Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 1,723 cases, 35 new deaths; U.K. first to OK Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use; Retailers ask Ontario government to lift restrictions – Toronto Star

KEY FACTS
  • 10:33 a.m. Quebec tightens rules for malls, stores amid high COVID-19 cases

  • 10:08 a.m. Ontario is reporting 1,723 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday

  • 6:10 a.m.: Italy’s health minister says that Italy will distribute 202.6 million doses of vaccines during 2021

  • 6:05 a.m.: British officials authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

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.

12 p.m.: The Ontario government has sent two dozen contact tracers to Windsor, Ont., as public health officials there grapple with numerous COVID-19 outbreaks and warn the region is on the verge of entering lockdown.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex, says the region is sending daily updates to the province on the state of 17 active outbreaks.

The region entered the red level of the province’s tiered, colour-coded pandemic response framework on Monday.

Two weeks earlier, it had entered the yellow level, before advancing to orange.

Ahmed says the impact on schools is of particular concern, with two elementary schools currently closed due to outbreaks.

At one school, 29 students and nine staff tested positive for the virus.

Ahmed says school outbreaks are a symptom of community spread, so if the region can’t control the virus, more schools could be forced to close.

He says the region’s proximity to the U.S.-Canada border is also an issue.

The Windsor-Essex Public Health unit recorded 41 new cases of COVID-19 today, along with two new deaths.

The province as a whole, meanwhile, is reporting 1,723 new cases of COVID-19 today, and 35 new deaths due to the virus.

12 p.m.: In Ontario’s long-term care homes, 664 residents currently have COVID-19 and 22 new deaths have been reported today.

The province says 111 of its 626 long-term care homes are experiencing an outbreak.

11:10 a.m.: Quebec is reporting a record number of new daily COVID-19 cases, with 1,514 infections added today.

The Health Department also reported 43 new deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, including nine in the past 24 hours.

The province’s previous high for daily cases was reported Saturday, when the province hit 1,480 new cases.

Hospitalizations have increased by 21 for a total of 740, with one more patient in intensive care for a total of 99.

11:05 a.m.: Ontario is reporting an additional 166 cases in public schools across the province, bringing the total in the last two weeks to 1,386 and 5,024 overall since school began.

In its latest data released Wednesday morning, the province reported 140 more students were infected for a total of 1,144 in the last two weeks; since school began there have been an overall total of 3,234.

The data shows there are 26 more staff members infected for a total of 241 the last two weeks — and an overall total of 702.

There are 742 schools with a reported case, which is 15.37 per cent of the 4,828 public schools in Ontario.

Six schools were closed because of an outbreak. The data doesn’t indicate where they are.

There is a lag between the daily provincial data at 10:30 a.m. and news reports about infections in schools. The provincial data on Wednesday is current as of 2 p.m. Tuesday. It doesn’t indicate where the place of transmission occurred.

The Toronto District School Board updates its information on current COVID-19 cases throughout the day on its website. As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, there were 368 students infected, 70 staff and 440 resolved cases.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board also updates its information on its website. As of 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, there were 68 schools with at least one active case. There are 117 active student cases and 24 staff.

Epidemiologists have told the Star that the rising numbers in the schools aren’t a surprise, and that the cases will be proportionate to the amount of COVID that is in the community.

11 a.m.: Quebec public health authorities are introducing new rules for shoppers in malls and other stores during the busy holiday season amid growing COVID-19 concerns.

Deputy premier Genevieve Guilbault made the announcement today in Quebec City, saying businesses will have to enforce strict limits on the number of people allowed inside beginning Friday.

She says the maximum capacity will be set depending on the store’s total surface area, and that number must be clearly posted.

Distancing and the wearing of masks must also be enforced for clients waiting in line, and Guilbault says those not respecting the rules could be subject to fines of between $1,000 and $6,000.

Enforcement will fall to mall owners and store owners, she said.

On Tuesday, Premier Francois Legault said the province’s plan to allow for two gatherings during a four-day window around Christmas could be in peril as the number of hospitalizations in the province reached its highest point since June and new infections remained high.

10:49 a.m. A coalition of about 50 retailers is calling on the Ontario government to lift COVID-19 restrictions for non-essential stores it claims is making things worse.

In an open letter to Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott, the retailers argue that shutting down Toronto and Peel Region to restrict the virus’s spread hasn’t reduced the number of shoppers.

Instead, consumers are funnelled into fewer, crowded stores and adjacent communities, which potentially creates greater health risk.

The retailers say the current policy pushes more consumers to big-box and discount stores that remain open after being deemed essential, while thousands of small, independent and local stores are closed despite selling many of the same products.

They say they have been forced to lay off workers instead of employing thousands of temporary people to handle the holiday sales rush.

The business leaders are calling on the government to immediately open all retail stores in the province and impose a 25 per cent capacity limit on non-essential stores in lockdown regions.

“Large and small retailers need each other to create a vibrant retail ecosystem,” said the letter signed by the heads of companies including Hudson’s Bay, Canadian Tire, Birks and Ikea.

“Collectively, we are asking that you join with us in common cause and a shared commitment to keeping Ontario families safe and secure through this extraordinarily challenging period.”

The provincial government responded by noting the restrictions are aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians.

10:35 a.m. Stocks fell in morning trading as investors eased off a fresh set of record highs reached on optimism that coronavirus vaccines could soon start driving a stronger economic recovery.

The S&P 500 slipped 0.2 per cent just a day after opening December with a bang. It closed at a record high of 3,662.45 on Tuesday.

The Nasdaq composite, which also opened the month with a new record, shed 0.5 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 73 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 29750 as of 10:15 a.m. Eastern time.

Technology companies were the biggest drag on the market. Salesforce.com sunk 8.6 per cent after announcing a deal late Tuesday to buy messaging platform Slack for $27.7 billion. Microsoft fell 1.1 per cent . The sector has been leading the market higher since the pandemic started wreaking havoc on the global economy, but hopes for a vaccine and return to economic normalcy have been shifting money toward companies whose profits are more closely tied to the economy’s strength.

10:33 a.m. Quebec’s deputy premier says that beginning Friday, stores and malls will have to enforce strict limits on the number of people allowed inside if they want to remain open.

Genevieve Guilbault says maximum capacity will be set according to a store’s total surface area, and the allowable number of customers will be clearly posted.

Distancing and mask-wearing must also be enforced for customers waiting in line, and Guilbault says those not respecting the rules could be subject to fines of between $1,000 and $6,000.

Guilbault says the situation remains fragile in Quebec, hinting that COVID-19 numbers to be released later this morning will show that.

10:08 a.m. (will be updated) Ontario is reporting 1,723 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 35 new deaths due to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 500 new cases in Peel Region, 410 cases in Toronto, and 196 cases in York Region.

The province says it has conducted 44,226 tests since the last daily report.

In total, 656 people are hospitalized in Ontario due to COVID-19, including 183 in intensive care.

The province is also reporting that 106 people are on ventilators in hospital.

9:30 a.m. Three promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates may have spurred optimism from investors, but Royal Bank of Canada’s chief executive is warning the country is not rid of its pandemic troubles yet.

Dave McKay told analysts Wednesday that the economy could still suffer some blows as the globe grapples with uncertainty around how soon people will be injected with Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca’s vaccines.

“The economy has rebounded well to date,” he said on a call to discuss the bank’s fourth-quarter earnings.

“But given the emergence of the second wave of COVID-19 in our core markets, we expect economic growth to slip over the next couple of quarters and project Canadian economic growth to end 2020 down over 5 per cent.”

McKay’s warnings came as his bank beat analyst expectations and managed to report higher fourth-quarter profits than those prior to the pandemic.

The bank said it earned nearly $3.25 billion or $2.23 per diluted share for the quarter ended Oct. 31, up from nearly $3.21 billion or $2.18 per diluted share a year earlier.

On an adjusted basis, RBC says it earned $2.27 per diluted share for its latest quarter, up from an adjusted profit of $2.22 per diluted share a year ago.

9 a.m. The New Brunswick government is extending ferry service to Campobello Island until the end of the month to help address residents’ pandemic concerns.

Residents of the Canadian island — which is connected by a bridge to the state of Maine — want a year-round ferry service so they don’t have to enter the United States in order to get to the New Brunswick mainland.

The seasonal ferry service ended Sunday after it had already been extended from September to help address concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have negotiated with the private company to continue that service to the end of December,” Transportation Minister Jill Green said in an interview Tuesday.

She confirmed the province will subsidize the private ferry service — run by East Coast Ferries — until the end of the month but would not say how much is being spent because negotiations were ongoing. The extended service will operate four days a week, weather permitting.

The extension falls short of the year-round service that residents have been seeking.

“The premier promised he would set up a committee or a study to take to the federal government to help us, so the federal government could get involved,” Campobello resident Ulysse Robichaud said. “The plan that he said he was going to work on for us hasn’t done a thing.”

8:51 a.m. Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Italian club says Prandelli is self-isolating and that the rest of the squad will now go into a “bubble” in accordance with protocol.

The 63-year-old Prandelli is in his second spell at Fiorentina and has been in charge for less than a month. He replaced Giuseppe Iachini.

Fiorentina has lost both of its league matches under the former Italy coach.

8:35 a.m. Cracks are beginning to show in Alberta’s hospitals as the health-care system buckles under the pressure of a soaring number of COVID-19 cases, making staff resort to unconventional measures such as “double bunking” in intensive care units.

Doctors are concerned there will not be enough health-care workers, and in some cases crucial supplies such as oxygen, to take care of patients in critical condition.

On Monday, several Alberta health-care workers tweeted a memo from Alberta Health Services to staff in the Calgary Zone adult acute-care sites which said there was a need to “reduce the demand on the bulk oxygen system” due to limitations at some acute-care sites in Calgary.

Read the full story from the Star’s Omar Mosleh

8:29 a.m. AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli has recovered from the coronavirus and will be back on the sidelines for Thursday’s Europa League match against Celtic.

Milan said on Wednesday that the latest tests for COVID-19 carried out on Pioli and his assistant Giacomo Murelli were negative.

Pioli, who has been self-isolating at home since testing positive on Nov. 14, will also take charge of Wednesday’s training session.

Without its coach, Milan won two league matches and drew its Europa League game against Lille. The Rossoneri are top of Serie A and second in their Europa League group.

7:50 a.m. Three Newmarket schools reported new cases of COVID-19 Dec. 1.

Armitage Village Public School and Newmarket High School each have a case of the virus, and Dr. J.M. Denison Secondary School has one new case, two in total.

Two schools in Richmond Hill have new cases.

Beynon Fields Public School reported one new case, three in total, and Richmond Green Secondary School reported one more case, making its total confirmed number five, while the school remains open.

Five schools in Markham have new cases.

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Three elementary schools — Coppard Glen, Cornell Village, and Unionville Meadows public schools — each have two confirmed cases.

Markham District High School has a new case, three in total, and Wismer Public School has a case.

Two Vaughan schools also have new cases of COVID-19.

Maple Creek Public School reported a new case of the virus and has two cases in total, and Father John Kelly Catholic Elementary School has two confirmed cases and two closed classrooms.

In Thornhill, Rosedale Heights Public School has one confirmed case, and Willowbrook Public School has two new cases.

7:45 a.m. York Region’s weekend COVID-19 enforcement blitz has wrapped up with a total of 1,039 inspections and 42 charges against residents and businesses.

Promenade Mall in Vaughan was issued four charges along with several stores in the mall, including Miniso and Dollarama, for not actively monitoring compliance with capacity limits at all entrances.

Fines against Miniso and Dollarama were $880 each.

The Promenade was also charged for failing to ensure patrons maintained distance while lining up outside, for a total of $1,760 in fines.

Jolly Bee Foods at the Promenade was fined $880 for failing to ensure patrons maintained physical distancing of at least two metres from other groups of persons while lining up outside.

Two large grocery chains — Longo’s at 2810 Major Mackenzie Dr. and T&T at Promenade Mall were also charged $880 each, as were Dollarama stores at the Promenade and 1400 Major Mackenzie in Vaughan, for failing to actively monitor compliance with capacity limits at all entrances.

“There is currently a high incidence of COVID-19 in our communities and every trip outside the home increases your chances of coming into close contact with someone who has the virus,” said York Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karim Kurji.

York Region Council directed the newly formed enforcement task force to step up its inspection activity over the weekend, beginning with the busy Black Friday shopping season.

It was a way to send a strong message to those who choose not to comply with public health measures, said York Region chairperson and CEO Wayne Emmerson.

“We must all do our part to bring case numbers down,” Emmerson said.

7:30 a.m. The best way to prioritize who should get a COVID-19 vaccine, after high-risk, high-priority individuals get first crack, is to go by age not by underlying health condition, says Canada’s top public health adviser.

“We know that underlying health conditions puts people at high risk,” said chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam. “But when you actually analyze all the different underlying medical conditions and the age it still comes out that the age is in fact the most important (factor) when you look at severe illness and mortality.”

“The age group, based on all analysis, is actually the easiest and the most scientifically sound way” of increasing population coverage for vaccines after the first four priority groups’ needs are met, she said.

It’s the first time Tam has set out a possible sequence for vaccination of next-in-line groups after the first-in-line priority groups are immunized.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tonda MacCharles

6:10 a.m.: Italy’s health minister told lawmakers on Wednesday that Italy will distribute 202.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines during 2021 in “an unprecedented effort that will require a huge collective commitment.’’

Robert Speranza said the vaccines will not be mandatory, but that the doses allotted Italy through an EU collective purchasing agreement would be “enough to potentially vaccinate the entire population.”

Speranza emphasized that the distribution of the vaccines would depend on regulatory approval which was still pending from the European Medicines Agency.

The first vaccines are expected to arrive in January with Pfizer’s vaccine expected to get first EMA approval by Dec. 29 and Moderna by Jan. 12. Priority will be given first to Italy’s front-line health care workers, then residents of nursing homes, then to elderly over 80 before moving to other groups like people with medical risks, law enforcement, teachers and prison workers.

Speranza said the vaccines provide “a message of hope” in the pandemic, which has killed more than 55,000 Italians, but that “prudence and caution are still needed.”

6:09 a.m.: South Korean officials are urging people to remain at home if possible and cancel gatherings large and small as around half a million students prepared for a crucial national college exam.

Vice Education Minister Park Baeg-beom says the 490,000 applicants so far include 35 virus carriers who will take exams Thursday at hospitals or treatment shelters. Education authorities have also prepared separate venues for some 400 applicants currently under self-quarantine.

Applicants will be required to wear masks and maintain distance from each other. They will be screened for fever and take exams separately if they have symptoms.

Park Yu-mi, an anti-virus official in Seoul, pleaded with people to cancel all gatherings of more than 10, and for companies to half at least one-third of their employees work from home to ensure a safe environment for Thursday’s examination.

The country on Wednesday reported 511 new infections, continuing a weekslong resurgence centred around the greater capital area that brought the national caseload to 35,163, including 526 deaths.

6:08 a.m.: Japan’s parliament on Wednesday approved revised vaccination legislation to accommodate smooth distribution and administration of coronavirus vaccines for all citizens to fight the pandemic.

The government aims to secure vaccines enough for all 126 million Japanese by the first half of next year.

Under the law, the people are required to make efforts to receive the coronavirus vaccine as part of their co-operation in fighting the pandemic. Local municipalities will carry out inoculations for free, with priority given to the elderly and those with underlying health issues.

The government hopes to start vaccination during the first half of next year, ahead of the Summer Olympics that has been postponed until July due to the pandemic.

The enactment comes as Japan struggles with a resurgence of the infections, with rapid increase of serious cases burdening medical systems. Tokyo, Osaka and several other cities have seen rapid spikes of cases.

Nationwide, Japan has had 2,172 deaths as of Wednesday.

6:08 a.m.: French Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced that “random border checks” will be put in place over the holiday season targeting French skiers trying to get to foreign resorts, particularly in Switzerland.

“The goal is to avoid French citizens getting contaminated. That will be done by putting in random border checks,” Castex said on BFM TV Wednesday.

He said the controls will include virus tests and a seven-day quarantine will be imposed on returning French skiers.

On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron had indicated that the government was considering taking “restrictive and dissuasive measures” to prevent the French from going abroad to ski, especially in Switzerland, at Christmas.

France will apply restrictions to prevent vacationers from going to ski resorts abroad and French slopes will remain closed during the Christmas period amid the coronavirus pandemic Macron said.

6:07 a.m.: Germany on Wednesday reported a record 487 new coronavirus deaths — the country’s highest daily toll since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The country’s disease control centre also said 17,270 people had contracted the virus in the last 24 hours.

The country’s health minister said Tuesday that daily death numbers are way too high and reminded his compatriots that behind every single number there’s a tragedy and a human life lost. Germany has seen 17,123 people die in the pandemic,

Germany implemented a so-called “lock down light” about month ago with schools and stores remaining open. That has led to a stagnation of new infections, but the numbers have not been going down again like in other European countries which have had much stricter anti-corona measures in recent weeks.

Germany is waiting for approval of an anti-COVID vaccine by the end of the year, and has started setting up mass vaccination centres across the country that are supposed to be ready within two weeks.

6:05 a.m.: British officials authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Wednesday, green-lighting the world’s first shot against the virus that’s backed by rigorous science and taking a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic.

The go-ahead for the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech comes as the virus surges again in the United States and Europe, putting pressure on hospitals and morgues in some places and forcing new rounds of restrictions that have devastated economies.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses drugs in the U.K., recommended the vaccine could be used after it reviewed the results of clinical trials that showed the vaccine was 95 per cent effective overall — and that it also offered significant protection for older people, among those most at risk of dying from the disease. But the vaccine remains experimental while final testing is done.

“Help is on its way,’’ British Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC, adding that the situation would start to improve in the spring.

“We now have a vaccine. We’re the first country in the world to have one formally clinically authorized but, between now and then, we’ve got to hold on, we’ve got to hold our resolve,” he said.

Other countries aren’t far behind: Regulators in the United States and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with a similar vaccine made by competitor Moderna Inc. British regulators also are considering another shot made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Read the story from the Assoicated Press here.

6 a.m.: Nunavut’s two-week lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to end today as the territory continues to see a drop in new cases.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said earlier this week that schools, businesses and workplaces could reopen.

Restrictions are to lift in all communities except Arviat, which has 76 active cases and will remain shut down for at least two more weeks.

Patterson says that’s because his team hasn’t determined if community transmission there is ongoing.

The Canadian Red Cross is on the ground in Arviat to help people self-isolate and to contact trace.

Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove, in the same region as Arviat along the west cost of Hudson Bay, still have active COVID-19 cases, but no evidence of community transmission.

Nunavut had 93 active infections and 89 recovered cases on Tuesday for a total of 182.

The territory had not had any cases at all until early November.