KEY FACTS

  • 10:40 a.m.: Students to return to school in four more Ontario public health units

  • 10:10 a.m.: Ontario reports 2,093 new cases, 56 more deaths

  • 9:57 a.m.: Ontario says it had been misinterpreting vaccination data

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.

7:47 p.m. There have been 766,103 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, 689,419 of them resolved and 19,664 resulting in deaths), according to The Canadian Press. The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 4,877 new cases Thursday from 92,645 completed tests, for a positivity rate of 5.3 per cent. The rate of active cases is 151.69 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 34,653 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 4,950.

There were 131 new reported deaths Thursday.

Over the past seven days there have been a total of 1,042 new reported deaths.

The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 149. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.4 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 52.31 per 100,000 people.

There have been 17,290,560 tests completed.

The data breaks down as follows:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 404 confirmed cases (12 active, 388 resolved, four deaths).

There were four new cases Thursday from 264 completed tests, for a positivity rate of 1.5 per cent. The rate of active cases is 2.3 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of seven new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is one.

There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is 0.77 per 100,000 people.

There have been 79,067 tests completed.

  • Prince Edward Island: 111 confirmed cases (six active, 105 resolved, zero deaths).

There was one new case Thursday from 528 completed tests, for a positivity rate of 0.19 per cent. The rate of active cases is 3.82 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there has been one new case. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is zero.

There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is zero per 100,000 people.

There have been 89,812 tests completed.

  • Nova Scotia: 1,576 confirmed cases (11 active, 1,500 resolved, 65 deaths).

There were zero new cases Thursday from 896 completed tests, for a positivity rate of zero. The rate of active cases is 1.13 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 11 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is two.

There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is 6.69 per 100,000 people.

There have been 203,026 tests completed.

  • New Brunswick: 1,202 confirmed cases (314 active, 872 resolved, 16 deaths).

There were 27 new cases Thursday. The rate of active cases is 40.42 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 145 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 21.

There were zero new reported deaths Thursday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of three new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is zero. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.06 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 2.06 per 100,000 people.

There have been 138,569 tests completed.

  • Quebec: 258,698 confirmed cases (15,263 active, 233,768 resolved, 9,667 deaths).

There were 1,368 new cases Thursday. The rate of active cases is 179.88 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 9,838 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 1,405.

There were 37 new reported deaths Thursday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 394 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 56. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.66 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 113.93 per 100,000 people.

There have been 2,695,925 tests completed.

  • Ontario: 262,463 confirmed cases (21,478 active, 234,971 resolved, 6,014 deaths).

There were 2,093 new cases Thursday from 62,549 completed tests, for a positivity rate of 3.3 per cent. The rate of active cases is 147.45 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 14,899 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 2,128.

There were 56 new reported deaths Thursday. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 400 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 57. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.39 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 41.29 per 100,000 people.

There have been 9,123,649 tests completed.

  • Manitoba: 29,128 confirmed cases (3,456 active, 24,851 resolved, 821 deaths).

There were 132 new cases Thursday from 2,267 completed tests, for a positivity rate of 5.8 per cent. The rate of active cases is 252.36 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 1,039 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 148.

There were eight new reported deaths Thursday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 28 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is four. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.29 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 59.95 per 100,000 people.

There have been 452,461 tests completed.

  • Saskatchewan: 23,038 confirmed cases (2,478 active, 20,275 resolved, 285 deaths).

There were 244 new cases Thursday from 1,094 completed tests, for a positivity rate of 22 per cent. The rate of active cases is 210.99 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 1,700 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 243.

There were 11 new reported deaths Thursday. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 46 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is seven. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.56 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 24.27 per 100,000 people.

There have been 333,534 tests completed.

  • Alberta: 122,821 confirmed cases (8,041 active, 113,174 resolved, 1,606 deaths).

There were 461 new cases Thursday from 24,990 completed tests, for a positivity rate of 1.8 per cent. The rate of active cases is 183.95 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 3,707 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 530.

There were seven new reported deaths Thursday. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 106 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 15. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.35 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 36.74 per 100,000 people.

There have been 3,106,652 tests completed.

  • British Columbia: 66,265 confirmed cases (5,940 active, 59,141 resolved, 1,184 deaths).

There were 546 new cases Thursday. The rate of active cases is 117.13 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 3,289 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 470.

There were 12 new reported deaths Thursday. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 65 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is nine. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.18 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 23.35 per 100,000 people.

There have been 1,044,931 tests completed.

  • Yukon: 70 confirmed cases (zero active, 69 resolved, one death).

There were zero new cases Thursday from seven completed tests, for a positivity rate of zero per cent. Over the past seven days, there have been no new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is zero.

There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is 2.45 per 100,000 people.

There have been 6,264 tests completed.

  • Northwest Territories: 31 confirmed cases (three active, 28 resolved, no deaths).

There were no new cases Thursday. The rate of active cases is 6.69 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been no new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is zero.

There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is zero per 100,000 people.

There have been 9,064 tests completed.

  • Nunavut: 283 confirmed cases (18 active, 264 resolved, one deaths).

There was one new case Thursday from 50 completed tests, for a positivity rate of two per cent. The rate of active cases is 46.42 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there has been 17 new case. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is two.

There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is 2.58 per 100,000 people.

There have been 7,530 tests completed.

5:56 p.m. A top science adviser says Ontario is far from in the clear despite a downward trend in COVID-19 cases, while some provinces criticized Ottawa for lower-than-expected vaccine shipments and the pandemic was flagged as an outsized contributor to Quebec’s death count last year, The Canadian Press reports.

Canada’s most populous province reported 2,093 new infections Thursday and 56 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus. Cases have fallen since Ontario issued a stay-at-home order two weeks ago, according to CP.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, who co-chairs Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said new infections are on track to decrease to between 1,000 and 2,000 a day by the end of February.

There were several days earlier this month when they topped 3,000.

A new COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom, which is at least 30 per cent more transmissible, is circulating in the community. Brown said it would likely be the dominant version of the virus in March and risks pushing up Ontario’s case count if not controlled.

4:45 p.m. Prince Edward Island is reporting one new case of COVID-19, The Canadian Press reports.

Health officials say the case involves a man in his 30s, who recently travelled outside Atlantic Canada, according to CP.

P.E.I. now has six active reported cases of COVID-19 and has recorded 111 infections since the start of the pandemic.

4:36 p.m. Novavax Inc. said Thursday that its COVID-19 vaccine appears 89 per cent effective based on early findings from a British study and that it also seems to work, although not quite as well, against new, mutated strains of the virus circulating in that country and South Africa, The Associated Press reports.

The announcement comes amid worry about both whether a variety of vaccines being rolled out around the world will be strong enough to protect against worrisome new variants, and also that the world needs new types of vaccines to boost scarce supplies, according to AP.

4 p.m. Manitoba health officials are reporting eight more deaths and 133 new cases of COVID today, The Canadian Press reports.

They say there were 94 new cases Tuesday and 95 on Wednesday, according to CP.

Of the 133 cases, the Northern Health Region has the highest number with 61.

A new outbreak has also been declared in that region at St. Paul’s Personal Care Home in The Pas.

All but one of the deaths, a woman in her 60s from the Winnipeg area, are connected to known outbreaks.

Starting tomorrow, all those who travel outside the province will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

3:20 p.m. Ontario should see between 1,000 and 2,000 cases of COVID-19 daily by the end February with continued restrictions, but more contagious variants can move that range higher, computer models suggest.

3:05 p.m. Ontario says COVID-19 cases are decreasing across the province, but the spread of the U.K. variant of the virus presents a “significant threat” to controlling the pandemic.

The findings come in new projections released by the Province’s health and science advisors.

Data shows cases began decreasing after the start of a provincial lockdown at the end of the December, and that decline continued after a stay-at-home order was imposed two weeks ago.

The data also shows that a more contagious variant of the virus first identified in the U.K. is spreading in Ontario and is a significant concern.

The experts compiling the data say that maintaining public health measures can still reduce case counts, despite the variant’s presence, and allow schools to reopen.

The new data also shows that cases in long-term care have begun to decline but deaths in nursing homes continue to rise, with 215 reported in the last week.

Hospital capacity continues to be strained, with half of the province’s facilities only having one or two free intensive care beds.

3 p.m. Saskatchewan is reporting 244 new cases of COVID-19, The Canadian Press reports.

The Province says there are 208 people in hospital, with 37 of them receiving intensive care, according to CP.

Another 11 residents have died from the virus.

Health officials say 34,672 doses of vaccine have been administered so far, but Premier Scott Moe says supply is running short.

The Province expects another 5,850 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to arrive next week.

2 p.m.: Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting four new COVID-19 infections, including three cases that are linked to a case reported Wednesday.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald told reporters those three cases along with the case announced Wednesday form a cluster of connected infections whose origin has not been identified.

She says contract tracers will keep working to determine the source of infection and says the cluster could be evidence of community spread.

Fitzgerald says the four people involved in the cluster are close contacts of one another and are between the ages of 20 and 39.

She also says there is a suspected case of COVID-19 at a daycare in the province, though no positive cases have yet been confirmed in connection with the facility.

The fourth case announced today is related to international travel and Fitzgerald says there are now nine active reported infections in the province.

1:35 p.m.: Alberta’s health minister says the province won’t join Manitoba in placing new COVID-19 restrictions on interprovincial travellers.

Tyler Shandro says it’s important to put in health restrictions as needed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, but travel within Canada remains important.

“We know that there is travel that needs to be made through provinces,” Shandro said Wednesday.

“We’re not looking at advocating for any changes to interprovincial travel at this time.”

Alberta is one of several Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, to report cases of new virus variants, which spread faster than the original strain and could rapidly overwhelm hospitals.

1:30 p.m.: Pfizer and BioNTech are already assuming Canada will agree its COVID-19 vaccine vials contain six doses instead of five and are using that to project how many vials it will send Canada in the coming weeks.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo says Health Canada is still reviewing the request to formally change the label and is examining whether that sixth dose can be extracted consistently.

Canada has some existing supply of the special syringes needed to do so and two million of a recent order for 37.5 million of them are to arrive in Canada starting Feb. 4.

But in the meantime Pfizer is already using the new six-dose formula in its allocation of vaccines for Canadian shipments through to the end of March.

1:11 p.m. Arianne Reza, an associate deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement Canada, says Canada has a supply of the special, low-dead volume needles needed to extract six doses from vials of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine.

But she says there will be two million arriving in Canada next week, part of a new order for 37.5 million of the syringes.

Health Canada has not yet made a decision about whether it will amend the label on the vaccine to say it always contains at least six doses.

1 p.m.: New Brunswick is reporting 27 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday.

Health officials say 14 of the new cases were identified in the Edmundston region, which has been under a lockdown since Sunday.

They say 11 other cases were reported in the Moncton area and two in the Saint John region.

The province says it has 313 active reported infections and four people are in hospital with the disease, including two in intensive care.

New Brunswick has reported a total of 1,202 infections and 16 COVID-related deaths since the onset of the pandemic.

12:40 p.m.: While several countries are revising their mask advice either to ditch cloth masks or recommend doubling up as more virulent variants spread, Canada is sticking to its previous recommendations.

The United States’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said in an interview with NBC Monday that wearing two masks “just makes common sense,” as adding another layer of protection will help prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

Photos captured in the last two weeks in the U.S. show Fauci along with public figures like U.S. First Lady Jill Biden and youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman also sporting a double mask by wearing a surgical mask under their cloth masks.

The Star’s Olivia Bowden has the full story.

12:25 p.m: The man overseeing the country’s national vaccine rollout says Canada is getting 149,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine over the next two weeks.

That’s only one-fifth of what had been promised before the company slowed production in a bid to ramp up operations in Belgium.

Canada has been saying for several weeks that the shipments would return to normal in mid-February, but Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin now says Pfizer is sending 335,000 doses the week of Feb. 15, which is still only 91 per cent of the previous delivery schedule.

Fortin says the deliveries still are based on five doses per vial.

Earlier in the day Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the feds had lowered their estimates for total Pfizer vaccines in-hand by end of March from four million to 3.5 million.

But Fortin says Canada is still on-pace to get four million doses by that time, saying the government had given the provinces more conservative figures for planning purposes.

12:25 p.m.: Another 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been secured for the African continent through the Serum Institute of India, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

With the new doses, on top of the 270 million doses announced earlier this month from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, “I think we’re beginning to make very good progress,” Africa CDC director John Nkengasong told reporters. He said the new doses were announced in a meeting hosted by South Africa’s president on Wednesday.

An Africa CDC spokesman said the 400 million doses are of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. As with many vaccine deals, there were no immediate details on cost or how much people might pay per dose.

Parts of the African continent are seeing a strong resurgence in coronavirus infections, which Nkengasong called “very aggressive.” He warned that the wave has not yet peaked.

12:20 p.m.: A World Health Organization team emerged from quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to start field work in a fact-finding mission on the origins of the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers, who were required to isolate for 14 days after arriving in China, left their quarantine hotel with their luggage — including at least four yoga mats — in the midafternoon and headed to another hotel.

The mission has become politically charged, as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak. A major question is where the Chinese side will allow the researchers to go and whom they will be able to talk to.

12:05 p.m.: Prosecutors from northern Italy travelled to Rome on Thursday to question the health minister and others as part of their broadening investigation into whether to lay any criminal blame for Italy’s horrific coronavirus toll, and whether a lack of preparedness contributed to it.

Back in June, Bergamo prosecutors questioned Premier Giuseppe Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and other top officials about the delayed lockdown in two Bergamo towns where infections were reported in the early days of the outbreak.

Bergamo went onto become Italy’s COVID-19 epicenter, the first in the West, registering a 571 per cent increase in excess deaths in March compared to the previous five-year average.

11:15 a.m.: Quebec is reporting 1,368 new cases of COVID-19, as well as 39 additional deaths due to the virus.

Hospitalizations declined by 26 to 1,264, while the number of people in intensive care dropped by nine to 212.

Two deaths were removed from the provincial count after an investigation found they were unrelated to COVID-19, for a total of 9,667 deaths and 258,698 cases since the pandemic began.

The province delivered 3,767 doses of vaccine yesterday, and has used up all but about 5,100 of the 238,100 doses it has received so far.

10:40 a.m.: Another grim milestone has been reached in Ontario as the number of COVID-19 deaths in the province has surpassed 6,000.

A breakdown of the 6,014 deaths:

  • 1,961 were over 90 years old
  • two were under 20 years old

The Star’s Cheyenne Bholla has more details from Ontario’s daily report.

10:40 a.m. (updated): The province says 280,000 more students will return to class Monday — they are in the regions of Eastern Ontario Health Unit, Middlesex-London Health Unit, Southwestern Public Health and Ottawa Public Health.

Students in five Ontario COVID-19 hot spots will keep learning online until at least Feb. 10 — Toronto, Peel, York, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex.

All students began their winter term online as part of a provincial lockdown, and the government extended remote learning for many as the province continues to fight COVID-19.

The government allowed schools in seven other public health units to resume in-person learning this week, but students in the rest of southern Ontario’s public health districts continue to learn online.

10:35 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 34 more resident deaths in long-term care, for a total of 3,462 since the pandemic began.

There are nine fewer long-term-care homes in outbreak, for a total of 229 or about 36.6 per cent of LTC homes across the province.

10:30 a.m.: Quebec’s statistics agency is reporting that the number of deaths in the province jumped 10 per cent last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Institut de la statistique du Quebec noted today in its report that 74,550 people died last year in Quebec, which is 6,750 more than in 2019.

It says it’s normal for the number of deaths to rise every year because of Quebec’s growing and aging population, but considers a jump of this magnitude to be exceptional.

The number of deaths had risen by about two per cent per year between 2010 and 2019.

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The institute says the rise in deaths is linked to the pandemic because the jump is most pronounced between the end of March and the beginning of June, during the height of the first wave of COVID-19.

Incomplete data on the number of marriages that took place last year indicated a significant drop compared with 2019.

10:25 a.m. (updated): Ontario is also reporting that 11,910 vaccine doses were administered since the last daily report.

As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, 317,240 doses have been administered in total, with 55,286 people fully vaccinated, which means they have received two shots.

The number of people fully vaccinated is much lower than previous reports.

Earlier, the government said it had been misinterpreting data on the number of people who have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccination.

Officials inadvertently posted dose information, rather than the total vaccination data. As a result, the number of people who have been fully vaccinated is half of what was listed previously.

The government said they are updating the total vaccinations completed category to reflect the total number of people who have been fully vaccinated and not the number of doses.

10:20 a.m.: Ontario is reporting nearly 64,700 tests completed.

Locally, there are 700 new cases in Toronto, 331 in Peel, 228 in York Region and 123 in Niagara.

As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, 317,240 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered across the province.

10:10 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 2,093 new cases with 56 more deaths.

The seven-day average is down to 2,128 cases daily, or 102 weekly per 100,000.

The seven-day average for deaths is up to 57.1/day.

The Star’s Cheyenne Bholla has more details.

9:57 a.m. (will be updated): The government of Ontario says it had been misinterpreting data on the number of people who have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccination.

Officials inadvertently posted dose information, rather than the total vaccination data. As a result, the number of people who have been fully vaccinated is half of what is currently listed.

The government said they are updating the total vaccinations completed category to reflect the total number of people who have been fully vaccinated and not the number of doses.

9:04 a.m. Vaughan is moving to reopen the city’s outdoor ice rinks, a toboggan hill and an off-leash dog park after being closed for almost two weeks.

“Our outdoor rinks, toboggan hill and dog park are reopening with new systems — like online registration for skaters, increased patrols and mandatory mask usage — in place to further reduce the spread of this deadly virus,” said city manager Jim Harnum in a statement.

The city temporarily closed the city amenities on Jan. 15 due to the rising COVID-19 case numbers and “people crowding in these spaces while not following public health guidelines around social distancing and mask usage.”

The toboggan hill at North Maple Regional Park and the dog park at 299 Racco Parkway reopened on Wednesday and the city’s five outdoor ice rinks are set to reopen on Monday.

8:45 a.m. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell but remained at a historically high 847,000 last week, a sign that layoffs keep coming as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.

Last week’s claims fell by 67,000, from 914,000 the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. Before the virus hit the United States hard last March, weekly applications for jobless aid had never topped 700,000.

Overall, nearly 4.8 million Americans are continuing to receive traditional state unemployment benefits. That is down from a staggering peak of nearly 25 million in May when the virus — and lockdowns and other measures to contain it — brought economic activity to a near halt. The drop suggests that some of the unemployed are finding new jobs and that others have exhausted state benefits.

The job market remains under strain even though the spread of COVID-19 vaccines offers hope for an end to the health crisis and a return to normal economic life.

8:40 a.m. As the federal government prepares to slap new restrictions on international travel, Health Canada data suggest a worrying uptick of infections directly connected to foreign arrivals.

While travel exposures account for less than two per cent of all Canada’s COVID-19 cases, the number of cases in recent travellers, and people they came into close contact with after arriving, shows continual growth in recent months.

In December, 486 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in recent travellers, the most since March and up from 312 in November and 204 in October. Despite mandatory two-week quarantines for international travellers, there were 1,258 COVID-19 cases confirmed in people who had close contact with a recent traveller in December, up from 744 in November and 704 in October.

In the first three weeks of January, 384 travel cases and 607 traveller-contact cases were confirmed.

The figures also correspond with a recent rise in the number of people travelling, at least by air. Land-border arrivals are typically fewer in the winter because of the weather in much of the country, but more people arrived from the U.S. by air in December than any month since March. Arrivals from other international locations were higher in December than any month except August.

8:30 a.m. The daily number of new COVID-19 cases in Toronto has dropped and so has the rate at which the virus is spreading, but the increase in new variants of the disease — including one that is more contagious and perhaps more deadly — means it is too early to declare victory, local officials said Wednesday.

“Medically, we are in an uncertain phase,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health, speaking at a COVID-19 update from city hall alongside Mayor John Tory. “The emergence of coronavirus variants is one feature of this uncertainty.”

De Villa reported 502 new cases of COVID-19 in Toronto and 41 new hospital admissions for a total of 520 people in hospital. Eleven more have died.

Read the full story from the Star’s Francine Kopun

8 a.m. Self-employed Canadians who are being asked to repay the Canada Emergency Response Benefit after a Canada Revenue Agency error are scaling up their pressure on the government to allow them to keep the benefit.

On Wednesday, Green Party MP Paul Manly presented a petition to the House of Commons that received more than 7,000 signatures over a month, asking the government to allow self-employed CERB recipients to retroactively use their gross self-employed income instead of net to assess their eligibility for the benefit.

Manly, who sponsored the petition, said in an interview he’s heard from self-employed Canadians across the country who applied for CERB “in good faith” and are now being told they didn’t qualify.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba

7:50 a.m. While several countries are revising their mask advice either to ditch cloth masks or recommend doubling up as more virulent variants spread, Canada is sticking to its previous recommendations.

The United States’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said in an interview with NBC Monday that wearing two masks “just makes common sense,” as adding another layer of protection will help prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

Photos captured in the last two weeks in the U.S. show Fauci along with public figures like U.S. First Lady Jill Biden and youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman also sporting a double mask by wearing a surgical mask under their cloth masks.

Read the full story from the Star’s Olivia Bowden

7:40 a.m. Ontario is considering an order that international passengers arriving at Pearson airport must submit to COVID-19 tests to catch cases of the U.K. variant and other more contagious strains of the virus that has killed almost 6,000 in the province, the Star has learned.

The move is being driven by concerns the federal government isn’t moving fast enough on border restrictions at a time when vaccines are in short supply and the variants pose an increased threat to health and hospital capacity, a senior provincial source said Wednesday.

Chief medical officer Dr. David Williams — who raised concerns Monday about the problem — is strongly considering an order under section 22 of Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act mandating the tests, the government source added.

Read the full story from Rob Ferguson

7:30 a.m. A prominent GTA critical care physician is alleging he was fired over his outspoken criticism of Ontario’s pandemic response.

Dr. Brooks Fallis said in an emailed statement to the Star he learned his contract as interim medical director of critical care at William Osler Health System had been terminated in January.

“When I met with some of the members of the senior leadership team about this, I was told I was being let go as Interim Medical Director — not because of my performance as a physician or as a hospital leader — but because of my outspoken, public statements regarding Ontario’s pandemic response,” his statement said.

“As a result of my actions, the hospital was under pressure from the Provincial Government, leading to concern about the possible loss of funding for the hospital.”

Read the full story from the Star’s May Warren

7:20 a.m. Mutations of the virus that causes COVID-19, called SARS-CoV-2, are evolving at a higher rate than at the beginning of the pandemic, according to scientists.

One of the most studied is the variant first reported in the U.K., called B.1.1.7, which is thought to be more transmissible, a trait it appears to share with the variant first reported in South Africa, B.1.351.

The mutations could mean that slight alterations in vaccines may be necessary in the future to ensure they remain effective.

Already, Moderna is creating a booster for its vaccine after research showed a decrease in antibodies to the B.1.351 variant produced by its vaccine, although the vaccine remains effective.

Meanwhile, a consortium of scientists in the U.K. is one step behind the mutating virus, sequencing hundreds of thousands of samples of SARS-CoV-2 to unlock the genetic codes that are key to fighting the virus.

Read the full story from the Star’s Patty Winsa

7:16 a.m. Israel on Thursday said it was extending coronavirus vaccinations to adults age 35 and older, an expansion of its world-leading drive to vanquish COVID-19.

Health Ministry Director General Hezi Levy said shots would be available to the new age group starting Friday.

The change reflects Israel’s aggressive drive to inoculate its entire population by the spring and the country is on track to do so. More than a quarter of Israel’s 9.3 million people have been vaccinated so far.

But Israel also is home to one of the developing world’s highest rate of infections, driven by ultra-Orthodox towns that are flouting safety rules and clashing with police trying to enforce them. Some 8,000 new cases are detected each day.

The country is in its third lockdown to contain the virus’ spread. This week it tightened the closures by shuttering its international airport to nearly all flights.

6:21 a.m. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says another 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been secured for the continent through the Serum Institute of India.

Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong told reporters that with the new doses, on top of the 270 million doses announced earlier, “I think we’re beginning to make very good progress.”

As with many vaccine deals, there are no immediate details on cost or how much people might pay per dose.

Parts of the African continent are now seeing a strong second surge in coronavirus infections, which Nkengasong calls “very aggressive now.”

6 a.m. Germany’s health minister says there are at least “10 hard weeks” ahead amid difficulties in getting large quantities of vaccines.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, who faces political pressure over the slow start to Germany’s vaccination campaign, wrote on Twitter Thursday that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors should hold a special meeting to discuss vaccine strategy.

Spahn said vaccine manufacturers also should be invited to “explain how complex production is.” He stressed that “the quality must be very good” in order to protect people.

Spahn wrote that “we will go through at least another 10 hard weeks with the scarcity of vaccine.”

Germany’s current lockdown, its second, was recently extended until Feb. 14. Infection figures are falling, but officials are worried about the potential impact of coronavirus variants such as the one first detected in Britain.

5:15 a.m. Travellers returning to New Zealand will face stricter rules at quarantine hotels as health authorities investigate how up to three people got infected with the coronavirus while isolating at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel.

The people were released before testing positive and were potentially contagious, but so far testing has shown no evidence the virus has spread in the community. Health authorities believe they caught the virus from another quarantined traveller. New Zealand has managed to stamp out community transmission of the virus.

5:10 a.m. Vietnam reported 82 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, hours after confirming the first two infections in nearly two months.

Seventy-two of the cases came from an electronic company in Hai Duong province, where a 34-year-old female employee tested positive after her colleague was found to carry the virus from Osaka, Japan, several days earlier, the Health Ministry said.

It said the woman who was tested in Japan carried the U.K. variant, which could spread faster.

The company with over 2,200 workers was closed for disinfection and the provincial authority locked down surrounding communities to curb the outbreak.

The ministry said over 3,000 people in the area will be tested.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Quang Ninh province, 10 people tested positive after a man working at Van Don International Airport was confirmed to be infected.

5:05 a.m. Sri Lanka’s president on Thursday welcomed the first 500,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from India, which has donated the shots to eight countries in the region.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

Sri Lanka said 150,000 health workers and 115,000 selected military and police troops will be the first to be inoculated at six hospitals in Colombo and its suburbs.

One of the hospitals is reserved for COVID-19 patients while the others have separate wards for the coronavirus.

The Health Ministry plans to expand the vaccination campaign to 4,000 hospitals and health centres in other parts of the country next week.

India’s donation covers 250,000 people and Sri Lanka is making efforts to obtain more vaccines, either through donation or by purchasing them.

The country has ordered 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and is planning to order 3 million more from India. It also expects some from the U.N. COVAX Facility to be able to vaccine 20% of the population.

5:01 a.m. A World Health Organization team emerged from quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to start field work in a fact-finding mission on the origins of the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers, who were required to complete 14 days in quarantine after arriving in China, left their quarantine hotel and boarded a bus in the midafternoon.

The mission has become politically charged, as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak. A major question is where the Chinese side will allow the researchers to go and whom they will be able to talk to.

Yellow barriers blocked the entrance to the hotel, keeping the media at a distance. Before the researchers boarded, workers in full protective gear could be seen loading their luggage onto the bus, including two musical instruments, a dumbbell and four yoga mattresses.

4:55 a.m. Ontario will provide an update on COVID-19 modelling projections Thursday.

The province says Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chairman of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, will present the update this afternoon.

The new data comes two weeks after the province invoked a stay-at-home order in a bid to halt surging case spread.

The province’s chief medical officer of health says a provincewide lockdown, which started in late December, has contributed to a reduction in daily cases.

The last modelling update provided by the province earlier this month warned that rising virus case rates threatened to overwhelm the health care system.

4:44 a.m. The impact of COVID-19 on intensive care units remains “alarming” despite a recent steadying of the number of patients treated there, says a group representing Ontario’s hospitals.

Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, said there are, on average, 25 new COVID-19 patients being admitted to ICUs every day.

“This apparent stabilization masks the fact that capacity is actually being freed up as patients either leave ICU as they get better, or pass away from COVID-19 or another very serious condition,” Dale said.

Over the last week, up to 416 patients with COVID-19 have been treated in ICUs, according to data provided by the Ontario Hospital Association.

On Jan. 15, Ontario recorded an all-time high of 420 patients with COVID-19 in ICUs — about a quarter of all intensive care patients.

“The rate of transmission appears to be decelerating, but we cannot declare victory,” Dale said. “We must remain extremely cautious and keep up the fight against community spread to keep up our progress and prevent a third wave, especially when we see the new variant’s impacts in the United Kingdom.”

The province warned at the outset of the most recent lockdown that ICUs were on the verge of being overrun with COVID-19 patients, at which point physicians would be in the difficult position to choose who received critical care and who did not.

4 a.m. As the federal government prepares to slap new restrictions on international travel, Health Canada data suggest a worrying uptick of infections directly connected to foreign arrivals.

While travel exposures account for less than two per cent of all Canada’s COVID-19 cases, the number of cases in recent travellers, and people they came into close contact with after arriving, shows continual growth in recent months.

In December, 486 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in recent travellers, the most since March and up from 312 in November and 204 in October. Despite mandatory two-week quarantines for international travellers, there were 1,258 COVID-19 cases confirmed in people who had close contact with a recent traveller in December, up from 744 in November and 704 in October.

In the first three weeks of January, 384 travel cases and 607 traveller-contact cases were confirmed.

The figures also correspond with a recent rise in the number of people travelling, at least by air. Land-border arrivals are typically fewer in the winter because of the weather in much of the country, but more people arrived from the U.S. by air in December than any month since March. Arrivals from other international locations were higher in December than any month except August.

Wednesday 8:45 p.m.: Most people in British Columbia are doing their best to follow public health guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some are acting badly, Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.

Horgan also highlighted the case of a B.C. couple who travelled to Yukon, where they’re alleged to have jumped the queue to get an early COVID-19 vaccine shot.

“I believe there’s nothing more un-Canadian than going to another jurisdiction to jump the line because you have the means to do so,” Horgan said at a news conference. “Those are the types of examples we want to put in our rear-view mirror.”

Horgan said it’s disconcerting that some people are holding large gatherings in Vancouver penthouses and others are looking for parties in Whistler despite health restrictions.

He expressed his concern as well over incidents of racist behaviour towards Indigenous people who are fighting COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities.

Read the full story here: B.C. premier says jumping COVID-19 vaccine line ‘un-Canadian,’ no penthouse parties

Click here to read more of Wednesday’s COVID-19 coverage.



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