Today’s coronavirus news: Vaccine appointments fully booked in York Region, three hours after launch; Ontario reporting 1,023 more cases with six deaths

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.1:15 p.m. A new online tool allows Metro Vancouver residents to track the viral load of COVID-19 found in untreated wastewater at each of the region’s five wastewater treatment plants.Metro Vancouver, the regional district that delivers water, waste treatment and other services to the area's local governments, says the tool is now active on its website.A statement from Metro Vancouver says it worked with the public health laboratory of the BC Centre for Disease Control and the University of British Columbia to sample and test wastewater to track the presence and trends of the COVID-19 virus.Residents can click on a specific wastewater treatment plant on a map to see a snapshot of the COVID-19 virus trend for that area.Metro Vancouver says tracking the viral load can help health authorities evaluate how well COVID-19 containment measures are working.But they say it can't pinpoint the number of people who are infected or contagious.12:55 p.m.: Ontario’s Opposition says the province’s long-term care minister should have spoken out earlier on the risk COVID-19 posed to the province’s nursing homes.NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says Minister Merrilee Fullerton should have made her concerns public when the government said the opposite at the start of the pandemic.Newly released transcripts show Fulllerton told the province’s long-term care commission that she was aware of the dangers the novel coronavirus posed to the sector long before it was declared a global pandemic.Fullerton’s told the commission that she and her ministry advocated for stronger measures than what the government was willing to put in place, earlier than they were willing to act.Fullerton, who is family doctor, says today that she is not a public health specialist and at the time felt it was important to take advice from experts in the field.Horwath says if Fullerton had spoken up about the situation she could have saved lives.12:45 p.m.: Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting two new cases of COVID-19 today.Health officials say both cases are close contacts of previously reported infections and involve people under 20 years old.Chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says both cases are in the eastern health region, where officials have been battling an outbreak in St. John’s.The Avalon region, which includes the capital, remains under lockdown, while the rest of the province has moved to the less restrictive alert level four.12:40 p.m.: Nova Scotia is reporting one new case of COVID-19 today.Health officials say the new case is in the Halifax area and involves a close contact of a previously reported infection.Officials say two people are in hospital with the disease and both are in intensive care. Nova Scotia has 35 active reported infections.As of Sunday, the province had administered 32,856 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 12,845 people having received a booster shot.12:30 p.m.: Some Ontario health units were set to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to their oldest residents Monday as a provincial website for appointment bookings was piloted in six regions.Clinics were set to offer shots to those 80 and older in Windsor-Essex County and to those 85 and older in Hamilton.The city of Hamilton warned of possible long wait times amid high call volumes to the COVID-19 hotline.“If you’re calling to book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine (85+ years old only at this time), please be patient as there may be delays,” the city said in a Twitter post.York Region also started taking appointments online Monday for people aged 80 and older.Meanwhile, the province’s online booking system was to “soft launch” in six regions before its Ontario-wide launch in two weeks.Eligible residents in Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox and Addington; Peterborough County-City; Hastings and Prince Edward Counties; Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark; Grey Bruce; and Lambton would be contacted to participate in the pilot, according to a government source.Monday also saw renewed lockdowns begin in Thunder Bay, Ont., and in the Simcoe Muskoka health unit in response to rising COVID-19 cases in those areas.Restrictions on businesses and gatherings were to loosen in seven other health units: Niagara Region, Chatham-Kent; Middlesex-London; Southwestern; Haldimand-Norfolk; Huron Perth; and Grey Bruce.12:15 p.m.: Nunavut is reporting one new case of COVID-19 today.The new case is in the western Hudson Bay community of Arviat, the only place in Nunavut with active known COVID-19 cases.Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says Arviat is on the right track to contain the spread.Arviat has been under a strict lockdown since November, with all schools and non-essential businesses closed. There are eight active reported cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, all in Arviat.12 p.m.: Public health officials have ordered th

Today’s coronavirus news: Vaccine appointments fully booked in York Region, three hours after launch; Ontario reporting 1,023 more cases with six deaths

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.

1:15 p.m. A new online tool allows Metro Vancouver residents to track the viral load of COVID-19 found in untreated wastewater at each of the region’s five wastewater treatment plants.

Metro Vancouver, the regional district that delivers water, waste treatment and other services to the area's local governments, says the tool is now active on its website.

A statement from Metro Vancouver says it worked with the public health laboratory of the BC Centre for Disease Control and the University of British Columbia to sample and test wastewater to track the presence and trends of the COVID-19 virus.

Residents can click on a specific wastewater treatment plant on a map to see a snapshot of the COVID-19 virus trend for that area.

Metro Vancouver says tracking the viral load can help health authorities evaluate how well COVID-19 containment measures are working.

But they say it can't pinpoint the number of people who are infected or contagious.

12:55 p.m.: Ontario’s Opposition says the province’s long-term care minister should have spoken out earlier on the risk COVID-19 posed to the province’s nursing homes.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says Minister Merrilee Fullerton should have made her concerns public when the government said the opposite at the start of the pandemic.

Newly released transcripts show Fulllerton told the province’s long-term care commission that she was aware of the dangers the novel coronavirus posed to the sector long before it was declared a global pandemic.

Fullerton’s told the commission that she and her ministry advocated for stronger measures than what the government was willing to put in place, earlier than they were willing to act.

Fullerton, who is family doctor, says today that she is not a public health specialist and at the time felt it was important to take advice from experts in the field.

Horwath says if Fullerton had spoken up about the situation she could have saved lives.

12:45 p.m.: Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting two new cases of COVID-19 today.

Health officials say both cases are close contacts of previously reported infections and involve people under 20 years old.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says both cases are in the eastern health region, where officials have been battling an outbreak in St. John’s.

The Avalon region, which includes the capital, remains under lockdown, while the rest of the province has moved to the less restrictive alert level four.

12:40 p.m.: Nova Scotia is reporting one new case of COVID-19 today.

Health officials say the new case is in the Halifax area and involves a close contact of a previously reported infection.

Officials say two people are in hospital with the disease and both are in intensive care. Nova Scotia has 35 active reported infections.

As of Sunday, the province had administered 32,856 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 12,845 people having received a booster shot.

12:30 p.m.: Some Ontario health units were set to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to their oldest residents Monday as a provincial website for appointment bookings was piloted in six regions.

Clinics were set to offer shots to those 80 and older in Windsor-Essex County and to those 85 and older in Hamilton.

The city of Hamilton warned of possible long wait times amid high call volumes to the COVID-19 hotline.

“If you’re calling to book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine (85+ years old only at this time), please be patient as there may be delays,” the city said in a Twitter post.

York Region also started taking appointments online Monday for people aged 80 and older.

Meanwhile, the province’s online booking system was to “soft launch” in six regions before its Ontario-wide launch in two weeks.

Eligible residents in Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox and Addington; Peterborough County-City; Hastings and Prince Edward Counties; Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark; Grey Bruce; and Lambton would be contacted to participate in the pilot, according to a government source.

Monday also saw renewed lockdowns begin in Thunder Bay, Ont., and in the Simcoe Muskoka health unit in response to rising COVID-19 cases in those areas.

Restrictions on businesses and gatherings were to loosen in seven other health units: Niagara Region, Chatham-Kent; Middlesex-London; Southwestern; Haldimand-Norfolk; Huron Perth; and Grey Bruce.

12:15 p.m.: Nunavut is reporting one new case of COVID-19 today.

The new case is in the western Hudson Bay community of Arviat, the only place in Nunavut with active known COVID-19 cases.

Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says Arviat is on the right track to contain the spread.

Arviat has been under a strict lockdown since November, with all schools and non-essential businesses closed. There are eight active reported cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, all in Arviat.

12 p.m.: Public health officials have ordered the closure of two more schools in Sudbury, Ont., after more COVID-19 cases were linked to outbreaks.

Public Health Sudbury and Districts is advising all students, visitors and staff at Jean Hanson Public School and Algonquin Public School to self-isolate and immediately get tested.

Specific classes were dismissed at the two schools last week when COVID-19 outbreaks were declared.

The health unit says it has since determined potential widespread infection at the schools.

It says the schools have no confirmed cases of a COVID-19 variant to date.

The closures follow the dismissal of two other schools – Lasalle Secondary School and Cyril Varney Public School – last week after five confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants were found.

11:50 a.m.: Just three hours after York Region opened its online portal for vaccines, all of its first allotment of appointments were booked.

The region announced at 11:10 a.m. that appointments for residents 80+ were full at available clinics, saying future appointments will be available once capacity allows and vaccine supply is available.

Residents are advised to check back often as announcements are made on various channels.

11:50 a.m.: Porter Airlines is pushing back the date it plans to resume flights again.

The regional airline says it now plans to resume flights on May 19 instead of March 29, which would have been just over a year since it suspended operations due to the pandemic.

Airline chief executive Michael Deluce says the implementation of more restrictive travel rules by governments since the company’s last update makes an early spring restart unviable.

Porter has pushed back its restart date several times during the pandemic.

Deluce says Porter remains optimistic that things are moving in the right direction, but says it is possible that the tentative restart date may also need to be changed if vaccinations don’t accelerate to enable the easing of travel restrictions.

Porter suspended operations on March 21, 2020, due to pandemic.

11:15 a.m.: Quebec is reporting 613 new cases of COVID-19 today and six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one within the past 24 hours.

Health officials say hospitalizations rose by 11, to 612, while the number of people in intensive care rose by five, to 122.

Officials say 6,308 doses of vaccine were administered Sunday, for a total of 438,815.

Quebec has reported a total of 288,353 COVID-19 infections and 10,399 deaths linked to the virus.

11:10 a.m.: Health officials have declared COVID-19 outbreaks at two more Metro Vancouver hospitals after finding evidence the virus was transmitted within a medicine unit at both locations.

A statement from Fraser Health says the outbreaks are in single units of Surrey Memorial Hospital and Chilliwack General Hospital.

One patient at Surrey Memorial and five patients at Chilliwack General have tested positive for COVID-19.

Those units have been closed to admissions, but Fraser Health says other units and the emergency rooms of both hospitals remain open.

Information from Vancouver Coastal Health shows a COVID-19 outbreak continues at three in-patient units on three separate floors of the highrise tower at Vancouver General Hospital.

The units remain closed to admissions, transfers and visitors after COVID-19 outbreaks were confirmed on those wards, with the first outbreak reported Feb. 21.

10:38 a.m.: Ontario is also reporting that 17,424 additional vaccine doses have been administered, for a total of 704,695 as of 8 p.m. Sunday.

The province says 263,214 people are fully vaccinated, which means they have had both shots.

10:35 a.m.: Ontario is reporting no new deaths in long-term care so the total remains at 3,744 resident deaths since the pandemic began.

The province also says the number of long-term-care homes in outbreak remains the same for 106 or 16.9 per cent of all LTC homes.

10:25 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 1,023 more COVID-19 cases with six deaths.

The seven-day average is down slightly to 1,099 cases daily or 53 weekly per 100,000, and down to 16.3 deaths/day.

Locally, there are 280 new cases in Toronto, 182 in Peel and 72 in Ottawa.

Labs report 35,015 completed tests with a 3.1 per cent positivity rate.

The Star’s Ann Marie Elpa has more details.

10:20 a.m.: Quebec’s mass vaccination campaign got underway in earnest in the Montreal area this morning as members of the general public began receiving their first shots.

The province announced last week that it was booking appointments for seniors age 85 and up across the province, or 80 and above in Montreal.

By Monday morning, public health officials announced they were widening eligibility to those 70 and older in Montreal, Laval and the Cote-Nord region, while the age limit was lowered to 80 in three other regions, including Quebec City.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante tweeted that the expanded eligibility was “good news” for Montrealers, adding that the vaccine operation was going well.

Quebec began accepting appointments last Thursday, with nearly 100,000 booked on Day One of the campaign.

Some regions started vaccinating members of the general population late last week, but the campaign is expected to speed up considerably with the opening of mass vaccine clinics in the Montreal area, including ones at the Olympic Stadium and the downtown convention centre.

Outlying regions are mainly expected to ramp up after the March break holiday, which takes place this week.

Quebec has so far concentrated its vaccination effort on health-care workers, people living in remote regions and seniors in closed environments, such as long-term care and private seniors residences.

The province has chosen to delay giving second doses in favour of administering a first jab to as many people as possible, but the province’s health minister said last week it will provide second doses beginning March 15.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Saturday that the start of the mass vaccination campaign was giving him “a lot of hope,” even as he expressed concern about spring break week and the spread of new virus variants.

In a Facebook message, he urged Quebecers to remain vigilant for the coming weeks to allow the province to vaccinate more people, and to wait for immunity to fully develop in those who have received a shot.

10:10 a.m.: Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and health officials are set to reveal the details of British Columbia’s COVID-19 mass immunization plan.

Vaccinations have been underway for residents and staff of long-term care and assisted living facilities since late December but with that work mostly concluded, the province is ready to offer immunizations more broadly.

Horgan is expected to lay out who will receive the first shots, when they will get them and which B.C. residents will be next in line.

B.C. presented its four-phase vaccination strategy more than a month ago and expected to launch Phase 2 by the end of February, covering seniors over 80 living at home and Indigenous seniors over 65.

Problems with vaccine delivery have delayed the program.

In all, the mass vaccination strategy expects to immunize more than four million B.C. residents over the age of 18 by late September.

9:45 a.m.: Demand for electricity in Ontario last year fell to levels rarely seen in decades amid shifts in usage patterns caused by pandemic measures, new data show.

The decline came despite a hot summer that had people rushing to crank up the air conditioning at home, the province’s power management agency said.

“We do have this very interesting shift in who’s using the energy,” said Chuck Farmer, senior director of power system planning with the Independent Electricity System Operator.

“Residential users are using more electricity than we thought they would and the commercial consumers are using less.”

The onset of the pandemic last March prompted stay-home orders, businesses to close, and a shuttering of live sports, entertainment and dining out. Social distancing and ongoing restrictions, even as the first wave ebbed and some measures eased, nevertheless persisted and kept many people home as summer took hold and morphed into winter.

System operator data show peak electricity demand rose during a hot summer spell to 24,446 megawatts — the highest since 2013. Overall, however, Ontario electricity demand last year was the second lowest since 1988, the operator said.

9:40 a.m. The Raptors have finally fallen off the NBA’s COVID-19 tightrope, and what remains to be seen is when they might get back on it.

For the first time this season, the Raptors have had a game postponed, losing Sunday night’s scheduled home date with the Chicago Bulls because of the league’s far-reaching health and safety protocols.

Whether they will be able to play their final two games before the all-star break — Tuesday in Tampa against Detroit, and Thursday in Boston — remains unclear. The whole situation that led to not having the requisite eight players available Sunday is murky.

The Raptors have been consistently quiet for the past year when it comes to releasing information about the health of their staff relating to the coronavirus, so finding the precise timeline and circumstances that led to Sunday’s postponement has been impossible.

The fate of their next two games depends on how many members of the team have tested positive, if any, and how many are in contact tracing. Players and coaches were isolating at their Tampa residences Sunday and each will be tested daily, as they have been all season.

Read the full story from the Star’s Doug Smith

9:35 a.m. Scientists in Alaska have discovered 10 cases of a new coronavirus strain that researchers have said is more contagious and potentially more effective at evading vaccines.

The B.1.429 variant, first discovered in California, was identified in Alaska in early January and has since been detected nine more times, according to a report released on Wednesday by scientists assembled by the state to investigate new strains.

At least six groups of B.1.429 cases have been detected statewide this year, the report said.

Scientists and public health officials have expressed concerns about multiple new strains of the coronavirus, which they say could prolong the pandemic even as governments scale up their vaccination efforts, KTOO-FM reported.

State public health officials also said they have identified two cases of the more contagious B.1.1.7 strain, first discovered in the United Kingdom, along with one case of the P.1 strain, which was first seen in Brazil. The P.1 strain is also more contagious, and vaccines may be less viable against it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designates the P.1 and B.1.1.7 strains as “variants of concern.”

9:25 a.m. Australian legspinner Fawad Ahmed tested positive for COVID-19 while playing in the Pakistan Super League and has been put in isolation, his club said Monday.

The Pakistan Cricket Board said all remaining members of Islamabad United have tested negative.

“One of our players, Fawad Ahmed tested positive ... and was immediately put in isolation two days ago,” Islamabad said in a statement.

In his only appearance in PSL this year, Ahmed took 1-40 against Peshawar Zalmi on Saturday. Islamabad lost by six wickets.

Two-time champion Islamabad was due to meet Quetta Gladiators on Monday, but the PCB said the match will be delayed for two hours.

8:40 a.m. The search for more space indoors and out has continued into the new year with single-family houses continuing to dominate new-construction home sales in January.

The 1,506 detached homes, semi-detached homes and townhouses sold in January in the Toronto area was the highest number for that month since 2006, said the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD).

There were 660 detached house sales with a benchmark price of $1.79 million. Nearly half of those, 302, were sold in York Region.

The 51 per cent year-over-year increase in transactions was 66 per cent above the 10-year average for what is traditionally a slow month in new-home sales.

The benchmark price for new single-family homes rose 24.2 per cent year over year, to $1.36 million.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski

8:30 a.m. The odds are looking better for overnight camps to resume operations in Ontario this summer, but there are no guarantees as more contagious variants of COVID-19 remain a wild card.

Touch wood, all you kids tired of being under mom’s thumb or dad’s direction.

After last year’s cancellation of summer camps amid the first wave of COVID-19, the Ontario Camps Association began working with health experts on a new slate of protocols to keep children and counsellors safe. That package has now been submitted to the province for review.

The plan’s proposals include cohorts of kids and counsellors from the same cabins sticking together and avoiding contacts with others, more outdoor dining, and counsellors not being able to leave the camps on their days off. Plus the usual testing, mask wearing, hand washing, physical distancing and frequent cleaning.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

7:40 a.m. When the pandemic hit, Shakithyan Puvithasan had what many would call a “normal” job, working 9 to 5 at a telecommunications company.

He was luckier than many, and was able to keep working despite the pandemic’s devastating effect on the economy. But many of his family and friends weren’t as lucky, and seeing people losing previously steady incomes made Puvithasan realize he wanted a change.

For a while, Puvithasan, 26, had wanted to become self-employed. He wanted to have control over his own hours and to feel secure knowing he couldn’t be laid off during tough economic times.

So in the middle of last year, he finally made the leap.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba

7:30 a.m. The City of Toronto announced Sunday it will start vaccinating people experiencing homelessness and “other priority populations” as part of its vaccine roll-out, to the relief of many who have long advocated for it.

The initiative comes after the province — which is in charge of determining which groups receive priority for immunization — confirmed this weekend that those who are homeless will be included in the Phase One priority for vaccinations.

As Ontario passes 300,000 total infections, many frontline shelter workers will be watching with anxiety the gradual immunization of Toronto’s more than 10,000 people experiencing homelessness.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kevin Jiang

6:08 a.m.: Nearly 4 million doses of the newest COVID-19 vaccine are being delivered to U.S. states for injections starting on Tuesday.

The White House said the entire stockpile of the newly approved single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will go out immediately. J&J will deliver about 16 million more doses by the end of March and 100 million total by the end of June, but the distribution would be back-loaded.

Though the new shot is easier to administer and requires only one dose, the administration is not altering its distribution plans.

The White House is encouraging Americans to take the first dose available to them, regardless of manufacturer.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted overwhelmingly Sunday to recommend the vaccine for adults 18 years old and up. It adds to the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that were authorized in December.

6:07 a.m.: The Philippines launched a vaccination campaign Monday to contain one of Southeast Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks but faces supply problems and public resistance, which it hopes to ease by inoculating top officials.

Cabinet officials, along with health workers and military and police personnel, were among the first to be vaccinated in six hospitals after 600,000 doses donated by China were received Sunday.

The Philippines has reported more than 576,000 infections, including 12,318 deaths, the second-highest totals in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

Aside from China’s donated vaccine from Sinovac Biotech Ltd., the government has separately ordered 25 million doses from the China-based company but no date has been set for the deliveries. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the delivery of an initial 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine that was initially scheduled for Monday would be delayed by a week due to supply problems.

The government has been negotiating to secure at least 148 million doses from Western and Asian companies to vaccinate about 70 million Filipinos for free in a massive campaign funded by foreign and domestic loans.

6:07 a.m.: Hairdressers across Germany are reopening for business after a 2 1/2 month closure, another cautious step as the country balances a desire to loosen restrictions with concern about the impact of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Monday’s move came after many elementary students returned to school a week ago. It follows a decision Feb. 10 by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors. They will meet on Wednesday to decide how to proceed with the rest of Germany’s coronavirus restrictions, which at present run until March 7.

Some states also are allowing businesses such as flower shops and hardware stores to open. Most shops have been closed nationwide since Dec. 16. Restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities have been closed since Nov. 2 and hotels allowed only to accommodate business travellers.

Germany is expected to remain cautious because a decline in infection figures has stalled, and even been reversed in some areas, as a more contagious variant first discovered in Britain spreads.

On Monday, Germany’s disease control centre reported 4,732 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, compared with 4,369 a week earlier. Another 60 deaths were reported, bringing the total to 70,105.

6:06 a.m.: Health officials in Britain have identified six cases of a highly contagious coronavirus strain first identified in the Brazilian city of Manaus — including one in a person who has not been traced.

Scientists say the variant is more transmissible and may be more resistant to existing vaccines than the original virus, and may be able to infect people who have previously had COVID-19.

Direct flights from Brazil to the U.K. have been halted, but the newly identified cases have been linked to people who came to the U.K. from Brazil through other European cities in early February.

The arrivals came days before the U.K. imposed a 10-day hotel quarantine on people arriving from high-risk countries, including Brazil.

Three of the cases of the variant are in Scotland and two in southwest England. The sixth individual has not been identified because they did not correctly fill in a form with their contact details. Public Health England said it was working to find the person and is conducting local mass testing to see whether the variant has spread in the community.

6:05 a.m.: In an industrial neighbourhood on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s largest city lies a factory with gleaming new equipment imported from Germany, its immaculate hallways lined with hermetically sealed rooms. It is operating at just a quarter of its capacity.

It is one of three factories that The Associated Press found on three continents whose owners say they could start producing hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines on short notice if only they had the blueprints and technical know-how. But that knowledge belongs to the large pharmaceutical companies who produce the first three vaccines authorized by countries including Britain, the European Union and the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. The factories are all still awaiting responses.

Across Africa and Southeast Asia, governments and aid groups, as well as the WHO, are calling on pharmaceutical companies to share their patent information more broadly to meet a yawning global shortfall in a pandemic that already has claimed nearly 2.5 million lives. Pharmaceutical companies that took taxpayer money from the U.S. or Europe to develop inoculations at unprecedented speed say they are negotiating contracts and exclusive licensing deals with producers on a case-by-case basis because they need to protect their intellectual property and ensure safety.

Critics say this piecemeal approach is just too slow at a time of urgent need to stop the virus before it mutates into even deadlier forms. Last month, WHO called for vaccine manufacturers to share their know-how to “dramatically increase the global supply.”

6:02 a.m.: A legal advocacy group challenging British Columbia’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services and public protests is scheduled to be in court today to argue its case.

A petition filed by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms also asks the B.C. Supreme Court to dismiss tickets of up to $2,300 each for alleged violations of the public health orders.

The Calgary-based organization says it represents over a dozen individuals and faith communities in the province.

The challenge is based on several sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of peaceful assembly.

British Columbia’s Ministry of Health has said it is confident all the provincial health officer’s orders are in accordance with the law, including the charter.

The centre argues that while the government allows hundreds to gather in big-box stores, attending worship services has been prohibited despite groups going to extraordinary lengths to comply with the guidelines issued by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

It says allowing people to gather is essential for the spiritual and emotional well-being of many who go to churches, synagogues, mosques, temples or other places of worship.

6:02 a.m.: Demand for electricity in Ontario last year fell to levels rarely seen in decades amid shifts in usage patterns caused by pandemic measures, new data show.

The decline came despite a hot summer that had people rushing to crank up the air conditioning at home, the province’s power management agency said.

“We do have this very interesting shift in who’s using the energy,” said Chuck Farmer, senior director of power system planning with the Independent Electricity System Operator.

“Residential users are using more electricity than we thought they would and the commercial consumers are using less.”

The onset of the pandemic last March prompted stay-home orders, businesses to close, and a shuttering of live sports, entertainment and dining out. Social distancing and ongoing restrictions, even as the first wave ebbed and some measures eased, nevertheless persisted and kept many people home as summer took hold and morphed into winter.

System operator data show peak electricity demand rose during a hot summer spell to 24,446 megawatts — the highest since 2013. Overall, however, Ontario electricity demand last year was the second lowest since 1988, the operator said.

In all, Ontario used 32.2 terawatts of power in 2020, a decline of 2.9 per cent from 2019.

With more people at home during the lockdown, winter residential peak demand has climbed 13 per cent above pre-pandemic levels, while summer peak usage was up 19 per cent.

6 a.m.: New public health measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 went into effect across nine Ontario regions today, including two that are heading into lockdown due to rising case counts.

The Thunder Bay and Simcoe-Muskoka health units have seen infections rising in recent days, driven in part by transmission of more infectious variants of the virus.

The province activated what it describes as an “emergency break” for those districts, moving them to the grey tier of Ontario’s colour-coded pandemic response plan.

The move will impose a variety of more stringent public health measures in those regions, including capping most indoor gatherings at 10 people, closing restaurants to in-person service and forcing non-essential retailers to operate at 25-per-cent capacity.

Seven other public health units will be easing restrictions as they move down a level in the provincial framework.

The Niagara Region is now classified as red, the Chatham-Kent, Middlesex-London and Southwestern units all move to the orange tier, Haldimand-Norfolk and Huron Perth transition to the yellow level, and Grey Bruce will become a green zone with the least restrictive measures in place.

6 a.m.: The federal government hopes to start receiving doses of AstraZeneca’s recently approved COVID-19 vaccine this week as the flood of shots that flowed into Canada from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna last week partially subsides.

Health Canada announced on Friday that it had approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, the third COVID-19 shot to have received regulatory approval since the start of the pandemic.

Canada has ordered 24 million doses of the vaccine, with the majority to be delivered from the United States between April and September.

But two million jabs have been ordered from the Serum Institute of India, and Verity Pharmaceuticals, which is facilitating the institute’s application in Canada, has said the first 500,000 would reach Canadian shores this week.

A senior government official told The Canadian Press on background Sunday that the first of those doses could start to arrive in Canada as early as Wednesday, though the shipment has not been confirmed.

6 a.m.: Ontario’s long-term care minister was aware of the dangers the novel coronavirus posed to the sector long before it was declared a global pandemic, a newly released transcript from the province’s commission on the matter reveals.

The transcript of the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission’s interview with Merrilee Fullerton and her deputy shows the pair advocated for stronger measures than what the government was willing to put in place, earlier than they were willing to act.

That’s particularly true of Fullerton, a long-time family doctor.

“You were ahead of the chief medical officer of health in many respects, from your notes anyway,” John Callaghan, the commission lawyer questioning Fullerton, told her.

For instance, Fullerton’s notes from the time suggest she was concerned about asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes as early as Feb. 5, 2020.

That possibility wasn’t publicly acknowledged by the government until much later.

Read the full story from the Canadian Press here.

5:56 a.m.: Prince Edward Island is now under a 72-hour, provincewide lockdown meant to stop two clusters of COVID-19 cases from spreading any further.

Provincial chief medical officer Dr. Heather Morrison says the clusters don’t have a known source, and the three-day lockdown will allow public health officials to launch comprehensive contact tracing and ramp up testing.

As of midnight, schools and most non-essential businesses are closed until Thursday and Islanders must practice physical distancing with anyone outside their immediate household.

Exceptions are being made for people who live alone or require essential support.

The restrictions were announced on Sunday as health officials reported five new COVID-19 infections, for a total of 17 cases over five days.

5:56 a.m.: Quebec’s mass vaccination campaign gets underway in earnest in the Montreal area today as the province begins inoculating members of the general public.

The province announced last week that it was booking appointments for seniors age 85 and up across the province, or 80 and above in Montreal.

Quebec began accepting appointments last Thursday, with nearly 100,000 booked on Day One of the campaign.

Some regions started vaccinating members of the general population late last week, but the campaign is expected to speed up considerably with the opening of mass vaccine clinics in the Montreal area, including one at the Olympic Stadium.

Outlying regions are mainly expected to ramp up after the March break holiday, which gets underway today.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Monday Mar. 1, 2021.

In Canada, the provinces are reporting 46,624 new vaccinations administered for a total of 1,882,952 doses given. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 4,968.306 per 100,000.

There were no new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 2,441,670 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 77.12 per cent of their available vaccine supply.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Monday Mar. 1, 2021.

There are 866,503 confirmed cases in Canada.(30,731 active, 813,778 resolved, 21,994 deaths).The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 2,307 new cases Sunday. The rate of active cases is 80.86 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 19,873 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 2,839.

There were 35 new reported deaths Sunday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 320 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 46. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.12 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 57.87 per 100,000 people.

There have been 24,425,703 tests completed.

Source : Toronto Star More