Canada boosts coronavirus vaccine research, Saskatchewan plans gradual reopening

OTTAWA/WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada pledged new money on Thursday to develop and eventually mass-produce vaccines in its fight against the coronavirus, while the province of Saskatchewan unveiled a plan to restart its economy and the renowned Calgary Stampede was canceled.

Canada’s 10 provinces have closed non-essential businesses and urged people to stay at home since mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The Calgary Stampede, a rodeo and party that draws tourists and oil-industry figures from around the world every July to the Alberta city, said on Thursday it was canceling the event due to the pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that Ottawa would spend C$1.1 billion ($782 million) to bolster vaccine research, clinical trials and national testing.

“Once we’ve developed a vaccine, whether it be in Canada or elsewhere around the world, we’re going to need to produce it,” Trudeau said.

Noting a competitive global scramble to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE), Trudeau said: “Part of the investment we’re making ... is to establish the capacity of developing vaccines and mass-producing vaccines here in Canada.”

A supplier of chemicals needed to test for coronavirus, France’s Biomérieux, has given its proprietary formula to Ottawa for free so its national lab can try to manufacture test kits.

Canada’s total coronavirus deaths rose to 2,028 on Thursday, up 8% from a day earlier, official data showed.

Some provinces like Saskatchewan have seen daily case numbers dwindle.

The western province plans a phased approach to reopening, starting on May 4 with medical services such as dentists and chiropractors. Golf courses reopen on May 15.

The second phase, starting on May 19, allows retail stores and services such as hairdressers and massage therapy to open.

Broader restrictions, such as at seniors’ homes, and limits on gatherings to 10 people, remain in place. Testing and contact tracing will increase.

“We have to find middle ground that continues to keep our case numbers low ... while allowing Saskatchewan people to get back to work,” Premier Scott Moe said.

The province has not set dates for subsequent phases to reopen restaurants, theaters, pools and casinos, and timing will depend on how the first phases play out, Moe said.

Ontario - the most-populous province - extended its shutdown until at least May 6. Quebec has prolonged its closures until early May.

Asked about Saskatchewan’s plan, Trudeau said Ottawa was coordinating with provinces so that decisions are made using similar guidelines.

In the United States, some businesses prepared to reopen in Georgia and a few other states for the first time in a month. Their plans have drawn criticism from health experts who warn that premature easing of stay-at-home guidelines could trigger a surge in cases.

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson and Rod Nickel; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney