Today’s coronavirus news: Visitor restrictions begin to ease today in Ontario long-term-care homes; Ottawa residents and protesters scheduled to clash in court – 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.
3:35 p.m.: Ontario’s long-term care minister says the province wants to take a cautious approach to easing pandemic restrictions for the sector, while stressing that the COVID-19 situation is improving.
Starting Monday, residents can have four designated caregivers, up from two, though only two can visit at a time, after more than a month of strict rules limiting the number of visitors during the Omicron wave. Long-term care residents who’ve had three COVID-19 vaccine doses can resume social day trips.
General visits and other social activities won’t resume until weeks from now – to the dismay of some critics – but Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra said that’s because the province is being cautious as the spate of outbreaks and infections begins to wane.
3:34 p.m.: Alberta’s Opposition Leader says Premier Jason Kenney is treating illegal blockaders with kid gloves to curry favour with them and their supporters at a crucial upcoming party leadership vote.
Rachel Notley says it’s indicative of a premier and a United Conservative government too often willing to sacrifice principles for short-term votes and support.
Notley made the comments as protesters against vaccine mandates, in trucks and other vehicles, continued a weeklong demonstration at the Coutts border crossing in southern Alberta.
2:35 p.m. Ontario Superior Court Justice Hugh McLean has granted a 10-day injunction to prevent truckers parked on city streets in downtown Ottawa from honking their horns incessantly.
McLean says the injunction is temporary because he needs to hear more evidence, but has heard enough to make this ruling today.
McLean will hear further submissions from lawyers on how the injunction could be enforced, so today’s court hearing will continue.
Paul Champ, a lawyer representing Ottawa residents in a proposed multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit, had argued the loud and prolonged honking is causing irreparable harm.
Keith Wilson, representing three of the respondents in the case, had told McLean the ruling on the injunction would carry national importance.
1:50 p.m. Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting four more deaths attributed to the coronavirus Monday and a drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The latest deaths involve two people in their 60s in the Edmundston region, a person in their 80s in the Saint John area and a person in their 80s in the Miramichi region.
There are 151 people in hospital due to COVID-19 — a drop of eight from Sunday.
Sixteen patients are in intensive care and eight patients are on ventilators.
The provincial COVID-19 dashboard indicates there are 344 health-care workers who are isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.
1:40 p.m. Prince Edward Island is reporting a one-patient drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations, for a total of 11.
Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison said today there are six additional patients who were admitted for other reasons and who have tested positive for COVID-19.
There is one person being treated for COVID-19 in intensive care. The province is reporting 186 new infections today and 222 more recoveries from the disease.
1:25 p.m. Right-wing politicians and media personalities in the United States aren’t letting the crowdfunding website GoFundMe off the hook just yet.
The platform became a target over the weekend for prominent Republican lawmakers and state leaders after freezing more than $9 million in donations earmarked for the ongoing protests in Ottawa.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz were among those who attacked GoFundMe for initially saying it would redistribute the remaining funds among charities chosen by protest organizers.
The company reversed course quickly, however, promising automatic refunds to donors just hours after its initial announcement.
12:42 p.m. Federal cabinet ministers are set to address the protests that have paralyzed the national capital around Parliament Hill for more than a week, just as a class-action lawsuit lands before an Ottawa judge.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier and Yasir Naqvi, MP for the downtown Ottawa riding snarled by the protests, are set to provide an update this afternoon.
There have been numerous calls for the federal government to manage the protest response, but ministers and MPs have taken a guarded approach so far, citing the imperative to keep politics separate from policing.
The press conference is being held online instead of on Parliament Hill, the scene of what some have called an occupation or a siege with numerous big-rig trucks and other vehicles parked in the city core.
12:20 p.m. (updated) Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly is appealing for more help from Ontario and the federal government, as the city mayor suggests the Trudeau Liberals should appoint a mediator to speak with the so-called “Freedom Convoy” occupying the streets around Parliament Hill.
In a brief appearance before the media at Ottawa police headquarters, Sloly said local cops are stretched too thin to end demonstrations, even though a recent blitz of law enforcement is putting pressure on them to leave.
He said officials originally planned to contain a large demonstration and that organizers of the convoy that drove across Canada to protest vaccine mandates and other measures meant to fight the COVID-19 pandemic claimed they would leave after three days.
Read the full story from the Star’s Alex Ballingall
12:17 p.m. Authorities say three people were arrested during the four-day protest against COVID-19 health measures in Quebec City, which wrapped up Sunday evening.
Police handed out 50 tickets for municipal violations including noise complaints, 72 tickets for highway safety code violations and 48 parking tickets. One person had their vehicle towed.
12:15 p.m. A protest against COVID-19 restrictions continues outside the Manitoba legislature. About a dozen large trucks and farm vehicles continue to sit by the main entrance to the legislature grounds.
Police have advised motorists to avoid the immediate area if they can because of some traffic delays. Politicians are not scheduled to return to the legislature chamber until next month.
12 p.m. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says he will likely lay out the province’s plan Tuesday to lift or reduce its remaining public health orders surrounding COVID-19.
Moe told the John Gormley radio talk show on Monday the province’s plan will chart a course forward over the next few weeks.
The province’s public health orders include a mask mandate, a requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19 and a proof of vaccination or negative test to enter most establishments.
They are set to expire at the end of February.
Moe says with hospitalizations rapidly declining, the province is heading toward a position where people can manage COVID-19 on their own by getting vaccinated, taking rapid tests and accessing antibody treatments.
11:38 a.m. Quebec is reporting the first increase in the number of hospitalizations linked to COVID-19 since Jan. 23.
The Health Department says COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 14 compared with the prior day, to 2,425, after 141 people entered hospital and 127 were discharged. It says 178 people are in intensive care, an increase of one from the day before.
Quebec has reported a slow but steady decline in the number of hospitalizations linked to the pandemic since Jan. 23, when health officials reported a rise of 16 patients.
Officials are reporting 20 more deaths attributed to the coronavirus.
10:50 a.m. A new survey suggests more people in Ontario are accessing mental health support than at any other time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Canadian Mental Health Association poll indicates 24 per cent of respondents have sought help for mental health challenges, compared to 17 per cent last winter and nine per cent almost two years ago.
Camille Quenneville, the association’s CEO, says the survey results are concerning as they indicate the mental health of those living in the province is not improving.
The poll also suggests substance use and the levels of mental health distress among residents in Ontario are similar to what was seen during the start of the pandemic.
10:18 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 2,155 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 486 people in ICU.
Not all hospitals report data from the weekends, but that’s down from 2,983 hospitalizations and 555 patients in intensive care a week ago.
Ontario is reporting 11 more deaths from COVID-19.
There are 2,088 new COVID-19 cases being reported today, but Public Health Ontario has said the true number is likely higher because of changes to the province’s testing policy that limit access for many residents.
Ontario isn’t sharing data on virus cases and outbreaks in schools, but nine schools were reported closed for COVID-19 operational reasons and 389 schools reported student and staff absence rates of 30 per cent or higher.
10:05 a.m. University of Toronto will resume in-person learning and activities across all campuses and facilities on Monday. In a statement on their website, the school said all students and employees must have proof of vaccination and wear masks in indoor spaces.
The University of Waterloo is also resuming in-person learning Monday as well. Larger lectures will remain online until Feb. 28, said the university. For other Canadian universities, full-return is expected towards the end of the month.
Ryerson University began a gradual return to campus on Jan. 31, but a full return is expected Feb. 28.
“The return to in-person learning will be program and faculty-specific,” said Ryerson’s website.
York University hasn’t set a return date but said in-person learning and activities will increase through to Feb. 14. For public health measures, York University is “strongly encouraging all community members to get their third doses.”
10 a.m. The German government is working on plans to relax coronavirus restrictions after the peak in new cases has passed, likely by the end of February. Unlike some of its European neighbours, Germany still has many pandemic restrictions in place that exclude unvaccinated people from restaurants, public venues and some stores.
“Perspectives for opening are being developed,” government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann told reporters Monday in Berlin. She said the measures would be discussed at a meeting of federal and state officials on Feb. 16, but would only take effect when authorities can be sure that Germany’s health system won’t be overwhelmed.
9:30 a.m. New Jersey school districts will be allowed to drop a mask mandate next month, Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to announce Monday. The move will be effective March 7, with flexibility for districts to decide on their own requirements.
School mask mandates have become a hot-button issue across the U.S. Murphy made them a requirement last September when in-person lessons restarted statewide for the first time since the pandemic’s onset.
8:40 a.m. Quebec puzzled scientists when it didn’t recommend air filters in its classrooms. Alberta previously called these filters a “waste” but after a change of heart, it’s now heeding calls for more HEPA filters. Parents in a British Columbia city have taken the onus onto themselves when attempting to fundraise for HEPA filters. Ontario, on the other hand, embraced a HEPA filter focused policy to battle COVID-19.
Prior to September 2021, about 1,730 HEPA filters were already installed in York region schools, and an additional 177 were allocated in the most recent round of purchasing, the Ministry of Education said.
HEPA filters dominate York Region schools’ COVID-19 safety policy, as 177 more units deployed.
7:35 a.m. Legal challenges of employer vaccine mandates and health measures are being tossed out as arbitrators in Canada largely side with the need to maintain safe workplaces during a pandemic, legal experts say.
Most of the cases with rulings so far involve employee grievances in unionized workplaces, which have an expedited decision-making process compared with the courts, they say.
A scan of decisions issued in recent weeks shows arbitrators are largely erring on the side of caution and minimizing health risks to employees and the public, experts say.
6:25 a.m. After two years of COVID-related cancellations or virtual events, many of Toronto’s major festivals have confirmed plans to come back live and in-person for the summer of 2022.
The Star contacted the organizers of 10 large-scale events and the response was unanimous: They’re ready to party like it’s 2019 (with some safety protocols, of course).
Luminato, an arts festival featuring local and international talent which premiered in 2007, will formally announce a full slate of events running from June 9 to 19.
Read more from the Star’s Bruce DeMara.
5:55 a.m. The odd visual of players wearing white COVID-19 masks under their hockey masks appeared in Beijing’s Olympic Games with Canada’s 6-1 win over Russia in women’s hockey Monday
Players on both teams and on-ice officials stepped onto the ice for the game wearing KN95 masks after a delay of over an hour.
The teams and the International Ice Hockey Federation provided few details on the reason for the masks and the delay, but late test results were the issue.
Read more of the Star’s live Olympic coverage.
5:46 a.m. Papua New Guinea’s prime minister tested positive for COVID-19 when he arrived in Beijing last week to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games and had to cut short his stay.
Prime Minister James Marape was immediately given medical treatment, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Monday.
Marape missed Friday’s opening ceremony and returned home Sunday night, cancelling a planned trip to France. However, he held a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang via video link while in Beijing, Zhao said at a regular briefing.
Read more from The Associated Press.
5:40 a.m. School boards are increasingly having trouble filling teacher absences related to COVID-19 — Toronto’s public board has hit historic levels — and some worry that while students may be supervised, they question if they are actually learning.
Staffing issues have existed throughout the pandemic, and before, but the highly transmissible Omicron variant — and the number of people ill or isolating — has exacerbated the situation, say educators.
“The challenges are really, really severe at this point,” said Patrick Daly, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, which represents English Catholic boards in the province. “School boards and staff are doing everything they can to keep classes and schools open.”
Read more from the Star’s Isabel Teotonio and Kristin Rushowy.
5:30 a.m. As a registered psychologist who specializes in stress and anxiety, Dr. Melanie Badali says it’s been difficult to watch some of her wait lists grow over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two years in, many are dealing with built-up anxiety and depression, and Badali said she wants to help.
“It feels horrible to have to wait-list people in need,” she said, adding she does what she can to empower them with online tools and other available resources while they wait.
Read more from the Canadian Press.
5:15 a.m. Ontario long-term-care residents can start taking social trips and see more caregivers as of today.
The loosened visitor restrictions come after more than a month of strict rules aimed at slowing the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Starting today, the number of designated caregivers per resident increases from two to four, though only two can visit at a time.
Read more from the Canadian Press.
5:07 a.m. China’s capital city returned to work Monday after a weeklong Lunar New Year holiday that was muted by the pandemic — especially for the thousands of people inside the Winter Olympics bubble.
For volunteers and competitors at the Games, there’s no hong bao – red envelopes – with gifts of cash, no lucky tang yuan rice cakes with sesame filling, no dramatically-choreographed lion dance.
Across China, the pandemic has meant a subdued Lunar New Year for the third year in a row. The government discouraged residents of the capital from travelling home to visit family to limit the spread of the virus. Those who did needed two negative virus tests before heading back to Beijing and a third test within 72 hours of returning.
Read more from The Associated Press.
5 a.m. An Ontario court is scheduled to hear arguments in a proposed multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit by Ottawa residents who want protesters encamped in their downtown to stop honking their horns.
Superior Court Justice Hugh McLean had set a 1 p.m. deadline to get all documents and cross-examinations done before he would rule on one part of the proposed class-action.
A group of downtown residents is asking for an injunction to prevent truckers parked on city streets from honking their horns repeatedly throughout the day.
4:45 a.m. Venues across Quebec’s cultural sector are set to partially reopen today as the province eases health restrictions put in place to contain COVID-19.
Places of worship, entertainment and sports venues are allowed to reopen after being shut down since December, with capacity limits in place and proof of vaccination required for entry.
Cinemas, theatres, concert halls and sports venues such as the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, can reopen at 50 per cent capacity or a maximum of 500 people.
Read more from The Canadian Press.
4:30 a.m. Many Asian countries are facing a spike in COVID-19 infections after the widely-celebrated Lunar New Year holidays, as health officials grapple with the highly-transmissible Omicron variant and expectations that numbers will continue to rise in coming weeks.
The Lunar New Year, which is China’s biggest holiday, was celebrated across Asia on Feb. 1 even as pandemic restrictions in many countries kept crowds and family outings to a minimum.
Hong Kong’s authorities are confronting record cases that are straining its so-called “zero-COVID” policy. The city has reported more than 300 local infections two days in a row, the highest since the pandemic began. Authorities require all cases to be hospitalized.
Read more from The Associated Press.
4 a.m. Ottawa mayor Jim Watson has declared a state of emergency in the city over ongoing trucker protests.
In a news release Sunday, the city said the decision, “reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations.”
It also “highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government,” and will give the city more flexibility to procure supplies, the release added.
Read more from the Star’s May Warren.

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