May 23, 2024

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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario cracks down on businesses that flout vaccine certificate rules; Province reports 1,315 new COVID-19 cases over the past two days

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

7.06 p.m. The COVID-19 pandemic has made a bad situation worse for the homeless and housing resources in British Columbia’s capital, where shelter spaces are scarce for those who test positive for the virus, the province’s housing minister says, The Canadian Press reports.

David Eby said Friday he had hoped that once tent encampments were dismantled, the Crown agency BC Housing and provincial staff would be able to find more permanent solutions for the homeless, but a surge in COVID-19 cases hasn’t made that possible, according to CP.

“As the pandemic continues … we’re faced with a very real prospect, again, of not being able to provide supportive shelter for everyone who is COVID-positive and living in Victoria,” he said.

Many resources, such as non-profit organizations, were nearly overwhelmed as tent encampments around the region were dismantled and shelter spaces had to be found for those residents, he said.

“While this was a critical COVID response, and that response has helped ensure we don’t have COVID ripping through outdoor encampments across the city of Victoria today, it pushed many resources to the breaking point,” Eby said.

The province, along with the local health authority and city, announced the creation of 50 new COVID-19 isolation shelter spots to help those who have contracted the virus and want to live indoors.

The new spaces will be split between 30 spots in existing shelters and 20 in pop-up locations, Eby said. They will be temporary, and there are no plans to continue operating them after the pandemic.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the city has been working with the provincial government and Island Health to find a solution.

The city has been put in the difficult position of trying to keep parks open for the public as well as allowing homeless people to stay as they may be struggling with mental or other health conditions, she said.

“Sleeping in a tent in a park is neither a housing nor health solution,” Helps said.

3.09 p.m. British Columbia’s provincial health officer has mandated masks for all schoolchildren across the province after three school districts announced their own policies to include kindergarten-to-Grade 3 students, reports The Canadian Press.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says she has heard the concerns of parents as COVID-19 cases have risen over the last couple of weeks among kids, especially those between the ages of five and 11, and in communities with lower vaccination rates, according to CP.

Henry says her school mask mandate will be in place until at least January, when it will be assessed based on whether vaccines would be available for children under 12.

She says school staff who were prioritized for vaccination should be immunized, as well, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 entering schools at a time when more respiratory illnesses are circulating and so that families can gather for Thanksgiving.

School districts in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby had already announced that a provincial mask mandate for students in Grade 4 and up would be extended to younger kids, leaving 57 other school districts to either introduce policies independently or wait for Henry to impose a province-wide measure.

2:45 p.m. Following the suspension of a Kingston pub’s liquor licence, Ontario’s alcohol regulation agency says there will be “consequences” for businesses that do not comply with the province’s new vaccine certificate rules.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario suspended the sports pub’s liquor licence on Thursday after the Kingston Public Health Unit received complaints that J.A.K.K. Tuesdays was not asking customers for their proof-of-vaccination, a requirement of all indoor dining businesses.

J.A.K.K. Tuesdays is the first business to have its liquor licence revoked since the certificate rules went into effect last week, but it might not be the last.

In a statement to the Star, the AGCO said that businesses that do not comply with the regulation could face fines, temporary suspensions of their liquor licence, or — in the most extreme circumstances — a complete revocation of the licence.

Read the full story here from Jacob Lorinc

2 p.m. Alberta’s Opposition NDP is urging Premier Jason Kenney to make sure every member of his United Conservative caucus is vaccinated against COVID-19.

Thomas Dang, the NDP’s deputy house leader, says anyone who is not vaccinated should be removed from caucus.

Dang says with Alberta hospitals overcrowded with infected patients, it’s imperative that political leaders set the right example and get their shots.

Dang says all the NDP’s legislature members and staff have received both doses.

It’s not clear how many UCP members have been vaccinated, but there has been division in the caucus over health restrictions and vaccinations.

Kenney says the government is pursuing mandatory vaccinations or proof of negative tests for all house members, but adds there are constitutional issues that must be worked out.

2 p.m.: The surge in COVID-19 cases is continuing in Atlantic Canada, with Newfoundland and Labrador reporting 41 new cases and two more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus since the province’s last update.

Officials said today the two new deaths involve a man in the central health region and a woman in the eastern health region who were both 70 years old or older.

The new cases include 31 in the central health region and 10 in the eastern region.

Newfoundland and Labrador has 180 active reported cases of COVID-19 and seven people in hospital with the disease, including four in critical care.

1:45 p.m. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced the nation’s first coronavirus vaccination mandate for schoolchildren, a plan that will have all elementary through high school students get the shots once the vaccine gains final approval from the U.S. government for different age groups.

The government has fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and over but only granted an emergency authorization for anyone 12 to 15. Once federal regulators fully approve the vaccine for that group, the state will require students in seventh through 12th grades to get vaccinated in both public and private schools, Newsom’s office said.

The state will require the COVID-19 vaccine for students in kindergarten through sixth grade only after the federal government has given final approval for anyone 5 to 11.

The announcement comes as infections in most of California have dropped markedly in the last month. But Newsom has been emboldened after easily defeating a recall effort last month following a campaign where he emphasized his commitment to vaccine mandates to end the pandemic.

In Los Angeles County — the nation’s largest, with more than 10 million residents — just 1.7{cfdf3f5372635aeb15fd3e2aecc7cb5d7150695e02bd72e0a44f1581164ad809} of people tested for the virus have it and daily infections are down by half in the last month, when most kids went back to school.

“These numbers are amazingly low given that 3,000-plus schools are now open countywide,” county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

1:30 p.m. The Manitoba government is tightening COVID-19 public health orders, especially for people who are not fully vaccinated.

Starting Tuesday, a cap of 25 people will be placed on indoor events that include unvaccinated people, although there will be a one-week grace period for weddings and funerals.

People who allow unvaccinated people on their property will only be allowed 10 guests outdoors, while indoor gatherings will be restricted to one other household.

In the southern health region, where vaccination rates are low, retail businesses will be limited to half capacity.

Across the province, outdoor public gatherings will be capped at 50 people.

Chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, says most of the orders will not affect the majority of Manitobans because they are vaccinated.

The province already requires people to show proof of vaccination to attend a range of venues, including sporting events, concert halls and restaurants.

1:11 p.m. (updated) Ontario is reversing course and introducing a mandatory vaccination policy for staff at long-term-care homes.

The government’s previous policy was to require regular testing for those not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips announced today that all in-home staff, support workers, students and volunteers must be vaccinated by Nov. 15 unless they have a valid medical exemption.

He says any staff not fully vaccinated by then will not be able to enter a long-term-care home to work.

Phillips says vaccination rates of staff in many homes are not high enough in the face of the Delta variant.

Homes will also start randomly testing fully vaccinated staff, caregivers and visitors to try to detect breakthrough cases early.

1:06 p.m. The union representing flight attendants at Canada’s major airlines says reducing on-board food and drink service might help combat a rise in unruly passenger behaviour.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees says flight attendants are being subjected to verbal abuse from some passengers who don’t want to comply with the federal requirement to wear a mask on board.

The union says some passengers are taking their masks off to eat or drink and then leaving them off for longer than they should. It says this can lead to confrontations and also potentially exposes flight attendants to the virus.

Many airlines have restored most of their food and beverage service this summer after reducing service during the first stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Transport Canada still recommends that airlines limit non-essential tasks, including in-flight service.

The union says Transport Canada should take a stricter stance. It says the regulator should reduce food and drink service on short-haul flights or set a limit on the amount of time a passenger can have their mask off to eat and drink.

12:15 p.m. Ontario is reporting another 668 COVID-19 cases and 11 more deaths. Of the 11, three of the deaths occurred more than one month ago and have been added due to a data cleanup, according to the province’s latest report released Friday morning.

Ontario is also reporting 647 COVID-19 cases for Thursday, as the data was not released on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Nine deaths were also reported on Thursday, five of which occurred more than one month ago and were added as part of a data cleanup.

Ontario has administered 29,704 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 21,809,713 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m., Thursday night. The total also includes 37,553 vaccine doses administered on Wednesday.

Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan

11:30 a.m. Tokyo’s train stations were packed with commuters Friday as Japan fully came out of a coronavirus state of emergency for the first time in more than six months.

Emergency measures had been in place for more than half of the country, including Tokyo. Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga thanked the people for their patience and co-operation. Cases are declining, but he asked them to stick to their basic anti-virus measures.

The emergency measures have mainly involved requests for eateries to curb alcohol and hours. They can now serve alcohol and operate an hour longer but still close at 9 p.m.

Daily reported cases fell below 1,600 this week nationwide after the mid-August peak of 25,000. Health experts attributed the declining numbers to vaccinations and increased social distancing after alarm from the near collapse of medical systems during the summer.

Nearly 59 per cent of Japanese people have been fully vaccinated. Japan has reported 1.6 million cases and 17,641 confirmed deaths.

11:15 a.m. Quebec’s legislature will soon only be accessible to people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The National Assembly announced the new health order targeting staff, visitors and politicians on Thursday evening, following a heated debate among the parties.

The governing Coalition Avenir Québec party as well as the Opposition Liberals voted in favour, arguing that elected officials should set an example for the rest of the population regarding vaccination.

Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois, the third and fourth parties in the legislature, opposed the measure because the public health department has not recommended it.

The vaccine passport requirement is expected to come into effect later in October.

The rule will require political personnel, legislature staff, journalists and visitors to show a piece of ID as well as proof they have been adequately vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to access the legislature.

11 a.m. A surge in demand has caused the Nova Scotia government to hit the pause button on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) referrals, at least temporarily.

The province’s clinical lead for MAID, Dr. Gord Gubitz, said this week that Nova Scotia Health would put a 30-day hold on assisted-dying requests as the province works through a “significant backlog” caused by increased demand exacerbated by COVID-19 strains on the health-care system.

So far in 2021, referrals for MAID have already outstripped those from all of last year. In 2020, there were a total of 373 referrals; as of September of this year there were already 395 referrals.

“We know that recent changes in legislation made MAID an option for more people who were seeking it. We also know that with time grows awareness,” said Gubitz in an emailed statement.

Read the full story from the Star’s Steve McKinley

10:20 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 1,315 cases of COVID-19 over the last two days and 12 more deaths.

The province says 668 cases of the virus and eight deaths were reported Friday, and 647 new cases and four deaths were reported on Thursday.

The Ministry of Health had not released updated data on Thursday because it was a federal holiday.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says that 502 of today’s new cases are in people who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status.

She says that 496 of Thursday’s cases were in unvaccinated people.

Elliot says 278 people are hospitalized because of COVID-19, with 163 people in intensive care because of the virus.

The ministry says that 86.3 per cent of Ontarians over the age of 12 have one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 81 per cent have two doses.

9:55 a.m. Justice Brett Kavanaugh tested positive for COVID-19 after taking a routine test Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court said. Kavanaugh, 56, who learned of the test results Thursday night, has no symptoms and has been fully vaccinated since January, the court said. His wife and daughters tested negative on Thursday.

The court said that “as a precaution,” Kavanaugh and his wife will not attend a formal investiture ceremony at the court Friday for the newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett.

The court is scheduled to begin its nine-month term on Monday, returning to the courtroom for arguments for the first time in a year and a half.

Kavanaugh is the first sitting justice known to have tested positive for COVID-19, although the Washington Post reported Barrett tested positive before she joined the court. All nine have been fully vaccinated.

9:25 a.m. India said Friday that British nationals arriving in the country will be subjected to COVID-19 tests and a 10-day mandatory quarantine, in response to the same measures imposed on Indians visiting the U.K.

India has been demanding that Britain revoke what it called a “discriminatory” advisory that includes Indians even if they are fully vaccinated with the Indian-made AstraZeneca shots.

India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had discussed the issue with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in a meeting in New York earlier this week.

India was irked that while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been recognized by Britain, its version produced by Serum Institute of India has been excluded.

A foreign ministry official said that starting on Monday, all British arrivals, irrespective of their vaccination status, will have to undertake RT-PRC test within 72 hours before travel, another test on arrival in India and the third one eight days later.

8:21 a.m. The British Columbia ministries of health and education plan a joint news conference Friday to announce what are described as enhanced health and safety guidelines for B.C. schools.

A joint release from the ministries says provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside will make the announcement at 10:30 this morning.

It comes as school trustees in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby have moved beyond provincial regulations and tightened mask mandates in their districts to require face coverings for all students, regardless of grade level, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

B.C. currently requires masks for students in Grades 4 to 12 and Henry has resisted calls from parents and teachers to make face coverings mandatory in kindergarten to Grade 3.

She says masks are just one tool in containing COVID-19, while good ventilation and limits on intermingling between classes are other keys ways to curb the spread of the virus.

Members of a fourth Metro Vancouver school board meet later today to discuss a mask mandate for students in all grades in the New Westminster district, and to consider a recommendation to seek a legal opinion regarding mandatory vaccinations for staff members.

7:55 a.m. Pakistan banned unvaccinated adults from flights Friday as it tries to push vaccinations and avoid further lockdowns to contain the coronavirus.

Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan announced the ban on Twitter, saying “only fully vaccinated passengers of age 18 years and above will be allowed to undertake domestic air travel within Pakistan.”

The government said last week unvaccinated people will not be allowed to work from offices and will not be eligible to enter shopping malls as of Friday. However, it was unclear how they would be stopped from entering such venues.

The bans don’t apply to children, who are not yet eligible for Pakistan’s vaccination campaign.

Nearly 30 million people are fully vaccinated in the country of 220 million. There is no shortage of vaccine, but many people have been hesitating, and the new measures are aimed at pushing them to get the shots.

Pakistan has reported 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and 27,785 deaths since the pandemic began last year.

7:40 a.m. Coronavirus deaths in Russia hit a record on Friday for the fourth straight day, and confirmed cases continued to surge as well.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 887 deaths, the country’s highest daily number in the pandemic. The previous record, from a day earlier, stood at 867.

The task force also reported 24,522 new confirmed cases from Thursday — the highest daily tally since late July.

“The dynamic is bad. It elicits concern,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.

The Russian government has no plans to impose a lockdown, according to Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, the head of the task force.

Russia has had only one nationwide lockdown, at the beginning of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. The country’s authorities have shunned imposing tough restrictions ever since.

Peskov pointed out that many regional governments have their own infection-control measures, but he wouldn’t say whether the Kremlin considered those rules sufficient.

7:20 a.m. A fire at a hospital in the Romanian port city of Constanta killed at least nine COVID-19 patients, authorities said Friday.

All the victims were in the intensive care unit of Constanta’s Hospital for Infectious Diseases, said Constantin Amarandei, head of the city’s emergency inspectorate. Only one patient from the ICU survived.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that 113 patients were in the medical unit of the hospital and all the survivors have now been evacuated. The fire was extinguished by mid-morning but its cause is not yet known.

6:15 a.m.: Merck & Co. said Friday that its experimental COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus and that it would soon ask health officials in the U.S. and around the world to authorize its use.

If cleared, Merck’s drug would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19, a potentially major advance in efforts to fight the pandemic. All COVID-19 therapies now authorized in the U.S. require an IV or injection.

Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said early results showed patients who received the drug, called molnupiravir, within five days of COVID-19 symptoms had about half the rate of hospitalization and death as patients who received a dummy pill. The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered higher risk for severe disease due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease.

Among patients taking molnupiravir, 7.3{cfdf3f5372635aeb15fd3e2aecc7cb5d7150695e02bd72e0a44f1581164ad809} were either hospitalized or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1{cfdf3f5372635aeb15fd3e2aecc7cb5d7150695e02bd72e0a44f1581164ad809} of those getting the dummy pill. There were no deaths in the drug group after that time period compared with eight deaths in the placebo group, according to Merck. The results were released by the company and have not been peer reviewed. Merck said it plans to present them at a future medical meeting.

6:05 a.m.: Japan fully came out of a coronavirus state of emergency for the first time in more than six months as the country starts to gradually ease virus measures to help rejuvenate the pandemic-hit economy as the infections slowed.

At Tokyo’s busy Shinagawa train station, a sea of mask-wearing commuters rushed to their work despite an approaching typhoon, with some returning to their offices after months of remote work.

The emergency measures, in place for more than half of the country including Tokyo, ended Thursday following a steady fall in new caseloads over the past few weeks, helping to ease pressure on Japanese health care systems.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga thanked the people for their patience and co-operation, and asked them to stick to their basic anti-virus measures.

“Once again, I seek your co-operation so that we can return to our daily lives feeling safe,” he said.

5:45 a.m.: Toronto Public Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Toronto East Detention Centre in Scarborough, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of the Solicitor General.

Ontario is reporting 34 active COVID-19 cases among inmates at the correctional facility, as of Thursday.

According to provincial data, the detention centre reported four confirmed cases on Sept. 12. By Sept. 23, there were 17 active cases. An additional 17 confirmed infections were reported Monday.

Located near Eglinton Avenue East and Birchmount Road in Scarborough, the correctional facility has a capacity of 473 inmates.

Read more from the Star’s Joshua Chong.

5:30 a.m.: Somalia has opened the country’s first public oxygen plant as the Horn of Africa nation with one of the world’s weakest health systems combats COVID-19.

The oxygen plant was installed Thursday at a hospital in the capital, Mogadishu. It is expected to produce 1,000 cylinders of oxygen a week.

The scarcity of medical oxygen has hurt response efforts across many African nations as the Delta variant of the coronavirus now drives the bulk of infections on the continent of 1.3 billion people.

Insecurity in Somalia poses an added challenge to efforts to fight the pandemic. A COVID-19 ward recently set up at the hospital was partially destroyed weeks ago in an attack by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, which controls parts of Somalia and frequently targets the capital.

Part of the work around the oxygen plant’s installation focused on repairing that damage.

Somalia has one of the highest case fatality rates from COVID-19 in Africa, and few measures are enforced to slow the spread of the virus.

5:15 a.m.: Saskatchewan’s proof-of-vaccination policy is now in effect, meaning residents will have to show they have been immunized or have a negative COVID-19 test to access several businesses and event venues.

Public service employees are also required to provide proof of vaccination or provide a negative COVID-19 test result at least every seven days.

It comes a day after Saskatchewan recorded its highest daily case count of COVID-19 and its highest number of people needing intensive care.

Businesses that will be requiring proof of vaccination include restaurants, bars, nightclubs, theatres, casinos and entertainment venues.

Children under the age of 12 are exempt from the requirements.

5 a.m.: On Thursday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has announced about 35 out-of-province health-care staff will be brought in to help deal with the province’s growing COVID-19 crisis.

The move comes after the premier spent the week resisting calls from health-care professionals for a hard circuit-breaker lockdown in the province as well as playing down the immediate need for outside help.

But at a press conference on Thursday, Kenney said Alberta was working to bring in five or six workers from Newfoundland and Labrador, eight to 10 from the Canadian Armed Forces and about 20 from the Canadian Red Cross. The workers would likely head to Fort McMurray, Edmonton and Red Deer to assist with the province’s overwhelmed ICUs, Kenney said.

“It’s a helping hand,” said Kenney. “It will help to provide some relief. In some of our hospitals, that is very welcome.”

For weeks, Alberta has been grappling with the worst COVID-19 crisis in the country. About 200 additional ICU beds have been opened up while hospitals have struggled to keep up with the onslaught of mostly unvaccinated patients being admitted.

Read more from the Star’s Kieran Leavitt.

4:30 a.m.: A third school district in British Columbia has announced its own policy extending a provincial mask mandate for kindergarten-to-Grade 3 students starting Monday.

The Burnaby School District followed the lead of the Vancouver and Surrey districts in mandating masks for all grades as concerns mount about the rising number of COVID-19 infections among children who are not eligible for vaccination.

The district says in a letter sent to parents Thursday that the Burnaby Board of Education made a unanimous decision on the change after requesting an urgent meeting Wednesday night with Dr. Ariella Zbar, the medical health officer of Fraser Health.

“Her assurance that masks are an effective layer of protection for all students when used in concert with other health and safety measures informed the board’s decision to promptly implement this new mask requirement,” the letter says.