Today’s coronavirus news: Europe records 1M coronavirus cases last week; Speedy variants power virus surge across Europe; U.S. Senate works through night with virus aid on path to passage

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.10:02 a.m. Just as it did during the Second World War, Canada had no choice but to bring out the big spending guns to combat a COVID-19 pandemic that’s still raging around the globe, many economists say.And, just as it did after the Second World War, the country could come out of this massively expensive conflict with a better economy than it had going in.“It sort of reminds me of 1939,” says University of Toronto economist Peter Dungan.“War with Germany breaks out (and worried about the economy) somebody says, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to accumulate this huge amount of debt (and their solution is) let’s just surrender,’ ” he says of the absurd idea.“If you worry about hobbling debt, then that’s what you do,” he says. You don’t provide CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) and the other things and you just let people suffer, Dungan said.Jennifer Robson, a political management expert at Ottawa’s Carleton University dismisses any suggestion that the massive COVID-19 debt could have been avoided.“I just want to be clear. The proposal is that we should not have given people income support, we should not have provided wage subsidies, we should not have done transfers to provinces for safe restart agreements, we should not have purchased vaccines?” Robson asks incredulously. “That’s the counter argument?”Mark Kamstra, an economist with York University’s Schulich School of Business, agrees the debt was unavoidable.“We always have choices,” Kamstra says. “We just chose not to allow hundreds of thousands of people to die or suffer...and I think we made the right one,” he says.Still, there are fears among Canadians that the nation’s gross debt, forecast to balloon from $1.249 trillion in 2020 to more than $1.572 trillion this year, will hobble our economy for future generations.Read the full story on why economists are saying Canada shouldn’t sweat the $1.6-trillion debt brought on by the pandemic. 8:30 a.m. Like every criminal court case that has shifted online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is an offence, under Section 136 of the Courts of Justice Act, for anyone to copy, record, publish, broadcast or disseminate any portion of a hearing without the court’s permission.Judges are advised to deliver the warning at the start of each virtual hearing, and many do. But, clearly, not everyone is listening.Just last week, photos of a Toronto judge presiding over a preliminary hearing in a murder case and the accused, another local rapper, were posted online. More troubling, an audio recording of the prosecution’s main witness testifying also appeared on a popular website devoted to underground music and culture — a post provoking abusive comments.The case drew a crowd. An estimated 250 people initially joined the Zoom call, which was punctuated with outbursts from virtual spectators calling the witness a “rat” after the judge had signed off.After the posts came to his attention, the judge issued an order excluding the public except for family members of both the accused and deceased, members of the media, and lawyers. All were required to provide proof of identification before being allowed to access the Zoom call.Even that didn’t prevent someone from posting images virtual court — again.Read the full story from the Star’s Betsy Powell on how Ontario courts are struggling to stop illegal sharing of jailhouse images and witness testimony here.8 a.m. Europe recorded 1 million new coronavirus cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline, according to the World Health Organization.Among the hard-hit places is the Milan suburb of Bollate, where the virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school with alarming speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members tested positive.Genetic analysis confirmed it was the highly contagious variant first identified in England late last year. The surge is leading to new restrictions across the continent.Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, says the spread of variants is driving the increase, but so is “the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”The British variant is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 by the agency’s count: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.7:31 a.m. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff says he is “very skeptical” about prospects of people travelling at Easter but expects the situation will have changed by late May.Merkel and Germany’s state governors this week agreed to extend lockdown measures until March 28, while laying down a roadmap for relaxing some rules in areas with relatively low infections. But many issues have yet to be add

Today’s coronavirus news: Europe records 1M coronavirus cases last week; Speedy variants power virus surge across Europe; U.S. Senate works through night with virus aid on path to passage

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

10:02 a.m. Just as it did during the Second World War, Canada had no choice but to bring out the big spending guns to combat a COVID-19 pandemic that’s still raging around the globe, many economists say.

And, just as it did after the Second World War, the country could come out of this massively expensive conflict with a better economy than it had going in.

“It sort of reminds me of 1939,” says University of Toronto economist Peter Dungan.

“War with Germany breaks out (and worried about the economy) somebody says, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to accumulate this huge amount of debt (and their solution is) let’s just surrender,’ ” he says of the absurd idea.

“If you worry about hobbling debt, then that’s what you do,” he says. You don’t provide CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) and the other things and you just let people suffer, Dungan said.

Jennifer Robson, a political management expert at Ottawa’s Carleton University dismisses any suggestion that the massive COVID-19 debt could have been avoided.

“I just want to be clear. The proposal is that we should not have given people income support, we should not have provided wage subsidies, we should not have done transfers to provinces for safe restart agreements, we should not have purchased vaccines?” Robson asks incredulously. “That’s the counter argument?”

Mark Kamstra, an economist with York University’s Schulich School of Business, agrees the debt was unavoidable.

“We always have choices,” Kamstra says. “We just chose not to allow hundreds of thousands of people to die or suffer...and I think we made the right one,” he says.

Still, there are fears among Canadians that the nation’s gross debt, forecast to balloon from $1.249 trillion in 2020 to more than $1.572 trillion this year, will hobble our economy for future generations.

Read the full story on why economists are saying Canada shouldn’t sweat the $1.6-trillion debt brought on by the pandemic.

8:30 a.m. Like every criminal court case that has shifted online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is an offence, under Section 136 of the Courts of Justice Act, for anyone to copy, record, publish, broadcast or disseminate any portion of a hearing without the court’s permission.

Judges are advised to deliver the warning at the start of each virtual hearing, and many do. But, clearly, not everyone is listening.

Just last week, photos of a Toronto judge presiding over a preliminary hearing in a murder case and the accused, another local rapper, were posted online. More troubling, an audio recording of the prosecution’s main witness testifying also appeared on a popular website devoted to underground music and culture — a post provoking abusive comments.

The case drew a crowd. An estimated 250 people initially joined the Zoom call, which was punctuated with outbursts from virtual spectators calling the witness a “rat” after the judge had signed off.

After the posts came to his attention, the judge issued an order excluding the public except for family members of both the accused and deceased, members of the media, and lawyers. All were required to provide proof of identification before being allowed to access the Zoom call.

Even that didn’t prevent someone from posting images virtual court — again.

Read the full story from the Star’s Betsy Powell on how Ontario courts are struggling to stop illegal sharing of jailhouse images and witness testimony here.

8 a.m. Europe recorded 1 million new coronavirus cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline, according to the World Health Organization.

Among the hard-hit places is the Milan suburb of Bollate, where the virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school with alarming speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members tested positive.

Genetic analysis confirmed it was the highly contagious variant first identified in England late last year. The surge is leading to new restrictions across the continent.

Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, says the spread of variants is driving the increase, but so is “the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”

The British variant is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 by the agency’s count: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.

7:31 a.m. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff says he is “very skeptical” about prospects of people travelling at Easter but expects the situation will have changed by late May.

Merkel and Germany’s state governors this week agreed to extend lockdown measures until March 28, while laying down a roadmap for relaxing some rules in areas with relatively low infections. But many issues have yet to be addressed.

Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told the Funke newspaper group in an interview published Saturday that he is “very skeptical as far as travel at Easter is concerned.” Easter falls on the first weekend in April this year.

But he said he expects “that we can talk in a significantly more relaxed way about travel and leisure from Whitsun,” on May 23.

7:23 a.m. The Senate worked through the night and past sunrise Saturday on Democrats' showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill after a deal between leaders and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin on emergency jobless benefits broke a logjam that had stalled the package.

The compromise, announced by Manchin, D-W.Va., and a Democratic aide late Friday and backed by President Joe Biden, cleared the way for the Senate to begin a marathon series of votes on amendments before eventual approval of the sweeping legislation. The bill then would return to the House, which was expected to give it final congressional approval and send it to Biden to sign.

Biden’s foremost legislative priority is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the economy back to health. It would provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance.

Shortly before midnight, the Senate began to take up a variety of amendments in rapid-fire fashion. The votes were mostly on Republican proposals virtually certain to fail but designed to force Democrats into politically awkward votes. It was unclear how long into the weekend the “vote-a-rama” would last.

By daybreak Saturday, senators had worked through more than a dozen amendments without substantially changing the overall package.

The lengthy standoff underscored the headaches confronting party leaders over the next two years — and the tensions between progressives and centrists — as they try moving their agenda through the Congress with their slender majorities.

7:11 a.m. Sydney’s annual iconic Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras went ahead on Saturday, only in a different format due to coronavirus restrictions.

It was being held at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where people can socially distance in their seats rather than on the traditional route down Oxford Street.

Up to 23,000 spectators will be allowed in the stands while the performers will be on the pitch.

Organizers say this year’s parade will move away from the traditional large floats and instead focus on the outlandish pageantry of costumes, puppetry and props. Face masks will be mandatory for participants and there will be temperature checks and screening at entry points.

Meanwhile, LGBTQI rights protesters have been given the green light to march down Oxford Street in a separate event before the parade. Health officials in New South Wales state agreed to make an exception to the 500-person limit on public gatherings after organizers agreed to enhanced contact-tracing processes.

7 a.m. The virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school in the Milan suburb of Bollate with amazing speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members had tested positive.

Genetic analysis confirmed what officials already suspected: The highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in England was racing through the community, a densely packed city of nearly 40,000 with a chemical plant and Pirelli bicycle tire factory a 15-minute drive from the heart of Milan.

“This is the demonstration that the virus has a sort of intelligence, even if it is a single-cell organism. We can put up all the barriers in the world and imagine that they work, but in the end, it adapts and penetrates them,’’ lamented Bollate Mayor Francesco Vassallo.

Bollate was the first city in Lombardy, the northern region that has been the epicenter in each of Italy’s three surges, to be sealed off from neighbours because of mutant versions that the World Health Organization says are now powering another uptick in infections across Europe. The variants also include versions first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Europe recorded 1 million new COVID-19 cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline, WHO said Thursday.

“The spread of the variants is driving the increase, but not only,’’ said Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, citing “also the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”

The so-called U.K. variant is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 by the agency's count: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.

It is up to 50% more transmissible than the virus that surged last spring and again in the fall, making it more adept at thwarting measures that were previously effective, WHO experts warned.

Saturday 5 a.m. The Dalai Lama, the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, was administered the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine on Saturday at a hospital in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala.

After receiving the injection, he urged people to come forward, be brave and get vaccinated.

“In order to prevent some serious problems, this injection is very, very helpful,” he said.

Dr. G.D. Gupta of Zonal Hospital, where the shot was administered, told reporters that the Dalai Lama was observed for 30 minutes afterward. “He offered to come to the hospital like a common man to get himself vaccinated,” he said.

Ten other people who live in the Dalai Lama's residence were also vaccinated, Gupta said. All eleven received the Covishield vaccine, which was developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and manufactured by India's Serum Institute.

Friday 7:20 p.m. B.C. is reporting 634 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 83,107 cases since the pandemic began in the province, The Canadian Press reports.

There have also been four new deaths, pushing the death toll from the virus to 1,380 in B.C., according to CP.

Four new cases have been confirmed to be variants of concern, bringing the total to 250, of which 222 are the strain first found in the U.K. and 28 are the variant first detected in South Africa.

Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Minister, Adrian Dix, say this has been a week of progress, as the province gets ready to begin age-based immunizations and integrate the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine into its program.

Henry and Dix say the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be another tool in its program that will help accelerate protection of people in B.C.

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

Source : Toronto Star More