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Weekend brings lower COVID-19 counts across much of Canada


OTTAWA — Signs of summer's pending arrival were greeted with other reasons for hope across much of Canada over the weekend as several provinces reported their lowest number of new COVID-19 infections in months and tens of thousands more Canadians were vaccinated.

The good news started with Quebec. Once the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, the province on Sunday reported only 179 new infections and no new deaths, a first for both measurements since September.

Ontario, meanwhile, logged 663 new cases on Sunday, the lowest figure seen since Oct. 18. Atlantic Canada was also reporting relatively low numbers, with 12 new cases in Nova Scotia today and fewer than 10 in the rest of the region.

Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in a statement called on Canadians to continue to guard against COVID-19 while also acknowledging the decline in new cases following a deadly third wave of infections through much of the spring.

"As immunity is still building up across the population, public health measures and individual precautions are crucial for COVID-19 control," she said. "Thanks to measures in place in heavily affected areas, the strong and steady declines in disease trends continues."

Some parts of the country nonetheless continued to struggle with high levels of infection, including Manitoba, where nearly 500 cases were reported on Saturday and Sunday combined.

The decline in new cases over the past week coincided with a drop in the number of Canadians being treated in hospital for COVID-19, Tam said, with fewer in intensive-care units and fewer deaths as well.

Meanwhile, more and more Canadians are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 every day. Ontario on Sunday reported another 158,000 jabs given since the previous day, bringing the total within the province to nearly 10 million since the start of the pandemic. 

The federal government said more than 60 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose.  

Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino credited rising vaccination rates across Canada as one of the reasons the Liberal government decided to grant a travel exemption for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The exemption will allow the winner of the NHL's all-Canadian North Division and an American counterpart to cross the border during the third and final rounds of the playoffs without having to quarantine for 14 days.

"We've come a long way from where we were just two months ago, let alone a year ago," Mendicino told The Canadian Press. "And it's thanks to the extraordinary work of our front-line health-care workers and Canadians themselves who are taking up vaccines at an accelerated rate."

Even as NHL fans were rejoicing, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney found himself under siege after pictures emerged appearing to show him and others ignoring COVID rules while enjoying drinks and dinner on the penthouse patio of a building near the legislature grounds.

Two members of Kenney's cabinet, Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney and Culture Minister Leela Aheer, openly criticized the premier over the weekend for refusing to take responsibility for the incident. Other UCP members have also blasted the dinner at the "Sky Palace." 

Kenney has insisted the dinner was within public health rules because it was under the 10-person limit on outdoor social gatherings, but he has not addressed apparent violations of masking and distancing rules.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2021.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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