Todays coronavirus news: FBI investigates after 500 vaccine doses sabotaged in Wisconsin; Ford to have tough conversation with minister back from St. Barts – Toronto Star

KEY FACTS
  • 11 a.m.: Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips lands at Pearson after controversial holiday in the Caribbean

  • 10 a.m.: Ontario reports 3,328 new cases and 56 deaths, breaking records for the third day in a row

  • 8:40 a.m.: Police and FBI investigating after a Wisconsin hospital employee deliberately spoiled 500 doses of vaccine

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.

11 a.m.: Ontario’s finance minister says his future in cabinet is up to Premier Doug Ford after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation on Thursday.

Rod Phillips arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport Thursday morning after taking a holiday in St. Barts, despite provincial guidelines urging people to avoid non-essential travel.

Phillips has been in St. Barts since Dec. 13 and will quarantine in Ajax, Ont., for 14 days starting Thursday.

More to come.

10 a.m.: Ontario is reporting a third record day in a row for new COVID-19 infections, with the worst single-day death toll of the second wave, reports the Star’s Ed Tubb.

The province’s Thursday morning update lists another 3,328 new cases and 56 more deaths, both well above the previous highs since infections began rising again in September.

The long-term average for daily cases is up to 2,436 cases a day — also a record.

The previous record for cases was set on Wednesday, with 2,923. 49 deaths were reported Christmas Eve. The deadliest single day of the pandemic in Ontario was April 30, with 86 reported fatal cases.

Ontario is also reporting all-time highs in current hospitalizations (1,235) and patients in intensive care (337).

The province’s testing labs reported 63,858 completed tests, with positivity of 5.7 per cent.

Locally, the province is reporting 888 new cases in Toronto, 431 in Peel Region, 418 in York Region, 257 in Windsor-Essex, 194 in Ottawa and 156 in Hamilton — all single-day totals higher than the local health units’ recent averages.

Toronto Public Health releases its own daily count later in the afternoon.

According to the provincial data, Ontario has now administered 23,502 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 5,463 given Wednesday.

10 a.m.: A second round of COVID-19 testing is scheduled today for the crew of two Canadian Coast Guard vessels that are under lockdown in Dartmouth, N.S.

The coast guard said Wednesday all 44 crew members of CCGS Jean Goodwill and CCGS Hudson were initially tested Dec. 24 and were negative.

A second round of testing that begins today is optional; all 44 crew members are isolating aboard the vessels or at home.

The coast guard says the crew were exposed to COVID-19 from a contractor who had been working on the vessels.

Chris Bussey, with the union representing most crew members, says confusion over which ships had been exposed led to some members being released under the impression they didn’t have to isolate.

All crew members are being asked to isolate away from family and friends until Jan. 6.

9:30 a.m.: Pharmacies are pushing to get involved in Canada’s vaccination effort, pitching their expansive networks and experience with vaccine distribution as potential selling points.

Nationwide chains Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. and London Drugs Ltd. say they have had conversations with the federal and provincial governments about co-operating on vaccine distribution once the doses become more widely available, although there are currently no plans to do so.

“Pharmacies are ready and willing right now to help with that injection of those COVID vaccines,” said Chris Chiew, general manager of pharmacy for London Drugs. “We reach every single corner of each province of all of Canada, and by having all pharmacists involved, you’re actually able to get a larger percentage of the population in a faster period of time.”

A partnership with pharmacies could be a welcome opportunity for provincial health authorities in Canada, which face the daunting logistical task of distributing tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccinations in 2021.

So far, the government has tightly controlled distribution of COVID-19 vaccines since the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were administered in Canada on Dec. 14. But the federal government’s approval of Moderna’s vaccine last week, along with the expected approval of a number of other vaccine candidates in the coming months, means the distribution effort will soon ramp up.

The federal government has said it expects immunization for the general population to begin in April 2021.

8:40 a.m.: Police and federal authorities are investigating after an employee at a Wisconsin health system admitted to deliberately spoiling 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine.

Aurora Medical Center first reported that the doses has been spoiled on Saturday, saying they had been accidentally left out unrefrigerated overnight by an employee at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton. The health system said Wednesday that the doses of vaccine now appear to have been deliberately spoiled.

Police in Grafton, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) north of Milwaukee, said in a statement that the department, FBI and Food and Drug Administration are “actively” investigating the case. Police said they were notified of the alleged tampering Wednesday night.

Aurora said it has fired the employee and referred the matter to the authorities. The statement said nothing about a possible motive for the action.

“We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. We are more than disappointed that this individual’s actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine,” the statement said.

8:30 a.m.: Italy’s interior minister has ordered 70,000 law enforcement officers to patrol New Year’s Eve to ensure that no illegal gatherings take place.

Minister Luciana Lamorgese says this year’s celebrations will be “more sober” than usual, due to restrictions in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The country with the highest death toll in Europe, topping 73,000, is under a modified lockdown, permitting just one outing a day for up to two people to visit friends or family in the same region.

8 a.m.: A London, Ont., hospital has declared itself free of COVID-19 outbreaks after 23 deaths and more than 150 infections.

London Health Sciences Center says University Hospital is outbreak-free as of Dec. 30.

The hospital announced the news along with condolences to the families of the 23 patients who died from COVID-19 over the last several weeks.

In total, 92 staff members and 82 patient cases tested positive since Nov. 10. There were 11 unit-level outbreaks at University Hospital since that date.

7 a.m.: It is often dangerous to write when emotional, but nevertheless we are writing out of anger and sorrow over the inhumane treatment of one of the most venerable — and vulnerable — groups in our society: our elders, write Paul Rivett and Jordan Bitove, co-proprietors of Torstar.

Our dedicated reporters and columnists have been writing about the deplorable state of long-term care in Ontario for decades. There have been some changes over the years but, unfortunately, the situation continues to worsen with underfunding and overcrowding at Ontario’s long-term care facilities. There was a crisis before COVID-19 struck. Now it is a tragedy.

We are denying basic human rights to our senior citizens. They are entitled to all the rights and freedoms the rest of us enjoy. Yet the events at the Tendercare long-term care facility in Scarborough, just one example of the deadly tragedy unfolding in many such Ontario long-term care facilities, strikingly illustrate the liberties that are being taken with seniors’ rights and, ultimately, their lives.

Read the full editorial here: Enough is Enough: We demand change to the inhumane tragedy playing out in Ontario’s long-term care homes

7 a.m.: The retail business took a massive hit in 2020, writes Star columnist Susan Delacourt. So did retail politics.

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COVID-19 radically altered a lot of ideas about the government’s relationship with citizens — especially the idea that voters are mere consumers in the democratic marketplace.

The usual politics of giving people what they want turned into a conversation in 2020 about giving people what they needed.

Political leaders also had to ask for more than just the votes of citizens — they had to ask them to wear masks, wash their hands and radically change the way they lived and worked.

A pandemic, it turns out, is no time for soft-sell and the usual political spin, hard as that habit may be to break. Many leaders in Canada did, though.

Read Susan Delacourt’s full column here.

6:04 a.m. For the second consecutive day, the United Arab Emirates has shattered its single-day record of new coronavirus infections, with 1,730 cases recorded ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations expected to draw tens of thousands of revelers to Dubai from around the world.

The record figures come after the UAE said it detected its first known cases of the new, fast-spreading variant of the virus in people arriving from abroad.

5:15 a.m. Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, has surpassed 10,000 coronavirus deaths, officials announced Wednesday.

Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, called it a “terrible milestone” during a media briefing. Typically, about 170 people county wide die each day of various causes. The average number of deaths from COVID-19 alone is now 150 people a day.

“Most heartbreaking is that if we had done a better job of reducing transmission of the virus, many of these deaths would not have happened,” Ferrer said.

Officials on Wednesday reported 274 deaths and 10,392 new cases countywide. There are currently 7,415 people hospitalized, 20% of whom are in intensive care units.

5:04 a.m. Tokyo is seeing a record surge in coronavirus cases as the governor of the Japanese capital implored people to stay home.

“The coronavirus knows no year end or New Year’s holidays,” Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters.

She asked people to skip countdown ceremonies, and expressed concern people were out shopping in crowded stores.

“Please spend a quiet New Year’s with your family and stay home,” she said, switching to English for “stay home.”

She said the latest figures for Tokyo showed 1,300 new infections. The previous biggest daily number of cases for the capital was 949 people reported last Saturday.

Japan has had more than 230,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,000 deaths. Sixty-five of the deaths came on Wednesday, the health ministry said Thursday.

5 a.m. South Korea has enforced its toughest physical distancing rules at correctional facilities after a cluster of coronavirus infections flared at a Seoul prison.

The Justice Ministry says 918 people — 897 inmates and 21 staff — at Seoul’s Dongbu Detention Center have tested positive for the virus since one of the centre’s officials was found infected on Nov. 27. One of the infected inmates has died.

South Korea is struggling to contain a viral resurgence tied to a variety of sources such as nursing homes, churches, army bases and family gatherings. Earlier Thursday, South Korea reported 967 new virus cases, taking the country’s total to 60,740 with 900 deaths.

4 a.m.: Even after leading Saskatchewan’s Opposition for more than two years, the question Ryan Meili is still asked the most is why he left medicine for politics.

The NDP leader hasn’t completely stepped away from the profession. He’s trained to enter a field hospital or COVID-19 ward as part of the province recruiting health-care workers to the front lines of the pandemic.

In October, Meili ran in his first election campaign as party leader. The New Democrats were soundly defeated as Premier Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party won its fourth-straight majority with 48 out of 61 seats in the legislature.

“Interesting to know what people are thinking now,” said Meili, who was re-elected in Saskatoon Meewasin, unlike the two NDP leaders before him.

“I bet there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse out there from people who felt like this government said they took (COVID-19) seriously, was going to protect them, and clearly hasn’t.”

Thursday 4 a.m. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to have a “very tough conversation” with his finance minister today over a controversial Caribbean vacation.

The premier has said Rod Phillips is set to return today from St. Barts, where he has been since Dec. 13.

Ford said Wednesday he wasn’t told about the trip ahead of time, but did learn about it shortly after it began, and should have demanded Phillips return immediately.

He said it’s “unacceptable” for any public official to ignore the province’s COVID-19 guidelines, which urge residents to avoid non-essential travel.

Phillips said earlier this week he chose to go ahead with the trip not knowing the province would be placed under lockdown on Boxing Day.

He said he regrets the decision.

Wednesday 8:49 p.m.: Fifty-nine new members of the Order of Canada, including two promotions, were unveiled Wednesday. The list also includes front-line workers.

To view the full list, click here.

Click here to read more coverage from Wednesday.