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.
7:59 p.m. British Columbia recorded another 2,137 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, although health officials have said limited testing capacity means daily numbers are up to five times higher.
Nine more people have died, for a total of 2,597 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The Health Ministry says 990 people are in hospital, and 141 of them are in intensive care units.
5:26 p.m. The Canadian Press has published a look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:
4:37 p.m. British Columbia’s top doctor says COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings are expected to be gradually lifted next month, starting on Family Day, reports The Canadian Press.
Dr. Bonnie Henry says that’s possible in part because 90 per cent of residents aged 12 and over have received two doses of vaccine, although more people need to get a booster shot for longer-lasting protection, according to CP.
She says taking that step is necessary as new variants will surely emerge as immunity wanes and respiratory season in the fall again brings an increased risk of transmission.
Henry says B.C.’s committee on immunization will be discussing a recommendation from its federal counterpart that children between the ages of five and 12 get a booster shot if they have underlying health conditions.
She says there are pros and cons in making that decision and more details will be provided at her next briefing on Tuesday.
Henry says people have adapted repeatedly through five waves of COVID-19 since B.C. identified its first infection two years ago today, but the main factors for contracting the virus are age and being unvaccinated.
4:28 p.m. Recoveries outpaced new cases of COVID-19 in Prince Edward Island today by a margin of almost two to one, reports The Canadian Press.
Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison reported 215 new cases of the virus and 417 new recoveries, according to CP.
There are 17 people in hospital with COVID-19 — unchanged from Thursday.
Morrison said two people are in intensive care, and one other person is in hospital for another reason but has also tested positive for COVID-19.
Officials reported that an outbreak at the Miscouche Villa long-term care home has been declared over, but there are still seven long-term care facilities with outbreaks that continue.
There is also an outbreak at the Prince County Hospital, while 22 early learning and child care centres have reported cases.
4 p.m.: A ban on landlords ending apartment leases for the purpose of renovations has been extended by the Nova Scotia government.
Introduced in late November, the ban on “renovictions” — where a landlord removes a tenant, makes upgrades and then lists the unit at a higher price — was scheduled to end Feb. 1.
It has now been extended until the lifting of the province’s state of emergency to deal with COVID-19 or when the government decides to repeal it.
In a news release, Service Nova Scotia Minister Colton LeBlanc says the move is necessary because of the uncertainty associated with the pandemic.
The province’s Residential Tenancies Act was amended in October to protect tenants in situations where a landlord needs to end a lease for renovations, and the province says those new rules will take effect when the ban ends.
The changes include a requirement for written consent to terminate a lease, more notice before eviction and automatic compensation for eviction.
The compensation would be three months’ rent in buildings with five or more units and one month’s rent in buildings with four units or fewer.
A temporary two per cent cap on rent hikes was also extended through legislation until Dec. 31, 2023.
3:44 p.m.: Toronto is moving from trying to eradicate COVID-19 to learning to live with the virus while minimizing its negative impacts — just as we do every year with influenza, says public health chief Dr. Eileen de Villa.
She told reporters at a Friday briefing that public health officials around the world are concluding that, given how many people are being infected with COVID-19’s Omicron variant, a “COVID zero strategy” no longer makes sense.
“People are talking about eventually getting to a point where COVID is more endemic — it’s part and parcel of our background. You may see some flare-ups over time,” that will strain the health system and kill some people, she said.
That suffering will be minimized with vaccinations, masking, distancing and ventilation, de Villa said, adding that “learning to live with COVID can be seen as akin to something along the lines of how we manage influenza on a yearly basis.
What happens to remaining pandemic restrictions after some are lifted Monday depends on “what we’re seeing on the ground,” with virus impacts, de Villa said.
Read the full story here from David Rider.
2:48 p.m. The number of Newfoundland and Labrador patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 has held steady at 20 since Tuesday, but ICU admissions have increased.
Public health said in a release today there now eight COVID-19 patients in critical care, an increase from five on Tuesday.
Officials reported 265 new confirmed cases since Thursday, though the figure does not include those who may have contracted the disease but do not qualify for a PCR test to confirm their infection.
2:33 p.m. Nearly 50,000 elementary and high school students were absent from Quebec schools due to COVID-19 less than two weeks after in-person classes resumed.
Quebec’s Education Department said Thursday evening that 49,852 students, 3.64 per cent of the total number in the province, were absent after testing positive or having a suspected case of the disease.
It said 2,080 teachers, 1.53 per cent of the province’s total, are also absent due to the disease.
2:20 p.m. Ivermectin, an antiparasitic medication with uses in animals and humans, has been widely touted by media personalities, right-wing politicians and even some doctors as a cure and preventative for COVID-19 — despite the evidence that it doesn’t work.
But even as bodies such as the World Health Organization and Health Canada have warned against its use for COVID-19, misinformation on ivermectin has continued to spread, including claims that the medication led to dramatic decreases in infections in Japan and India. The Star fact-checked those claims.
Read the latest from the Star’s Lex Harvey.
2 p.m. Ottawa police are warning residents not to visit the downtown core unless necessary, as the city braces for the arrival of a so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ that is protesting vaccine mandates and health restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, a virus that has killed more than 33,000 Canadians.
Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly told reporters on Friday that officials expect a “massive” but unknown number of protesters to descend on the city, and that the demonstrations could continue through the weekend and into next week. The convoy of truckers, who are upset with vaccine mandates in their industry, left Kingston early Friday.
While police have been in contact with eight “core” organizers of the protest convoy who say they intend to demonstrate peacefully, Sloly said his officers have not been able to communicate with “parallel” groups that are expected to protest alongside the truck drivers.
Read the full story from the Star’s Alex Ballingall
1:42 p.m. A U.K. government probe into alleged rule-breaking parties in Boris Johnson’s office during the pandemic could be stripped of key details at the request of the police, potentially handing the prime minister a boost as he tries to persuade his Conservatives not to mount a leadership challenge.
Facing a major public backlash, Johnson commissioned the civil service to look into reports he and his staff broke coronavirus lockdown rules with various events in Downing Street. The report, by senior civil servant Sue Gray, was expected to be published this week.
But the decision by London’s Metropolitan Police to start its own probe into some — but not all — of the alleged parties caused a delay. That’s prolonging the uncertainty at the top of the ruling Conservative Party, with many Tory members of Parliament saying they will wait for Gray’s findings before deciding whether to demand Johnson step down.
The police probe, which was triggered by some of Gray’s findings, led to discussions between the government and detectives over what can now be published to “avoid any prejudice” to the criminal probe.
1:20 p.m. Ontario has reported the deaths of more than 1,000 people due to COVID-19 so far this month, a grim figure the province’s top doctor largely attributes to the previous, more virulent strain of the virus, though he admits the data is murky.
The province has logged persistently high numbers of fatalities each day this month, despite the dominant Omicron variant of the virus typically causing milder illness and all but replacing the more severe Delta variant almost six weeks ago, while circulating among a well-vaccinated population.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said officials are trying to ascertain what factors are causing so many Ontarians to die, including whether Delta or Omicron or a combination of the two is responsible, but whole genome sequencing to determine variant type takes weeks.
11:45 a.m. The first trucks in a massive convoy organized to protest the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border big-rig drivers has left Kingston, Ont., and is on its way to the Ottawa area.
Kingston police announced on Twitter that the last vehicles in the convoy had departed the city around 9:30 a.m. Friday, putting its likely arrival in the capital at around noon.
The convoy has been gaining participants and supporters as it rolls across the country from all directions for a weekend rally.
While the size of the convoy has been a source of debate, the Kingston police said it had counted 17 full tractor trailers, 104 big rigs without trailers, 424 passenger vehicles and six recreational vehicles.
11:30 a.m. Skip Tracy Fleury will sit out the start of the Canadian women’s curling championship in COVID-19 protocol.
Fleury, the skip of a wild-card team, was one of two athletes in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts who tested positive for the virus before departing for Thunder Bay, Ont.
Curling Canada did not name the athletes, but Fleury’s team confirmed their skip’s situation on social media Friday.
“Unfortunately due to a positive COVID test we still be starting the event without Tracy,” the post said.
11:05 a.m. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is now recommending teenagers with underlying conditions or at high-risk of COVID-19 exposure get a booster shot.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says kids and adolescents are still at low risk of serious illness in general from COVID-19 but because of the high rate of infection due to Omicron more kids are being admitted to hospital.
NACI’s new advice for teenagers between 12 and 17 is to get a booster if they have an underlying medical condition or live in congregate settings or racialized or marginalized communities that have been hard hit by COVID-19 infections.
10:50 a.m. Five members of Team Canada’s delegation in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics are currently in COVID-19 protocol, the Canadian Olympic Committee said Friday.
The COC announced the numbers in a release outlining its plans to share information related to COVID-19 cases.
The COC said it will provide an update of the number of team members in protocol as part of its daily recaps starting Feb. 4, when the Games officially open. It will provide updates when possible leading up to the start of the Olympics.
The COC said the names of those in protocol will not be shared, unless an athlete who can’t compete because of a confirmed positive test wishes to disclose that information.
10:20 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 607 people in intensive care with COVID-19 and 3,535 hospitalized patients in total.
That’s down from 3,645 people hospitalized with the illness yesterday and up from 599 patients in ICU.
There were 387 patients on ventilators due to the illness.
The province reported 67 more deaths from the virus that happened over the last month.
There were 5,337 new COVID-19 cases reported but the real number is likely higher due to a restricted testing policy.
9:57 a.m. Japan’s government said Friday it will watch the World Health Organization’s investigation into staff complaints over racism and abuse by a top Japanese official at the agency but denied it inappropriately received sensitive vaccine information from him.
Meanwhile in Geneva, France’s diplomatic mission said that if the allegations are proven to be true, the possible consequences include the termination of the WHO director’s contract.
An investigation by the Associated Press this week found WHO staffers alleged that Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the U.N. health agency’s top director in the Western Pacific, engaged in unethical, racist and abusive behavior, undermining WHO’s efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic, according to an internal complaint filed last October.
9:30 a.m. The world now has roughly 10,000 sources of misinformation dressed up to look respectable. Though they superficially appear to have scientific authority, for years they’ve made money publishing false and even absurd findings — misleading to the uninformed, but not necessarily dangerous.
Then COVID-19 came along.
Fake cures, untrue claims about alleged risks of vaccination, and more have been helped to proliferate, and been given a thin veneer of plausibility, by the rise of the “predatory journal.”
Take, for instance, one website that published claims that hydroxychloroquine is effective against COVID-19. It was exposed when it also published a satirical study submitted by the “Institute of Quick and Dirty Science,” claiming hydroxychloroquine could prevent scooter accidents in Marseille. Yet the original paper remains online.
Why bogus science journals are thriving in the era of COVID-19
9:10 a.m. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and the Ontario government have paid one of the largest consulting companies in the world $22.4 million to help run the province’s new COVID-19 paid sick leave program, and could be on the hook for millions more.
The agreement with Deloitte LLC came through two sole-sourced contracts handed out two days before the official announcement of the Worker Income Protection Benefit last April. The contracts are worth up to $43.7 million.
“The fees are based on the level of staff and effort required to complete the engagement,” Deloitte said in an “engagement letter” sent to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) on May 7, and signed by then-WSIB CEO Tom Bell on May 18.
Read the full story from the Star’s Josh Rubin
8:17 a.m.: Early data on Ontario’s Omicron wave is offering a striking first glimpse of how many more of the province’s most vulnerable residents might be dying, if not for the COVID-19 vaccine.
A new report released by Public Health Ontario this week provides the first data on COVID hospitalizations and deaths that both breaks down outcomes by patients’ vaccination status and includes a significant part of the Omicron wave.
The report details how the oldest seniors are still being hit disproportionately hard — those over age 80 accounted for about half of all reported deaths in the two-month period ending Jan. 16. But it also reveals a staggeringly higher proportional toll — 85 deaths — among the very few Ontarians over age 80 who are not yet vaccinated.
The fact those 85 deaths occurred in a population vastly smaller than the more than 650,000 Ontarians in that age cohort who are at least double vaccinated offers compelling evidence of how the vaccine has prevented the Omicron wave from becoming Ontario’s deadliest by far.
Without the vaccine, Omicron’s impact on older Ontarians would have been “catastrophic” and much worse than the carnage wrought by the first and second waves, said Dr. Amit Arya, palliative care lead at Kensington Health.
Read the Star’s Ed Tubb and Kenyon Wallace story.
5:58 a.m.: Inuit in Nunavut who get a COVID-19 vaccine could end up with a brand new ride.
A new program means Inuit living in each of the territory’s 25 communities have a chance to win a snowmobile for getting their shots.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the territory’s land claim body, is holding draws across Nunavut for vaccinated Inuit residents to win one of 25 machines.
Esther Powell, clinical manager for COVID-19 with NTI, said she had been thinking about ways to encourage more Nunavut residents to get vaccinated.
“I had to think realistically about what would be the most useful,” Powell told The Canadian Press from her office in Rankin Inlet. “Snowmobiles made sense.”
Powell said buying 25 snowmobiles in each of the territory’s fly-in communities wasn’t easy, but local Northern stores were all willing to set one aside for the draw.
5:57 a.m.: Ontarians who suspect they caught COVID-19 at work can make claims with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board even without a positive result from a PCR test now that the gold-standard assessment tool is no longer available to most residents.
A top executive with the board says, however, that individuals should still try to get a medical opinion or rapid test to confirm their infection.
“Our approach hasn’t changed too dramatically,” said Scott Bujeya, chief operations officer with the board, which supports those injured at work. “The information gathering that we’re doing is very similar to what we would have been doing pre-Omicron.”
5:56 a.m.: It’s difficult to forget the tragic scenes that played out in long-term care homes across the country in the early days of the pandemic as residents died in the thousands, isolated from their loved ones.
While vaccines have played a major role in protecting homes from the same deadly toll the first wave of COVID-19 took on residents, the impact has still been profound during the Omicron wave.
“It’s staggering when you just look at the number of homes in outbreak,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the National Institute on Aging.
“It’s just so sad when you think that in the last few weeks we’ve lost over 300 residents and just how unforgiving this pandemic has been, especially to those people living in our long-term care and retirement homes.”
More than 34 per cent of Canada’s 6,029 long-term care homes are experiencing an outbreak, the NIA’s latest figures show.
That’s twice as many homes as the second highest peak in long-term care outbreaks, when 1,000 homes were infected last January, Sinha said.
The number of outbreaks has continued to increase since the Omicron wave first struck in mid-December, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
And just in the last few days Canada marked the 16,000th death in long-term care since the pandemic began.
COVID-19 has also severely restricted the already short-staffed sector, as workers in the home have fallen ill and had to isolate.
That’s led to concerns about the level of care residents are left with, and the potential for the suffering and deaths of residents who don’t have the virus.
5:55 a.m.: Norway’s 84-year-old King Harald V will take a few days off with cold symptoms, the palace said Friday, a day after meeting with Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt who later tested positive for the coronavirus.
The royal household said in a brief statement that “all necessary examinations and tests will be carried out,” and that his son and heir, Crown Prince Haakon, has taken over his father’s duties.
In a statement to the Norwegian news agency NTB, Huitfeldt said that “I sincerely hope that I have not infected King Harald, Queen Sonja or Crown Prince Haakon” and wished the monarch “good recovery.”
5:54 a.m.: The European Union ombudsman on Friday found the bloc’s executive arm responsible for “maladministration” after it did not provide access to text messages between its president and the CEO of pharmaceutical company Pfizer relating to coronavirus vaccine purchases.
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly consequently recommended that the European Commission “do a more extensive search for the relevant messages.”
In April last year, a story published by the New York Times revealed that EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had exchanged text messages and calls about vaccine procurements for EU countries.
A journalist then asked the Commission for access to the text messages and other documents, but the executive branch did not provide any text.
According to the ombudsman’s inquiry, the Commission did not clearly ask von der Leyen’s cabinet to look for the text messages.
“This falls short of reasonable expectations of transparency and administrative standards in the Commission,” O’Reilly said. “When it comes to the right of public access to EU documents, it is the content of the document that matters and not the device or form. If text messages concern EU policies and decisions, they should be treated as EU documents. The EU administration needs to update its document recording practices to reflect this reality.”
5:53 a.m.: Thai health authorities approved new guidelines Friday outlining the parameters for declaring the coronavirus pandemic an endemic disease.
Official figures show that the country already meets the three criteria, but Ministry of Public Health spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati said it would still be between six months and a year before the government would be able to make the decision to start treating COVID-19 as an illness that is here to stay, like the flu or measles.
Among other things, he said data from all of Thailand’s provinces need to be checked, and authorities need to be sure that the figures remain at the current levels or improve before it can be declared endemic.
The guidelines drawn up by the ministry’s National Communicable Disease Committee are made up of three criteria: that there are fewer than 10,000 new cases per day; that the fatality rate is no higher than 0.1% of those who are admitted to the hospital with an infection; and that more than 80% of at-risk people have had at least two vaccinations.
5:52 a.m.: The Philippines will lift a ban on the entry of foreign tourists and businesspeople next month after nearly two years, in a move to revive the battered tourism industry as the latest coronavirus outbreak started to ease, officials said Friday.
Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said the country will reopen its doors to travellers from more than 150 countries with visa-free privileges starting Feb. 10. Foreign travellers will no longer be required to quarantine in government-designated centres upon arrival if they have been fully vaccinated and tested negative prior to arrival, officials said.
The government had initially planned to lift the ban on Dec. 1 but indefinitely postponed it as the more contagious Omicron variant spread, which also prompted authorities to reimpose tighter restrictions.
5:51 a.m.: Two days after Sarah Palin tested positive for the coronavirus, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee dined outdoors in New York City on Wednesday evening, defying federal guidance that infected people isolate from others for at least five full days.
Palin, who is unvaccinated, returned to Elio’s, the Upper East Side restaurant where she had been seen dining indoors Saturday despite the city’s requirement that indoor guests show proof of vaccination. Non-compliance can cost business owners a $1,000 fine.
Luca Guaitolini, a manager for the restaurant who confirmed both of Palin’s visits in the past week, said they “just made a mistake” on Saturday.
In a statement Thursday, Guaitolini said she returned to the restaurant Wednesday to “apologize for the fracas around her previous visit.” He said Palin was seated outdoors in accordance with the vaccine mandate and to protect the restaurant’s staff. “We are a restaurant open to the public, and we treat civilians the same,” he said.
5:50 a.m.: How many times can I reuse my N95 mask?
It depends, but you should be able to use N95s and KN95s a few times.
The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says health care workers can wear an N95 mask up to five times. But experts say how often the average person can safely wear one will vary depending on how it’s used.
Using the same mask to run to the grocery store, for example, is very different than wearing it all day at work.
The amount of time a mask is worn is more important than how frequently it’s worn, says Richard Flagan, who studies masks and aerosols at the California Institute of Technology.
In general, he recommends limiting the use of an N95 mask to about two or three days.
With every breath you take in an N95, particles accumulate on the mask, Flagan says. That could make it more difficult to breathe if the mask has trapped a lot of particles.
“They are degrading the performance of the mask,” Flagan says.
Friday 5:48 a.m.: Hong Kong is cutting the length of mandatory quarantine for people arriving from overseas from 21 to 14 days, even as the southern Chinese city battles a new surge in COVID-19 cases.
Hong Kong is a major hub for business and finance and the tight restrictions on foreign travel had drawn complaints, especially from the large expatriate community.
The relaxation of rules doesn’t satisfy calls for a lowering of almost all quarantine requirements, as some countries have done, but represents a break with China and its “zero tolerance” policy toward the virus that still requires all foreign arrivals to isolate for 21 days, has cut key domestic travel links and placed millions under lockdown.
After leaving their quarantine hotels, travellers will still need to remain at home for an additional seven days for self-monitoring.
Read Thursday’s coronavirus news.JOIN THE CONVERSATION Q:
Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)
RegisterConversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.