The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Thursday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
7:05 p.m. British Columbia health officials are reporting five new deaths due to COVID-19 bringing the total fatalities in the province to 2,730, reports The Canadian Press.
A news release Thursday says the province reported 1,318 new cases of the virus, although officials have said this number is likely much higher, because B.C. has reached its testing capacity, according to CP.
Officials say they will no longer provide the number of active cases or those who are out of isolation.
They say the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 is 867, a drop from 985 last Thursday, while 138 people are in intensive care.
They say 90.4 per cent of those eligible aged 12 and older have had two shots of a vaccine, while 51.1 per cent of those have also had a booster dose.
Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has said all regulated health workers including dentists, pharmacists, doctors and chiropractors will be required to have their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by March 24 and the second dose within 35 days.
5:45 p.m. The Ontario government says it has successfully petitioned a court to freeze access to millions of dollars donated through online fundraising platform GiveSendGo to the truckers convoy protesting COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa and at several border crossings, reports The Canadian Press.
A spokeswoman for Premier Doug Ford says Ontario’s attorney general brought the application to the Superior Court of Justice seeking an order that would prohibit anyone from distributing donations made through the website’s “Freedom Convoy 2022” and “Adopt-a-Trucker” campaign pages, according to CP.
Spokeswoman Ivana Yelich says an order binding “any and all parties with possession or control over these donations” was issued today.
Hundreds of semi-trucks rolled into downtown Ottawa two weeks ago to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and health restrictions and now trucks are also blockading border crossings in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
Donors initially raised more than $10 million through GoFundMe, which announced last Friday it was pulling the plug on the campaign and that the money would be refunded.
Convoy organizers quickly set up a new campaign on Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo, which had raised US$8.2 million by today.
4:44 p.m. Quebec’s opposition parties are accusing the government of taking too long to give up COVID-19 emergency powers and they say the delay is helping Premier François Legault and his ministers avoid scrutiny, reports The Canadian Press.
Earlier this week, the government renewed the state of emergency. Legault told reporters the emergency order would only be lifted once a bill is passed allowing the government to keep some powers, such as the ability to impose the vaccine passport system and mask mandates, according to CP.
Opposition parties, however, say the government should end the state of emergency and have a debate in the legislature about what measures should remain.
Liberal health critic Monsef Derraji said the government uses ministerial decrees too often.
“It’s the wrong way to govern,” Derraji said in an interview Thursday.
Health Minister Christian Dubé has said he would introduce a bill in March to lift the state of emergency, but he has also said it would be up to the opposition as to whether the legislation passes before June.
Derraji said he’s concerned the state of emergency won’t be lifted in time to ensure the government is held to account on its pandemic spending before Quebecers head to the polls.
Quebec reported 35 more deaths linked to COVID-19 on Thursday and 36 fewer hospitalizations.
The Health Department said there were 2,312 COVID-19 hospitalizations, after 193 people were admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours and 229 people were discharged. It said 173 people were in intensive care, an increase of two from the day before.
4:34 p.m. The Ontario government says it has successfully petitioned a court to freeze access to millions of dollars in donations to the truckers convoy that were raised through online platform GiveSendGo, reports The Canadian Press.
A spokeswoman for Premier Doug Ford says Ontario’s attorney general brought the application to the Superior Court of Justice and an order binding “any and all parties with possession or control over these donations” was issued today, according to CP.
4 p.m. An Ontario Superior Court justice has delayed hearing an application for an injunction that would stop protesters blocking Canada-bound traffic at the Ambassador Bridge border crossing in Windsor.
Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz says he understands that the matter is urgent, but the application is “serious in nature” and the defendants should be given the chance to make their case.
He also granted the City of Windsor intervener status in the injunction application, which was brought by the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.
Morawetz says he will hear submissions tomorrow at noon.
The mayor of Windsor, Ont., says the situation at the Ambassador Bridge is an occupation and it must end.
Dilkens also says anyone who may wish to join the protest is not welcome in his city.
3:55 p.m. Ontario’s top doctor says he’s reviewing timelines for Ontario’s reopening plan and all other COVID-19 measures now that a massive wave of Omicron variant cases is receding, reports The Canadian Press.
Dr. Kieran Moore says the Omicron wave has peaked and it’s time to focus on resuming other activities in the health system and society at large, according to CP.
Now that hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and other virus indicators are improving, the province is lifting a directive that paused all surgeries deemed non-urgent and is allowing them to resume gradually.
Moore says dates for further lifting restrictions on businesses and social gatherings, set to happen in stages on Feb. 21 and March. 14, could be reviewed next week.
He says he’s reviewing the timelines for ending all public health measures including mask rules and proof-of-vaccination requirements and says he will make recommendations to government as early as next week.
His comments came a day after the Ontario’s health minister said the province wasn’t considering lifting mask rules or its vaccine passport system affecting businesses, as some other Canadian provinces have begun to do.
3:15 p.m. Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting another three deaths from COVID-19 in the province today, and this increases the toll to 278 since the start of the pandemic, reports The Canadian Press.
The latest deaths involve two people in the Saint John region, one in their 40s and the other over 90, and a person over 90 in the Fredericton area, according to CP.
There are 140 people hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, up one from Wednesday.
That includes one person in intensive care and eight people on ventilators.
There are 321 healthcare workers who are isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.
Provincial data shows 85.7 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers five and older have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine and 47 per cent have had booster shots.
2:47 p.m. Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador say there are now 25 people in hospital due to COVID-19, which matches the previous high in the province, reports The Canadian Press.
It’s the second time the province has seen this many pandemic-related hospitalizations; the first was less than two weeks ago on Feb. 1, according to CP.
A government news release today says eight of the hospitalized patients are in intensive care.
Officials are reporting 243 new cases of COVID-19, with 18 per cent of tests completed in the previous 24 hours yielding a positive result.
There are 1,588 active reported cases in the province, although the figure does not include those who may have contracted the disease, but did not qualify for a test to confirm their infection.
Federal data shows Newfoundland and Labrador continues to have the highest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the country, as 95 per cent of eligible residents have had at least one shot as of Jan. 30.
2:19 p.m. Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting seven people in hospital due to COVID-19. This is unchanged from Wednesday, reports The Canadian Press.
Chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, says that number includes one person in intensive care, according to CP.
She says there are five others in hospital who were admitted for non-COVID-19 reasons and have tested positive for the disease.
Morrison is reporting 210 new cases of COVID-19 today, along with 220 recoveries.
There are 1,982 active reported COVID-19 infections in the province.
Six long-term care facilities have outbreaks, and 21 early learning and child-care centres have reported cases or outbreaks.
1:54 p.m. Crowdfunding site GoFundMe will speak to members of Parliament about what measures it has in place to prevent the funding of extremism.
NDP MP Alistair MacGregor announced today representatives from the site have accepted a request to appear before the House of Commons standing committee on public safety and national security.
MacGregor brought forward the motion and says they will appear March 3.
It comes as a protest against vaccine mandates and COVID-19 health restrictions drags on well into its second week on Parliament Hill, clogging up surrounding streets.
Read the full story here on the Star.
1:20 p.m. A high school in southeast Manitoba is in “hold and secure” mode due to a protest against COVID-19 restrictions outside.
Steinbach Regional Secondary School says students will remain in classes with their teachers, while exterior doors are locked except for students and staff.
The local school division says RCMP are on scene at the school.
1:15 p.m. Ottawa’s public school board says it has reached out to local police about the potential for protesters to drive past schools today.
Protesters mused online about driving past schools after snarling traffic around the national capital’s airport earlier today.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is calling the idea unacceptable, adding that the safety of students and staff shouldn’t be threatened.
So far, the board says there are no reports of concerning activity.
The board’s statement on Twitter says staff will make safety a top priority.
It adds that students and staff will shelter in place if there is reason for concern about school safety.
1:03 p.m. The Bank of Montreal is projecting that the Ambassador Bridge shutdown could start to cut into Canada’s first quarter GDP growth if the protests continue.
Each day they blockade the Ambassador Bridge, protesters are choking off a $400-million lifeline for the North American economy. They may already, experts say, have caused Canada “incalculable” long-term economic damage.
Everything from car parts and appliances to fruits and vegetables was sitting in long lines of tractor trailers on both sides of the Windsor-Detroit crossing Tuesday, snarled up behind protesters who say they’re against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Read here for more on the Ambassador Bridge blockade from the Star’s Jacob Lorinc.
12 p.m. RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust is “pruning” its tenant mix to ensure malls and other retail spaces it owns are filled with resilient businesses that are best positioned to weather any further COVID-19 upheaval.
Chief executive Jonathan Gitlin said Thursday that the Toronto-based commercial landlord’s close look at who is renting its spaces will result in the company shedding some assets in enclosed malls, “which are harder to evolve into today’s current demands from our tenants.”
“Within the properties that we are keeping, there is a tenant mix that in order to stay relevant and in order to stay on top of consumer trends, needs to continuously evolve and change,” he said on a call with analysts.
“We are switching over to more necessity-based purveyors and in some cases, it might not be tenants with amazing covenants, but they just have some great uses that will add to…the flavour of the shopping centre.”
11:45 a.m. Michigan’s governor is calling on Canadian authorities to end the protests at two busy border crossings
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor and Detroit, and the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, Ont. is threatening her state’s economy.
She says local, provincial and federal governments in Canada must de-escalate what she calls an economic blockade.
Whitmer is calling on Canadian authorities to “take all necessary and appropriate steps” to immediately reopen all lanes of traffic.
11:37 a.m. After racking up debt through years of ultralow interest rates, Canadians are being urged to modify their spending as they face the prospect of rising borrowing costs coupled with soaring inflation.
“Recalibrate your spending completely, recalibrate how you’re living your life,” advises Laurie Campbell, director, client financial wellness at debt relief specialist Bromwich and Smith.
Like going on a diet, she says managing money while under stress requires lifestyle changes to avoid going back to old habits.
Campbell suggests people closely examine their whole financial situation and make a serious effort to reduce debt as much as possible even though the lifting of lockdowns will likely spur a desire to go out and spend.
11:25 a.m. Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen is calling on protesters to take down the blockades of border crossings.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Bergen says the time has come for them to stop the disruptive action that is causing economic harm.
She says farmers, manufacturers, small businesses and families are suffering because of the border blockades.
Bergen adds that she doesn’t believe that is what the protesters want to do.
Bergen also says the protesters’ anti-vaccine-mandate message has been heard and is pledging her party’s support to that end.
Bergen made the comments today at the start of debate on a Conservative motion calling on the government for a plan for ending COVID-19 restrictions.
11 a.m. Manitoba RCMP say a protest has shut down the province’s main border crossing with the United States.
Mounties say a large number of vehicles and farm equipment is blocking the Emerson port of entry, located about 100 km south of Winnipeg.
They say no traffic is getting through in either direction and people should avoid the area.
A protest over COVID-19 public health measures also continues outside the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg.
10:53 a.m. General Motors’ assembly plants in Ontario and Michigan have curbed production due to the Ambassador Bridge blockades. GM Oshawa cut workers’ hours yesterday, as did the Lansing Delta plant.
10:32 a.m. Ottawa police say nearly two dozen trucks have left the city. Police say a dozen trucks left a parking lot outside the city’s core after negotiations with protesters who have used the area as a staging and logistics ground.
Police say 10 more trucks have also left downtown, and another vehicle was towed for obstructing traffic.
They are also repeating their request that remaining protesters leave the city after almost two weeks of being encamped in the national capital.
Read the full story here on the Star.
10:16 a.m. Ontario reporting 1,897 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 445 people are in ICU.
56 per cent were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 and 44 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19; 76 per cent of patients admitted to the ICU were admitted for COVID-19 and 24 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott.
In Ontario, 31,153,087 vaccine doses have been administered. 92.1 per cent of Ontarians 12+ have one dose and 89.6 per cent have two doses.
10:10 a.m. Ontario’s expert science advisers say rapid antigen tests don’t detect COVID-19 infections with the Omicron variant as reliably as they did with the Delta strain, but changing the way the tests are performed can boost their sensitivity.
The science advisory table says in a brief today that the rapid tests, which involve nasal swabs, are less sensitive for Omicron, especially in the first one or two days after infection.
But, they say the tests are better at detecting Omicron if people swab both cheeks, followed by the back of the tongue or throat, then both nostrils.
9:58 a.m. A new poll suggests almost 30 per cent of Canadians believe it’s time to lift pandemic restrictions and “learn to live” with the COVID-19 virus, while more than 40 per cent want measures to ease carefully.
Forty-three per cent of Canadians surveyed by Leger identified their feelings about the current state of the pandemic as “prudent” — the most popular answer of four options — saying they did not want to lift restrictions too quickly.
But 29 per cent said they were ready to move on, selecting the answer that said they were “adequately vaccinated” and viewed the Omicron variant as “less serious.”
9:45 a.m. Inflation soared over the past year at its highest rate in four decades, hammering America’s consumers, wiping out pay raises and reinforcing the Federal Reserve’s decision to begin raising borrowing rates across the economy.
The Labor Department said Thursday that consumer prices jumped 7.5 per cent last month compared with 12 months earlier, the steepest year-over-year increase since February 1982. The acceleration of prices ranged across the economy, from food and energy to apartment rents and electricity.
When measured from December to January, inflation was 0.6 per cent, the same as the previous month and more than economists had expected. Prices had risen 0.7 per cent from October to November and 0.9 per cent from September to October.
9:30 a.m. Spaniards removed their facemasks or stuffed them into their pockets for the first time in nearly two months after the country’s outdoor mask mandate was lifted Thursday. Italians face a similar treat Friday.
Both countries have high vaccination rates, declining infection numbers and lower hospitalization figures than during previous surges of the coronavirus. Sara de la Rubia, a 45-year-old nurse in Madrid, said dropping the masks will be a moment to test the effectiveness of vaccines.
“There has to be a moment in which we have to normalize things, start to (have) a normal life, to test how things work,” she said.
After peaking in January, Spain’s contagion rate has been dropping for two weeks, alleviating pressure on hospitals and encouraging authorities to relax some of the measures adopted in mid-December against the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus.
9:16 a.m. A protest against COVID-19 measures is preventing Canada-bound traffic from crossing the Ambassador Bridge for yet another day.
Police say those using the border bridge to cross into the U.S. can expect significant delays and are telling all motorists to avoid both access points to the span due to the ongoing demonstration.
The protest on the Canadian side of the bridge has prevented Canada-bound traffic from crossing since the demonstration began Monday.
8:57 a.m. Africa is moving to the “control phase” of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased vaccination rates will be crucial in helping the continent live with the disease, the World Health Organization’s Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said Thursday.
“Although COVID-19 will be with us for the long term, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Moeti said. “This year we can end the disruption and destruction the virus has left in its path, and gain back control over our lives.”
Africa is heading toward “what might become a kind of endemic, living with the virus … I believe that we are transitioning from the pandemic phase and we will now need to manage the presence of this virus,” she said, addressing reporters at a virtual media briefing.
8:33 a.m. French President Emmanuel Macron said last month he wanted to “p- off” the unvaccinated. He appears to have succeeded.
Protesters against the country’s vaccine mandates aim to use their vehicles to block roads in Paris beginning Friday to show their anger over the restrictions.
The Paris police issued an order banning the demonstration from Friday to Monday, citing the risk of “disturbing the public order.” The protesters, some of whom say they were inspired by the “freedom convoys” in Canada, plan to continue on to Brussels on Monday. Rudi Vervoort, head of the Brussels Capital regional government, said in a statement that the district was also banning the convoy.
8:15 a.m. Toyota’s three Ontario auto plants will stop production for the rest of the week due to the Ambassador Bridge blockade. That’s at least six auto plants shut down or reducing production over the protests.
8:05 a.m. As provinces begin lifting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, psychology experts expect stress and anxiety to run high among those who remain wary of letting their guards down.
It will take time for many to adjust, they say, but the quick approach some provinces are taking could make the transition more jarring.
Alberta ended its vaccine certificate system on Wednesday, days before its mask requirements for students is set to drop, while Saskatchewan plans to do away with its vaccine mandate on Monday. Other provinces, including Ontario, have taken a more gradual approach to dismantling COVID-19 measures.
Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, said it’s natural for people to feel conflicted as restrictions ease.
Though many are tired of the mandates aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, there’s still some underlying fear.
“In the back of our mind there’s this niggling anxiety of: are we doing this too soon?” Joordens said. “Are we going to end up getting our butts kicked again (by a new variant)? And given all the division we’re seeing right now, could this make things worse?”
7:50 a.m. Britain’s Prince Charles has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating, his office said Thursday.
A message on the royal’s official Twitter page said Charles tested positive on Thursday morning and was “deeply disappointed” not to be able to attend a scheduled visit in Winchester, England.
No other details were immediately available.
Charles, 73, met dozens of people during a Wednesday evening reception at the British Museum.
7:30 a.m. Pope Francis’ first foreign trip of the year is to the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, the Vatican said Tuesday in announcing an April 2-3 trip that had originally been scheduled for 2020 but was postponed because of the pandemic.
Francis, 85, will visit the main island cities of Valletta, Rabat and Floriana as well as the island of Gozo. Further details were to be released later.
Migration is expected to be a theme of Francis’ visit, given Malta has been a flashpoint in Europe’s longstanding migration debate.
6:55 a.m. All extracurricular activities can return to Ontario schools starting immediately — meaning high-contact sports such as hockey and basketball that have been sidelined will be given the go-ahead, as will choirs and wind instruments for music, the Star has learned.
As Ontario continues to slowly ease COVID-19 restrictions while the Omicron surge slows, the province’s chief medical officer of health will announce the new measures for schools at his Thursday news conference.
The move will allow elementary and secondary school athletes to play without masks, but wear them when they are back at the bench, sources told the Star.
Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy
6:30 a.m. After two years of living with kids in periodic virtual learning and a partner who is an essential worker, Annette Power was “in desperate need of a vacation.”
She was ready to spend March break visiting her mother in Barbados with her two children, but the trip was cancelled.
The family came down with Omicron during the winter break, delaying the vaccination appointment dates for her kids.
Read the full story from the Star’s Clarrie Feinstein
6:14 a.m. The Toronto Zoo is reopening Thursday, 10 days after most restrictions eased in the province.
Zoo management said, in a statement posted on Facebook, the delay is “to work on some exciting new elements” being added to the facility.
Patrons will have to show their vaccine certificates with QR codes, along with a piece of ID, to enter the zoo, the statement added.
Read the full story from the Star’s Akrit Michael
5:40 a.m. Coronavirus cases continue to rise rapidly in Tonga, and tests have confirmed that the particularly contagious omicron variant is behind the isolated Pacific island nation’s first community outbreak since the start of the pandemic, officials said Thursday.
Health Minister Saia Piukala told reporters that 31 more people had tested positive for the virus, nearly doubling Tonga’s active cases for the second day in a row to a total of 64, the online Matangi Tonga news portal and other media reported.
While the number may seem small, the nation of 105,000 had managed to escape thus far without any infections aside from a single case brought in from a missionary returning to Tonga from Africa last October, which was successfully isolated.
5:37 a.m. Casting the spreading “Freedom Convoy” protests as a grave threat to Canada, the federal government is settling into a back-seat role in the crisis, offering to send police reinforcements to the local officials leading the responses.
Federal ministers outlined the seriousness of the blockades that have now spread across the country, with blockades against COVID-19 health measures choking off key border crossings and threatening jobs, public safety and millions of dollars in trade.
At the same time, police in Ottawa sent their toughest warning yet to protesters occupying the streets of the capital: clear out or face the prospect of arrest.
Read the full story from the Star’s Raisa Patel
5:36 a.m. As countries in Europe and other provinces in Canada begin lifting COVID restrictions, some Ontarians may be wondering why they still have to live with them.
Unlike in Alberta, Saskatchewan and some U.S. states and European countries, there are no immediate plans to do away with mask or vaccine mandates in Ontario, Health Minister Christine Elliott said at a press conference Wednesday.
This is despite Ontario’s COVID situation looking bright, according to Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 science table. Though it’s hard to gauge the true presence of COVID in the province, as the speed with which Omicron spread became too much for our testing infrastructure, techniques like wastewater surveillance seem to show Ontario is on the other side of Omicron’s peak.
Read the full story from the Star’s Ben Cohen
5:27 a.m. A teachers’ strike has paralyzed learning at many Zimbabwean schools, which opened this week after a prolonged closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Harare, some schools managed to open Thursday while at others a few teachers reported for work but did not teach, according to unions. The government denounced the strike as “unwarranted conduct” that is depriving children of their right to education.
Many teachers decided to stay at home to protest salaries of about $100 a month. They are demanding that their pay be increased to about $500 per month.
In 2018, teachers earned the equivalent of about $540 a month but that amount has been eroded by years of inflation, currently estimated at 60%, and the devaluation of Zimbabwe’s currency.
4 a.m. Dr. Kieran Moore’s weekly COVID-19 news conference comes a day after the province’s health minister said Ontario will keep its mask mandate and vaccine certificate system in place.
Christine Elliott said Ontario won’t follow the lead of other provinces that have already begun lifting proof-of-vaccination rules and intend to end masking rules soon. She didn’t say when those policies would end, but said the province expects mask rules will remain in place for “some time.”
Moore’s news conference also comes after the province began making rapid test kits available for free at grocery stores, pharmacies and other sites. Elliott said expanding access to the tests is part of Ontario’s plan to roll back COVID-19 restrictions in stages.
Thursday 4 a.m. The NDP is calling on the U.S. ambassador to testify before the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, saying American funding of the nearly two-week-long anti-vaccine mandate protest in Ottawa is an attack on Canada’s democracy.
A significant amount of the more than $10 million in donations to the demonstration came from U.S. donors.
The Commons committee meets today and would need unanimous consent of all parties to issue an invitation to Ambassador David Cohen.
Protesters have been warned by police that if they continue blocking streets they could be charged with mischief to property, have their vehicles and other property seized and possibly forfeited, and that charges or convictions may lead to them being barred from travelling to the United States.
The declaration from police comes after municipal officials in Ottawa spoke with the federal government to find solutions to end the protest that has sparked solidarity rallies, some of which have blocked traffic at border crossings in Coutts, Alta., and the busy Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge crossing.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says Ottawa residents have been subjected to “acts of thuggery and disrespect” by demonstrators, and the government is working to ensure Ottawa police have the “resources that they need to enforce the law to restore public order and to bring this unlawful protest to an end.’’
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