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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 711 cases; federal government to announce Health Canada has approved the vaccine for children aged five to 11


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

4:57 p.m. It will take “a few days to perhaps a week” after Health Canada approves COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11 before kids can get their shots, says Health Minister Christine Elliott, the Toronto Star’s Rob Ferguson reports.

With Health Canada expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine for the age group as early as Friday, time is needed for the pediatric doses to be shipped to the provinces and distributed to vaccination sites, Elliott said Thursday as the Ontario government outlined a strategy for enhanced testing this winter.

The provincial booking portal will begin taking appointments for kids “early next week,” she added, amid continuing criticism that the province’s vaccination plans remain a mystery to many parents.

British Columbia, by comparison, is “ready to go,” because the province has been registering kids on a centralized vaccination system for weeks, said New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles (Davenport).

Chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, told a news conference that some public health units, such as Toronto’s, have already released vaccination plans for kids, and that second doses will be offered eight weeks after the first for optimum benefit.

More health units will detail their plans “in the coming days” in time to get first shots into as many kids as possible before Christmas, he added.

Also heading into the holiday season, Ontario will take COVID-19 testing into shopping malls and other busy locations as part of a broader effort to keep closer tabs on the virus.

Mobile teams will offer tests to people not experiencing symptoms from mid-December to early January in areas with higher infection and hospitalization rates and lower vaccination levels, officials told a briefing Thursday.

“We should never underestimate this virus,” Moore said.

The measure is in addition to providing tests in select pharmacies to people who are experiencing symptoms of COVID, as the Star reported Tuesday. School children will also be sent home with tests to do over the Christmas holidays.

Testing in malls will be voluntary and is aimed at getting samples from a mix of the vaccinated and unvaccinated at a time of year when more social activities are taking place and the risk of transmission is higher, officials said.

The type of test offered may vary depending on the location. Testing teams will also offer advice on vaccinations and may work in tandem with vaccination teams such as the GO Vaxx bus.

Mobile teams will not be at locations such as sports arenas where proof of vaccination is required to enter, officials said. Details on testing spots will be announced in the coming weeks.

Testing of people with symptoms in pharmacies has raised concerns since details first leaked out on Tuesday, with some health experts saying it could lead to increased spread of the virus unless strict separation, infection prevention and control measures are in place.

Moore said U.S. pharmacies have safely been doing symptomatic testing throughout the pandemic, and Ontario requires the testing to be conducted in a “separate space” from immunization and prescription ordering areas, ideally with ill patrons coming through a separate entrance.

Opposition parties said the government is sending “mixed messages” by telling people to stay home if they’re stick but to go to a pharmacy for testing.

“The government has not convinced me they have addressed the risk,” said Liberal House Leader John Fraser.

The testing began Thursday in about 200 pharmacies and could grow to as many as 1,300, depending on how many have appropriate facilities and decide to opt in.

3:54 p.m. Saskatchewan has released new modelling that suggests a combination of winter weather with indoor socializing and waning immunity could lead to the province’s worst wave of COVID-19, reports The Canadian Press.

Chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, says hospitalizations and cases have plateaued at a high rate, according to CP.

He says now is the time to increase vaccination rates, including booster shots for those age 65 and older, who are starting to show waning immunity.

Shahab says Saskatchewan could be on track to return its healthcare system to sustainable levels by mid-January and avoid a fifth wave.

However, he says residents need to continue to reduce their contacts as the Christmas holidays approach.

The modelling shows that if people’s immunity against COVID-19 wanes, and more people socialize indoors, the fifth wave could result in nearly 150 patients in intensive care.

There are 49 patients in intensive care, including 11 who are receiving out-of-province care.

3:26 p.m. The New Brunswick government is imposing a new measure to address continuing high numbers of COVID-19 cases in the province, reports The Canadian Press.

According to CP, as of 6 p.m. Friday, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, everyone in their household, regardless of their vaccination status, must isolate for up to 14 days, and failure to do so could result in a fine of between $480 and $20,400.

Household members who are fully vaccinated will be able to leave isolation only if they test negative after five days.

Chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, says 49 per cent of new cases in the past week resulted from transmission within a household.

The province reported 72 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the number of active cases to 566, with 28 people hospitalized, including 14 in intensive care.

Meanwhile Premier Blaine Higgs says he won’t extend Friday’s deadline for all government employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which means around 2,000 employees will be placed on leave without pay at the end of the day Friday.

3:22 p.m. The federal government is set to announce Friday that Health Canada has approved the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11, reports The Canadian Press.

Later, it plans to set out details of a plan to ease some of the pandemic-related measures at the border, according to CP.

The federal government has scheduled a media briefing with officials at 10 a.m. Friday to share news regarding authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children.

Officials will also give an update on recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Provinces have said they are poised and ready to start vaccinating children as soon as doses are distributed.

Canada is expecting an accelerated delivery of 2.9 million child-sized doses, enough for a first dose for every child in the five-to-11 age group.

In a statement Thursday, Pfizer Canada said the company is prepared to deliver the pediatric doses to Canada shortly following the Health Canada authorization.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech submitted a request for approval of a child-sized doses of its mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 on Oct. 18.

The companies say the results of their trials in children show comparable safety and efficacy results to those recorded in a previous Pfizer-BioNTech study in adults aged 16 to 25.

Health Canada said it would only approve the vaccine for children if its analysis showed the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech for children on Oct. 29, and the United States has already vaccinated more than two million children.

On Friday afternoon, federal ministers are set to discuss easing measures taken to prevent importing new cases across the border.

They are expected to do away with the rule that requires travellers taking short trips to the U.S. to present a negative molecular COVID-19 test in order to get back into the country.

The policy has been heavily criticized as lacking in public health value, as people are allowed to be tested in Canada before even venturing across the border, as long as they return within 72 hours.

Critics, including business leaders, Canadian and international politicians, members of the tourism industry and travellers have complained the requirement is expensive, cumbersome and redundant.

Travellers are still expected to have to present a negative molecular test at the border when returning from trips longer than 72 hours.

The rule is part of an order-in-council that is set to expire on Nov. 21.

3 p.m.: Health Canada is set to authorize the Pfizer COVID vaccine for use in children, meaning one of the biggest pediatric vaccination efforts in the country’s history will soon be underway.

With the green-lighting, expected Friday, of a smaller dose of the vaccine already in use around the world, the federal regulator is signalling that it has finished combing through data on everything from clinical trials to manufacturing plans and determined the shot is safe and effective in school-aged children.

The news means Pfizer will now begin transporting child-sized shots into the country, with vials to be fed into vaccination campaigns, the planning for which, in many jurisdictions, is already underway. Anita Anand, until recently the federal procurement minister, has previously said Canada will receive 2.9 million doses “shortly” after approval — enough to give a first dose to every eligible child.

The vaccine for children, aged five to 11, uses the same mRNA technology as the adult version, but is about one-third the size. Children will also receive two shots, but Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, told a radio station this week they will be given eight weeks apart, instead of the American recommendation of a three-week interval.

Read the full story here from Alex Boyd

2:30 p.m (Updated): Once Health Canada approves the Pfizer vaccine for kids age 5 to 11, it could take “a few days to perhaps a week” for the doses to be shipped, with injections potentially beginning as early as Friday, says Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Ontario’s provincial booking system will be ready to take vaccination appointments for kids 5-11 by “early next week.”

More to come.

2 p.m. Ontario is taking COVID-19 testing to shopping malls and other busy locations for the upcoming holiday season as part of a broader effort to keep closer tabs on the virus over the winter months.

Mobile teams will offer tests to people not experiencing symptoms from mid-December to early January in areas with higher infection and hospitalization rates and lower vaccination levels, officials told a briefing Thursday.

The measure is in addition to providing tests in select pharmacies to people who are experiencing symptoms of COVID — a plan that has raised concerns about safety, as the Star has reported this week. School children will also be sent home with tests to do over the Christmas holidays.

Read the full story here from Rob Ferguson

1:42 p.m. Ontario will allow high schools to shift back to regular semesters come February.

Government officials say school boards can make the change sooner if they have their local public health unit’s support.

Numerous school boards have requested the move away from “modified semesters,” which saw students take four courses each term, alternating which two classes they had each week.

The system allows for easier cohorting, but students and parents have complained that the three-hour classes make it hard to absorb and retain information.

The change is part of a suite of measures the province is announcing today.

The government also says that starting in January — if not earlier — all elementary school-wide assemblies are to be held virtually.

Lunches and breaks in elementary schools will be restricted to classroom cohorts indoors when distancing between cohorts can’t be maintained.

1:40 p.m. Ontario students will be sent home for the December break with five rapid antigen COVID-19 tests each.

The province announced details of its winter testing plan Thursday, including the holiday plans for students.

The 11 million tests will be distributed over the next month to all publicly funded schools.

Those who choose to participate in the voluntary program will be instructed to take tests every three to four days over the holiday break beginning Dec. 23.

The government is also planning pop-up testing clinics in high-traffic public spaces like malls, holiday markets and retail stores so people can be tested during the busy holiday season.

Starting Thursday, up to 600 pharmacies were to begin training to offer COVID-19 testing to everyone eligible, including people with symptoms, with plans to eventually expand to up to 1,300 pharmacy sites.

Read the full story here from Kristin Rushowy

1:22 p.m. Toronto is shelving last winter’s pandemic measures that saw skaters having to book appointments at outdoor city rinks with locked change rooms.

The first rinks are set to open Nov. 27 with no appointment necessary and no limits on the number of skaters. Change rooms will open, but at 50-per-cent capacity with a request for people to arrive as ready to skate as possible.

Mayor John Tory told reporters at Greenwood Park that the relaxation of rink restrictions, part of a city winter recreation program “getting itself back toward normal,” was decided with input from public health chief Dr. Eileen de Villa.

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider

12:45 p.m. The Canadian Medical Association is asking the federal government to fulfil its promise to support health-care employees amid continuing online harassment of physicians and other workers.

The medical association is also calling on social media companies to address harassment and threats made on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Association president Dr. Katharine Smart says in a statement that health professionals have advocated for the public’s well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are at risk of being silenced by “harmful, hateful and bullying behaviour.”

12:25 p.m. Disney, expanding its vaccine mandate, will now require all Disney Cruise Line passengers ages 5 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting in January.

Currently, Disney relies on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its vaccine guidelines. And as the vaccine becomes available to younger people Disney is changing its rules.

“We are resuming sailing in a gradual, phased approach that emphasizes multiple layers of health and safety measures, considering guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other medical experts,” the company said in a statement.

11:55 a.m. A Burlington school has now closed two classrooms in an attempt to manage the spread of COVID-19.

The Halton Catholic District School Board on Monday reported two new cases at St. Mark Catholic Elementary School in Burlington and has since closed two classrooms related to the infections.

Meanwhile, Pine Grove Public School in Oakville is reporting another student case, bringing its active total to two, while a new student case is also being reported at Maple Grove Public School.

11:25 a.m. When the COVID-19 pandemic sent droves of office workers home, it didn’t take long for some to decide that their living rooms or spare bedrooms were in need of a makeover.

Many turned to a splash of paint or finally bought a desk, but Tammy Yiu Coyne also saw people yearning for something to hang on their walls.

The co-founder and chief executive of Toronto’s Partial had just the thing: an art rental service specializing in pieces that don’t have multi-million dollar price tags.

Her business — like several others aimed at letting people try before they buy — saw a pandemic boom that pushed up revenues and taught a whole new audience that art rentals aren’t just for the wealthy.

10:21 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting another 711 COVID-19 cases and five more deaths, according to its latest report released Thursday morning.

Ontario has administered 13,862 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 22,762,199 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.

According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 11,583,723 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 88.9 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 77.9 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan

9:40 a.m. Why can’t some COVID-19 vaccinated people travel to the U.S.?

Because they might not be vaccinated with shots recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization.

When lifting overseas travel restrictions in November, the U.S. required adults coming to the country to be fully vaccinated with shots approved or authorized by the FDA or allowed by WHO.

Among the most widely used vaccines that don’t meet that criteria are Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and China’s CanSino vaccine. Sputnik V is authorized for use in more than 70 countries while CanSino is allowed in at least nine countries. WHO still is awaiting more data about both vaccines before making a decision.

9:20 a.m. The Czech government on Thursday approved new coronavirus restrictions that specifically target unvaccinated people amid a record surge of infections.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech said that most unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to show negative coronavirus test results in order to attend public events, go to bars and restaurants, visit hairdressers, museums and similar or use hotels.

Only people who are vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19 will remain eligible. There are exceptions for teenagers aged 12 to 18, people whose medical condition doesn’t allow vaccination and people who have received one shot of a vaccine.

Vojtech said the goal of the measures that will come into foce on Monday is to motivate people to get vaccinated.

9 a.m. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell for the seventh straight week to a pandemic low of 268,000.

U.S. jobless claims dipped by 1,000 last week from the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The applications for unemployment aid are a proxy for layoffs, and their steady decline this year — after topping 900,000 one week in early January — reflects the labor market’s strong recovery from last year’s brief but intense coronavirus recession. The four-week average of claims, which smooths week-to-week volatility, also fell to a pandemic low just below 273,000.

8:45 a.m. Online reservations will soon no longer be required for City of Toronto fitness centres, weight rooms, indoor playgrounds, or drop-in leisure swim.

Following feedback from participants, reservations will continue to be available for lane swimming and Aquafit, and additional walk-in spaces will be added.

8:30 a.m. The Philippines granted emergency use authorization for Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 and older, becoming only the second country after Indonesia to authorize the shots.

The vaccine was developed by the Maryland-based company and will be manufactured by Serum Institute in India.

Novavax CEO Stanley C. Erck said in an announcement that the shot would “contribute substantially to increased vaccination rates” in the Philippines, where only about 35 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

8:10 a.m. Only half of the staff at one Hamilton retirement home are vaccinated despite working with vulnerable residents.

In newly released data from the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility, three local senior homes reported staff vaccination rates in the 50 per cent range. When asked to comment, two said their rates have since gone up. But one did not.

All licensed retirement homes had to implement a vaccination policy for staff, contractors, volunteers and students by Sept. 21. But unlike Ontario’s policy for long-term-care homes, which require staff that will work inside the homes to be vaccinated by Dec. 13 (or have an approved medical exemption), vaccination isn’t mandatory for retirement home workers.

7:21 a.m. German lawmakers approved new measures Thursday to rein in record coronavirus infections after the head of Germany’s disease control agency warned the country could face a “really terrible Christmas.”

The measures passed in the Bundestag with votes from the center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. The three parties are currently negotiating to form a new government.

The legislation includes requirements for employees to prove they are vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative for the virus in order to access communal workplaces. They still need to be approved by Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats had wanted to extend existing rules that served as the basis for numerous national and state-wide restrictions. Due to expire this month, the rules were criticized for marginalizing parliament despite its central role in the German political system.

6 a.m.: The Sudbury Student Services Consortium reported two additional school bus cancellations on Wednesday.

The morning secondary and intermediate portion of bus route L500 affecting students from St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School has been cancelled due to a COVID-19 exposure and is expected to resume on Nov. 23.

The afternoon secondary and intermediate portion of bus route L022 affecting students from St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School has been cancelled for the same reason.

There are around 40 bus routes in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts that have been cancelled over the last week due to COVID-19 exposures and a school bus driver shortage.

5:59 a.m.: Public Health Sudbury and Districts reported a new COVID-related death in its service area on Wednesday.

According to the health unit’s website, the individual who died lived in Greater Sudbury. Public Health did not provide any other details.

This is the 36th COVID-related death recorded in the health unit’s service area, and the second COVID-related death reported this week.

5:55 a.m.: Canada and Mexico will redistribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses they received from the United States to other Western Hemisphere countries as a part of today’s revived Three Amigos leaders’ summit.

Senior U.S. government officials outlined the measure in advance of today’s meeting that President Joe Biden is hosting at the White House with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity as authorized briefers, offered advance details of the American priorities ahead of the first North American leaders’ summit since Canada hosted the last one five years ago.

Among those leaders only Trudeau remains, but an initiative that he announced with former U.S. president Barack Obama in Ottawa in 2016 is being revived by Biden — a North American working group on violence against Indigenous women and girls.

The three leaders will also look at strengthening trilateral co-operation on the Western Hemisphere’s unprecedented migration crisis that has seen millions of asylum seekers from Central America crashing Mexico’s borders while Venezuela’s economic and political crisis is expected to produce six million refugees by the end of the year.

The overarching theme of the summit is joining forces to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic and make the North American continent more resilient and self-sustaining against global supply chain bottlenecks.

5:54 a.m.: South Korea reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic as hundreds of thousands of masked students flocked to schools on Thursday for the country’s highly competitive college entrance exam amid growing concerns about The Delta-driven spread.

About 509,000 students were taking the one-day exam at 1,395 sites across the nation, including hospitals and shelters.

The annual exam, called “Suneung,” or the College Scholastic Ability Test, is crucial in the education-obsessed country, where careers, social standings and even marriage prospects greatly depend on which university a person attends.

Students were required to have their temperatures taken before entering classrooms, and those with fevers were sent to separate testing areas. The Education Ministry said that 68 infected students and 105 others in self-quarantine took the hours-long test in isolation.

5:52 a.m.: The Munich Christkindlmarkt, one of Germany’s oldest and biggest Christmas markets, has been cancelled for the second consecutive year, as another coronavirus wave sweeps through the country.

It’s the largest German Christmas market to be cancelled so far, as the events struggle to survive the country’s fourth virus surge after being mostly shuttered last year.

“It is bitter news that I have today for all Munich residents, and especially for the stall owners. However, the extreme situation in our hospitals and exponentially rising infection rates leave me no other choice,” said Mayor Dieter Reiter.

Germans have gathered at outdoor markets in the weeks before Christmas since the 14th century, when vendors first built their stands in city centres to sell their wares to people coming from church services. They offer an array of foods, artisanal gifts and other provisions for the coming celebrations and the long winter months.

Germany’s roughly 3,000 Christmas markets are an important economic boon to many communities. Local restaurants, breweries, bakeries and artisans depend on the annual holiday fairs for a substantial amount of their income.

Thursday 5:49 a.m.: The Philippines granted emergency use authorization for Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday for people 18 and older, becoming only the second country after Indonesia to authorize the shots.

The vaccine was developed by the Maryland-based company and will be manufactured by Serum Institute in India.

Novavax CEO Stanley C. Erck said in an announcement that the shot would “contribute substantially to increased vaccination rates” in the Philippines, where only about 35% of the population is fully vaccinated.

The Philippines has already approved eight other vaccines for emergency use: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Sinopharm, Gamaleya Sputnik V and Bharat Biotech.

Read Wednesday’s coronavirus news.


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