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UPDATE 2-Canada signs first deal to make foreign COVID-19 vaccine, new cases start to drop

(Adds quote from Trudeau, cases and deaths starting to fall, details of other vaccine plants)

OTTAWA, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Canada has signed its first deal to allow a foreign coronavirus vaccine to be manufactured domestically, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday as cases began to drop steadily.

The Novavax Inc vaccine - still awaiting approval from Canadian regulators - will be produced in a new government facility in Montreal that is due to be finished later this year.

Canada has no major vaccination manufacturing capacity and Trudeau’s Liberal government is under pressure over the slow pace of inoculations.

“This is a major step forward to get vaccines made in Canada, for Canadians,” Trudeau told reporters. Canada has a deal to buy 52 million doses of the vaccine from the U.S.-based Novavax.

Canada has so far reported a total of 783,589 cases and 20,136 deaths as a second wave sweeps the country, forcing provinces to shut down firms and restrict social gatherings.

Average new daily cases have dipped to 4,368 from around 8,400 three weeks ago, chief public health office Theresa Tam told reporters, making clear the shutdowns needed to remain in place for now.

“We are in a very delicate period right now ... relaxation has to be done very cautiously,” she said.

Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the new government facility would not be ready until towards the end of the year. Ottawa says all Canadians will be inoculated by some time in September.

Trudeau brushed off questions about how useful the Novavax deal would be in fighting COVID-19, saying “Canada will be developing domestic manufacturing, so regardless of what could happen in the future, we will have domestic production”.

He also said Ottawa would give C$25 million to Vancouver-based biotechnology company Precisions NanoSystems. The firm plans to build a facility capable of making 240 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine a year when it starts operating in March 2023. (Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)

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