Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario lifting mandatory testing for fully vaccinated in LTC; Toronto FC allowed to host this weekend with limited number of fans; Deaths and cases on rise again globally
The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Wednesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
9 p.m.: Black Canadian leaders say governments must do more to help overcome vaccine hesitancy in their communities.
Toronto orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ato Sekyi-Otu, leader of the health-care task force of the Black Opportunity Fund, says a new survey confirms unpublished public health data that hesitancy is higher among Black Canadians than among white or non-Black racialized people.
“There’s a 20-point gap with respect to the rate of vaccination in Black Canadians compared to the Canadian average,” Sekyi-Otu said in an interview. “When you look at vaccine confidence, unvaccinated Black Canadians are least likely to say that they’ll definitely get the vaccine.”
Sekyi-Otu said the Black Opportunity Fund partnered with the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council and the Innovative Research Group to try to understand why Black Canadians appeared to be getting vaccinated in lower numbers.
6:15 p.m.: Alberta is reporting one death and 46 new COVID-19 infections for a total of 569 active cases.
The province says 33 of the 113 people in hospital are receiving intensive care.
The seven-day average of daily cases sits at 40.
Some 74.3 per cent of eligible people 12 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine.
The province has announced outdoor prizes including free fishing and hunting licences to try to get more people vaccinated.
5:15 p.m.: More than 50 per cent of all eligible adults in British Columbia are now fully vaccinated.
The Health Ministry says in a news release that 79.3 per cent of eligible people 12 and older have had their first shot.
The province is reporting 41 new cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths over the past 24 hours.
Hospitalizations are down to 65 people, 11 of whom are in intensive care.
4:10 p.m.: Toronto Public Health is reporting 30 new infections as of Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., in its daily update.
The health agency reports that there were four new deaths and five new hospital admissions for a total of 65 patients.
4 p.m.: Toronto FC is finally coming home.
Major League Soccer has announced that based both Toronto FC and CF Montreal will host the following games: Toronto FC vs. Orlando City SC on Saturday; CF Montreal vs. FC Cincinnati on Saturday and Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls on July 21.
Toronto has not played at BMO Field since Sept. 1 when no fans were allowed. It has played the 31 games since on the road, finishing out last season in East Hartford, Conn., and starting this year in Orlando.
The last time fans were allowed at BMO Field for a TFC game was March 7, 2020, the second game of the regular season.
3:50 p.m.: Manitobans who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to return to museums and movie theatres in the next step of the province’s reopening.
The province has reached its COVID-19 vaccine goals ahead of schedule with nearly 78 per cent of eligible people receiving at least one dose and more than 58 per cent getting both doses.
The second stage is to begin on Saturday and will include loosened restrictions on public and private gatherings.
Many types of businesses will be able to expand capacity to 50 per cent, and bars and restaurants will be able to stay open later.
Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, says an upcoming Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ CFL game will be able to fully fill the stands with fans who are fully vaccinated.
There’s been a sharp drop in daily case counts of late — 53 new infections are being reported and no additional deaths.
3:35 p.m.: Saskatchewan is reporting 18 new cases of COVID-19 today, and no new deaths.
Thirty more people have recovered, leaving the province with 363 active cases.
The province is also reporting 54 people in hospital, including nine in intensive care.
Provincewide, 73 per cent of those aged 12 and older have now received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Fifty-six per cent of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated.
According to provincial statistics, of the 2,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in June, over 80 per cent were in unvaccinated people.
3:20 p.m.: Athletes at the Tokyo Olympics will put their medals around their own necks to protect against spreading the coronavirus.
The “very significant change” to traditional medal ceremonies in the 339 events was revealed Wednesday by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.
“The medals will not be given around the neck,” Bach told international media on a conference call from Tokyo. “They will be presented to the athlete on a tray and then the athlete will take the medal him or herself.
“It will be made sure that the person who will put the medal on the tray will do so only with disinfected gloves, so that the athlete can be sure that nobody touched them before.”
3:20 p.m.: The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair says it’s cancelling in-person events this year due to the ongoing pandemic.
The Toronto-based annual event, which runs in November, bills itself as the largest indoor agricultural and equestrian event in the world.
Organizers say this year’s event, which will mark the fair’s 99th anniversary, will take the form of an “education-focused online experience.”
They say the fair hopes to resume in-person operations next year, for its 100th anniversary.
The fair was cancelled last year due to COVID-19 and its CEO says international uncertainty due to the pandemic led to the decision not to host the multi-day event in person this year.
Charlie Johnstone says organizers cannot guarantee a plan this year for exhibitors and competitors to compete “at an elite level.”
The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair first opened its gates in Toronto in 1922. It includes the Royal Horse Show, an internationally renowned equestrian event.
The Star’s Ashleigh-Rae Thomas has more details.
3:10 p.m.: COVID-19 deaths and cases are on the rise again globally in a dispiriting setback that is triggering another round of restrictions and dampening hopes for an almost normal summer of fun.
The World Health Organization reported Wednesday that deaths climbed last week after nine straight weeks of decline. It recorded more than 55,000 lives lost, a three per cent increase from the week before. Cases rose 10 per cent last week to nearly three million, with the highest numbers recorded in Brazil, India, Indonesia and Britain, WHO said.
The reversal has been attributed to low vaccination rates, the relaxation of mask rules and other precautions, and the breakneck spread of the more-contagious delta variant, which WHO said has now been identified in 111 countries and is expected to become globally dominant in the coming months.
3 p.m.: Ontario is lifting mandatory COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated visitors, caregivers and staff at long-term care homes even as some facilities continue to battle outbreaks of the virus.
The new policy will take effect on Friday, the same day the province will lift public heath restrictions on other sectors as it moves to the third phase of its reopening plan.
“These changes are made possible because of the incredible efforts of millions of Ontarians who rolled up their sleeves and got vaccinated,” Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said in a statement.
Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people will still need to be tested for COVID-19 before entering the homes.
Fully vaccinated people will need to show their receipt of vaccination with their second dose administered at least 14 days prior to the visit and have no symptoms.
2:47 p.m.: Alberta has added outdoor activity prizes to its vaccine lottery to get more people in the province immunized.
The province says Albertans can win a lifetime fishing licence or a lifetime hunting licence.
The prizes also include five camping passes, Canmore Nordic Centre season ski passes and Kananaskis conservation passes.
Albertans will have the chance to win the prizes by receiving their first and second dose of COVID-19 vaccine and registering in the Outdoor Adventure Vaccine Lottery by Sept. 10.
The province says the winners are to be announced Sept. 17.
2:35 p.m.: Yukon is expanding the number of people allowed to gather under COVID-19 restrictions with more than three-quarters of residents fully vaccinated.
Premier Sandy Silver and chief medical health officer Dr. Brendan Hanley say organized gatherings of up to 200 people will be allowed immediately with masks, physical distancing and other public health protocols in place.
Hanley is recommending that fully vaccinated people can have personal gatherings of up to 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors, but the unvaccinated are encouraged to stick with their “safe six” because they are at significantly higher risk of infection.
Hanley also encouraged daycares to return to full capacity beginning Monday now that cases associated with daycares in Whitehorse are under control and most have recovered.
2:25 p.m.: Malta has backed off a new rule that would have allowed only people with proof of having been vaccinated against the coronavirus to enter the country after the European Commission raised concerns that it might impede the right to free movement within the 27-nation bloc.
In a revised regulation issued late Tuesday, the Maltese government said people arriving without a recognized vaccination certificate would have to quarantine upon arrival in the Mediterranean island nation. Currently, Malta only recognizes vaccination certificates from Malta, the EU, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
The government originally wanted to allow in only vaccinated visitors to curb a rise in COVID-19 cases. The vaccine requirement rule had been due to take effect Wednesday.
2:05 p.m.: Mayor John Tory, speaking at the weekly COVID-19 update from city hall, says so far 3.9 million vaccine doses have been administered in Toronto — more than 60 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated.
At the news conference, Toronto’s chief medical officer of health also reassured people that mixing vaccines is safe and effective. Dr. Eileen de Villa says she got Pfizer for her first dose and Moderna for her second and has confidence that she is well-protected.
De Villa also urged people who have not yet had a COVID-19 vaccine to get one right away.
2 p.m. Daily coronavirus cases in Britain have risen above 40,000 for the first time in nearly six months.
Government figures showed another 42,302 infections, the highest daily figure since Jan. 15 when the country was in strict lockdown following a lethal second wave of the pandemic.
Cases are expected to spike higher, with the government warning an unprecedented 100,000 daily infections may be possible this summer.
The sharp uptick in cases in recent weeks from the more contagious delta variant has prompted concerns about the coming easing of restrictions on Monday in England, which will remove legal limits on social contact and mask-wearing.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan wants mask-wearing required on London’s transport network.
1:50 p.m. Quebec is reporting no deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus for the second consecutive day.
Health officials are also reporting 75 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. Officials say hospitalizations dropped by six, to 79, and 25 people were in intensive care, unchanged since Tuesday.
Authorities say 91,241 doses of vaccine were administered in the past 24 hours.
The province’s public health institute says 82.5 per cent of residents over 12 have received at least one dose of vaccine and 49.7 per cent are considered fully vaccinated.
1:42 p.m. New Brunswick is once again reporting no new COVID-19 cases.
Health officials have reported no new infections for nine consecutive days.
There are two active reported cases of COVID-19 in the province and no one is in hospital with the disease.
About 53.5 of New Brunswickers aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated and 79.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
1:35 p.m.: Manitoba is reporting 53 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths.
However, nine earlier cases have been removed due to data correction, for a net increase of 44.
The five-day test positivity rate has fallen to four per cent provincially and 3.8 per cent in Winnipeg.
1:15 p.m. Montreal emergency room doctors say a shortage of health-care workers that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving emergency rooms overwhelmed in the eastern part of the city.
They wrote an open letter published in Montreal newspapers earlier this week lamenting how half the nursing positions and three-quarters of the respiratory therapist jobs at Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital, in eastern Montreal, are vacant.
The doctors, who work for the eastern Montreal health authority, say staff shortages have led to bed closures in other parts of that hospital and at local long-term health facilities, putting more pressure on emergency rooms across the city.
They say that mandatory overtime, introduced to prevent service interruptions, is pushing health-care workers out of the public system and into the private health network, which offers better hours and working conditions.
Meanwhile, Quebec is reporting 75 new cases of COVID-19 today and no deaths linked to the novel coronavirus for a second consecutive day.
The Health Department says the number of hospitalizations dropped by six, to 79, and 25 people were in intensive care, unchanged since Tuesday.
1 p.m. Nova Scotia is reporting no new cases of COVID-19 and three recoveries. As of Wednesday, Nova Scotia has 28 active cases of COVID-19. Of those, two people are in hospital COVID-19 units, including one in intensive care. Since April 1, there have been 4,128 positive COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths.
12:53 p.m. Ontario is reporting another 153 COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths, according to its latest report released Wednesday morning.
Ontario has administered 179,197 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 17,475,655 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.
According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 10,192,127 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 78.2 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 69.2 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.
The province says 7,283,528 people have completed their vaccinations, which means they’ve had both doses. That works out to approximately 55.9 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 49.4 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.
The seven-day average is at 164 cases daily, or 7.9 weekly per 100,000. Ontario’s seven-day average for deaths is at 5.9 daily.
The province says 29,085 tests were completed the previous day, and a 0.6 per cent positivity rate.
Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan
10:21 a.m. The Bank of Canada is cutting its expectations for economic growth this year as it keeps its key interest rate target on hold at 0.25 per cent.
The central bank says it expects the economy to grow 6.0 per cent in 2021, down from its previous forecast of 6.5 per cent.
However, the bank now expects growth of 4.6 per cent in 2022, up from its earlier forecast of 3.7 per cent.
The bank says economic conditions have improved enough that it will reduce its weekly purchases of federal bonds to $2 billion from $3 billion.
The purchases are a stimulus measure designed to help drive down rates charged on mortgages and business loans.
The Bank of Canada also expects inflation to run above three per cent for the rest of the year because of higher gasoline prices and service businesses raising prices as demand returns.
In a statement, the central bank says the factors pushing up inflation are likely to be short-lived, but will be closely monitored in case they become persistent or grow.
The bank says it will keep its trend-setting rate at near-zero until the economy is ready to handle an increase in rates, which it doesn’t expect to happen until the second half of 2022.
10:18 a.m. (will be updated) Ontario is reporting 153 new cases of COVID-19. Locally, there are 28 new cases in Toronto, 23 in the Region of Waterloo, 20 in Grey Bruce, 19 in Peel Region and 12 in Middlesex-London; nearly 29,100 tests completed.
9:35 a.m. Gyms across Ontario are making changes to the way they operate as they prepare to reopen on Friday.
The fitness facilities, which have been shuttered for months due to the pandemic, will be allowed to resume indoor operations at 50 per cent capacity as the province moves into Step 3 of its reopening plan. The government has said masking is not mandatory during workouts but is required for staff and when clients are moving through the facility between stations or in lobby areas.
Several facilities say clients need to prepare for a slightly different experience.
In addition to capacity limits, customers can expect to answer health screening questions before working out, some gyms will require masks to be worn during workouts, others won’t accept walk-ins, and certain facilities will keep their lockers rooms closed.
9:20 a.m. Toronto is poised to hit the 4-million vaccinations milestone. “To date, 3,959,734 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Toronto.”
9:15 a.m. Health authorities in Thailand said Wednesday they will seek to impose limits on exports of locally produced AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine because the country doesn’t have enough for its own needs.
The proposal comes as new cases and deaths are rapidly increasing along with the spread of the more contagious delta variant of the virus, straining hospital facilities and threatening to set back a recovery of the country’s battered economy.
Limiting exports will pose a problem for Southeast Asian countries that have signed contracts to buy Thai-produced vaccines, though some may be able to obtain supplies elsewhere.
Dr. Nakorn Premsri, director of the National Vaccine Institute, said its vaccine committee agreed in principle to issue an order temporarily limiting exports, but did not give any details. The order would be issued by designating it a matter of national security.
A company owned by Thailand’s king, Siam BioScience, was supposed to supply the country with 10 million doses of AstraZeneva vaccine a month, but acknowledged earlier this month that it can provide only 5 million to 6 million doses.
Siam BioScience was awarded a license by AstraZeneca to be a regional production hub supplying eight other countries despite having no experience in manufacturing vaccines.
Several countries have reported being told by Siam BioScience that they would not receive the contracted vaccines on time, lending weight to speculation that the Thai factory was having production problems. Nakorn said Wednesday that AstraZeneca is supposed to deliver at least one-third of its monthly production at the Thai facility to Thailand’s government.
8:42 a.m. Further changes are expected to travel restrictions to Canada as the latest iteration of the Canada-U. S. border closure deal is set to expire next week.
But two sources told the Star that in the short term, they are expected to be just minor tweaks, and it remains unclear when Canada will throw open its doors to fully vaccinated tourists or business travellers.
It’s been just over a week since Canada relaxed quarantine rules for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents and others who are currently eligible to enter Canada under the terms of travel restrictions that have been in place since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020.
They no longer have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, but merely require a test before they leave for Canada and one when they get here, provided their vaccines have been approved for use in Canada.
Read the full story from Stephanie Levitz
8:05 a.m. COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Ontario has been high this spring and summer, with 60 per cent of residents now fully vaccinated.
However, some people remain on the fence, mulling over questions that leave room for doubt about vaccine safety and efficacy. One of those questions is how mRNA vaccines like the ones Pfizer and Moderna produce could be developed so quickly and still be safe and effective.
To help clear up confusion, Bill Anderson, professor emeritus in chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo, answers this question and a few others.
8 a.m. A COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term-care home in Hamilton affecting at least nine people is believed to be linked to an unvaccinated hairdresser working in the facility, an insider told the Star.
An outbreak was initially declared Saturday in the part of St. Joseph’s Villa that houses a hair salon catering to residents of the long-term-care home, with four salon workers reported to be infected. On Monday, a home-wide outbreak was declared and non-essential visitors barred. The City of Hamilton website detailing COVID outbreaks was updated Tuesday to list five additional cases at the home — four involving residents and one visitor infection.
The on-site beauty salon and barbershop at St. Joseph’s Villa reopened on June 30, but was closed again after the outbreak was declared.
Read the full story from the Star’s Maria Sarrouh
7:55 a.m. The barrage of “hateful” comments came without warning.
On July 1, as B.C. moved to Step 3 of its COVID-19 restart plan, which included dropping its indoor mask mandate, Punk Rock Pastries — a Burnaby shop that specializes in pastries designed to “shock,” as well as “naughty” and “erotic” cakes and cookies — announced to customers it would still require them to wear masks “as we have immune compromised staff.”
“My shop, my rules,” owner Hollie Deville wrote on Instagram.
It wasn’t long after that post that the business was deluged with angry comments.
“We got messages, phone calls, emails,” she said. “We got really hateful reviews on Google — which we got taken down, thank goodness — and on our Facebook page. To me this was so sad.”
Read the full story from the Star’s Douglas Quan and Kieran Leavitt
7:30 a.m. As businesses move away from handling cash, several large restaurant chains in the Toronto area are adopting a new digital system for paying out tip money to servers. But some restaurant workers are fighting back, saying that the new cards charge them to access their own money — and may not even be legal.
The program, called Tipstoday, is provided to restaurants by XTM Inc., which offers the cards as a way to digitize and streamline the payment of money collected in tips to servers and other restaurant staff.
Tips are traditionally paid out in cash, or increasingly by direct deposit. However, with most diners paying by credit or debit card, many chains are moving to the Tipstoday system, which provides a Mastercard to each server that can be used free of charge for direct purchases, and periodically loads their tips onto the card.
Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba
7:16 a.m. Houses still cost more in Toronto than most places in Canada. But Torontonians haven’t experienced nearly the sticker shock or the injection of capital that baby boomers and an outflux of Toronto-area pandemic house hunters have exported to other, traditionally less expensive, Canadian markets.
Toronto-area home prices rose 18.2 per cent year over year to a median $1.03 million in the second quarter of this year, compared to 25.3 per cent growth nationally in the same period, according to Royal LePage on Wednesday.
Its House Price Survey looked at 62 of the country’s biggest real estate markets and found 89 per cent of them experienced double-digit price gains in the second quarter of this year.
Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski
6:16 a.m.: France, which has opened its borders to Canadian tourists, is eager to see Canada reopen to the French.
The Canadian border remains closed to foreigners, with a few exceptions, and will be until at least July 21. Ottawa has extended the closure, month after month, since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
At the French embassy in Ottawa Tuesday the representative of President Emmanuel Macron’s government argued the Canadian border should be reopened to the French as soon as possible.
“The borders will have to be reopened relatively quickly now for us to put Canada back on our travel plans,” Ambassador Kareen Rispal said. “If not, it’s true that French ministers will go to the countries where they can go.”
Otherwise, the relationship between the two countries will suffer, she warned.
“The consequence of the border closure is that there are no more visits,” Rispal said. “There are no more ministers. There are no more parliamentarians. There are no more manufacturing visits. There are no more visits by artists … relationships need to be worked on every day, to nourish them.”
France permits Canadians who can prove they are fully vaccinated, or who submit a recent negative COVID-19 test and who attest to not having COVID-19 symptoms, to enter its territory.
“We are a green country,” she said, referring to the colour system used by France to designate countries where the novel coronavirus is under control.
“Canada is a green country. We would be very happy if the French could return to Canada without constraints other than being doubly vaccinated, taking tests, etc. We aren’t asking to return to Canada in a haphazard way.”
Rispal said she will be watching what the Canadian government does on July 21.
6:15 a.m.: A year after pandemic precautions all but halted work to raise the world’s most endangered cranes for release into the wild, the efforts are back in gear.
Fourteen long-legged, fuzzy brown whooping crane chicks — one more than in 2019 — are following their parents or costumed surrogates in facilities from New Orleans to Calgary, Canada.
“We are thrilled to have bounced back in the wake of the pandemic,” said Richard Dunn, assistant curator of the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center in New Orleans.
Adult whooping cranes are white with black wingtips and red caps, and at 5 feet high are the tallest birds in North America. Only about 800 exist, all descendants of about 15 that survived hunters and habitat loss in a flock that migrates between Texas and Alberta, Canada.
Last year, zoos and other places where the endangered birds are bred had to cut staff and reduce or eliminate use of artificial insemination, which requires close work by two or three people, and of having people in shape-disguising costumes raise chicks.
Wednesday 6:13 a.m.: Mask-wearing will be required on London’s transport network even after the legal obligation to wear them in England is lifted on July 19, the city’s mayor said Wednesday.
Sadiq Khan has asked the body that oversees transport in the capital to enforce the use of mask wearing on the subway, buses and trams as a “condition of carriage” — basically contracts between passengers and Transport for London.
Khan said he is “not prepared” to put transport users “at risk” by removing the rules on face coverings after legal restrictions are lifted next Monday despite a big resurgence of the virus across the U.K. as a whole.
Under the new approach outlined by Khan, enforcement officers would be able to deny access or eject passengers not wearing a mask while using the subway, buses and trams. London’s Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police won’t be able to get involved, though, as mask-wearing will no longer be required by law.
“What would have been far better is for the national rules to apply across the country, not just in London but across the country,” he told the BBC. “That would have provided clarity in relation to what the rules are.”
Read Tuesday’s coronavirus news.