249,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech. Health Canada has approved its use.

The second vaccine in line for approval in Canada is from Moderna. The Canadian military will have a role to play in vaccine distribution. Various provinces have started spelling out their plans as well.

Here’s a look at what they’ve said so far.

5:53 a.m.: The owner of a bluefin tuna exporting company in eastern Prince Edward Island has offered up two freezers to the provincial government as public health officials prepare to vaccinate Islanders against COVID-19.

Jason Tompkins, owner of One Tuna in North Lake, P. E. I, said in an interview Thursday he has loaned two of his laboratory-grade freezers to the province to store the recently approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine needs to be kept at a frosty -70 C, according to Pfizer, whose vaccine got the green light from Health Canada on Wednesday.

The freezers on loan average about -87 C, Tompkins said.

“I know that they’re not something that everyone just has laying around,” he said. “If we can do anything to help out, it’s kind of our duty.”

He said he emailed P.E.I.’s chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison to offer up the freezers when he learned the Pfizer vaccine was being considered for approval in Canada.

After discussion with Morrison’s team about the suitability of the equipment, the province picked the freezers up earlier this week.

One Tuna usually uses each of the freezers to store up to 500 pounds of tuna loin, Tompkins said, but the season for the large fish recently ended, freeing up the equipment.

The Island expects to get its first shipment of 1,950 vaccines next week, Morrison said Tuesday, and the province will administer the doses to priority groups including residents and staff of long-term care homes, health-care workers and adults in Indigenous communities.

She said Islanders will begin to get vaccinated the day after the doses arrive.

The tuna season doesn’t start up until July, Tompkins said, so the freezers are on loan to the government until then.

“We had the availability of the equipment and we’re a small island and a big community, and you do what you can to help out,” he said.

5:52 a.m.: Calls grew Friday for tougher lockdown measures in Germany as the country’s disease control centre reported record daily increases in both coronavirus cases and deaths.

The Robert Koch Institute said the country’s 16 states reported 29,875 new cases of COVID-19, breaking the previous daily record of 23,679 cases reported the day before.

The number of deaths from the virus rose by 598, to a total of 20,970. The previous daily record of deaths was 590, set on Wednesday.

“The only chance we have to get in control of the situation is a lockdown, but it needs to be immediate,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told Der Spiegel magazine. “If we wait until Christmas, we’ll have to continue fighting these numbers for months.”

Under current restrictions implemented at the beginning of November as numbers were growing exponentially, restaurants, bars, leisure and sports facilities have been closed and hotels are closed to tourists, but schools and non-essential shops have remained open.

The numbers had plateaued — but at high daily levels — and have again been rising in recent days.

That prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel this week to call on state governments, which are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions, to consider closing schools early before Christmas and other measures.

“We are in a decisive, perhaps the decisive, phase of fighting the pandemic,” she said.

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5:49 a.m.: The coronavirus pandemic is a “wake up call” for governments to invest more in health care, says Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines.

The Serum Institute has taken on a vital role as the largest company licensed to manufacture the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. It is increasing its production capacity by the end of 2021 to over 2.5 billion doses a year to cope with future disease outbreaks, Poonawalla said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Poonawalla’s company now has an annual capacity of 1.5 billion doses. That is more than the billion doses that China, home to the most vaccine makers in the world, says it manufactures in a year.

Looking beyond the pandemic, he said he anticipates more diseases jumping from animal to human hosts, driving huge demand for vaccines, so the extra capacity is likely to be useful in coming decades.

“I think (the demand) is going to keep growing even more exponentially, compared to the last five or ten years,” Poonawalla said Wednesday.

Loss of forests and human incursions into wild habitats create more opportunities for such pathogens to make the jump. That was true of COVID-19 and other illnesses such as SARS, MERS and HIV-AIDS.

Existing research indicates that India, with its high population density and biodiverse forests, is among the most likely places for the emergence of such new diseases.

For now, the Serum Institute is focused on the coronavirus. It has committed to supplying the Oxford University-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to developing nations through COVAX, an ambitious global initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries worldwide.

5:48 a.m.: The pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline said Friday that their experimental COVID-19 vaccine did not appear to work well in older adults, a significant setback to their late-stage clinical trial that was previously expected to begin in the United States in December.

Instead, the companies said they planned to test a modified version of their vaccine in a smaller trial beginning in February. Rather than compare their candidate with a placebo, they said, it could be tested against a vaccine expected to be authorized by regulators for emergency use soon.

The Sanofi vaccine is one of six that were selected by Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s effort to quickly bring a vaccine to market. The companies negotiated a $2.1 billion agreement with the United States to provide 100 million doses.

5:46 a.m.: Bahrain has announced plans to give the public free coronavirus vaccines, as Saudi Arabia said it approved an inoculation by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to fight the pandemic.

The island nation of Bahrain, off the coast of Saudi Arabia, made the vaccine pledge in an announcement published late Thursday by its state-run Bahrain News Agency.

“A safe vaccine will be provided free of charge to all citizens and residents within the kingdom,” the statement said, without elaborating on which vaccine it would offer.

Bahrain plans to inoculate everyone 18 years and older in the kingdom at 27 different medical facilities, hoping to be able to vaccinate 10,000 people a day. Bahrain, an island in the Persian Gulf home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, has a population of around 1.5 million people.

A week ago, Bahrain said it had become the second nation in the world to grant an emergency-use authorization to the Pfizer vaccine after the United Kingdom.

The Pfizer shots, a so-called “mRNA vaccine,” contain a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus. To be vaccinated, a person receives two shots over 21 days.

In the time since, Bahrain has not responded to questions from The Associated Press, including on Friday. Pfizer told the AP that the details of its sales agreement with Bahrain, including the “timing of delivery and the volume of doses,” were confidential and declined to comment.

Bahrain had already granted emergency-use authorization for a Chinese vaccine made by Sinopharm and has inoculated some 6,000 people with it. That vaccine is an “inactivated” shot made by growing the whole virus in a lab and then killing it.

Friday 5:44 a.m.: An influential panel of independent scientists endorsed a COVID-19 vaccine developed in record time by Pfizer Inc. and its partner, BioNTech, and urged the Food and Drug Administration to make it available for use in the U.S.

If the FDA agrees and grants emergency use authorization — a widely expected action that could come as soon as Friday — it would mark a turning point in a pandemic that has claimed more than 292,000 American lives and is still getting worse.

Once authorization is secured, states and territories will be able to place their orders for the coveted vaccine. Millions of doses could be administered to health care workers and nursing home residents within a matter of days.

The FDA advisory committee voted 17-4 Thursday in favour of recommending the experimental vaccine for use in people ages 16 and up. One committee member abstained.

The vote came after the panel of independent experts heard hours of testimony on the vaccine’s development and testing, along with discussion of the logistical and ethical issues raised by a decision to approve its use in the midst of a public health emergency.

Several members expressed discomfort with having to assess the vaccine on such a compressed schedule. But they also acknowledged that the experimental vaccine’s unexpectedly strong performance, as well as the relentless pace of the coronavirus’s spread, left them little choice but to wave it on.

“It isn’t a question of when you know everything, it’s a question of when you have enough” information to declare that a vaccine is worth a try, said Dr. Paul A. Offit, a vaccinologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who voted in favour of emergency use authorization.

“We have clear evidence of benefit,” Offit added. “All we have on the other side is theoretical risk.”

Read Thursday’s coronavirus news.



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