'Heart-wrenching': Pope Francis decries suffering of Myanmar refugees

Pope Francis on Sunday decried the suffering of refugees in Myanmar and pleaded that houses of worship be respected as neutral places to take shelter.

He told the public gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his customary Sunday noon remarks that he was joining his voice to that of the Asian nation’s bishops in also calling for humanitarian corridors.

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Francis lamented that thousands of displaced people in Myanmar are “dying of hunger.” Violence, including ravaging of villages, has become endemic since the army seized power in February, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

A nonviolent civil disobedience movement is challenging military rule, but the junta’s attempt to repress it with deadly force has fueled resistance.

Francis noted that Myanmar’s Catholic bishops last week launched an appeal, “calling to the attention of the entire world, the heart-wrenching experience of thousands of persons in that country who are displaced and are dying of hunger.” He added he was joining the churchmen’s call for humanitarian corridors to allow safe passage for those fleeing.

Echoing the bishops, Francis also insisted that “churches, pagodas, monasteries, mosques, temples, just as schools and hospitals, be respected as neutral places of refuge.”

The pope then prayed for peace in Myanmar before noting that Sunday was World Refugee Day, an initiative promoted by the United Nations.

“Let’s open our heart to refugees,” the pope said. ”Let make ours their sadness and their joys, let’s learn from their courageous resilience,” Francis said.

That way, he said, “all together, we will grow a more human community, one big family.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

Father’s Day 2021: How a year of parenting during COVID-19 has brought dads closer to their kids

WATCH: Parenting blogger Jaime Damak joins Global’s Laura Casella with a few ideas to celebrate Father’s Day.

In January 2020, Abraham Antony, his wife and two daughters immigrated to Canada from Thailand.

The family prepared to adapt to a new way of life and was excited to “have a place to call home.” Over the span of 11 years, they have moved countries four times.

“Little did we know what lay ahead,” says Antony. “The next year was a weird mixture of enforced stillness while we also rushed through many milestones.”

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His children saw snow for the first time, his youngest daughter started school in Toronto, and in November, the family welcomed a baby boy.

“(We) weren’t sure how we would be able to manage,” says Antony.

“The silver lining was that we were able to connect and do things together we’d never had time for before.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have had to work from home or in essential jobs while homeschooling their children, and they’ve had to adjust their expectations of what parenting looks like.

For this Father’s Day, Global News spoke to some dads in Canada about the challenges and rewards of parenting during a pandemic, and the things they’ve learned about their kids along the way.

Allan Fernandez, a coordinator for Shaw Communications living in Burnaby, B.C., has been working from home since last year. He immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in 2010.

He’s been able to increase the “quantity and quality” of the time he spends with his two kids in Canada, as well as his son in Manila who he connects with virtually.

“I can play more roles in my kids’ lives — like playmate or mentor — now that I’m physically with them,” Fernandez says.

His daughter, Abi, is five years old and diagnosed with autism. She goes to preschool twice a week and sees a therapist for the remaining weekdays.

“Seeing my daughter’s transformation from when I was working from the office … to being here — a lot of her teachers have noticed her progress,” says Fernandez, adding that she seems calmer and he can support her better now, when she’s experiencing mood swings.

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Because there’s no need for Fernandez to commute to his office in Vancouver, he also spends the extra time catching up with his 11-year-old son in the Philippines, playing XBox online and even starting a YouTube channel together.

He adds that it can sometimes be difficult to manage his kids during work meetings, but he says “it’s mostly been happy memories.”

Martin Robbins is another stay-at-home father during the COVID-19 pandemic, living in St. Catharines, Ont.

One frustration he and his partner have been experiencing is trying to control the screen time their children are now accustomed to after a winter of lockdown. The push and pull of getting the kids outside and active — going for a hike or to the beach — can be a challenge.

“But we’re also more attuned to each other’s moods, attitudes and frustrations, and that’s something I don’t think we would have seen had the pandemic not forced us into lockdown,” Robbins says.

“There’s just a lot more connection between the whole family.”

He adds that he’s been able to “stop and smell the roses.”

Robbins also says he’s been able to learn more about his daughters, like his 12-year-old’s passion for learning languages (she’s currently teaching herself Norwegian and French), and his 10-year-old’s enthusiasm for art.

“I can’t believe the amount of supplies we’ve gone through,” he says.

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Having celebrated two of his childrens’ birthdays during the pandemic — which were kept relatively low-key — he says he wants to take them to their dream destinations of Norway and Disneyland in the coming years. Until then, he’s planning on taking them to Medieval Times, a dinner theatre based in Toronto, when it is safe to do so.

“We’ll be making up for lost time from their birthdays,” Robbins says.

For Victoria, B.C. resident Paul Lacerte, living in a separate space from his three older daughters doesn’t mean they haven’t grown closer as a family during COVID-19 times.

His children have been turning to their Indigenous culture and traditional knowledge in order to find their grounding in the world, which has been humbling for Lacerte to see.

“(Those are) their own tools in their own tool belt that if something happens, that’s what they turn to,” he says. “Their resilience and the way that they pivot from surviving or suffering to thriving … is amazing.”

Lacerte co-founded the Moosehide Campaign with his daughter, Raven, 10 years ago. The campaign is a grassroots organization aimed at ending violence towards Indigenous women and children.

Indigenous women face a complex myriad of struggles, and they are disproportionately affected by violence in Canada — Lacerte says his daughters are exposed to that trauma in the work that they do, aside from their lived experiences as Indigenous women.

Even still, the movement is centred around healing.

“I could not possibly be more honoured and privileged to be the dad of fierce young changemakers, who are willing to put themselves on the line over and over and over again,” he says.

Have you gotten closer to your father over the course of the last year? Are you a father who’s gotten closer with his children? We’d love to hear your story in the comments. Happy Father’s Day!

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

U.S. triples pledge, sends Taiwan 2.5M COVID-19 vaccine doses

WATCH: U.S. to purchase, donate 500 million doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to struggling nations, ‘no strings attached’

The U.S. sent 2.5 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan on Sunday, tripling an earlier pledge in a donation with both public health and geopolitical meaning.

The shipment arrived on a China Airlines cargo plane that had left Memphis the previous day. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung and Brent Christensen, the top U.S. official in Taiwan, were among those who welcomed the plane on the tarmac at the airport outside of the capital, Taipei.

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Chen said that America was showing its friendship as Taiwan faces its most severe outbreak. “When I saw these vaccines coming down the plane, I was really touched,” he said over the noise inside a building where the boxes of vaccines, some with U.S. flags on them, had been brought on wheeled dollies.

Taiwan, which had been relatively unscathed by the virus, has been caught off guard by a surge in new cases since May and is now scrambling to get vaccines. The COVID-19 death toll on the island of 24 million people has jumped to 549, from only about a dozen prior to the outbreak.

The U.S. donation also signals its support for Taiwan in the face of growing pressure from China, which claims the self-governing island off its east coast as its territory. The U.S. does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan under what is known as the one-China policy, but is legally bound by its own laws to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself.

“These vaccines are proof of America’s commitment to Taiwan,” said Christensen, the director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. Embassy. “Taiwan is a family member to the world’s democratic countries.”

The U.S. promised 750,000 vaccine doses for Taiwan earlier this month, sending Sen. Tammy Duckworth and two of her Senate colleagues to the island aboard a military transport plane to make the announcement. Taiwan has ordered 5.05 million doses directly from Moderna but so far received only 390,000, including a second shipment that arrived Friday.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said the U.S. had decided to increase the donation through efforts on both sides over the past two weeks.

In a Facebook post, Tsai joined the U.S. in drawing attention to their shared democratic systems. China, which has been ruled single-handedly by the Communist Party since 1949, says Taiwan must eventually come under its control and reserves the right to use force if necessary.

“Whether it is for regional peace and stability or the virus that is a common human adversary, we will continue to uphold common ideas and work together,” Tsai wrote in Chinese.

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She has accused China of blocking Taiwan from getting the Pfizer vaccine through BioNTech, the German co-developer. Chinese officials have repeatedly denied the charge, and say China is willing to provide vaccines to Taiwan. Taiwanese law, however, bans the import of Chinese-made medicine.

The U.S. donation follows Japan’s shipment of 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early June. Taiwan has ordered 10 million doses from AstraZeneca but has yet to receive most of them.

The outbreak, which has eased somewhat, has spurred the government to try to expand testing and vaccination. Health authorities on Sunday reported 107 new locally spread cases, the lowest in more than two months.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

Calls for refugee sponsors grow as study suggests millions of Canadians open to it

Karina Reid watched as the little boy, fascinated by the running tap water, jumped into the bathtub.

“This is the best day of my life!” then four-year-old Delphin said.

Delphin and his pregnant mother Atosha Ngage had just arrived in Canada earlier that day in February 2019. They stayed at a refugee camp in Namibia after leaving their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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The little family arrived in Canada through the Blended Visa Office Referred Refugees (BVOR) program, one of the country’s three resettlement streams to sponsor refugees. Reid, along with five of her friends, sponsored Ngage, who was pregnant with her second child, and Delphin.

“It was the most life-changing experience for them but also for me,” Reid said in an interview. “It changed my entire view of the world.”

Reid is one of the many Canadians who have brought a refugee family to Canada via the BVOR program. It’s the most distinctive of the three refugee resettlement programs; the others are Government-Assisted Refugees (GAR) and Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR).

The BVOR program allows private citizens and non-governmental organizations to step up and sponsor individuals or families with whom they don’t have prior relationships.

“We also refer to this kind of sponsorship model as `sponsoring the stranger,”’ said Louisa Taylor, director of Refugee 613, a communications hub that works to build inclusion and welcome newcomers.

Taylor said people in her circle know how “powerful” and “transformational” the experience of sponsorship can be for both newcomers and sponsors. Usually, these stories are relayed through word of mouth, such as Reid’s case.

However, there has been no data or resources to help promote the BVOR program properly, Taylor said.

“So recruiting new sponsors has long been a struggle,” she said.

In the hopes to rectify this, Refugee 613 partnered with the Environics Institute to conduct a market study on refugee sponsorship in Canada. The project was funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada but all data gathered are owned by Refugee 613 and Environics.

The study involved a representative sample of 3,000 Canadians ages 25 and over and with household incomes of $30,000 or more, which translates to roughly 24 million individuals.

Results suggest close to one-fifth of the target population, who haven’t been involved in sponsoring a refugee or refugee family yet, say they could definitely or likely see themselves participating in the program at some point over the next few years.

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“This translates into a pool of approximately four million Canadians who are open to potential recruitment into the program,” the report reads.

In contrast with BVOR, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program has had no issues with recruiting sponsors, Taylor said.

“For the most part, PSR sponsors are motivated because they are sponsoring a relative or a friend or a friend of a friend,” she said. “So the PSR program has largely become a way to reunite families.”

Between 2015 and 2016, when Canadians became exposed to the idea of supporting Syrian refugees and the issue of refugee resettlement became an issue, Taylor said the BVOR program was oversubscribed.

However, since then, the program’s annual target of around 1,000 people has never been met.

“That causes a lot of pressure within government if you’re not meeting your targets,” Taylor said. “You’re seen as a failed program.”

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters Friday that BVOR is one of those streams that had some challenges around “finding a proper alignment between what the community needs and what is the best fit for refugees.”

Taylor said the new data proves that there’s still interest in sponsoring refugees and refugee families to Canada.

“The next question is: how do we reach them and what messages do we share with them to show them that not only is there still a need, there’s a whole spectrum of organizations ready and willing to walk people through this process?” she said.

“They may just find it’s the most powerful experience of their lives.”

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It’s been more than two years since Reid and her friend picked up Atosha Ngage and Delphin at the airport. Since then, there have been powerful memories shared between people who were once complete strangers.

They’ve made snow angels, gone to the pool and shared lots of laughs.

Reid said the program is one of the best-hidden gems in Canada. Through it, she met people she would treasure for a long time.

“The BVOR program is life-changing,” Reid said. “It opens doors to curiosity, understanding and wanting to make your community a better place like.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

Diplomats to meet in Vienna for more nuclear talks with Iran

Further talks between Iran and global powers were planned Sunday afternoon to try to negotiate and restore a landmark 2015 agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that was later abandoned by the Trump administration.

Senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia and Britain were due to meet at a hotel in the Austrian capital. They have been negotiating a possible return to the accord for weeks in the sixth round of talks in Vienna.

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Top Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov wrote in a tweet Saturday that the members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “will decide on the way ahead at the Vienna talks. An agreement on restoration of the nuclear deal is within reach but is not finalized yet.”

Iran’s deputy foreign minister for political affairs said Sunday that almost all JCPOA agreement documents had been readily negotiated and that the diplomats involved would shortly return to their home countries — not only for further consultations with their respective governments but also for final decision-making.

“We are now in a situation that we think almost all the agreement documents are ready,” Seyyed Abbas Araghchi said in Vienna ahead of the meeting.

“Of the main issues that remain disputed, some have been resolved and some remain, but it has taken on a very precise form and it is quite clear what the dimensions of these disputes are,” he added.

The U.S. does not have a representative at the table in Vienna because former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the country out of the deal in 2018. Trump also restored and augmented sanctions to try to force Iran into renegotiating the pact with more concessions.

However, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled willingness to rejoin the deal under terms that would broadly see the United States scale back sanctions and Iran return to 2015 nuclear commitments. A U.S. delegation in Vienna is taking part in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the other world powers acting as go-betweens.

Sunday’s meeting is the first since Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election earlier this week.

The election of Ebrahim Raisi puts hard-liners firmly in control across the government at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

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In Jerusalem, new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Sunday that Raisi’s election as Iranian president was “the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who they’re doing business with.

“These guys are murderers, mass murderers: a regime of brutal hangmen must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not kill thousands, but millions,” he said.

Israel has long stated that it opposes arch-enemy Iran’s nuclear program and said it would prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he hoped the election of the new Iranian president would not be an obstacle to reaching a deal in Vienna.

“We are very close. We have been working for two months,” Borrell told reporters during a visit in the Lebanese capital Beirut. “We have invested a lot of political capital on that. So I hope that the results of the elections is not going to be the last obstacle that will ruin the negotiation process.”

Raisi is the first Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office, over his involvement in the 1988 mass executions, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.


Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Amir Vahdat contributed reporting from Tehran, Iran; Ilan Ben Zion from Jerusalem; and Sarah El Deeb from Beirut.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

COVID-19: Saskatchewan launches Step 2 reopen plan

Saskatchewan is loosening more COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday as the province launches Step 2 of its reopen plan amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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Saskatchewan met part of the threshold for Step 2 on May 24 when more than 70 per cent of the age 30 and older population was vaccinated with their first dose. The province still needed to wait three weeks until after Step 1 was launched, a requirement set out by the reopening roadmap.

As part of Step 2, there will be no table capacity limit for restaurants and bars, however, physical distancing must be maintained or there must be barriers between tables. Dance floors and buffets are still not allowed.

Private indoor gatherings will be limited to 15 people, up by five from the Step 1 gathering limit of 10 people. Private outdoor gatherings can have up to 150 people.

A maximum of 150 people will be allowed at event facilities, casinos, bingo halls, theatres, libraries and recreational facilities. An occupancy level must be maintained that can allow staff and customers to physically distance by at least two metres.

There are no capacity thresholds on retail and personal care services, but physical distancing must be maintained.

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All long-term care and personal care home residents can welcome four visitors at a time indoors and nine visitors at a time outdoors. This is allowed for both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents. Residents and visitors must still take precautionary measures including masking and physical distancing.

The province set the Step 3 reopen date to July 11 on Saturday when it was reported 70 per cent of residents 18 and older had received their first vaccine dose.

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For all remaining public health restrictions to be lifted, including the masking mandate and gathering limits, three weeks need to pass after 70 per cent of residents aged 12 and older have received their first vaccine dose and Step 2 has began.

As of Saturday, 68 per cent of residents 12 and older have received their first dose.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

No injuries reported in targeted Surrey shooting between two vehicles

A Saturday night shooting between two vehicles in Surrey’s Newton area is believed to be targeted, RCMP say.

Mounties responded to a report of shots fired by occupants of a silver SUV at a white jeep at 8:40 p.m., in the 7300-block of 128 Street.

Both vehicles reportedly sped away before the Jeep crashed near the intersection of 128 Street and 76 Avenue.

In a release, RCMP confirm the occupants of the white jeep were not injured.

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The motive remains unknown.

Investigators will be in the Newton area over the weekend for follow up and canvassing.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Surrey RCMP or Crime Stoppers.

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Motorcyclist dead after crash in Toronto's west end, police say

WATCH ABOVE: York Regional Police Det. Const. John Paterson explains what collision reconstruction investigators look for a scene after they arrive.

Toronto police say a motorcyclist has died after a crash in the city’s west end late Saturday.

A police spokesperson told Global News emergency crews were called to the corner of Forty Second Street and Lake Shore Boulevard West, a short distance away from the entrance of the Long Branch GO Station, at around 10:15 p.m.

The circumstances leading up to the motorcycle crash weren’t clear as of early Sunday, but the spokesperson said the driver had serious injuries and subsequently died at the scene.

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The force of the crash caused heavy front-end damage to the motorcycle.

Officers closed part of Lake Shore Boulevard West for nearly four hours while investigators gathered evidence at the scene.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

1 dead, another in hospital after driver crashes into Florida Pride parade

A driver slammed into spectators Saturday evening at the start of a Pride parade in South Florida, killing one man and seriously injuring another, authorities said

The pickup truck driver acted like he was part of the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade but then suddenly accelerated when he was told he was next, crashing into the victims, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said, according to WSVN-TV. Wilton Manors is just north of Fort Lauderdale.

Authorities said one of the victims later succumbed to his injuries. The other victim is expected to survive, police said.

The driver of the pickup truck was taken into custody. Authorities did not immediately give further details about the victims or say whether they think the crash was intentional. Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Ali Adamson told reporters that authorities are investigating “all possibilities,” with the help of the FBI.

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Adamson said authorities are speaking with the driver, but she did not say whether he had been charged.

Trantalis said he believes the crash was “deliberate” and an attack against the LGBTQ community.

Photos and video from the scene showed Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in tears while in a convertible at the parade.

In a statement Saturday night, Wasserman Schultz said she was safe but “deeply shaken and devastated that a life was lost.”

“I am so heartbroken by what took place at this celebration,” she said. “May the memory of the life lost be for a blessing.”

Spectator Christina Currie told the South Florida SunSentinel that she was with her family at the start of the parade.

“All of a sudden there was a loud revving of a truck and a crash through a fence,” Currie said. “It was definitely an intentional act right across the lanes of traffic.”

Wilton Manors police tweeted Saturday night that the public is not in danger.

“Though authorities are still gathering information, we know two individuals marching to celebrate inclusion and equality were struck by a vehicle,” Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said in a statement. “This tragedy took place within feet of me and my (Broward Sheriff’s Office) team, and we are devastated having witnessed this horrific incident.”

June is Pride Month, commemorating the June 1969 police raid targeting gay patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York that led to an uprising of LGBTQ Americans and served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

Here's how provinces are faring as Canada fully vaccinates 20% of eligible population

WATCH ABOVE: Overcoming Canada's COVID-19 vaccination plateau to a return to normalcy

Canada tallied another 880 new cases of COVID-19 as the country marked another milestone in its efforts to vaccinate its population against the virus.

More than 75 per cent of its eligible population — those 12 years and older — have now received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine while over 20 per cent have been fully vaccinated, according to COVID-19 Tracker.

The number comes as public health officials reported another 31 new deaths, bringing the national death toll to 26,054. To date, over 1,408,157 people have been diagnosed, of which 1,369,841  have recovered, while over 36,717,453 tests have been administered.

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With over 31.7 million doses having been administered across the country, Canada now boasts about 1.19 doses administered per 100 people daily as of Thursday — among the top five highest rates in the world.

Here’s how several provinces are faring currently in their vaccine outreach and daily case counts.

Ontario reported another 355 new cases on Saturday, as well as 13 more deaths linked to the virus. A total of 541,880 COVID-19 cases have been identified in the province since the pandemic began, and the death toll now stands at 9,007.

Ontario has had more doses administers than all other provinces, though its population is the highest. Over 74.5 per cent of eligible Ontarians have received at least one dose, while just over 21 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Quebec reported 160 new cases on Saturday and nine new deaths. The province currently has the highest proportion of its eligible population partially vaccinated against COVID-19, with 79.2 per cent of its population having received at least one dose. Its fully vaccinated numbers are comparatively low to other provinces, however, with just 17.75 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated.

Alberta’s total COVID-19 cases and deaths now stand at 231,259 and 2,289 after Saturday’s updates, respectively.

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The province’s percentage of partially vaccinated people is lower than the national average, however, standing currently at 70.4 per cent, though it has the highest proportion of fully vaccinated eligible people at 27.3 per cent.

Saskatchewan added 54 more cases on Saturday, pushing its total COVID-19 infections to 48,381. The province did not add any new deaths on Saturday, with its fatalities standing at 562. Currently, Saskatchewan has the lowest percentage of eligible people vaccinated among all provinces at 68.3 per cent, though its fully vaccinated eligible population is among the highest at 26.6 per cent.

Manitoba recorded another 151 new cases on Saturday, as well as three new deaths. The province has vaccinated at least 72.9 per cent of its eligible population, while over 23.4 per cent have been given two shots.

British Columbia did not release new updates on its COVID-19 numbers Saturday, though currently over 75.8 per cent of its population has received at least one dose and nearly 18 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

New Brunswick has, to date, given at least one vaccine to over 76 per cent of its eligible population while about 17.5 per cent have been given two shots. Five new cases were added by the province today and no new deaths, pushing total COVID-19 infections to 2,316.

Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have the lowest percentages of their eligible population fully vaccinated, though both have over 77 per cent having received at least one dose.

P.E.I. has registered over 74 per cent of its eligible population as having received their first vaccine, while 13.3 per cent have been given two shots.

Both N.L. and P.E.I. did not release new COVID-19 data on Saturday.

— With files from Twinkle Ghosh and Sean Boynton

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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