Today’s coronavirus news: Health Canada expected to approve AstraZeneca vaccine next week; Ford to announce details next week on reopening economy


  • 10:10 a.m.: Ontario reporting 1,670 more cases, 45 deaths

  • 9:53 a.m.: Details out next week on reopening Ontario’s economy

  • 5:05 a.m. U.K. arrivals to spend 10 days in hotel isolation

  • 4:54 a.m. Israel to begin easing lockdown on Sunday

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

1:30 p.m.: Premier Doug Ford will announce details on reopening Ontario’s economy next week, the labour minister said Friday as the government debated whether or not to extend the province’s state of emergency.

Monte McNaughton did not provide further specifics but his comments came before Ford and his cabinet were to meet to discuss the emergency order that’s set to expire on Tuesday.

“We’re moving toward reopening the economy and the premier is going to further communicate that next week,” McNaughton said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

Ontario’s Solicitor General’s office said no decisions have been made regarding whether to end or extend the emergency order.

A provincial lockdown was imposed in late December and was followed by the state of emergency and a stay-at-home order that took effect Jan. 14 as COVID-19 rates surged.

1:10 p.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is supposed to get its 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca before the end of June.

Health Canada is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Canada next week and Trudeau says he believes the 20 million doses Canada pre-ordered from the company will be delivered before Canada Day.

Those doses would double the number of Canadians who could be vaccinated in the spring, from 10 million with existing vaccines to 20 million with those and AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

1:10 p.m.: A member of the World Health Organization expert team investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan says the Chinese side granted full access to all sites and personnel they requested — a level of openness that even he hadn’t expected.

Peter Daszak told The Associated Press on Friday that team members had submitted a deeply considered list of places and people to include in their investigation and that no objections were raised.

“We were asked where we wanted to go. We gave our hosts a list … and you can see from where we’ve been, we’ve been to all the key places,” Daszak said.

“Every place we asked to see, everyone we wanted to meet. … So really good,” said the British-born zoologist, who is president of the NGO EcoHealth Alliance in New York City.

1 p.m. Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador are reporting one new case of COVID-19.

They say the person involved is a woman in her 50s who is a close contact of a previously identified infection.

Authorities say there are now 14 active reported infections in the province.

12:45 p.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seeking to quell Canadians’ angst over COVID-19 vaccine delivery delays as he announces the military will help a First Nation in northern Manitoba deal with the pandemic.

Trudeau says Canada is “very much on track” to receive a total of six million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine doses by the end of March, as planned, and that the CEOs of both pharmaceutical companies have reassured him they’ll meet that target.

He also says the Liberal government has approved a request for help from the Pauingassi First Nation in northern Manitoba and that the military will arrive by Saturday at the latest.

Soldiers will provide logistical support, transport goods and medical supplies, and conduct wellness checks.

12:15 p.m.: Don’t let Super Sunday be a super-spreader event.

That’s the message from Premier Doug Ford as he reminded Ontarians that the “stay home” order to tackle COVID-19 infections remains in place on Super Bowl Sunday.

“I know many of you are excited for the #SuperBowl this weekend between the @Chiefs & @Buccaneers,” Ford said on Twitter late Thursday.

The Star’s Robert Benzie has the story.

12:05 p.m.: Ontario’s plan to reopen schools in COVID-19 hot spots has raised concerns among parents who say the government has failed to implement safety measures just as contagious new variants of the novel coronavirus are taking hold.

The announcement, long-awaited by many parents who have been stretched thin during a month-long period of remote learning, has raised questions about just how safe it will be when in-person classes resume in COVID-19 hot spots over the next two weeks.

“I feel that I am against the wall and I have to decide between sending my kids to school and keeping my family safe,” said Fernanda Yanchapaxi, a Toronto mother of two.

“I’m not saying that I don’t want them to be back. I’m dying for them to go back to school. I just want them to be safe.”

11:40 a.m.: The Pentagon will deploy troops to assist getting Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House said Friday.

Coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt announced that Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It means about 1,000 active duty military personnel will deploy to help state vaccination centres.

President Joe Biden has called for setting up 100 mass vaccination centres around the country within a month. Two are opening in California, and Slavitt said military personnel will arrive at those centres in a little over a week.

The Pentagon has scheduled a news briefing later Friday to provide more information about the military role.

11:38 a.m.: A more contagious variant of the coronavirus first detected in Britain now accounts for almost six per cent of all cases in Germany, officials said Friday.

The head of Germany’s disease control agency said labs examined the genome of the virus in more than 30,000 positive samples last week to assess the spread of the variant, known to scientists as B.1.1.7., and two others that were first found in South Africa and Brazil.

“The three variants, particularly B.1.1.7., have arrived in Germany,” Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, told reporters in Berlin. “They’re not dominant yet, but we have to reckon that their share will continue to rise, just as it has been reported from other European countries in recent weeks.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that the prevalence of new variants of the virus will play a role in discussions between the federal and state governments next week about whether to extend existing lockdown restrictions beyond mid-February.

11:20 a.m.: Quebec is reporting 1,101 COVID-19 infections and 33 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Health officials say the number of hospitalizations dropped by 30 to 1,040, and 168 people were in intensive care, a drop of seven.

Officials say 4,140 doses of vaccine were administered yesterday, for a total of 248,673.

10:45 a.m.: Two of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations are criticizing Canada’s decision to draw COVID-19 vaccines from an international fund designed to help poor countries.

Oxfam Canada and the ONE Campaign say it is wrong for the federal government to agree to accept almost 1.9 million doses of vaccine from the COVAX Facility by the end of June.

Canada is one of the leading donors to COVAX, a new international partnership under the World Health Organization created last year to help deliver billions of expensive vaccine doses to poor countries that can’t afford vaccinations.

In return, donor countries are allowed to receive a small percentage of vaccines for their own use, but the Trudeau Liberals have been under fire from their political opponents for doing that as Canada faces shortfalls in doses from two major international biotech firms.

Diana Sarosi, Oxfam Canada’s policy director, says it is wrong for Canada to accept COVAX vaccines because of domestic political pressure and says it will ultimately do harm in poorer countries.

Stuart Hickox, the Canadian executive director of the ONE Campaign, says Canada looks bad by accepting the doses and should be making plans to share its excess vaccines.

10:35 a.m.: Ontario is also reporting 13 more deaths among residents for a total of 3,640 since the pandemic began.

There are two more long-term-care homes in outbreak for a total of 208 (or 33.2 per cent of the LTC homes in the province).

10:25 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 7,694 doses of vaccine were administered since its last daily update, for a total of 362,749 as of 8 p.m. Thursday.

The province says 87,831 people are now fully vaccinated, which means they’ve had two shots.

10:15 a.m.: Locally, there are 667 new cases in Toronto, 317 in Peel, 125 in York Region and 100 in Halton.

10:10 a.m. (updated): Ontario is reporting 1,670 cases, with 45 deaths.

The numbers may not be a true representation because of a change in data reporting among local public health units including Toronto that took place this week.

The province says Toronto has an overcount of about 125 cases, related to that ongoing system change.

The seven-day average is down to 1,576 cases daily or 76 weekly per 100,000 and down to 52.3 deaths a day.

The labs are reporting 62,710 completed tests with a 2.5 per cent positivity rate, which is the lowest since Oct. 22, the Star’s Ed Tubb reports.

The Star’s Breanna Xavier-Carter has the full story.

9:53 a.m.: Ontario’s labour minister says Premier Doug Ford will announce details on reopening the province’s economy next week.

Monte McNaughton did not provide further specifics, but his comments come as the province’s current state of emergency is set to expire on Tuesday.

Ford and his cabinet are meeting today to discuss the government’s options surrounding the emergency order.

Ontario’s Solicitor General’s office says no decisions have been made regarding whether to end or extend the emergency order.

A provincial lockdown was imposed in late December and was followed by the state of emergency and a stay-at-home order that took effect Jan. 14 as COVID-19 rates surged.

Cases have since declined, although public health officials have said the spread of more contagious variants of COVID-19 are a concern.

9:41 a.m. The U.K. government announced Friday that it plans to work with a German biopharmaceutical company to develop vaccines targeting emerging variants of COVID-19 as public health officials call for new tools to keep the virus in check as it mutates.

As part of the deal, Tuebingen, Germany-based CureVac said it would supply the U.K. with 50 million doses of the vaccines if they are approved by regulators and that it would manufacture the shots in Britain. The government didn’t say how much it was investing in the project.

The announcement comes as public health officials around the world raise concerns about new virus variants that are more contagious or resistant to existing vaccines. While viruses mutate constantly, most of the changes cause little concern. But scientists are closely tracking these mutations to make sure they quickly identify variants of concern.

“While the vaccines currently being deployed in the U.K. appear to work well against the COVID-19 variants currently dominant in the UK, the virus continues to mutate and it is likely that our vaccines will have to adapt to continue to offer the best possible protection,? said Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer.

“Being able to create these new vaccines at speed will allow our scientists to keep ahead of the virus as they do every year with the influenza vaccine.”

9:15 a.m. When Celina Aguirre and Alan Cuthbert cancelled their wedding in early 2021, they had already rebooked their May 30, 2020 celebration for Sept. 11 of this year. About 50 of their guests would have been arriving from Mexico, including Aguirre’s mother.

The couple had already paid their venue, an event space in north Toronto, a $7,400 deposit on a $22,000 wedding that included 110 guests. But to cancel, the venue said the couple needed to pay 60 per cent of the total contract amount, or $13,200, in addition to a $2,500 cancellation fee.

The couple was frustrated, but Aguirre came up with a solution — they decided to try to sell their wedding date.

She recalled seeing posts in a local Facebook wedding group where people were offering to have other couples pay them back their venue deposits in exchange for taking over their assigned date.

Aguirre’s venue agreed to transfer the bride and groom’s date to another couple — if they could sell it by Feb. 28 of this year.

Read the full story from Andrea Yu

8:50 a.m. Statistics Canada says the economy lost 213,000 jobs in in January as employment fell to the lowest level since August last year, wiping out the gains made in the fall.

The unemployment rate rose 0.6 percentage points to 9.4 per cent, the highest rate since August.

Financial data firm Refinitiv says the average economist estimate was for a loss of 47,500 jobs in January and an unemployment rate of 8.9 per cent.

8:46 a.m. A central Florida police officer has been fired following a coworker’s complaint that he mocked her concerns about the coronavirus, hugged her against her wishes and misled investigators who probed the allegations against him, according to records.

An internal investigation by the Longwood Police Department found Cpl. David Hernandez was “not fully forthcoming and not truthful” when questioned about the interaction in July with the woman, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

The co-worker “told you not to touch her and physically backed away from you and crossed her arms,” police Chief David Dowda wrote in his review of the case, which the newspaper obtained through a public records request.



“This was more than sufficient indication for you to know to stop trying to embrace her; however you ignored her comments and moments later embraced her,” the chief wrote.

The woman said she made it clear that she feared contracting COVID-19. Hernandez ignored her and followed her into her work space, the report said.

There he kept “taunting her with comments about her being afraid of contracting COVID-19,” while sitting at her desk and “touching items on her desk,” the report said.

7:30 a.m. While COVID-19 vaccines have some people excited to be released from the pandemic’s shackles, they’ve left others terrified — and, in many cases, misinformed.

On WhatsApp, WeChat and other social media platforms, myths about the impact of vaccines range from microchips being injected into your body to the risk of infertility.

The fear is especially palpable in the Black-Canadian community, for good reason.

“Given the history of systemic anti-Black racism in North America, we have to ask: Has enough been done to earn that trust?” said Akwatu Khenti, chair of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity.

Read the full story from the Star’s Danica Samuel

7:20 a.m. Toronto has a new, $6.8-million plan to fight the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community. But the roots of health inequity were taking hold long before the pandemic started.

“These are conversations we have been having. We’ve been advocating, we’ve been speaking about it,” said Lydia-Joi Marshall, president of the Black Health Alliance. “This is not a new crisis for the Black community …. This is just highlighting the inequities that have been happening all along.”

Marshall, who has worked in healthcare research for more than 15 years and was a speaker at this month’s TEDxToronto: Uncharted, spoke with the Star to explain five long-standing issues that have made the healthcare system unequal for the Black community. Many of these still need to be addressed.

Read the full story from the Star’s Angelyn Francis

5:59 a.m. Statistics Canada will say this morning how the Canadian labour market fared in January as large parts of the country were on lockdown to slow the rising tide of COVID-19 cases.

Economists have warned that the heavy restrictions and business closures will likely mean job losses last month.

Financial data firm Refinitiv says the average economist estimate is for a loss of 47,500 jobs in January and an unemployment rate of 8.9 per cent.

Losses in January would mark a second straight month that the labour market contracted after 63,000 positions disappeared in December to break a streak of monthly gains that began in May 2020.

In December, the unemployment rate was 8.6 per cent, but would have been 10.9 per cent had Statistics Canada included in calculations Canadians who wanted to work but didn’t search for a job.

5:10 a.m. Germany’s health minister says first batches of the newly authorized AstraZeneca vaccine for will be delivered to the country’s 16 states Friday.

Jens Spahn said the addition of a third vaccine would “make a real difference” to Germany’s immunization campaign, which has so far been sluggish compared to the United States or Britain.

But Spahn said that, for now, the AstraZeneca shot will only be given to people aged 18-64, due to lack of data on older age groups.

He cited the additional vaccine as one of several positive signs for the country’s fight against the pandemic, along with the fact that for the first time in two months Germany has fewer than 200,000 people infected with COVID-19 and the nationwide number of newly confirmed cases per week has dropped to 80 per 100,000 inhabitants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Thursday that the target remains 50 cases per week for every 100,000 people.

5:05 a.m. British officials say everyone arriving in the country from coronavirus hot spots will have to spend 10 days in hotel quarantine starting Feb. 15 in a bid to stop new variants of the virus reaching the U.K.

The government is facing criticism for the delay in implementing the policy, which it first announced in late January.

Arrivals from high-risk countries will have to quarantine in approved hotels patrolled by security guards, and will be billed for their stay. The U.K. says it has sought advice from Australia and New Zealand, where quarantine hotels have been used to contain COVID-19.

5:02 a.m. Pfizer Inc says it has withdrawn its application for emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine in India.

The company said Friday that it participated in a meeting of experts of the drug regulator on Feb. 3. Based on the deliberation of that meeting and “our understanding of additional information that the regulator may need, the company has decided to withdraw its application at this time,” it said in a statement.

The company was the first to approach the Indian regulator in December for its messenger RNA vaccine that it has developed with Germany’s BioNTech. They were closely followed by applications for two other vaccines — a version of the AstraZeneca made by Serum Institute of India and another by Indian company Bharat Biotech — which eventually got the nod for emergency use on Jan. 3.

However, India’s Health Ministry has said that Pfizer hadn’t made its presentation to experts who needed to clear the vaccine, before the regulator could green-light its use in India.

Pfizer said in the statement that it would continue to engage with authorities and that it was committed to making its vaccine available for use in India. The company said that it would “resubmit its approval request with additional information as it becomes available in the near future.”

5 a.m. Germany’s death toll in the coronavirus pandemic has topped 60,000 even as new infections decline significantly.

The country’s disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, said Friday that 855 more deaths were reported over the past 24 hours. That brought Germany’s total so far to 60,597.

In Europe, the U.K., Italy, France, Russia and Spain have reported more deaths. Germany had a relatively low death rate in the pandemic’s first phase, but saw much more infections in the fall and winter — peaking around a month ago — and hundreds of deaths per day in recent weeks. The death toll hit 50,000 two weeks ago.

A partial shutdown that started at the beginning of November was widened into a second lockdown in mid-December and is still in place. Chancellor Angela Merkel and state governors are due to discuss on Wednesday what, if any, restrictions can be lifted after its current expiry date of Feb. 14.

4:54 a.m. Israel plans to begin slowly easing its latest coronavirus lockdown on Sunday, hoping that its rapid vaccination campaign helps to contain an outbreak accelerated by new variants.

A government statement released early Friday details the lifting of restrictions. People will no longer have to remain within 1,000 metres (yards) of home, national parks will reopen and restaurants can offer takeout. Workplaces not open to the public can also reopen.

Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination drives, inoculating more than a third of its population of 9.3 million in a matter or weeks. But the rate of new cases has remained high, in part because of more contagious variants from Britain and South Africa.

4:50 a.m. The NDP is calling for the elimination of for-profit long-term care by 2030 in a multibillion-dollar plan presented as a potential election promise.

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh says an NDP government would convene provincial and territorial leaders, experts and workers to set national standards for nursing homes, and tether those benchmarks to $5 billion in federal funding.

The proposal is the latest move in anticipation of a possible election campaign as parties vet candidates and rev up fundraising.

In a release Friday, Singh accuses the minority Liberal government of underfunding health care and protecting the profits of large companies and shareholders.

“Justin Trudeau made a promise to long-term care workers, residents, and their families to better fund long-term care and seniors care before he was prime minister. He broke his promise,” Singh said.

The NDP’s pre-emptive platform plank would see a national task force charged with crafting a plan to transition all for-profit care to a not-for-profit model in less than 10 years.

Friday 4 a.m. Restrictions on social gatherings and events to contain the spread of COVID-19 are supposed to lift in British Columbia today, but the provincial health officer has indicated that may not happen.

Dr. Bonnie Henry imposed limits back in November as case counts rose, saying there would be no social gatherings with people who aren’t in the same household.

Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix are expected to release the latest modelling numbers for the province and address the question of restrictions today.

Both Henry and Dix urged residents during their last news conference not to make any plans outside their household for Super Bowl Sunday.

Henry said they have concerns about the new and faster-spreading variants of COVID-19 in other jurisdictions and they don’t want them to spread in B.C.

B.C. reported 465 new cases on Thursday, a downward trend that Henry and Dix said in a statement they would like to see continue, but there’s concern that the Super Bowl could be a super-spreading day.

Thursday 7:30 p.m.: No matter how frustrated they are with COVID-19 lockdowns, small business owners would be making a potentially costly mistake by opening their doors when they’re not allowed to, government officials and small business advocates say.

That message comes as an anti-lockdown group called “We Are All Essential” is urging businesses across the country to reopen Feb. 11 — the day after Ontario’s 28-day stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire — in defiance of orders.

The group is led by antimask activist Vladislav Sobolev, who’s a vocal supporter of Adamson Barbecue owner Adam Skelly and also founder of Hugs Over Masks. In an interview, Sobolev said there are 400 businesses across the country ready to take part.

“People feel like they’ve got no other choice,” said Sobolev.

Among them are Barbara Bushe and Karthik Raj, the husband-and-wife team behind a Newmarket New Age wellness shop, Point of Light Body, Mind, Spirit Store & Centre.

Bushe and Raj, who are already fighting fines for opening against the rules in December, say business is down 88 per cent compared to pre-COVID-19.

“This is our only way to earn a living,” said Raj, who admitted there’s still a chance the store won’t open next week, based on legal advice.

Read the full story here: Will small business rebel and reopen on Feb. 11? Those fighting COVID-19 lockdown rules risk heavy fines, experts say

Click here to read more of Thursday’s COVID-19 coverage.

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