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Canada's biggest provinces seek clampdown on social gatherings as coronavirus cases top 150,000

TORONTO/MONTREAL (Reuters) - Canada’s two most populous provinces on Friday moved to clamp down further on social gatherings in a bid to slow a second wave of coronavirus infections that since the start of the pandemic now total more than 150,000 nationwide.

FILE PHOTO: People maintain social distance as they sit at Humber Bay Shores park while the province prepares for more phased re-openings from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 24, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Ontario ordered the closure of bars and restaurants from midnight to 5 a.m. except for takeout and delivery and said strip clubs would have to shut down from Saturday.

Premier Doug Ford, whose government has already slashed the size of permitted gatherings indoor and outdoors, repeated his concerns that the majority of new cases were in people under 40.

“I can tell you I don’t see seniors going into nightclubs too often,” he told a daily briefing.

Health officials in Canada have been making increasingly gloomy comments in recent days. Theresa Tam, the chief medical officer, told reporters on Friday that some local authorities could be overwhelmed unless the wave was curbed.

“We now have active cases in every single province. What we do now will be critical for the weeks and months to come,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the same event.

In Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dube urged residents to cut down on social interactions.

“We’re asking you to make a special effort for the next 28 days,” he told a news conference, saying the government did not want to close bars because people might then attend private parties that are harder to control.

Ontario and Quebec together account for 79% of the 150,140 cases reported in Canada so far and 93% of the 9,249 deaths.

Trudeau said Canada signed a deal with AstraZeneca PLC AZN.L to buy up to 20 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. It is among the leading candidates in the global race for a vaccine.

Canada has now signed deals for a total of around 300 million doses of vaccine candidates from a number of major pharmaceutical firms.

Reporting by Mahad Arade in Toronto and; Allison Martell in Montreal; Writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alistair Bell and Matthew Lewis