LIVE at 3:30 p.m.: Hinshaw to give COVID-19 update

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Alberta’s top doctor will give an update on COVID-19 Thursday afternoon as concerns over a new “double mutant” variation of COVID-19 increase across Canada.

The B.1.617 variant, which originated in India, has been reported in both British Columbia and Quebec, but Alberta has yet to log a case.

In B.C., 39 cases of the double mutation have been found since the start of April, but the province did not report the cases at the time they were detected as the strain had not yet been officially classified as a variant of concern.

Alberta Health did not respond to an inquiry requesting clarification over how the province was sequencing for and reporting B.1.617 cases.

Canada is expected to announce new restrictions on incoming travel from countries including India and Brazil Thursday. The decision is driven by the new variant and an unprecedented surge in infections in India, where more than 314,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the last day alone.

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had called on the federal government to stop these flights in a Facebook live stream Wednesday evening.

“We are seeing direct flights coming in from countries with a growing number of what we call variants of concern,” Kenney said.

“I would call upon the federal government to suspend direct flights from those countries. We’ve seen reports of many people disembarking from direct flights from India to Toronto who have been COVID-positive, and while the feds do have a short-term quarantine requirement in a federally leased hotel, these people do go home after that and it’s an honour system that they quarantine for the next two weeks.”

Kenney called Alberta’s failure to limit international flights Canada’s “fatal error” in containing COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic.

Incoming flights from India have continued to arrive in Canada. In the last two weeks, the federal government listed 27 flights from the Indian capital with one or more passengers who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Alberta last reported 1,699 new cases Wednesday, including 1,332 variant strains. The active case count now sits at 18,873 — about 59 per cent of which are COVID-19 variants.

Due to a “technical glitch,” a full update was not provided Wednesday. Full data, including details on deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19, is expected Thursday.

Heavy demand for the AstraZeneca vaccine continued Thursday, as walk-in appointments at Telus Convention Centre hit capacity only hours into the day for the third day in a row.

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Appointments for AstraZeneca shots through Alberta Health Services or pharmacies continue, but the number of openings is dwindling.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, no appointments were available for AstraZeneca in Calgary through AHS, though a smattering of slots remained open in Red Deer for those willing to make the drive up Highway 2.

Within Calgary, the Alberta Blue Cross lists 20 pharmacies offering AstraZeneca shots on a walk-in basis. These pharmacies are largely concentrated in the city’s northeast, which has been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19 infections throughout the pandemic.

Hinshaw will address Albertans from Edmonton at 3:30 p.m.

— With files from The Canadian Press

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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