May 26, 2022

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Coronavirus news and updates for Monday, April 11, 2022

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

In Toronto, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, provides an update on how the province is managing the COVID-19 pandemic and expanding access to antiviral treatments.

8:20 p.m.: Several trustees from different school boards will push for masking to be reinstated — a move that comes as the province’s public health agency and the organization representing public boards call for a return of face coverings to curb the spread of COVID.

Trustees from Halton, Hamilton and Ottawa say they will introduce motions to bring back masking rules in their schools, in part because of a recent document published by Public Health Ontario showing cases, per cent positivity and hospitalizations have risen since the province’s lifting of mask mandates in most indoor settings March 21.

“Optimizing layers of prevention in K-12 schools, including temporary re-implementation of masking requirements indoors and improved air quality can reduce the risk of in-school transmission and related disruption for students, families and educational settings,” according to the brief released Friday by the PHO, which is an arm’s-length agency.

Read the full story here: Trustees from different Ontario boards to push for school mask mandates

7:10 p.m.: Ontario did “everything (it) could” to distribute rapid tests widely, government officials said after opposition critics blasted the province’s rapid testing strategy as “anything but equitable.”

A Toronto Star investigation that published Sunday found just one-fifth of rapid tests went to hot spot neighbourhoods in the first 10 months of the province’s taxpayer-funded screening program.

“This Premier said (rapid tests) would be ‘game-changers.’ (They) didn’t end up helping to protect hot spot communities,” Deputy NDP Leader John Vanthof said Monday in question period.

Read the full story here: Ontario’s rapid test distribution slammed by opposition critic as ‘anything but equitable’

6:40 p.m.: Toronto’s board of health is asking the province to restore the power of the city’s top doctor to impose mask mandates in the face of rising COVID-19 cases and a Public Health Ontario report that says reinstating indoor masking could help mitigate current trends.

At the city’s board of health meeting on Monday, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, told members that the province had removed her power to impose mandates.

“I and others in local public health units around the province have previously issued letters of instruction in the past, but that rested on our ability to do so as delineated under the Reopening Ontario Act,” said de Villa. “That ability has since lapsed.”

Last month, the province reversed parts of the Reopening Ontario Act, largely preventing local public health officials from issuing letters of instruction, which can mandate masking or vaccination requirements in local jurisdictions.

The city’s board of health is now calling on Doug Ford’s government to re-enable local medical officers of health to issue letters of instruction, “as part of the local tool kit” to reduce the impact of COVID-19.

“I don’t think people in the city of Toronto or the province of Ontario understand how devastating the new restrictions brought by the province of Ontario on what medical officers can and cannot do is,” said Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale — High Park) at the board meeting.

Though medical officers of health may still issue written orders under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, de Villa said those orders are only meant to be applied “in very specific circumstances.”

Read the full story here: Province needs to give Toronto’s top doctor power to reimpose mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 data, says board of health

6:15 p.m.: The World Health Organization is keeping an eye on two new strains of COVID-19 that have popped up around the world.

WHO scientists are looking into the BA.4 and BA.5 strains, subvariants of omicron, because of their “additional mutations that need to be further studied to understand their impact on immune escape potential,” the organization said Monday.

Last week, the UK Health Security Agency said BA.4 had been traced in South Africa, Scotland, England, Botswana and Denmark between Jan. 10 to March 30. All BA.5 cases have been reported in South Africa; of those, all were in people between the ages of 30 and 50 who were fully vaccinated and said they were experiencing only mild symptoms.

But the WHO said only a “few dozen” cases have been registered into the global database so far.

Read the full story here: WHO tracking ‘a few dozen’ cases of two new COVID-19 variants

4:48 p.m.: Last spring’s government-ordered ban against COVID-19 protests in Nova Scotia went too far, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association argued Monday before the province’s Court of Appeal.

The rights group was challenging a court order granted to the Nova Scotia government in May 2021 that sought to prevent a rally against COVID-19 public health restrictions. While the order was aimed at two anti-mask protests, its reached extended to all public gatherings and it also banned their promotion on social media.

Justice Scott Norton granted the injunction to the province last spring on an ex parte basis, meaning the government’s opponents didn’t get early notice of the court application and didn’t attend the hearing. The order was rescinded a few weeks later when the government said it was no longer needed.

Nasha Nijhawan, a lawyer representing the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said in an interview following Monday’s proceedings that this is a case she and her team “argued on principle” about the power of government.

The court order was too broad and infringed the charter rights of all Nova Scotians, she said.

“If the attorney general is going to the court without inviting anyone else to present the other side — with 48 hours’ notice — and (asking) for this extraordinary power, if they’re going to do this again, then we need the courts to know what the rules are,” Nijhawan said.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association challenged the court order in June 2021, but a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge refused to hear the group’s motion. Justice James Chipman ruled at the time that a challenge to the original court order was moot because the injunction had been lifted.

During Monday’s proceedings, Court of Appeal Justice Joel Fichaud asked Benjamin Perryman, another lawyer for the civil rights group, if the appeal is a roundabout way of challenging Chipman’s decision. Perryman said no.

“It’s two separate charter questions,” Perryman replied. “We are asking you to evaluate what was done by Justice Norton and whether there were legal errors that warrant review.”

Duane Eddy, who represents the attorney general of Nova Scotia, told the Court of Appeal the motion by the rights group should be dismissed. He compared the court order granted to the government in May 2021 to other public health measures imposed by the province.

He noted that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association did not challenge any other of the province’s public health orders during the pandemic, despite them being similar in scope to the ban on protests.

No decision was made Monday. The three-member Court of Appeal panel will consider what they heard and release a written decision at a later date.

4:34 p.m.: Six more people in Newfoundland and Labrador have died from COVID-19 since Friday.

Numbers posted to the province’s online COVID-19 dashboard show there are 35 people hospitalized due to the disease, seven of whom are in critical care.

That’s down from a high of 47 hospitalizations reported last Wednesday.

Officials have said the province’s health-care system can handle between 40 and 60 COVID-19 patients in hospital.

The province reported 575 new confirmed cases since Friday, including 157 detected today.

Newfoundland and Labrador dropped its last pandemic-related restrictions on March 14, including the mask mandate in public places apart from health-care facilities and schools.

3:54 p.m.: Saskatchewan is expanding eligibility requirements for residents to get a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Starting today, those aged 70 and older can get the shot, along with those 50 and older who live in First Nations communities.

The province says there should be four months between third and fourth doses.

Residents of long-term and personal care homes and those with designated health conditions have been eligible for fourth doses since February.

3:47 p.m.: There will be no new mask mandates in Ontario but it makes “tremendous sense” to keep masking on public transit, in hospitals and nursing homes past April 27, chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore said as he expanded PCR testing and distribution of the antiviral drug Paxlovid.

The changes come as a sixth wave of COVID-19 is causing an estimated 100,000 infections daily. The wave is not expected to ease until at least the middle of May.

“We will not be reinstating a broad mask mandate,” Moore told his first news conference since March 9.

Read the full story here: Ontario’s top doctor rules out new mask mandates as COVID-19 infections skyrocket

3:07 p.m. (updated) Philadelphia is reinstating its indoor mask mandate after reporting a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, the city’s top health official announced Monday.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen more than 50% in 10 days, the threshold at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors, said Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the health commissioner.

Philadelphia is the first major U.S. city to go back to requiring masks since cases declined at the beginning of the year.

The city is reporting more than 140 cases per day, a fraction of what it saw at the height of the omicron surge, and hospitalizations remain low. But Bettigole said the recent increase in infections indicates the city might be at the beginning of a new wave, and city officials are seeking to stay ahead of it by requiring indoor masking.

Health inspectors will start to enforce the mask mandate at city businesses starting April 18.

2:57 p.m. Norfolk General Hospital has restricted visitation after a COVID-19 outbreak infected five patients in the Simcoe hospital’s complex care unit.

The unit includes palliative beds and patients with complex health conditions who get specialized, round-the-clock care.

The outbreak was declared Friday. The COVID-positive patients are self-isolating in their rooms and visitors are currently barred from the unit, save for approved essential care providers.

“We understand it is difficult for families and friends to be separated from their loved ones,” said hospital spokesperson Aaron Gautreau in an email.

“These temporary measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of our patients, staff, physicians, and the community.”

With COVID-19 again on the rise in Haldimand-Norfolk, patients in other units are limited to four “designated visitors,” with only one allowed in at a time, Gautreau said.

Every visitor must take a rapid test at the hospital entrance and test negative. Masking is mandatory.

“Changing visitor restrictions allows us to protect everyone in the hospital, including patients with compromised immune systems, while balancing the importance of patients having visitors with them,” Gautreau said.

There are currently 11 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Haldimand-Norfolk, with two in the intensive care unit.

Six facilities in the region are in outbreak, including one long-term care home and five unspecified “congregate settings.”

COVID-19 has claimed 72 lives in Haldimand-Norfolk since the pandemic began, with the health unit reporting the latest death on Friday.

A further 18 residents died having tested positive for COVID-19, but the disease was not ruled to be their cause of death.

Vaccination at a standstill

Meanwhile, vaccination against COVID-19 has slowed considerably even as cases rise.

Just 191 shots got into arms during the week of March 28, the most recent data reported.

Nearly one in five residents aged five and older — 18.2 per cent — has not received any dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In terms of third doses, Haldimand-Norfolk is tied for third from the bottom in Ontario at 47 per cent, according to provincial data.

That ranking is helped by high uptake for third doses among residents over 70. In every age category under 60, Haldimand-Norfolk sits last among the province’s 34 public health units.

Dr. Matt Strauss, acting medical officer of health, said during a recent media call that the health unit has undertaken “a lot of targeted efforts” to encourage vaccination, in particular among children and teens.

The Omicron wave of late last year was “one of the biggest drivers” in getting residents to roll up their sleeves, Strauss added.

“When cases are low and we’ve been haranguing people for the last year and a half to get vaccinated, I do think we’re in a ‘pushing a rope’ situation at this point,” he said.

The health unit recently started holding vaccine clinics in libraries, hoping residents would feel more comfortable there, and the provincial GO-VAXX bus continues to visit the area, with upcoming stops from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hagersville No Frills on April 16 and the Food Basics in Dunnville on April 30.

1:50 p.m. Seven new hospitalized cases and a new COVID-19 outbreak were reported Monday at Centennial Place long-term-care home by Peterborough Public Health as PCR test confirmed active cases continued to rise.

Peterborough Regional Health Centre had 26 admitted patients with the virus as of Friday as outbreaks on Unit A5 and Unit C2 continue. No update on Monday’s count was immediately available. There had been 29 on Thursday.

The jurisdiction now has 12 active outbreaks, including ongoing outbreaks at Royal Gardens Retirement Residence, Rubidge Retirement Residence, Kawartha Heights Retirement Living, Princess Gardens Retirement Residence, four unnamed congregate living facilities in the city and one unnamed congregate living facility in the county.

1:35 p.m. A six-week project to reduce vaccine hesitancy in racialized communities in Waterloo was a success, officials say.

Several factors, including historical mistrust, isolation, lack of awareness and systemic barriers can contribute to a lower COVID-19 vaccine uptake in certain communities.

The project, involving the Region of Waterloo and the Somali Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (SCAWR), aimed to provide accurate information to people so they could make an informed choice, through community consultation and outreach, six information sessions and two clinics in an accessible and familiar community space, the Umul Qura Learning Centre.

1:20 p.m. (updated) Ontario is expanding eligibility for COVID-19 PCR testing and antiviral treatments amid a sixth wave, but the province’s top doctor says a broad mask mandate won’t be reinstated at this time.

The province says anyone 70 and older, people 60 and older with fewer than three doses of a COVID-19, and people 18 and older with fewer than three vaccine doses and at least one risk factor such as a chronic medical condition can now be tested and assessed for treatment.

Since January, the guidelines for access to the antiviral treatment Paxlovid, and as a result PCR testing, has been limited to immunocompromised adults, unvaccinated people aged 60 and over, and unvaccinated people aged 50 and over if they are First Nation, Inuit or Metis individuals or have one or more risk factors.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore says COVID-19 trends are rising and it’s clear Ontario is in a sixth wave driven by the BA.2 variant, and he says that will likely continue for several more weeks.

12:15 p.m. Quebec is reporting six more deaths attributed to the coronavirus Monday and a rise of 85 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The Health Department says 1,793 patients are in hospital with the disease after 184 people were admitted in the past 24 hours and 99 were discharged.

It says 69 people are in intensive care, a decline of two.

12 p.m. Health Minister Christine Elliott says that Ontario will reintroduce mask mandates if the province’s top doctors recommend it.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore is set to give a public briefing Monday for the first time since early March, amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

In the legislature today, Elliott said that Moore confers with local medical officers of health on a regular basis and if they recommend a return to mask wearing, the province will heed their advice.

Moore’s update comes on the heels of a report by Public Health Ontario that shows COVID-19 cases, test positivity rates and hospitalizations have gone up since March 21, when the province ended mandatory masking in most indoor spaces.

11:20 a.m. Many U.S. companies that began producing personal protective equipment with patriotic optimism have scaled back, shut down or given up, according to an Associated Press analysis based on numerous interviews with manufacturers. Some already have sold equipment they bought with state government grants.

As COVID-19 was stressing hospitals and shuttering businesses in 2020, elected officials touted the need to boost U.S. production of protective gear. Yet many manufacturers who answered the call have faced logistical hurdles, regulatory rejections, slumping demand and fierce competition from foreign suppliers. After the initial scramble for PPE subsided, many industry newcomers had difficulty selling products.

“At the end of the day, when everybody said they wanted American-made, nobody’s buying, not even the state,” said Tony Blogumas, vice president of Green Resources Consulting, a rural Missouri firm that received an $800,000 state grant but has sold only a few thousand masks. “We’re kind of upset about the whole situation.”

10:30 a.m. Ontario is reporting 1,090 people hospitalized with COVID-19, and 184 in ICU. There were 2,401 new cases and 3 deaths reported. Positivity rate is 17.6 per cent.

10:15 a.m. The Honda Indy is returning to Toronto from July 15-17. Tickets go on sale on April 14 at 10 a.m. at hondaindy.com The even was cancelled the last two summers because of the pandemic.

10:07 a.m. Toronto’s board of health is meeting this morning. Dr. Eileen de Villa is expected to provide a COVID update. The Board will also discuss health impacts of COVID on children and youth, and a report on climate change and public health.Dr. de Villa acknowledges we are seeing an increase in COVID-19 activity, which is “not unanticipated.” However, health system indicators are still declining.

Dr. de Villa says there were fewer hospitalizations during the Omicron surge compared to previous waves, but hospitalizations are now starting to increase.

Dr. de Villa says public health is updating how it is reporting on the pandemic due to “changing availability and accuracy of data sources.” Will focus more on wastewater trends, less on percent positivity.

9:55 a.m. When Ontario launched its rapid testing program in the fall of 2020, Premier Doug Ford touted the swabs as “game changers” in the pandemic battle. As infections ripped through front-line workers in hard-hit areas like Brampton and Toronto’s northwest corner, the province hailed the initiative as a vital tool to stem the tide.

Over the next 10 months, however, just one-fifth of the 20.7 million taxpayer-funded COVID-19 rapid tests distributed through the program went to hot spot neighbourhoods, according to provincial data obtained by the Star and never before seen by the public.

And while the province got rapid tests to some crowded workplaces and areas of high transmission at this crucial time when vaccines were only just rolling out, the internal data show that only a fraction of the tests went to communities the province designated internally as “high priority.”

ICYMI: Read the full story from the Star’s Sara Mojtehedzadeh, Rachel Mendleson and Andrew Bailey

9:42 a.m. Matisse Thybulle took a seat, took a breath and took a moment to explain why he made a choice — one the Philadelphia 76ers defensive specialist admitted he tried to keep hidden — not to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Thybulle’s choice will cost him playing time in the postseason, and could cost the Sixers their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against Toronto.

Thybulle is barred from Canada because unvaccinated foreign nationals are currently prohibited from entering the country and limited exemptions to the rule no longer apply to professional athletes.

8:30 a.m. Signs of life are beginning to show in the travel industry as visitor numbers to international destinations begin to rise.

ForwardKeys research showed that a return to normalcy began in Central America and the Caribbean in 2021 driven by pent-up demand from U.S. travelers and Europeans.

Now, FowardKeys has found that hunger has a new focus: Africa and the Middle East. The U.S. outbound market could aid recovery in the fragile tourism sector in Africa, according to ForwardKeys.

The company found that the volume of flight searches from the U.S. to South Africa has grown by 2 per cent from January to February 2022. The overall volume of flight searches to South Africa for the same period is up by 30 per cent.

7:55 a.m. COVID-19 is manageable now without masks and restrictions, despite some people’s concerns Nunavut’s public health emergency measures might be ending too soon, says chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson.

“I understand that some will be worried about these changes, but we are confident that we are in a place where we can start living normally again,” he said in a COVID-19 virtual press conference Thursday.

Patterson also said the territory will soon announce details on how people can get a second booster shot.

The Health Department confirmed Wednesday the territory’s public health emergency will be lifted April 11, after originally announcing that date in early March. It had been in place since March 18, 2020.

7:30 p.m. Ontario’s top doctor is set to provide an update Monday at 1 p.m. on COVID-19 and access to antiviral treatment in the province.

It will be the first such update from Dr. Kieran Moore since early March.

Wastewater surveillance suggests cases have been on the rise since mid- to late March.

The scientific director of Ontario’s panel of COVID-19 advisers has said the latest wastewater data suggest daily cases are around 100,000 to 120,000.

Dr. Peter Juni said last week it’s unclear how long this wave of the pandemic will last since limits on testing make it difficult to know how many people have been infected and have a bit of immunity.

7:30 a.m. “Feels like it went from ‘We’re all in this together’ to ‘You’re on your own’ real quick,” wrote Dr. Andrew Boozary (@drandrewb) on Twitter recently.

Hard to sum it up better than that.

If you’ve spent the last few weeks astonished by all the unmasked shoppers in the grocery store, you can likely relate. It often feels as if half the world has been keeping an eye on spiking BA. 2 case rates in Denmark and elsewhere, and the other half is celebrating the “end” of the pandemic like it’s prom and they’ve graduated from high school.

It’s not even clear it’s their fault. Not everybody has time to keep track of case rates in Scandinavia and Toronto wastewater levels. Many simply believed, not unreasonably, that if the provincial government thought it was time to remove vaccine and mask mandates, the threat from COVID-19 must have ended.

Read the story from Christine Sismondo

7:05 a.m. The daughter of an 87-year-old Oakville nursing home resident is forbidden from speaking to front-line workers. Her family’s daily phone calls with her mom have been eliminated and, as of February, she’s been banned from all but two locations within the home.

The manager called her a harasser of staff. The woman said she’s still waiting to find out why.

Written accusations of “harassment” or “vexatious behaviour” exposed in a recent Star story about visiting restrictions placed on 80-year-old Margaret Calver by her husband’s Markham facility have been used within the last year by at least four other operators, a mix of for-profit, municipal and not-for-profit homes.

The pandemic has been a time of chaos in long-term care and for many sons or daughters, watching a parent decline has led to guilt, anger — and a sharp focus on the operations of homes. Tempers are high on both sides. Families are furious. And operators, like Sienna Senior Living or Villa Colombo, are defending their employees.

Read the full story from the Star’s Moira Welsh

Monday 5:56 a.m.: Christine Enns said she was shocked when a rapid test showed she had tested positive for COVID-19.

Enns, who received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine and a booster shot, already had the virus in early February and thought reinfection was rare.

“I started feeling sick three to four days ago thinking, ‘This feels like COVID.’ I took five tests and …today it came back positive,” the bakery owner said Friday from her home in Warren, Mba., about 45 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

“It did come as a surprise to me because of all the things I put in place to not get it. Now that I had it twice, I don’t feel quite as invincible.”

Reinfection of COVID-19 was considered unusual, but then the Omicron variant arrived.

“Because Omicron is so different, previous infection doesn’t protect you,” Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said last week.

He said public health data suggests up to 10 per cent ofinfected Canadians who have recently had BA.2 — a sub-variant of Omicron — previously had BA.1 or a previous infection, like the Delta variant.

This aligns with recent studies done in England that suggest 10 per cent of reported cases are reinfections.

“That shows just because you got Omicron once doesn’t mean you’re bulletproof now,” Shahab said.

Read Sunday’s coronavirus news.

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