Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 10 deaths and 1,631 more cases, the biggest increase in a month; Toronto, Peel Region move into grey zone

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Monday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.10:05 a.m. (updated): Ontario is reporting 1,631 COVID-19 cases Mon., with 10 deaths.It’s the highest daily increase since Feb. 5 when 1,670 more cases were recorded. The seven-day average is up to 1,155 cases daily or 56 weekly per 100,000, and up to 13.0 deaths per day.Labs report 38,063 completed tests with a 3.4 per cent positivity rate.Locally, there are 568 new cases in Toronto, 322 in Peel and 119 in York Region.9:30 a.m. Students in Michigan’s largest school district returned to classrooms for in-person learning Monday for the first time in months.Detroit schools stopped face-to-face learning in November because of rising COVID-19 infection rates in the city. High schools statewide were also told to suspend in-person learning at that time.Despite the resumption of in-person classes, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said many teachers have declined to participate. Teachers who agree to work inside classrooms will get a quarterly bonus of $750.Vitti said online learning has been a challenge for many students but still will be offered.“Some are doing well but many have been disengaged, have become chronically absent, have disconnected completely,” he said.The district has about 50,000 students. Detroit families also send children to charter schools or schools outside the city.9:20 a.m. Public health measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 are loosening across New Brunswick Monday as the province shifts to the "yellow" level of its pandemic response plan.Under the new restrictions, residents can expand their circle of regular contacts from 10 to 15 people with whom they can visit restaurants and socialize.Health officials say formal indoor gatherings are permitted as long as venues operate at half-capacity and physical distancing is maintained.Prior to the changes, which took effect just before midnight, the province had been in the more restrictive "orange" level following a spike in case numbers dating back to January.Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell issued a release on Sunday saying people must remain vigilant and follow public health advice, even at the yellow level.As of Sunday afternoon, officials said there were 35 active reported cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, with three patients in hospital and two of those in intensive care.9:16 a.m. Pope Francis said Monday he weighed the risks of a high-profile trip to Iraq during the coronavirus pandemic, but said he decided to go ahead with it after much prayer and belief that God would look out for the Iraqis who might get exposed.Francis described his decision-making process en route home from Iraq amid concerns that his four-day visit, which featured oftentimes maskless crowds in packed churches, singing — could result in the spread of infections in a country with a fragile health care system and a sustained surge in new cases.Francis said the idea of a trip “cooks over time in my conscience,” and that the pandemic was the issue that weighed most heavily on him. Francis has experienced close-up the ravages of COVID-19 in Europe given Italy has had one of the worst outbreaks in the world, with the official death toll soon to hit 100,000.“I prayed a lot about this. And in the end I took the decision freely,” Francis said. “It came from inside. I said ‘He who makes me decide this way will look after the people.’”“I took the decision this way, but after prayer and knowing the risks,” he said.9:12 a.m. As Toronto and Peel Region are set to enter the “grey zone,” the Archbishop of Toronto is speaking out against continued limits on religious gatherings and what he calls “the growing inequities facing our faith communities.”As of 12:01 a.m. Monday, strict stay-at-home orders lift in Toronto and Peel Region, a move that will allow all retailers, including malls, to reopen with a 25 per cent capacity restriction.The new phase also allows slightly larger religious gatherings such as weddings and funerals, increasing from five to 10 people for indoor ceremonies, though regular indoor services are still not permitted.But in a letter sent to parishioners Friday, Cardinal Thomas Collins said the new reopening plan unfairly caps religious gatherings regardless of church capacity, maintaining a hard limit of 10 worshippers “whether they seat 100 or 1,000 people.”Read the full story from the Star’s Wendy Gillis 8:50 a.m. How, when and where will you get your COVID-19 vaccine?Those questions are front and centre for Ontario residents as the 34 local public health units have been tasked with devising their own plans to roll out vaccines in their regions.Ahead of a provincial vaccine registry portal that Ontario will launch March 15, the Star published an in-depth story last week on which of the health units had a vaccination plan ready to go, and which do not have the details publicly availa

Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 10 deaths and 1,631 more cases, the biggest increase in a month; Toronto, Peel Region move into grey zone

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

10:05 a.m. (updated): Ontario is reporting 1,631 COVID-19 cases Mon., with 10 deaths.

It’s the highest daily increase since Feb. 5 when 1,670 more cases were recorded.

The seven-day average is up to 1,155 cases daily or 56 weekly per 100,000, and up to 13.0 deaths per day.

Labs report 38,063 completed tests with a 3.4 per cent positivity rate.

Locally, there are 568 new cases in Toronto, 322 in Peel and 119 in York Region.

9:30 a.m. Students in Michigan’s largest school district returned to classrooms for in-person learning Monday for the first time in months.

Detroit schools stopped face-to-face learning in November because of rising COVID-19 infection rates in the city. High schools statewide were also told to suspend in-person learning at that time.

Despite the resumption of in-person classes, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said many teachers have declined to participate. Teachers who agree to work inside classrooms will get a quarterly bonus of $750.

Vitti said online learning has been a challenge for many students but still will be offered.

“Some are doing well but many have been disengaged, have become chronically absent, have disconnected completely,” he said.

The district has about 50,000 students. Detroit families also send children to charter schools or schools outside the city.

9:20 a.m. Public health measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 are loosening across New Brunswick Monday as the province shifts to the "yellow" level of its pandemic response plan.

Under the new restrictions, residents can expand their circle of regular contacts from 10 to 15 people with whom they can visit restaurants and socialize.

Health officials say formal indoor gatherings are permitted as long as venues operate at half-capacity and physical distancing is maintained.

Prior to the changes, which took effect just before midnight, the province had been in the more restrictive "orange" level following a spike in case numbers dating back to January.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell issued a release on Sunday saying people must remain vigilant and follow public health advice, even at the yellow level.

As of Sunday afternoon, officials said there were 35 active reported cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, with three patients in hospital and two of those in intensive care.

9:16 a.m. Pope Francis said Monday he weighed the risks of a high-profile trip to Iraq during the coronavirus pandemic, but said he decided to go ahead with it after much prayer and belief that God would look out for the Iraqis who might get exposed.

Francis described his decision-making process en route home from Iraq amid concerns that his four-day visit, which featured oftentimes maskless crowds in packed churches, singing — could result in the spread of infections in a country with a fragile health care system and a sustained surge in new cases.

Francis said the idea of a trip “cooks over time in my conscience,” and that the pandemic was the issue that weighed most heavily on him. Francis has experienced close-up the ravages of COVID-19 in Europe given Italy has had one of the worst outbreaks in the world, with the official death toll soon to hit 100,000.

“I prayed a lot about this. And in the end I took the decision freely,” Francis said. “It came from inside. I said ‘He who makes me decide this way will look after the people.’”

“I took the decision this way, but after prayer and knowing the risks,” he said.

9:12 a.m. As Toronto and Peel Region are set to enter the “grey zone,” the Archbishop of Toronto is speaking out against continued limits on religious gatherings and what he calls “the growing inequities facing our faith communities.”

As of 12:01 a.m. Monday, strict stay-at-home orders lift in Toronto and Peel Region, a move that will allow all retailers, including malls, to reopen with a 25 per cent capacity restriction.

The new phase also allows slightly larger religious gatherings such as weddings and funerals, increasing from five to 10 people for indoor ceremonies, though regular indoor services are still not permitted.

But in a letter sent to parishioners Friday, Cardinal Thomas Collins said the new reopening plan unfairly caps religious gatherings regardless of church capacity, maintaining a hard limit of 10 worshippers “whether they seat 100 or 1,000 people.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Wendy Gillis

8:50 a.m. How, when and where will you get your COVID-19 vaccine?

Those questions are front and centre for Ontario residents as the 34 local public health units have been tasked with devising their own plans to roll out vaccines in their regions.

Ahead of a provincial vaccine registry portal that Ontario will launch March 15, the Star published an in-depth story last week on which of the health units had a vaccination plan ready to go, and which do not have the details publicly available yet.

Almost half, including Peel Region, Guelph, Windsor and York, have already started booking appointments or vaccinating those over 80 or 85 (with some including Indigenous adults) ahead of the portal’s launch.

Use our table to look up your public health unit’s plan

8:40 a.m. There’s a photo saved in my phone that I’ve held close over the past year.

It’s a selfie from my birthday party, shortly before COVID-19 was even referred to as a pandemic. In it, I’m standing with my sister. We’re lit purple from the blue neon lights that rimmed the ceiling of the bar. Her face is pressed into my hair, head resting against mine.

Looking at it now, it feels surreal to be standing so close to someone — unmasked and indoors — that I wouldn’t see again in person for months.

I just ‘celebrated’ a first lockdown birthday one of the last few to check that box since lockdown measures came into effect nearly a year ago. In just a couple of weeks, so many others will be facing a second birthday under the restrictions brought on by COVID-19.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jenna Moon

8:10 a.m. Ilhan Elwidaa laughs self-consciously as she recounts how her relationship with her favourite house plant began.

“A friend gave me a tiny lemon plant, which is very hard to survive in cold weather,” says the retired Mississauga accountant. Much to Elwidaa’s surprise, the plant started to grow just weeks after she put it in her living room shortly before the first pandemic lockdown last spring.

Even as her social life wilted, Elwidaa’s relationship with her new botanical buddy blossomed.

“Through all these coronavirus times I would care for her every day. She is growing, giving me comfort. I feel like someone is beside me that makes me comfortable. Everyone in my family is laughing at me, thinking I am crazy!”

Yet, according to psychologists, her behaviour is not crazy at all, especially at a time when humans are deprived of social interaction, as so many have been for almost a year.

8 a.m. As pandemic restrictions loosen in Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region, businesses across the personal care services industry say they’re being left behind.

Several professionals and proprietors who spoke to the Star on Sunday complained they’re being treated unfairly as they continue to be barred from opening under the “grey” lockdown category.

Outcry from the sector, which includes salons, barbershops and other cosmetic services, comes on the heels of the province announcing Friday that it was lifting the strict stay-at-home orders in those jurisdictions.

Michele Bonnick, the owner of Amani Hair Studio in Toronto, said anticipation built as dozens of people were on a waiting list, expecting to get the green light to book hair appointments this month. Bonnick instead had to tell them she was remaining closed indefinitely.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jason Miller

7:50 a.m. Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife have tested positive for the coronavirus, the president’s office said Monday, with both having only mild symptoms of the illness.

In a statement, Assad’s office said the first couple did PCR tests after they felt minor symptoms consistent with the COVID-19 illness. It said that Assad, 55, and his wife Asma, will return to work after spending between two to three weeks in isolation in their home.

Both were in “good health and in stable condition,” it added.

Syria, which marks 10 years of war next week, has recorded nearly 16,000 virus cases in government-held parts of the country as well as 1,063 deaths, but the numbers are believed to be much higher with limited amounts of PCR tests being done.

7:40 a.m. Toronto is re-entering the province’s reopening framework, loosening restrictions on small business that have been in place since mid-January.

After the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa recommended moving into the “grey” or “lockdown” phase earlier this week, the province announced Friday afternoon the city could do just that.

Starting Monday, a new set of rules will be in place. Here’s what’s changing.

7:35 a.m. Only 18 per cent of COVID-19 charges laid in Ontario since March last year had been dealt with by the justice system by the end of January, leaving hundreds of thousands of unpaid fines outstanding nearly a year into the pandemic.

Only 990 of the 5,584 charges laid since March 2020 had been dealt with — fines being paid, the charges withdrawn or another disposition — as of January 2021, according to data provided by the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Just 100 of 1,027 Toronto charges had been dealt with in the same period.

In fact, Toronto had the highest percentage of unresolved charges — 90 per cent — compared to all the other regions and compared to 82 per cent for the province overall.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro

7:25 a.m. Prioritizing long-term-care residents and staff in Ontario’s initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout is estimated to have prevented more than 2,600 infections and hundreds of hospitalizations and deaths, according to new research.

In a science brief released Monday, doctors, epidemiologists and researchers with the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table show that had residents in long-term care not been prioritized in the Phase 1 rollout of the vaccine, 2,079 more infections could have occurred, of which 249 would have resulted in hospitalization and 615 in death. Similarly, by also targeting long-term-care home employees, the rollout prevented a further 590 infections, eight hospitalizations and one death among staff.

The researchers estimate that there was a roughly 90 per cent reduction in cases among residents and a nearly 80 per cent reduction in staff cases eight weeks after vaccinations began in Ontario on Dec. 14.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kenyon Wallace

6 a.m. Vietnam administered its first COVID-19 doses Monday to the front-line workers who made the nation’s relative success in controlling the pandemic possible — health workers, contact tracers and security forces who handled quarantine duties.

The Southeast Asian nation of 96 million people has a goal to inoculate at least half of the population by the end of the year.

Thousands of doctors, nurses and technicians working at hospitals designated to treat COVID-19 patients lined up in the morning and received the first jabs of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“I have been waiting for this day for a long time,” nurse Nguyen Thi Huyen said after she got her injection. Huyen has been caring for COVID-19 patients at a tropical disease hospital in Hanoi the past year. Health protocols have limited her time with family, among other challenges.

The first batch of over 100,000 AstraZeneca doses in a 30 million order arrived two weeks ago. Separately, Vietnam expects to secure another 30 million doses of the same vaccine through the U.N.-backed COVAX program for vaccine equality.

5:51 a.m. Norway saw a 19% drop in marriages in 2020 compared to the previous year, which had already seen the lowest figure since 1927.

Norway’s statistics agency said Monday that the pandemic and measures to counter it led to the fall. In 2020, 16,200 weddings were performed.

On top of that, “the decline of 3,000 marriages from 2019 to 2020 is unparalleled and is the largest decline from one year to another since 1919,” said Ane Margrete Toemmeraas of Statistics Norway.

“Figures show that the coronavirus measures from March 12, 2020 caused many to postpone their wedding,” Toemmeraas said. Whether it “leads to an increase in 2021, as many of the postponed weddings may take place this year instead, will become clear later on.”

5:43 a.m. Germany is looking to ramp up the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after authorities last week gave the green light for it to be administered to people 65 and over.

Hundreds of thousands of doses have been gathering dust in recent weeks due to the restrictions on who could get the vaccine and misgivings among some who were eligible. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Germany has received 2.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot so far but administered just 721,000.

Berlin is opening a sixth vaccine centre Monday at the former Tempelhof airport in the centre of the city that will administer only the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Germany’s vaccine campaign has lagged behind Britain and the United States. By Sunday, Germany had given out 5.2 million vaccine doses, with 2.5 million people or about 3% of the population fully vaccinated.

5:21 a.m. After delays, Israel started vaccinating Palestinians who work inside the country and its West Bank settlements on Monday, more than two months after launching an immunization blitz of its own population.

Palestinian labourers who crossed into Israel at several West Bank checkpoints received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine from Magen David Adom paramedics. The vaccination drive orchestrated by COGAT, Israel’s military agency co-ordinating government operations in the West Bank, had been beset by postponements.

Some 100,000 Palestinian labourers from the West Bank work in Israel and its settlements, which are widely seen internationally as illegal and an obstacle to peace.

Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, the head of COGAT, said in a statement in Arabic that Israelis and Palestinians “live in the same epidemiological space” and that it was a shared interest to vaccinate Palestinians.

Israel has administered over 8.7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to its population of 9.3 million. Over 3.7 million Israelis — more than 40% — have received two doses of the vaccine. But until Monday, Israel had provided few vaccines for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a move that has underscored global disparities and drawn international criticism.

Human rights groups and many Palestinians say that as an occupying power, Israel is responsible for providing vaccines to the Palestinians. Israel says that under interim peace accords reached in the 1990s, it does not have any such obligation.

5 a.m. Newly released documents show Statistics Canada considered delaying this year’s census until 2022 over pandemic-related health concerns that could erode the quality of data relied on by policymakers across the country.

An agency document noted the plan for the 2021 census was developed in a “normal operating context” where tens of thousands of staff and temporary hires would interact with each other and Canadians.

In a pandemic, the document noted, that plan had “a high probability of failure.”

The behind-the-scenes look at how Statistics Canada rethought this year’s census operation is contained in 50 pages of internal reports and presentations obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The agency ultimately decided to forge ahead with the census for this year using a plan that relies more heavily on Canadians filling out census forms online than on face-to-face interactions.

4:55 a.m. Canada is set to receive 910,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses this week as pharmaceutical companies ramp up deliveries to make good on their contractual obligations by the end of the month.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the country will receive nearly 445,000 shots from Pfizer-BioNTech for the second week running as the companies settle into a rhythm following a lengthy lull in January and much of February.

The remaining 465,000 shots are expected from Moderna, as the pharmaceutical firm steps up its delivery schedule from once every three weeks to once every two.

The influx of new shots comes as the federal government looks for vaccine-makers to finalize delivery of a total of eight million doses by March 31.

That includes 5.5 million from Pfizer-BioNTech — up from the four million originally expected — and two million from Moderna. Canada received 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine last week.

The federal government is not expecting any new deliveries from AstraZeneca-Oxford, nor does it anticipate receiving shipments of the newly approved vaccine from Johnson & Johnson until next month.

Monday 4 a.m. A new poll suggests most Canadians believe there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in this country.

The poll results themselves underscore the challenge, with women far more likely than men to say equality remains elusive in a host of fields.

Overall, 63 per cent of respondents to the poll, conducted by Léger and the Association for Canadian Studies, said equality between men and women has not been achieved.

But female respondents were far more pessimistic: 73 per cent said equality has not been achieved, compared to 53 per cent of men.

Overall, a majority said equality has definitely or “to some extent” been achieved at home, in social settings, in the media, at work, in sciences and in politics. Just 44 per cent said the same of sports.

But again male respondents were far more likely than women, by as much as 20 percentage points, to say equality has been achieved in those areas.

For instance, 80 per cent of men, but just 68 per cent of women, said equality has been achieved, at least to some extent, at home.

The same gender gap was evident on the questions of whether equality has been achieved in other settings: social settings (71 per cent of male respondents said it has versus 58 per cent of women), in the media (73 per cent versus 57 per cent), at work (68 per cent versus 50 per cent), in sciences (64 per cent versus 48 per cent), in politics (64 per cent versus 44 per cent) and in sports (48 per cent versus 41 per cent).

Sunday 8:45 p.m.: As pandemic restrictions loosen in Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region, businesses across the personal care services industry say they’re being left behind.

Several professionals and proprietors who spoke to the Star on Sunday complained they’re being treated unfairly as they continue to be barred from opening under the “grey” lockdown category.

Outcry from the sector, which includes salons, barbershops and other cosmetic services, comes on the heels of the province announcing Friday that it was lifting the strict stay-at-home orders in those jurisdictions.

Michele Bonnick, the owner of Amani Hair Studio in Toronto, said anticipation built as dozens of people were on a waiting list, expecting to get the green light to book hair appointments this month. Bonnick instead had to tell them she was remaining closed indefinitely.

She slammed the provincial rule book for what she sees as favouritism towards big-box stores and other retailers, while struggling entrepreneurs are left to bear the brunt of the restrictions.

“It’s just garbage,” she said. “The standards that they’ve set for us are so high.”

Read the full story from Jason Miller here.

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

Source : Toronto Star More