Today's coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 1,536 new cases; Ontarians report problems with vax booking site – Toronto Star

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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.
12:15 p.m. Quebec is reporting 1,628 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and three more deaths attributed to the coronavirus.
The Health Department says COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by six from the day before, to 268, after 30 people entered hospital and 24 patients were discharged. The number of people in intensive care rose by five, to 73.
Officials say 24,009 doses of vaccine were administered in the past 24 hours, including 7,528 doses to children aged five to 11 and 8,170 booster shots to people 70 and over.
About 88 per cent of Quebec residents five and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 81 per cent have received two doses.
The Health Department is reporting two outbreaks of COVID-19 in provincial jails. It says 13 inmates at the Rivière-des-Prairies detention centre in Montreal have active cases of COVID-19, as do 13 staff members. Sixteen inmates at the jail in Sorel-Tracy, Que., northeast of Montreal, also have active cases of COVID-19.
12:07 p.m. Canada’s top doctor is urging the federal government to transform its public health system so the country is better equipped to handle future and present health threats.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call on the need for “public health renewal” in Canada.
Part of that involves improving Canada’s public health data collection and surveillance.
She says gaps in Canada’s ability to collect data about the pandemic hindered the country’s response.
She also warned the government against scaling back public health funding once the emergency has passed, as government’s often do, which could leave Canada at a disadvantage at the onset of the next crisis.
11:52 a.m. Ontario’s Cabinet Secretary says Ontario public service workers are being asked to work from home until Feb. 7, according to a tweet from MPP for Davenport Marit Styles.
11:50 a.m. The City of Toronto will issue today an update on plans to order all remotely working city staff back into workplaces at least 3 days per week starting Jan. 4, and to fully reopen all city buildings.
11 a.m. Cyprus will start vaccinating kids between the ages of 5 to 11, the government said Monday in fresh bid to head off another COVID-19 surge following the first confirmed cases of the omicron variant on the eastern Mediterranean island nation.
Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela also said individuals can receive booster shots two weeks sooner than the previously mandatory six-month waiting period after their second vaccine shot.
New measures announced after a cabinet meeting also tightened restrictions aimed at infected individuals or anyone qualifying as a close contact.
10:30 a.m. The next three Calgary Flames games have been postponed — including Thursday’s match with the Maple Leafs — because six Calgary players and one staff member entered COVID-19 protocols within a 24-hour period.
The NHL said it’s in the process of rescheduling the games Monday in Chicago against the Blackhawks, Tuesday in Nashville vs. the Predators and Thursday in Calgary vs. the Leafs.
The Flames announced Monday morning that forwards Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Brad Richardson and Adam Ruzicka and defencemen Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov were in the protocol.
Read the full story from the Star’s Mark Zwolinski
10 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting another 1,536 COVID-19 cases and one more death, according to its latest report released Monday morning.
Ontario has administered 34,966 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 24,484,692 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.
According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 12,010,172 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 85.7 per cent of the eligible population five years and older and the equivalent of 80.8 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan
9:45 a.m. The president of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., is now among those in the university community who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the wake of graduation events on campus and at private locations.
Andy Hakin posted on Facebook on Sunday evening that he and several members of the university’s administration had contracted the novel coronavirus.
The posting says he was notified of his positive status Saturday evening, adding that he and the other members of the administration are fully vaccinated and are experiencing mild symptoms.
9:30 a.m. Ghana will fine airlines $3,500 for each passenger who arrives in the West African country without being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the latest measure taken by the country with some of the strictest restrictions in the region.
Airlines also will be penalized the same amount for passengers who did not fill out a health declaration form before boarding their flight to Kotoka International Airport, the state-owned Ghana Airport Company announced Monday.
While Ghanaians who fly in without meeting the requirement will be allowed to enter the country and undergo a 14-day quarantine, foreigners may be refused entry, the airport authority announced.
9:05 a.m. Hamilton’s greenhouse gas emissions remained the highest per-person in and around the Greater Toronto Area last year — even as industrial and vehicle pollution dropped during the pandemic.
The latest carbon-tracking study from the Atmospheric Fund found emissions in the GTA and Hamilton fell 13 per cent in 2020 as a direct result of a “historic reduction” in vehicle use and industrial output due to COVID-19.
But that anomaly aside, regional greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by two per cent between 2015 and 2019 — even as climate scientists urged drastic carbon-cutting actions to avert climate change catastrophe.
8:50 a.m. Russian authorities on Monday backed away from introducing some of the restrictions for the unvaccinated that were announced a month ago and elicited public outrage all across the vast country where vaccine uptake remains low.
The speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament house, on Monday announced the withdrawal of a bill restricting access to domestic and international flights and trains to those who have been fully vaccinated, have recently recovered from COVID-19 or are medically exempt from vaccination.
The bill, along with another outlining similar restrictions in many public places, had been expected to go through the first reading on Thursday, but speaker Vyacheslav Volodin cited “a joint decision by the State Duma and the government” to withdraw it from the parliament’s agenda for now. The other bill is still going forward.
8:36 a.m. Ontario’s portal for booking COVID-19 vaccines appeared to crash this morning as residents 50 and older who received their second shot at least six months ago became eligible for booster doses.
The provincial vaccine booking platform opened for appointments at 8 a.m., but shortly afterwards showed a message to try again later.
Social media users reported a number of problems on social media and expressed frustration with the province’s online booking system.
The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
People can also book shots by phone, through local public health units using their own booking systems and at some pharmacies and primary care clinics.
8:10 a.m. On Saturday, Niagara This Week reported the provincial Solicitor General’s Office confirmed 31 positive COVID-19 cases among inmates at Niagara Detention Centre in Thorold.
It said those inmates are being transferred to Toronto South Detention Centre to be isolated, and any staff possibly exposed would isolate at home.
7:45 a.m. Two doses of Pfizer Inc.’s and AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccines induced lower levels of antibodies against the Omicron variant, researchers found, increasing the risk of infection.
Blood samples collected from people vaccinated with the two different shots and tested against the new strain showed a substantial drop in neutralizing antibodies, a proxy for protection, researchers from the University of Oxford said Monday in a paper.
The results echo other recent findings that emphasize the need for booster shots, especially amid evidence of omicron’s ability to drive a tidal wave of infections. The scientists couldn’t yet answer another key question, about the vaccines’ ability to ward off severe disease. The new mutation has sparked concern around the globe, but reports from South Africa — where it was first discovered — suggest so far cases appear to be milder than during earlier surges.
7:30 a.m. Boris Johnson repeatedly declined to rule out imposing further coronavirus restrictions before Christmas to tackle the spread of Omicron, as he confirmed the first U.K. death linked to the new coronavirus strain.
“Throughout the pandemic I’ve been at great pains to stress to the public that we have to watch where the pandemic is going, and we take whatever steps are necessary to protect public health,” Johnson told reporters at a vaccination center in London on Monday. He also said Omicron would account for the majority of cases in the capital city by Tuesday.
Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there’s no certainty the government will be able to keep schools in England open.
The comments point to the balancing act facing ministers as they try to respond to a surge in infections, even as a growing number of politicians in the ruling Conservative Party are threatening to rebel against new restrictions.
6:11 a.m. Long lines formed at vaccination centers in Britain on Monday as people heeded the government’s call for all adults to get booster shots to help withstand a coronavirus “tidal wave” driven by the Omicron variant.
In a televised announcement late Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said everyone 18 and up would be offered a third vaccine dose by Dec. 31 — less than three weeks away, and a month earlier than the previous target.
“We are now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, Omicron,” Johnson said. He said boosters would “reinforce our wall of vaccine protection” against an anticipated “tidal wave of Omicron.”
While the online appointment booking system will not be open to under-30s until Wednesday, Johnson said any adult could show up at a walk-in center to get a booster starting Monday.
5:45 a.m. They’re making a list and checking it twice. A team of health researchers have put together a short list that would put Canada on the path to a more equitable pandemic recovery.
Written by 11 researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital’s MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, the guidelines pull blueprints from trials, policies and other examples from Canada, the U.S. and around the world to show what is possible and effective to help people struggling to meet their basic needs.
The result is 13 clear recommendations that would help solve problems related to income, housing, intimate partner violence, children’s well-being, racism and access to health care. The recommendations were published Monday by the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Some could be put into place in a matter of weeks or months — paid sick leave, pharmacare and eviction interventions are things that already have infrastructure around them — what governments need is the will, researchers said.
“I hope that part of what this document shows is that the inequities we’re seeing today and suffering from today, are a result of choices that we’ve made,” Dr. Nav Persaud, co-author and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital told the Star in an interview.
Read the story from the Star’s Angelyn Francis.
5:30 a.m. Ontario residents aged 50 and older can book COVID-19 booster doses starting Monday if six months have passed since receiving their second shots.
The provincial vaccine booking portal will open for appointments at 8 a.m.
People can also book shots by phone, through local public health units using their own booking systems and at some pharmacies and primary care clinics.
Booster eligibility will open up to all adults on Jan. 4 but the province’s top doctor has said the schedule could move faster if capacity allows.
Today is also the deadline for long-term care workers in the province to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Staff, students and volunteers can’t enter long-term care homes without proof of both doses.
5:15 a.m. Ontario’s alarm bells are finally ringing, but not enough. With Omicron sweeping over this province before we can blink, the province will accelerate vaccination this week with everything it can find. Booster shots will then be accelerated into the 18-plus population; some sources believe it could happen next week.
It’s not enough. We are in the early stages of an absolute tsunami of cases, with what is probably enough severity to matter. A wave, at this point, is unavoidable.
But Ontario has realized Omicron is an emergency. Not enough, but in part. In a memo obtained by the Star, sent by chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore, deputy minister of health Dr. Catherine Zahn, Dr. Homer Tien, the president of ORNGE, and Alison Blair, the executive director of emergency health services at the ministry, the province spelled out an accelerated booster plan, designed to “activate as many channels as possible,” aiming for the vaccination levels achieved in the spring and summer of 2021, when Ontario topped out at about 240,000 per day.
Read more from the Star’s Bruce Arthur.
5 a.m. About 40 per cent of Canadians know a family member or friend who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, and most don’t raise the issue with them, a poll carried out this month suggests.
The survey conducted by Leger and commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies suggests four in ten Canadians have a friend or family member who is not vaccinated. Seventy per cent of these don’t discuss the matter with them, with half of those saying they have given up trying to persuade them to get protective shots.
The Leger-ACS survey shows that for 35 per cent of those polled, “it is not an issue” and they don’t talk about it, adding they get along well with unvaccinated family and friends. A similar percentage have given up trying to convince people they know to get immunized.
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