Today’s coronavirus news: Nearly 20,000 Quebec residents vaccinated on Friday; Ontario reports 990 new infections and six virus-related deaths; U.S. Senate greenlights $1.9T virus relief bill

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.4:10 p.m.: Quebec continued to escalate its vaccination drive over the weekend, reporting Saturday that the past 24 hours had seen it deliver a single-day high of nearly 20,000 shots to its growing list of eligible residents.The 19,865 jabs administered on Friday mark the most the province has reported in a single day and come as vaccine shipments ramp up across Canada following numerous international shipment delays.To date, provincial figures show 532,012 doses of vaccine have been administered out of a total of 638,445 received from the federal government.Until recently, Quebec has concentrated its vaccination effort on particular groups such as health-care workers, people living in remote regions and seniors in long-term care facilities.The government began allowing members of the general public to schedule appointments to receive their vaccines recently, with eligibility varying by region. In Montreal and Laval, for example, people over the age of 70 can book appointments, while slots are restricted to people over 80 in other regions.More regions are scheduled to expand vaccine access to those in different age groups starting next week.In addition to the vaccine numbers, Quebec reported 749 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday along with 10 new deaths linked to the virus.Hospitalizations across the province declined by 16 to 601 over the past 24 hours, while the number of patients in intensive care declined by two to 109.4 p.m.: Three Atlantic Canadian provinces reported single-digit COVID-19 case counts on Saturday while urging residents to get tested for the virus.Health officials in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each reported six new cases, while Newfoundland and Labrador recorded two new infections.Nova Scotia public health said two of the province's new cases are travel-related, while the other four are connected to previously known infections."The case count is a little higher today but it's good to see that none of the new cases are from unknown sources," said Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin in a news release Saturday. "These numbers reinforce the importance of being tested and continuing adherence to public health guidelines."There are 29 active reported infections of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, officials said.Newfoundland and Labrador public health authorities said both infections announced Saturday have been traced to previously identified patients.The province is still reeling from an outbreak that spread through the St. John's region in mid-February. Officials say it was caused by the more easily transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom.There are 87 active cases in Newfoundland and Labrador, with three of those patients in hospital, including two in intensive care.In New Brunswick, public health authorities said they're still investigating the source of at least one of the six infections announced Saturday. There are 35 reported active infections of COVID-19 across New Brunswick, officials said.Prince Edward Island, which recently implemented a three-day lockdown in a bid to curb a rash of COVID-19 infections that emerged last weekend, did not release new case figures on Saturday.3:10 p.m.: Saskatchewan is reporting three new COVID-19 deaths among residents who tested positive for COVID-19.The province’s daily pandemic update says all three were from the Saskatoon zone and ranged in age from their 50s to their 80s.The update also notes there 163 new COVID-19 cases in the province today. Saskatchewan has 1,613 cases that are considered active, and 142 people currently in hospital with the virus.2:55 p.m.: Nunavut is reporting another four new cases of COVID-19 today.All are in Arviat, bringing the total number of active cases there to 21. The community is the only one in Nunavut with active cases.Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said Friday that despite the new cases, the outbreak in the community is contained.2:32 p.m.: The United States Senate has passed a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition, moving closer to a milestone political victory for President Joe Biden.The $1.9 trillion bill approved Saturday carries direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits and spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing. It also provides billions to states and cities, schools and ailing industries.Democrats say their “American Rescue Plan” will help the country defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health. Republicans criticize the measure as more expensive than necessary.The bill now heads to the House for final passage.2 p.m.: Manitoba is reporting one new COVID-19 death today — a woman in her 20s in the Winnipeg health region.The daily pandemic update from the province notes there were 66 new COVID-19 cases as of

Today’s coronavirus news: Nearly 20,000 Quebec residents vaccinated on Friday; Ontario reports 990 new infections and six virus-related deaths; U.S. Senate greenlights $1.9T virus relief bill

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.

4:10 p.m.: Quebec continued to escalate its vaccination drive over the weekend, reporting Saturday that the past 24 hours had seen it deliver a single-day high of nearly 20,000 shots to its growing list of eligible residents.

The 19,865 jabs administered on Friday mark the most the province has reported in a single day and come as vaccine shipments ramp up across Canada following numerous international shipment delays.

To date, provincial figures show 532,012 doses of vaccine have been administered out of a total of 638,445 received from the federal government.

Until recently, Quebec has concentrated its vaccination effort on particular groups such as health-care workers, people living in remote regions and seniors in long-term care facilities.

The government began allowing members of the general public to schedule appointments to receive their vaccines recently, with eligibility varying by region. In Montreal and Laval, for example, people over the age of 70 can book appointments, while slots are restricted to people over 80 in other regions.

More regions are scheduled to expand vaccine access to those in different age groups starting next week.

In addition to the vaccine numbers, Quebec reported 749 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday along with 10 new deaths linked to the virus.

Hospitalizations across the province declined by 16 to 601 over the past 24 hours, while the number of patients in intensive care declined by two to 109.

4 p.m.: Three Atlantic Canadian provinces reported single-digit COVID-19 case counts on Saturday while urging residents to get tested for the virus.

Health officials in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each reported six new cases, while Newfoundland and Labrador recorded two new infections.

Nova Scotia public health said two of the province's new cases are travel-related, while the other four are connected to previously known infections.

"The case count is a little higher today but it's good to see that none of the new cases are from unknown sources," said Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin in a news release Saturday. "These numbers reinforce the importance of being tested and continuing adherence to public health guidelines."

There are 29 active reported infections of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, officials said.

Newfoundland and Labrador public health authorities said both infections announced Saturday have been traced to previously identified patients.

The province is still reeling from an outbreak that spread through the St. John's region in mid-February. Officials say it was caused by the more easily transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom.

There are 87 active cases in Newfoundland and Labrador, with three of those patients in hospital, including two in intensive care.

In New Brunswick, public health authorities said they're still investigating the source of at least one of the six infections announced Saturday. There are 35 reported active infections of COVID-19 across New Brunswick, officials said.

Prince Edward Island, which recently implemented a three-day lockdown in a bid to curb a rash of COVID-19 infections that emerged last weekend, did not release new case figures on Saturday.

3:10 p.m.: Saskatchewan is reporting three new COVID-19 deaths among residents who tested positive for COVID-19.

The province’s daily pandemic update says all three were from the Saskatoon zone and ranged in age from their 50s to their 80s.

The update also notes there 163 new COVID-19 cases in the province today. Saskatchewan has 1,613 cases that are considered active, and 142 people currently in hospital with the virus.

2:55 p.m.: Nunavut is reporting another four new cases of COVID-19 today.

All are in Arviat, bringing the total number of active cases there to 21. The community is the only one in Nunavut with active cases.

Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said Friday that despite the new cases, the outbreak in the community is contained.

2:32 p.m.: The United States Senate has passed a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition, moving closer to a milestone political victory for President Joe Biden.

The $1.9 trillion bill approved Saturday carries direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits and spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing. It also provides billions to states and cities, schools and ailing industries.

Democrats say their “American Rescue Plan” will help the country defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health. Republicans criticize the measure as more expensive than necessary.

The bill now heads to the House for final passage.

2 p.m.: Manitoba is reporting one new COVID-19 death today — a woman in her 20s in the Winnipeg health region.

The daily pandemic update from the province notes there were 66 new COVID-19 cases as of 9:30 a.m., six of which are the variant originally found in the United Kingdom and three of which are a variant first detected in South Africa.

The update says Manitoba’s five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 3.1 per cent provincially and 2.2 per cent in Winnipeg.

There are 1,114 active COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, with 158 patients in hospital.

1:33 p.m. Ireland has given out half a million coronavirus vaccinations about two months after the first inoculation.

Prime Minister Micheal Martin says the health department announced the figure on Saturday. It includes both first and second doses and comes 63 days after the first shot was given to a Dublin senior citizen.

“Good news,” Martin tweeted. “The vaccines are having a significant impact on mortality and serious illness.”

Ireland has experienced a spike in infections at the start of the year after getting through the early days of the pandemic.

With a population of 4.8 million, Ireland has reported 222,169 cases and 4,405 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus. It’s one of the 10 European countries where the British variant of the virus is dominant.

1:15 p.m. New Brunswick health authorities are reporting six new cases of COVID-19.

Officials say all six patients are self-isolating and contact tracing is underway.

There are now 35 reported active COVID-19 infections in New Brunswick with three people in hospital, including two in intensive care.

Public health has confirmed 1,453 cases in the province since the onset of the pandemic, including 28 deaths.

12:34 p.m. An exhausted Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Saturday as President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies notched a victory they called crucial for hoisting the country out of the pandemic and economic doldrums.

After labouring through the night on a mountain of amendments — nearly all from Republicans and rejected — bleary-eyed senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote. That sets up final congressional approval by the House next week so lawmakers can send it to Biden for his signature.

“We tell the American people, help is on the way,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Citing the country’s desire to resume normalcy, he added, “Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.”

The huge package — its total spending is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire U.S. economy — is Biden’s biggest early priority. It stands as his formula for addressing the deadly virus and a limping economy, twin crises that have afflicted the country for a year.

Saturday’s vote was also a crucial political moment for Biden and Democrats, who need nothing short of party unanimity in a 50-50 Senate they run because of Vice-President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. They also have a a slim 10-vote edge in the House.

12 p.m. California has cleared a path for fans to hit the stands at opening-day baseball games and return to Disneyland nearly a year after coronavirus restrictions shuttered major entertainment spots.

The state on Friday relaxed guidelines for reopening outdoor venues as a fall and winter surge seemed to be ending, with COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths plummeting and vaccination rates rising.

New public health rules would allow live concerts at stadiums and sports arenas to reopen with limited attendance April 1. Amusement parks also will be permitted to reopen in counties that have fallen from the state’s purple tier — the most restrictive — to the red tier.

In all cases, park capacities will be limited, and COVID-19 safety rules such as mask-wearing requirements will apply.

11:25 a.m. Nova Scotia health officials are reporting six new cases of COVID-19 today.

Authorities say all six infections are connected to travel or to previously identified cases.

Public health says there are now 29 active reported cases of COVID-19 across the province, with two people in hospital with the disease.

There have been 1,657 infections reported in the province since the onset of the pandemic.

11:21 a.m. Quebec is reporting 749 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, along with 10 new deaths linked to the virus.

The province also says it administered 19,865 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, marking a new single-day high for Quebec’s immunization drive.

Hospitalizations in the province declined by 16 to 601 today, while the number of patients in intensive care decreased by two to 109.

10:44 a.m. Ontario is reporting comparatively low COVID-19 case figures today, logging 990 new infections and six virus-related deaths over the past 24 hours.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 284 new cases in Toronto, 173 in Peel Region, and 82 in York Region.

Two of those long-standing hotspots, Toronto and Peel, are due to rejoin the province’s COVID-19 response framework at the grey lockdown level starting on Monday.

The province is also reporting a single-day high of 39,698 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered since Friday’s update.

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