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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario is pausing lifting of capacity limits in remaining higher-risk settings; province is reporting 454 new COVID-19 cases

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

6:15 p.m.: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is dismissing an Opposition bid to have him formally censured in the legislature for his handling of COVID-19’s fourth wave.

Kenney says he is focused on getting Alberta’s economy moving again and doesn’t have time for what he calls cynical political gamesmanship.

The Opposition NDP has been pushing for answers on why Kenney’s government failed to act in August when case numbers were rising alarmingly, which led to intense pressure on hospitals the following month and 15,000 cancelled surgeries.

Justice critic Irfan Sabir, suggesting Kenney must be held accountable for decisions that led to a great deal of suffering, says his party will introduce the censure motion when the house resumes sitting on Monday.

Kenney has faced criticism from members of his own United Conservative caucus on his handling of COVID-19, and Sabir says a censure vote would be a chance for them to stand up for their constituents.

Kenney notes that the pandemic’s fourth wave has receded since public health rules and incentives were put in place in September, but says more work needs to be done.

“We’re glad to see that the fourth wave is clearly come under control and that the numbers have come down sharply since our government took measures — and thanks to Albertans stepping up to the plate,” Kenney said Wednesday at a news conference in Grande Prairie, Alta.

“Our eye is on the ball, focused on protecting lives and livelihoods through whatever is left of COVID.

“(This is) more political games from the NDP that sadly has treated COVID-19 not as an opportunity to come together, but rather for division. They have sought to politicize COVID-19 in Alberta from Day 1.”

Sabir said the motion will read: “Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly censure the premier for his failed leadership leading up to and through the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Alberta was forced to more than double the number of intensive care beds and call in military medical help during the height of the latest wave.

Kenney has said he didn’t act in August because he did not receive any recommendations from Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health.

He has also said he wasn’t sure strict health measures would have worked given Alberta’s COVID-weary population.

He has rejected an NDP call for an all-party inquiry into the fourth wave. He has said there will be time after the health crisis has passed to review what went right and wrong.

On Tuesday, Hinshaw said the number of new cases has dropped significantly, but pressure on health care remains concerning.

There were more than 6,000 active cases and 582 people in hospital Wednesday with the illness. Of those, 123 people were in intensive care.

A total of 3,164 Albertans have died from COVID-19.

The provincial measures introduced in September included a $100 incentive to get vaccinated and a form of vaccine passport to get into non-essential services.

Alberta’s passport, called a restrictions exemption, is voluntary, but businesses that don’t sign up must comply with other rules, including severely restricted customer capacity.

The province has developed a QR code as proof of vaccination, Albertans must download and show that code starting Monday if they want to visit restaurants, bars, movie theatres, casinos, concert halls and sporting venues.

Alberta’s fourth wave woes were tied to low vaccination rates compared with other jurisdictions in Canada. That rate has since climbed significantly. For those eligible, 12 and over, the inoculation rate sits at almost 88 per cent for a first dose and 81 per cent for full vaccination.

5:18 p.m.: A Quebec Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied a request to suspend the province’s COVID-19 vaccine passport system, ruling that there was little evidence suggesting the damage caused by the health order went beyond disappointment or inconvenience.

Lawyer Hans Mercier, who was vaccinated against COVID-19, and businessman Gaston Vachon, who wasn’t, had requested for the judge to urgently suspend the health order while their challenge made its way through the court system. They argued the passport system, imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, was a violation of people’s charter rights, tore the social fabric of society and turned non-vaccinated people into social pariahs.

According to the court decision, Mercier argued the passport system coerces Quebecers to get vaccinated. “For me, it’s unthinkable to live in a society … that forces people to carry out a medical act that undermines their physical integrity.”

The government imposed vaccine passports across the province on Sept. 1. People are required to show proof of vaccination to enter businesses the government deems non-essential, as well as hospitals and the legislature in Quebec City.

Justice Nancy Bonsaint said the complainants didn’t prove that the province’s vaccine passport system caused a serious or irreparable prejudice and needed to be immediately suspended.

Being banned from certain non-essential social activities, she said, is not a serious injustice. “In the absence of convincing proof that the prejudice goes beyond disappointment or inconvenience … the court concludes that we are not in the presence of serious prejudice.”

Quebecers, meanwhile, will continue to have to show proof of vaccination to enter certain businesses, such as bars and restaurants, until the court challenge can be heard on its merits. A date has not been set for the full challenge to the passport system.

Earlier on Wednesday, Quebec reported 672 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials said COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by one, to 220, while the number of people in intensive care remained stable at 45.

The Health Department said 10,487 vaccine doses were administered in the previous 24 hours. Quebec’s public health institute said about 90.8 per cent of residents aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 88.3 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

The northern Nunavik territory continues to be the most affected region of the province, with 1,339 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. Montreal, by contrast, has about 78 active cases per 100,000 people.

Quebec has 5,377 active reported cases of COVID-19.

4:36 p.m.: A Whitby man who breached COVID-19 quarantine rules has been fined $5,000 after pleading guilty to a violation the justice of the peace said has “serious ramifications for the public at-large,” during a brief plea hearing in a Durham provincial offences court Wednesday.

Brian Weir, who worked for Toronto Paramedic Services as a scheduler at the time of the offence, told Justice of the Peace Allison Forestall that he was making the plea voluntarily and admitted his guilt for lying to a public health nurse about who visited his residence and who he had contact with during his period of communicability for COVID-19.

As a result of Weir’s guilty plea, the prosecutor noted that all charges will be dropped against his wife, Dr. Martina Weir, who, at the time of the offence, worked at Lakeridge Health sites in Bowmanville, Oshawa and Whitby, and was also facing similar charges.

Read the full story here: Husband of Durham-based doctor pleads guilty to breaching COVID-19 self isolation rules and fined $5,000

4:20 p.m.: Ontario is halting a further easing of COVID-19 restrictions next week because of a rapid rise in new cases that is “exponential” in several regions outside the Greater Toronto Area, says chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore.

This means capacity limits will remain in place for higher-risk venues such as nightclubs, strip bars and some wedding receptions until at least mid-December.

Those restrictions were slated to lift Monday under a plan introduced by Premier Doug Ford three weeks ago, but a steady increase in the seven-day average of new infections requires putting those changes on hold, Moore said.

“We will continue to see a rise in cases,” he told a briefing as the province reported the seven-day average has risen to 503, its highest level since mid-October.

Read the full story here: Ontario pauses relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions as new cases surge

3:30 p.m. Toronto is promising superheroes and “fun” at COVID-19 vaccine clinics for young kids that could be operating by the end of November.

“Team Toronto Kids,” a multi-pronged campaign to vaccinate as many as possible of the city’s 200,000-plus children aged five to 11, was announced Wednesday by city officials.

The campaign’s logo is a superhero family. The clinics — at various sites including schools — will include “superhero selfie stations” where vaccinated kids pose for photos.

Coun. Joe Cressy, Toronto Public Health chair, said the campaign is modelled on Toronto’s successful vaccination blitz for older residents that quickly expanded from sterile city clinics to festive community events with food and music.

And, like that ongoing campaign that now has 84.5 per cent of eligible Torontonians fully vaccinated, the kids’ campaign will feature extra supports for marginalized neighbourhoods.

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider.

3:15 p.m. Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says leading Canada in COVID-19 vaccination rates didn’t protect the territory from an “inevitable” recent surge in cases, prompting the return to tighter restrictions.

Silver says Yukon was prepared for the return of COVID-19, which is why the territory declared a state of emergency on Monday with measures to reduce transmission, including mask wearing and gathering limits in force from Nov. 13 to Dec. 3.

Whitehorse is experiencing widespread, untraceable COVID-19 cases and Dr. Catherine Elliott, acting chief medical officer of health, says there has also been an increase in infections among those who are fully vaccinated.

She attributes the higher infections in those who have had two shots to high amounts of COVID-19 circulating in Yukon and the length of time since people have had their second vaccine dose.

Elliott says it is normal for vaccine immunity to decrease over time, which is why the government is now offering booster shots to people 50 years and older.

She says the territory is also closely monitoring other jurisdictions across Canada to determine when the time is right to offer a more widespread booster shot program.

3:00 p.m. (updated): Manitobans will soon face stricter public health orders to curb rising COVID-19 case numbers, the province’s chief public health officer said Wednesday.

“We do have a number of restrictions in place. We see numbers rising despite that, so more is going to be required,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, who added that details would come soon.

“We’re left again at this place where, if the trajectory stays where we think it will, we’re set with overwhelming the health-care system.”

Health officials reported 143 new cases and two additional COVID-19 deaths Wednesday. Federal data tracking shows Manitoba has the second-highest rate of infection among the provinces behind Saskatchewan.

New infections continued to be concentrated, on a per-capita basis, in the southern health region, which has the lowest vaccine uptake. The region has roughly 15 per cent of Manitoba’s population, but accounted for almost half the new cases Wednesday and just over half of active cases in intensive care.

Manitoba already limits access to venues such as cinemas, restaurants and pro sporting events to people who are fully vaccinated. Gatherings in private homes are limited to members of one other household if anyone in attendance is unvaccinated.

In the southern health region, except for a few bedroom communities near Winnipeg, capacity at retail stores is limited to 50 per cent.

Roussin said more capacity limits, more restrictions on gatherings, and more venues requiring proof of vaccination are all possibilities.

“We’re working on what we think is going to be the most effective, and then balancing that with the impacts of those restrictions.”

Manitoba’s hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases in the spring. Dozens of intensive care patients were flown to other provinces in an attempt to free up bed space.

The government also announced Wednesday that anyone over 18 is now eligible for a third vaccine dose. For most people, the booster will only be given a minimum of six months after a second dose. The decision came a day after Health Canada authorized booster shots for all adults.

2:48 p.m. The Ontario government announced it is pausing the lifting of capacity limits in remaining higher-risk settings “out of an abundance of caution” as cases in the province rise. These higher-risk settings include night clubs and wedding receptions, strip clubs, sex clubs and bathhouses.

“While Ontario’s hospital and intensive care capacity remains stable and the province continues to report one of the lowest rates of active cases in the country, certain public health trends, including the effective reproduction number and per cent positivity have increased slightly over the past week,” a news release from the province states.

2:40 p.m. In Alberta, changes to immunization and travel regulations, implemented by both the provincial and the federal governments, may provide greater ease of mind for Alberta business owners and for Canadians looking to take a vacation.

Starting Nov. 15, paper or digital vaccine records with QR codes will be the only valid proof accepted by “operators participating in the Restrictions Exemption Program,” according to the province’s website.

Individuals visiting public places can present proof through a QR code on their phone, along with a piece of photo ID.

Kristin Dykstra, public health inspector for the south zone, brought recent updates to the attention of Pincher Creek town council during a committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 3.

Dykstra said those who don’t have access to a cellphone can receive a free print copy of the QR code at their local registry office or at a library that offers the service.

2:30 p.m. Italy is expanding the number of people eligible for a booster vaccine as the 4th wave in the COVID-19 pandemic grips Europe.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza told lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday that anyone 40 years or older can get the booster shot starting on Dec. 1.

Italy has already offered boosters to those 60 years old and older who received their last vaccine dose at least six months earlier.

The country hasn’t been hit as hard in the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic as some northern countries including Austria and Germany as well as several nations in eastern Europe.

Italian authorities are scrambling to keep it that way.

Experts credit in large part Italy’s vaccination rate. Nearly 84% of those 12 and older and eligible for the shots are fully vaccinated.

2:25 p.m. A coalition of 10 states sued the U.S. federal government on Wednesday to try to block a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for health care workers, marking a new front in the resistance by Republican-led states to the pandemic policies of President Joe Biden’s administration.

The lawsuit filed in a federal court in Missouri contends that the vaccine requirement threatens the jobs of millions of health care workers and could “exacerbate an alarming shortage” in health care fields, particularly in rural areas where some health workers have been hesitant to get the shots.

The suit follows similar ones by Republican-led states challenging new Biden administration rules that will require federal contractors to ensure their workers are vaccinated and that businesses with more than 100 employees require their workers to get vaccinated or wear masks and get tested weekly for the coronavirus. All of the mandates are scheduled to take effect Jan. 4.

2:20 p.m. Belgian authorities said on Wednesday they approved plans to have a COVID-19 booster shot for all who would want one.

Health ministers from the nation’s different regions said that on top of the booster shots for health professionals and the over-65 age group which are already being administered, it will start preparing a booster vaccination campaign for those younger.

It also approved a booster jab for those who have received the one-dose J&J vaccine.

Even though Belgium has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, it is currently struggling to contain a fourth spike of the pandemic.

2:15 p.m. Health officials in Nova Scotia say a COVID-19 outbreak is growing at a long-term care facility in the province’s northern region.

A total of 22 residents and staff members at East Cumberland Lodge, in Pugwash, N.S., have tested positive for the disease, up from 19 on Tuesday.

Officials are also reporting 30 new infections across the province today and 33 more recoveries from the disease.

Sixteen new cases are in the northern region, 12 are in the central region and two are in the western region.

Ten people are in hospital with the disease, including one person in intensive care.

Nova Scotia has 227 active reported cases of COVID-19.

2:10 p.m. New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health says she’s concerned people in the Moncton area may not be following COVID-19 health orders.

Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters today the number of COVID-19 cases remains high in Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe — even though the region has been under circuit-breaker restrictions since Oct. 8.

Circuit-breaker rules include limits on indoor private gatherings, and travel to or from affected areas is restricted.

Russell says there is also a high number of cases in the Miramichi area, in the province’s northeast.

Officials are reporting 69 new COVID-19 cases today and a total of 548 active infections.

There are 17 people hospitalized with the disease, including 11 in intensive care.

2 p.m. A downtown Hamilton restaurant that said it would not enforce the province’s vaccine verification program is facing numerous COVID-related charges.

Nique, located on Vine Street just off James Street North, told The Spectator in mid-September that it would not implement the provincial rule.

As of Sept. 22, restaurants with indoor dining are required to ask patrons for proof of vaccination against COVID-19, along with a piece of identification, before allowing them to eat inside.

The eatery, which made headlines for a Ministry of Labour investigation and its possible sale, was charged seven times under the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA) last week, according to the city’s online enforcement list, which is updated weekly.

1:50 p.m. Several more cases of COVID-19 are emerging in Oakville and Burlington schools as the province sees an uptick in new infections.

The Halton Catholic District School Board is reporting Wednesday (Nov. 10) there are two cases at St. Andrew Catholic Elementary School in Oakville that have triggered two classroom closures.

There are another two cases at St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Elementary School in Oakville that have led to one classroom closure in an effort to manage the spread.

1:40 p.m. American Universities that adopted COVID-19 vaccine mandates this fall have seen widespread compliance even though many schools made it easy to get out of the shots by granting exemptions to nearly any student who requested one.

Facing pockets of resistance and scattered lawsuits, colleges have tread carefully because forcing students to get the vaccine when they have a religious or medical objection could put schools into tricky legal territory. For some, there are added concerns that taking a hard line could lead to a drop in enrollment.

Still, universities with mandates report much higher vaccination rates than communities around them, even in places with high vaccine hesitancy. Some universities have seen nearly complete compliance, including at state flagship schools in Maryland, Illinois and Washington, helping them avoid large outbreaks like those that disrupted classes a year ago.

Since announcing its mandate two months ago, Ohio University students and employees who reported being vaccinated at its Athens campus shot up from 69 per cent to almost 85 per cent.

“Educating and encouraging was only getting us so far,” said Gillian Ice, a professor of social medicine who is overseeing the school’s pandemic response. “We had a lot who were on the fence. They weren’t necessarily anti-vaccine. They didn’t think they were high risk.”

1:23 p.m. (updated) Toronto’s public health chief says she expects the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 will be approved and administered “later this month.”

Toronto’s kid vaccination campaign will be “fun” says public health chair Joe Cressy. Family of superheroes is the logo for the campaign and there will be superhero selfie stations.

Asked about timing of the kid vaccine approval, de Villa says it’s up to Health Canada and provincial health ministry but she’s hoping for the end of November and the city is planning for that possibility.

Asked if there is a chance Toronto will roll back latest reopening measures, including full-capacity stadiums and indoor dining, de Villa talks about role of vaccination, distancing, masking to continue our progress.

12:20 p.m. Saskatchewan has introduced a new law that would create a protest buffer zone around hospitals in response to COVID-19.

The government says the goal is to protect patients and health-care workers from harassment.

Earlier this year, several anti-vaccine protests related to COVID-19 were held at hospitals across Saskatchewan.

The province says the legislation would prevent those types of demonstrations from happening on sidewalks within 50 metres of hospitals and create a safe access zone.

Minister of Health Paul Merriman says patients and families should be able to access health-care services safely without interference or intimidation.

12 p.m. The Ottawa Senators have placed a sixth player in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, announcing Wednesday that defenceman Josh Brown has been added to the list.

Brown joins forwards Austin Watson, Dylan Gambrell and Connor Brown and defencemen Victor Mete and Nick Holden on the list.

Associate coach Jack Capuano is also in the league’s COVID-19 protocol.

11:35 a.m. Quebec is reporting 672 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and one more death attributed to the coronavirus.

Health officials say COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by one, to 220, while the number of people in intensive care remained stable at 45.

Quebec has 5,377 active reported cases of COVID-19.

The Health Department says 10,487 vaccine doses were administered in the previous 24 hours.

Quebec’s public health institute says about 90.8 per cent of residents aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 88.3 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

The northern Nunavik territory continues to be the most affected region of the province, with 1,339 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

11:08 a.m. Lifting COVID-19 restrictions helped one of Canada’s most prominent commercial landlords collect more rent in its most recent quarter than at any other point during the pandemic.

RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust said Wednesday that it had collected 98.1 per cent of its billed gross cash rents in its third quarter, up from 90.8 per cent at the same time last year.

Chief executive Jonathan Gitlin attributed the high level of rent collection to RioCan’s “necessity-based retailers,” which he called the “bedrock” of the trust because they make up the bulk of its tenants and were resilient throughout the last 20 months.

He attributed the rest of the rent collection gains to a growing number of tenants able to reopen their doors and increase consumer capacity in recent months as COVID-19 restrictions were loosened.

“Experiential uses like gyms and restaurants limped through the pandemic, but they’re finding their legs,” Gitlin said, on a call with analysts. “They’re becoming viable again.”

10:40 a.m. Niagara saw its share of tragedy and hardship since COVID-19 hit 20 months ago, with many families losing loved ones in outbreaks at long-term-care homes and thousands of people in Niagara Falls out of work, some for well over a year.

There is hope that the pandemic will eventually begin to wane now that the vast majority of people are fully vaccinated, but that hint of optimism isn’t being shared by countless families in Niagara Falls facing an uncertain future.

For many, the coming months and possibly even years could mean stark choices between paying mortgages and rent, or putting food on the table.

At Project SHARE, executive director Pam Sharp said demand was already soaring in the first year and a half of the pandemic: the agency has seen 1,000 new families coming through the doors of its food bank this year, pushing the number of households being served past 4,000.

10:10 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting another 454 COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths, according to its latest report released Wednesday morning.

Ontario has administered 15,257 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 22,652,266 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.

According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 11,544,508 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 88.6 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 77.7 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan

10 a.m. COVID-19 has had a staggering impact on the sheriff’s department in Broward County, Florida, where Sheriff Gregory Tony told a memorial service for nine employees who died from the virus that well over half the department’s 5,600 employees had been exposed and 32 per cent — or 1,800 employees — have contracted the disease.

“We didn’t lose one, two, three — we lost nine,” the sheriff said, noting that the first death from the virus came in April 2020.

Many states and cities are requiring public employees to be vaccinated against COVID, which is now the highest cause of deaths of law enforcement officers this year, and yet infections continue to spread among police and other first responders, who are among those most hesitant to get vaccinated.

9:30 a.m. Guinea will begin vaccinating children aged 12 to 17 in the capital to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the West African nation, the health ministry said.

The youth vaccinations will start Thursday in Conakry, said officials.

Guinea received shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in late October and early November, the National Agency for Health Security said in a statement. It did not specify how many doses were delivered or where they came from, but said they would be used to begin the youth vaccination campaign.

Guinea is the first West African nation to announce vaccinations for this age group, while countries such as South Africa and Morocco in other regions of the continent have already begun youth vaccinations.

9 a.m. Despite its infection surge, Croatia is becoming a new favoured destination for Russians seeking vaccination with Western jabs, which they need to travel around Europe and the U.S.

The biggest vaccination facility in the capital Zagreb has a separate queue for foreigners. Officials said these are mostly Russians who come usually on a one-day trip to get inoculated.

“(Russians) are coming here for their third dose,” said Valentino Rajkovic, a coordinator at the Zagreb fair vaccination center. “In two weeks, they get their COVID passports.”

Russians also have been traveling to neighboring Serbia for vaccinations, because the Russian-made Sputnik V and other vaccines available at home have not been approved by the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency. Therefore, Russian citizens cannot travel to the West with home-made vaccines.

Boris Kulatmetov said he needs to travel to European Union countries to see his clients and has no other way to arrange business meetings, so he came to Croatia to get a vaccine that allows him to travel.

8:15 a.m. A fanciful, three-month relationship with a “different” monarch butterfly was the bright spot in an otherwise dark time of Krista Storey’s life. Just over a year after their first meeting, a butterfly named Braveheart, who captured hearts on social media, has been immortalized in a book of the same name about kindness, respect, acceptance and hope.

The pandemic proved challenging for Storey, then a municipal arts and culture manager who has since been laid off. Like many others in her field, she was dealing with the fallout of her crippled industry. Having to lay off her staff, late nights spent moving programming online and the stress of uncertainty were taking their toll.

Then in September 2020, the 57-year-old mother of two found a monarch butterfly walking across the front lawn of the family’s 32-acre home outside Orillia. A lifelong nature lover, she immediately noticed that something was different about him.

8 a.m. There are so many families in tough circumstances, tougher still due to the pandemic. Job losses have been extreme. The Toronto Star Santa Claus fund exists to help those less fortunate — and thank goodness for that.

This year, the fund aims to deliver 50,000 boxes. Each happily decorated box contains gender neutral, age-appropriate items, such as a toy, a hoodie, hat, mittens, socks, book, cookies and dental hygiene products. The Toronto Star pays for the administrative expenses related to the fund so that donations go directly toward the fund’s initiatives.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kevin Donovan

7:45 a.m. Ontario will “stay the course” with its less restrictive COVID-19 measures despite a 41 per cent increase in infections over the last 10 days, and leave local health units to deal with flare-ups for now, says Health Minister Christine Elliott.

“We know that the numbers have gone up somewhat. We anticipated that would happen,” Elliott told reporters Tuesday as the seven-day average of new cases rose for the tenth day in a row and the province reported 441 more people testing positive for the virus.

“So what we’re seeing right now are largely regional outbreaks which we’re going to be dealing with regionally.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

7:30 a.m. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, wildlife ecologist Jason Fisher and his colleagues at the University of Victoria predicted there would be fewer people in nature and that animals would take back their territory.

But in setting up cameras in the forest of Alberta’s scenic Bighorn Backcountry, they found human activity actually increased in the area, as adventure-seekers who couldn’t travel abroad flocked to the woods to reconnect with nature during lockdown.

As viewers see in the documentary “Nature’s Big Year,” debuting Friday on “The Nature of Things” on CBC TV and CBC Gem, Fisher and the team of scientists also discovered coyote and white-tailed deer roaming the area more.

6 a.m.: As the second pandemic winter looms and major downtown employers push back return-to-office plans, new data exclusive to the Star shows that the volume of weekday workers in Toronto’s financial district is still down by 77 per cent — and some experts say the area will likely never fully recover.

Read the full story by the Star’s Rosa Saba here.

5:53 a.m.: Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have jumped significantly and are at levels close to record numbers seen during previous waves, authorities said Wednesday.

The Health Ministry said the daily tally of new cases reached 14,539 on Tuesday, about 4,500 more than a week ago and the highest number since March 12.

The record daily high of 17,776 was registered on Jan 7.

The country’s infection rate rose to 558 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, more than double the figure recorded in neighbouring Germany.

5:53 a.m.: Germany’s national disease control centre reported a record-high number of new coronavirus cases Wednesday as one of the country’s top virologists warned that another lockdown would be needed if vaccinations do not quickly accelerate.

The 39,676 cases registered by the Robert Koch Institute surpassed the previous daily record of 37,120 new cases reported Friday. The institute said Germany’s infection rate rose to 232.1 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.

“We have a real emergency situation right now,” Christian Drosten, the head of virology at Berlin’s Charite Hospital, said regarding the situation at many hospital intensive care units across the country. “We have to do something right now.”

Government officials have repeatedly said they do not intend to impose lockdowns and have instead appealed to residents to get vaccinated.

Germany currently has a caretaker national government following a September federal election. The parties that are expected to form the next government plan to introduce legislation this week that would allow a declaration since March 2020 of an “epidemic situation of national scope” to expire at the end of the month and provide a new legal framework for instituting coronavirus measures.

5:52 a.m.: As vaccination rates rise in many parts of the world and even countries that previously had strict COVID-containment strategies gingerly ease restrictions, China is doubling down on its zero-tolerance policy.

China pioneered that approach — of strict lockdowns, multiple rounds of mass testing and centralized quarantine — during the world’s first major outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. And it continues now, even as it says it has fully vaccinated 77% of its 1.4 billion people and started giving booster shots.

“The cost is truly rather high, but compared with not managing it, relaxing (the zero-tolerance policy), then that cost is even higher,” Zhong Nanshan, a top government doctor, said in a recent TV interview.

The impact of the restrictions is not widespread — but unpredictable. Unlucky travellers can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the tourists in the Gobi Desert, some of whom were bused 18 hours to finish their quarantine in another city. People from Beijing have complained online about leaving for a work trip and not being able to return home.

5:51 a.m.: Chinese authorities have issued warnings about parcels being potentially contaminated with COVID-19 just as the country’s biggest annual online shopping festival looms, after three workers at a small company that makes children’s clothing tested positive for the virus.

Authorities are testing packages and monitoring people who’ve handled them after the infections were discovered at Haohui eCommerce Co., which is based in Hebei, a province surrounding Beijing. Parcel-delivery services in two cities there — Xinji and Jinzhou — as well as the town of Shenze have been halted, according to a government statement.

Some 300 packages have been tested, all coming back negative. Testing has also taken place in a small county in south China’s Guangxi, where 16 parcels from the company were shipped in what authorities described as a “COVID-related mail chain.” The local health commission said anyone who touched the parcels need to undergo COVID tests and monitoring.

Meanwhile, authorities in Inner Mongolia’s Xilinhot have told people who shopped at or received packages from another clothes store in the past month to report to the local disease prevention department after more traces of COVID-19 were detected. No positive tests have been linked to the items. China has previously inspected goods such as imported frozen food for the virus.

5:51 a.m.: Nepal will obtain enough vaccines to immunize all adults against COVID-19 by mid-April and is focusing on getting doses into remote mountainous areas of the Himalayan nation, the health minister said Wednesday.

The government will hire workers and set up vaccination centres to meet the target, Health Minister Birod Khatiwada told The Associated Press in an interview.

“We are going to meet our target or even exceed our goal because we are already getting enough vaccines,” said Khatiwada, who was appointed last month. “We are going to hire more health workers so they are able to reach all remote corners of the country and set up new vaccine centres to reach all the population.”

Nepal’s immunization campaign began in January with vaccines donated by neighbouring India but stalled when India faced a devastating surge of COVID-19 and halted vaccine exports.

Health Ministry records show 44% of Nepal’s adults have received at least one dose and 37.5% are fully vaccinated. Adults comprise about 72% of Nepal’s population of 30 million. So far, only people over age 18 have received vaccines, but the country plans to immunize people those 12 to 17 when doses are available.

5:50 a.m.: The European Union’s drug regulator said Wednesday that it has started evaluating whether to authorize Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, a decision that could significantly open up COVID-19 vaccination across the continent for young children.

The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency already is evaluating the vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech for use in the 5-11 age group. In a statement on Wednesday, the EMA said it anticipates making a recommendation about Moderna’s vaccine in about two months, unless more data or analysis are needed.

The coronavirus vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have already been cleared for use in children ages 12 to 17 in Europe, and many countries are giving shots to teens.

The EMA’s announcement comes as coronavirus infection levels are rising across much of Europe. It is the only World Health Organization region where COVID-19 has steadily increased for the past six weeks; the number of cases recorded in WHO’s 61-country Europe region accounted for about two-thirds of the 3 million new infections reported globally in the past week.

Moderna said last month that a low dose of its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and appears to work in 6 to 11 year olds. Its vaccine is still pending authorization for use in people under 18 in the U.S.

5:45 a.m.: British Columbia’s unvaccinated health-care workers will be given the first opportunity to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 when it arrives in British Columbia next week, says the province’s top doctor.

The federal government will provide B.C. with a limited number of doses of the vaccine, which has been widely used in the United States, Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday.

She said the vaccine has not yet been available in the province.

“Our first priority will be offering it to B.C. workers who have been affected by the (public health officer) order and who want the vaccine as an option for them to continue to safely work in B.C.,” Henry said at a news conference.

More than 3,000 B.C. health-care workers have not been immunized against COVID-19 and are in violation of the government’s proof-of-vaccination policy, which took effect last month.

Under the order, unvaccinated health-care workers have been placed on three months unpaid leave and could face termination.

Henry said some unvaccinated health-care workers who were placed on leave have suggested they would take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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