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Coronavirus news and updates for Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Coronavirus news and updates for Wednesday, April 13, 2022

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.

8:39 p.m.: Toronto’s public school board is asking staff and students to wear masks amid a resurgence of COVID-19 in Ontario, while another board in the province looks to reinstate a mask mandate.

The Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest, says that although it takes its direction from the provincial government, which lifted mask mandates for most indoor spaces including schools on March 21, it’s requesting that all staff and students wear a well-fitting mask when indoors in schools.

It says the move will limit the spread of COVID-19 and help minimize disruption from COVID-19 related absences in schools, while noting it remains a “personal decision.”

The recommendation comes after the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board passed a motion requiring masks be worn inside its schools on Tuesday evening.

6:09 p.m.: As Ontario hospitals grapple with staffing pressures from the latest wave of COVID-19 cases, the provincial Opposition voiced concerns Wednesday that surgeries could again be cancelled, though health-care officials stressed that the current situation is manageable.

NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh pointed to recent comments by Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer, indicating that ICU admissions could reach 600 over the next several weeks of the sixth wave.

“When the ICUs fill up, hospitals have no choice but to redeploy critical staff resources away from surgeries,” she said in the legislature. “Why is this government continuing to claim that everything is fine when the risk of surgeries being cancelled is so high?”

Health Minister Christine Elliott said, however, that the risk of that happening is not high because the province has added hospital beds and now has antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19.

“Whatever happens with respect to the pandemic, we can continue to care for the people with COVID, but also to continue with those surgeries that many people have been waiting for a long period of time,” she said. “We don’t want them to have to wait any longer.”

6:07 p.m.: As a precaution against the latest wave of COVID-19, public school students in Nova Scotia will still have to wear masks in class until at least the Victoria Day long weekend in May, the Education Department announced Wednesday.

All students and staff will need to keep wearing masks inside schools and on school buses, Education Minister Becky Druhan told reporters, adding that the decision was made in consultation with public health officials.

“We’ve continued as we have throughout the course of the pandemic to make sure decisions around measures in schools are decisions that support the safety of students,” Druhan said.

Most public health restrictions, including mask-wearing in public spaces, ended in the province on March 21. Masking was maintained, however, in schools, health-care facilities and in long-term care and other congregate facilities.

6:06 p.m.: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise across Quebec, but there are some encouraging signs in the eastern parts of the province, interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau said Wednesday.

Parts of eastern Quebec such as the Gaspé peninsula and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine were hit harder and earlier by the sixth wave of COVID-19 compared with the province’s big cities. And at least in those more rural areas, the rate of transmission is declining, Boileau told reporters in Quebec City.

“We are still in the growth phase of the pandemic,” Boileau said of the current wave. “But there are a few encouraging signs, notably in the east.”

In late March, the Îles-de-la-Madeleine region reported a rate of COVID-19 transmission of more than 1,300 cases per 100,000 people. On Wednesday, officials said the rate was about 880 per 100,000. “It’s still increasing, but the rate is slowing down,” Boileau said.

2 p.m. Newfoundland and Labrador health officials are offering COVID-19 booster shots to teens and seniors 70 and older as officials report seven more deaths since Monday from the disease.

The province’s chief medical officer of health announced the plans today, saying she expects the majority of the population to become eligible for a second booster within the next few months.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says she estimates as many as 200,000 people in the province have contracted COVID-19 so far, which is about 38 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador’s 522,450 residents.

She says teens aged 12 to 17 are now eligible for a first booster dose, while seniors 70 and older and Indigenous people over 18 are eligible for a fourth shot.

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

Fitzgerald told reporters today students in K-12 schools will be required to mask for at least another month.

1:15 p.m. Stevenson Memorial Hospital (SMH) in Alliston has amended its visitor policy once again due to the increase of COVID-19 cases in the community.

“As we have now entered wave six of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to be cautious with the growing number of cases we are seeing daily,” said Jody Levac, hospital president and CEO.

“We know how important visitors are to a patient’s care journey and we will continue to allow visitors in a safe way. As always, adjustments to our visitor policy are made as we monitor trends in positivity rates at our COVID-19 Assessment Centre, our patients, staff, physicians and community.”

12:20 p.m. Health Canada says almost 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines held in a national inventory have expired since January.

That includes more than 420,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine that expired on Tuesday.

The 1.5 million expired doses amount to less than two per cent of the 118 million doses delivered to Canada since December 2020.

There are more than 18 million doses in Canada’s national stockpile at the moment, the vast majority of which will expire in the next four months.

Health Canada says that until late last year, demand for vaccines was largely in line with supply so very few doses expired before they were used.

12:05 p.m. Quebec is reporting more than 2,000 people in hospital with COVID-19 for the first time since mid-February.

Officials say there are 122 additional patients in hospital, bringing the estimated total to 2,060, as well as 13 more deaths from the disease.

The Health Department said 83 of the patients are in intensive care, an increase of 16.

Officials say the latest tally isn’t fully representative of the situation because the Health Department recently updated its policy for publishing data on hospitalizations, and adjustments could be made on Thursday.

11:40 a.m. The Biden administration will extend for two weeks the nationwide mask requirement for public transit as it monitors an uptick in COVID-19 cases, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was set to extend the order, which was to expire on April 18, by two weeks to monitor for any observable increase in severe virus outcomes as cases rise in parts of the country. The move was being made out of abundance of caution, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the CDC’s action. The requirement will now extend through May 3, 2022.

When the Transportation Security Administration, which enforces the rule for planes, buses, trains and transit hubs, extended the requirement last month, it said the CDC had been hoping to roll out a more flexible masking strategy that would have replaced the nationwide requirement.

The mask mandate is the most visible vestige of government restrictions to control the pandemic, and possibly the most controversial. A surge of abusive and sometimes violent incidents on airplanes has been attributed mostly to disputes over mask-wearing.

11:32 a.m. The trial of a man charged in Quebec’s Halloween night sword attack has been postponed until next week after a second juror tested positive for COVID-19.

Carl Girouard, 26, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the killings of Suzanne Clermont, 61, and François Duchesne, 56, in the historic Old Quebec district on Oct. 31, 2020.

He is also charged with five counts of attempted murder for allegedly injuring five other people with a sword that night.

11:30 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 182 people in ICU due to COVID-19 and 1,332 in hospital overall testing positive for COVID-19, according to its latest report released Wednesday morning.

Of the people hospitalized, 47 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 53 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive. For the ICU numbers, 61 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 40 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive.

The numbers represent 4.2 per cent decrease in the ICU COVID-19 count and a 2.5 per cent decrease in hospitalizations overall. 27 per cent of the province’s 2,343 adult ICU beds remain available for new patients.

Read the full story from the Star’s Erin LeBlanc

10:30 a.m. Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger has tested positive for COVID-19.

“He is experiencing symptoms and is following public health guidelines and self-isolating,” his office said in a statement Wednesday.

Ontario — including Hamilton — is in the sixth wave of the pandemic fuelled by the more transmissible BA.2 Omicron subvariant. Public Health Ontario has also linked the rise in cases to the removal of the province’s mask mandate on March 21.

10:06 a.m. The Bank of Canada has raised its key interest rate by half a percentage point to 1 per cent from 0.5 per cent, the first half-point hike in more than two decades amid soaring inflation.

10 a.m. Passengers on U.S. airlines and public transit will get their first chance in more than a year to travel without a mask next week, if the federal government sticks to its current plan to let a pandemic-era mandate expire.

President Joe Biden is being urged by transportation groups and state and local officials to allow the mask rule to end, after extending it for a month through April 18 as the Omicron variant added to the nation’s COVID case count. In recent weeks, cases have started to tick up and some local governments, like in Philadelphia, reimposed indoor mask wearing.

White House and Transportation Security Administration officials are talking with their counterparts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on whether to revise or extend the mask rule. The decision will have implications for the nation’s economy, health-care system and millions of daily commuters.

9:30 a.m. St. Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Elementary School is closing for two days due to insufficient staffing levels with a number of teachers either testing positive with COVID-19 or isolating due to COVID-19 protocols.

On Tuesday, a letter addressed to families and staff was sent home outlining reason for this decision during the Catholic Holy Week in the run-up to Easter. A number of students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

“The number of people currently isolating is such that we are experiencing challenges having enough staff to safely deliver program at St Teresa of Calcutta during this time,” the letter reads.

9:07 a.m. The number of new coronavirus cases and deaths reported to the World Health Organization fell for a third consecutive week, a trend likely helped by the dismantling of testing and surveillance programs.

In its latest weekly report on the pandemic, issued late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said the more than 7 million new cases reported represented a 24 per cent decline from a week earlier. The weekly worldwide number of COVID-19 deaths, was down 18 per cent, at over 22,000.

WHO said the decreases “should be interpreted with caution” as numerous countries where the virus is starting to subside have changed their testing strategies, meaning far fewer cases are being identified.

New cases and deaths are falling in every region of the world, including the Western Pacific, where a surge of infections has triggered severe lockdown measures in China.

7:45 a.m. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to resign after being fined for breaking his government’s pandemic lockdown rules, saying he would instead redouble efforts to strengthen the economy and combat Russian aggression in Ukraine.

London police fined Johnson and other people Tuesday for attending a birthday party thrown for the prime minister at his Downing Street offices on June 19, 2020. The penalty made Johnson the first British prime minister ever found to have broken the law while in office.

Gatherings of more than two people were banned in Britain at the time of the birthday party to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

7:30 a.m. Greece’s health minister announced Wednesday that most remaining coronavirus measures will be lifted over the next couple of months until the end of August, including the use of vaccine certificates for access to certain services and the mandatory use of masks indoors.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the need for vaccine certificates or negative COVID-19 tests will be lifted from May 1 to Aug. 31, and would be re-evaluated on Sept. 1. The use of masks indoors will no longer be mandatory as of June 1, he said, adding that some exceptions will remain, with details to be announced.

The requirement for regular self-tests for students and teachers to attend schools will also be lifted May 1, while any remaining restrictions on the number of people allowed into indoor areas will be lifted on the same day.

For the first time in two years, Greeks will also be able to celebrate Orthodox Easter, which falls on April 24 this year, with no restrictions on gatherings or attendance at churches or other public events. Plevris said the use of masks was still recommended for crowded outdoor events.

7:15 a.m. Residents of neighbourhoods hit hard by COVID-19 must be prioritized as the province expands its rollout of the antiviral Paxlovid, advocates and front-line community workers say.

The drug, which can help keep higher-risk people out of hospital, needs to be taken quickly — within a five-day window after the onset of symptoms — and requires skilled health-care workers to assess patients and guard against adverse medication interactions.

On Monday, the province announced expanded eligibility to testing and antiviral treatments for high-risk individuals as the sixth wave in Ontario continues to grow, with COVID-related hospitalizations reaching their highest level in seven weeks.

Read the full story from the Star’s Megan Ogilvie, Kenyon Wallace and May Warren

Wednesday 5:52 a.m.: A pill to treat COVID-19 appears to be the country’s best hope, outside of vaccines and strong public health measures, to keep hospitals from being overrun with cases of the virus now and in the future, doctors say.

But with infections surging across the country, experts say the patchwork distribution system for Paxlovid in various parts of Canada may inhibit those who most need the drug from getting it in time.

Paxlovid, an antiviral, has shown a 90 per cent reduction in hospitalizations among unvaccinated patients with the Delta variant who received the drug within five days of symptom onset.

Those who might need the drug the most would do well to learn ahead of time how they might access it, the country’s chief public health officer said this week.

“My message to all Canadians who may be at high risk, such as the immunocompromised: figure out in your community, right now, how you can get access to that medication should you need it because it is a bit different across different areas of Canada,” Dr. Theresa Tam said on Tuesday.

Read Tuesday’s coronavirus news.