The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
10:44 a.m. The Ontario Hockey League has cancelled its 2020-21 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The OHL will be the only one of Canada’s three major junior hockey leagues not to hold a 2020-21 season.
10:37 a.m.: The governments of Manitoba and North Dakota are aiming to ensure essential workers who have to cross the Canada-U.S. border are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum are scheduled to announce an initiative on the issue later today.
Some essential workers, such as commercial truckers and health-care providers, are exempt from the requirement to quarantine for 14 days upon entering Canada.
Manitoba has ramped up its vaccination program this week.
10:15 a.m.: Nunavut is reporting five new cases of COVID-19.
There are now 33 active cases in the territory, 31 in Iqaluit and two in Kinngait.
Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says the two cases in Kinngait are not related to the ongoing outbreak in Iqaluit.
Both Iqaluit and Kinngait are under a strict lockdown, with all schools, non-essential businesses and workplaces closed.
10:11 a.m. Ontario is reporting 3,469 COVID-19 cases with 22 deaths. The seven-day average is down to 4,319 cases per day or 208 weekly per 100,000, and up to 25.0 deaths per day, a new high in the third wave. Labs report 40,596 completed tests & 10.0% positivity.
Locally, there are 1,074 new cases in Toronto, 775 in Peel, 406 in York Region, 256 in Durham and 197 in Ottawa.
As of p.m8. Monday, 3,995,187 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.
9:48 a.m.: Rahul Gandhi, an opposition Congress party leader and scion of India’s Nehru-Gandhi family, says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing mild symptoms.
Gandhi, 50, said in a tweet on Tuesday that “All those who’ve been in contact with me recently, please follow all safety protocols and stay safe.” Gandhi last week called off political rallies in West Bengal state where provincial elections are being held.
On Monday, another top Congress party leader and former prime minister, Manmohan Singh, also tested positive and was hospitalized as a precaution. Singh, 88, had a mild fever on Sunday.
A senior Congress party leader, P. Chidambaram, said on Tuesday that Singh ”is stable and the progress is good.”
India’s Health Ministry reported 259,170 new infections and 1,761 deaths on Tuesday. The country has reported daily infections above the 200,000 mark for six days.
9:40 a.m.: Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, under intense criticism for failing to secure adequate supplies of coronavirus vaccines, said Tuesday his government is negotiating to buy 5 million to 10 million doses from U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
Thailand is experiencing a new wave of the coronavirus, with the number of daily new cases surpassing 1,000 this month for the first time. Health officials on Tuesday announced 1,443 new cases and four new fatalities, bring the totals to 45,185 cases and 108 deaths.
The surge of cases has strained the ability of hospitals to supply rooms for COVID-19 patients, but the government says new field hospitals should provide enough capacity. Thailand has a policy of hospitalizing all people who test positive for the virus.
Concern has been heightened because many of the new cases, traced to nightspots in and around Bangkok, are from the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain.
Prayuth told reporters that the National Vaccine Institute is negotiating with Pfizer over the price and other conditions for the supply of 5 million to 10 million doses, with delivery to start in July and be completed by December.
9:22 a.m. Days after the Ontario government reversed course over allowing police officers to stop people to request their home addresses, B.C. said Monday it will restrict non-essential travel of British Columbians outside their own provincial health regions.
“Non-essential travel should be confined to local travel only,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said at a press conference.
“This will be conducted through random audits, not unlike roadside stops … during the Christmas season … There will be a fine if you are travelling outside of your area without a legitimate reason,” he said.
B.C. has five regional health authorities, and both the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions are located within the populous Metro Vancouver area.
It is common for someone who lives in the city of Surrey in Fraser Health to drive 45 minutes to workplaces in downtown Vancouver in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region.
9 a.m. Tokyo will seek the Japanese government to declare a state of emergency, as authorities step up restrictions to contain a surge in coronavirus infections ahead of an Olympics just three months away.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters virus cases were spreading in the capital and a swift action was needed as the medical system has come under strain in some areas.
“Looking at the situation, I think we need to take action as soon as possible,” she said. The city is expected to make the final decision after a virus panel meeting on Thursday.
COVID-19 cases in the city have in recent days surged to levels not seen since late January, when the capital was under its second state of emergency.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government stepped up restrictions this month in Tokyo, Osaka and other regions to slow the spread, imposing measures that call on bars and restaurants to close by 8 p.m., and those that fail to comply face fines.
8:55 a.m. (updated) Ontario’s auditor general will review the province’s vaccine rollout, including how hotspot postal codes were selected.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath requested that auditor Bonnie Lysyk investigate how the 114 hotspot postal codes were chosen, last week.
In a letter to Horwath, dated Monday, Lysyk writes that her office has “identified Ontario’s COVID-19 Immunization Strategy and Implementation as an audit candidate for the 2021-22 audit cycle.”
Read the full story here from the Star’s May Warren and Kenyon Wallace.
8:40 a.m. There are now 768 patients with COVID-related critical illness in Ontario adult and pediatric ICUs; 68 new admissions as of April 20.
7:52 a.m. Sunnybrook Hospital’s Mobile Health Unit is getting ready to open to patients this week, with 20 beds set to be ready for the end of April.
The Mobile Health Unit will eventually have capacity for up to 84 patients who are recovering or have recovered from COVID-19, to free up space in ICUs.
The unit will be used as a last resort when there are no more beds available in the hospital buildings.
Reeling after a weekend of policy flip-flops that saw the government backtrack on random police spot checks and closing playgrounds, the Tories admitted Monday they “need to do a better job as a government” to convey to Ontarians the importance of staying home.
“It was a challenging weekend certainly with respect to communication. I get that. I’m not going to tell you anything different,” said a chastened government house leader Paul Calandra.
“I’m not going to defend how we communicated it. We need to do a better job as a government…We can do a better job at communicating what we need to do,” he said.
With Ford and Solictor General Sylvia Jones avoiding reporters, it was left to Calandra and Health Minister Christine Elliott to face the music over the controversial moves Friday that were overturned Saturday.
7:15 a.m. Japan’s western metropolis of Osaka has decided to ask the government to declare a state of emergency in the region after ongoing alert measures failed to control the spread of a more contagious coronavirus variant.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura’s decision to request a third state of emergency comes two weeks after a month of alert measures began in the prefecture and just 50 days after an earlier toothless state of emergency ended.
The ongoing alert, which started on April 5 in Osaka and has since been expanded to 10 areas including Tokyo, allows prefectural leaders to issue binding orders for bars and restaurants to operate shorter hours in exchange for compensation, with penalties for violators.
A new state of emergency, under a law toughened in February, would allow authorities to issue binding orders for business owners to close or shorten service hours. Measures for the general public, including mask wearing and staying at home, would remain non-mandatory requests.
Nationwide, Japan has recorded 537,317 cases including 9,671 deaths as of Monday — results that are good by world standards but worse than in some other Asian countries — without any enforced lockdowns. But people are becoming impatient and less co-operative in response to requests.
Osaka is expected to close theme parks, shopping malls and other commercial facilities to drastically reduce public activity for a few weeks.
Requests from local leaders for anti-virus measures highlight delays by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government, which has already been criticized for being slow because of its reluctance to further hurt the pandemic-hit economy. Suga met with key ministers on Tuesday to discuss measures for Osaka.
6:45 a.m. Forget skinny jeans or love of Instagram — the real wedge dividing millennials and Gen Z from their Gen X forebears may soon be the AstraZeneca vaccine, after Ontario became the first of multiple provinces to make it available to those age 40 and up.
With Canada into Year 2 of this pandemic, COVID-19 cases are again on an upswing, driven by a new, more spreadable variants, but this time it’s not seniors, but people of working age filling up ICU beds, doctors warn.
While demand for vaccine hits an all-time high, a cluster of very rare blood clots has led some to refuse the AstraZeneca dose or wait for a different one, prompting fears that shots of the beleaguered British-developed vaccine were going unused.
In response, multiple jurisdictions, including British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba, have now made doses available to a younger demographic, even those with no health complications, setting off a race among forty-somethings now scrambling to make an appointment — and a wave of jealousy among those who failed to make the cutoff.
“Nothing is more frustrating” than watching eligible adults refuse to get the vaccine, Ali Nadhum, 18, a student at the University of Toronto, wrote in an email to the Star.
5:55 a.m. Peel Public Health says it will close all businesses with five or more cases of COVID-19.
Officials in a the COVID-19 hot spot say they will order businesses with recent outbreaks of the virus to close temporarily.
Peel Region says its public health unit will issue an updated order today requiring businesses that have seen five or more linked cases in the past 14 days to shut down for 10 days.
It says businesses could be told to close as early as Friday, and those affected will be contacted directly.
Officials say businesses that are deemed essential for the well-being of the community, such as those in health care and emergency child care, will be exempt from full closure.
Peel Public Health is urging employers ordered to shut down to provide paid sick leave to their staff.
On Monday, the Ontario government rejected efforts to bring paid sick leave for essential workers and shut down non-essential businesses.
5:50 a.m. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
Starting Tuesday, those aged 40 and over in Ontario and Alberta can get the shot.
Previously, the minimum age to receive AstraZeneca was 55 because of a slightly elevated risk of an extremely rare blood clot disorder.
British Columbia and Manitoba also dropped the age requirement to 40, starting yesterday.
Quebec says it will be lowering the age for AstraZeneca, although it’s not clear what that age will be.
Quebec’s director of public health says a recommendation from the province’s immunization committee is expected soon and could be put into effect this week.
5:46 a.m. The British Columbia government will table a budget Tuesday that outlines its economic plan after feeling the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year.
B.C.’s last budget was tabled in February 2020, just as the province’s first COVID-19 cases were being diagnosed.
It forecast modest surpluses for three years.
Finance Minister Selina Robinson says the pandemic has changed that outlook, but added in a recent interview that the budget will look beyond COVID-19 and lay the groundwork for future prosperity.
Robinson released a fiscal update last December that said the impact of the pandemic on B.C.’s economy was uncertain, and forecast a deficit for this fiscal year nearing $14 billion.
This is Robinson’s first budget since the former housing minister was appointed finance minister last November following the New Democrat election win last fall.
She says she has consulted with business groups, social advocates and families to provide her with the focus for a budget that aims to get everybody through the pandemic and looks toward economic recovery.
5:45 a.m. There’s been a “dramatic deterioration” of press freedom since the pandemic tore across the world, Reporters Without Borders said in its annual report published Tuesday.
The group’s new World Press Freedom Index, which evaluated the press situations in 180 countries, painted a stark picture and concluded that 73% of the world’s nations have serious issues with media freedoms.
It says countries have used the coronavirus pandemic, which erupted in China in late 2019, “as grounds to block journalists’ access to information, sources and reporting in the field.”
This is particularly the case in Asia, the Mideast and Europe, the media group said.
Issues have also arisen from a drop in public trust in journalism itself. The group said 59% of people polled in 28 countries claimed that journalists “deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false.”
5:40 a.m. While some Toronto residents encounter taped up and barricaded merchandise in retail stores in some parts of the city, others stroll around their local grocery market browsing everything from birthday cards to yoga mats and vegan makeup palettes.
On April 8 the Ontario government enforced new measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 that stated only essential aisles at big box and discount retail stores would be open for in-person shopping. Since then, many on social media have been posting pictures and commenting on the inequities of these restrictions. The Star visited stores across Toronto on Friday to see what was happening.
Inside the Walmart at Sheridan Mall in Toronto’s Jane and Wilson area, 52-year-old nurse Evette Williams is holding a purple butterfly-patterned scrub top in her hand. She is relieved because just a few days ago the scrubs had not been available. “They probably got a message, because we need these,” she remarks.
That said, the pantyhose she also needs to put under her nursing uniform to keep warm when she leaves for work at 3 a.m. are not deemed essential — and therefore not available to purchase.
“The numbers keep going up,” she said, referring to COVID-19 daily case counts. “If they’re doing all this and the numbers keep going up, there’s something else that’s going on.”
In a statement to the Star, the Ontario government said, “Placing limits on the types of goods that can be sold in big box stores will protect against COVID-19 variants and provide an even playing field for small businesses who sell similar goods by requiring these goods to be sold through curbside pickup or delivery.” The statement did not provide specific comment on how the restrictions impact lower-income communities.
Tuesday 5:35 a.m. The first and second waves of the pandemic saw a devastatingly high number of deaths in long-term care homes in Ontario.
The Star has learned long-term care homes in Ontario will be fully funded through the end of this summer regardless of how many residents they have or how badly they were hit by COVID-19, as Richard Warnica reports, after the provincial government quietly extended an occupancy agreement due to expire at the end of March.
Warnica’s story is the latest story of many that examine the for-profit long-term care sector in Ontario. Here’s a look at some prior coverage:
Tuesday 5:33 a.m. Ontario long-term care homes will be funded in full through the end of the summer regardless of how many residents they have or how badly they were hit by COVID-19, after the provincial government quietly extended an occupancy agreement due to expire at the end of March.
The agreement means that for-profit homes, even those that saw nearly half their residents die during the pandemic, won’t suffer a significant financial hit from COVID-19, despite overseeing a calamity in seniors’ care considered by some the deadliest in the wealthy world.
The bargain also suggests that long-term care executives, investors and shareholders will come through the pandemic largely untouched by the kind of economic devastation other businesses in the province have suffered, thanks entirely to the generosity of Ontario taxpayers.
Tuesday 5:31 a.m. Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives ignored recommendations from the province’s top scientific advisers that several postal codes with a high risk of COVID-19 infection be included in the government’s 114 vaccination “hot spots.”
Data obtained by the Star show that five higher-risk postal codes recommended for targeted vaccination by Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table were left off the province’s final list of hot spots, while eight lower-risk areas — most of which are in PC ridings — were included.
The high-risk postal codes that were left off the government’s list were in regions that have seen some of the highest per-capita infection rates during the third wave, such as Peel and York.
“Someone’s intervening saying that these regions, they want covered for whatever purpose. It’s not based on science and evidence,” said Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. “Doug Ford should let the people who know what they’re doing manage COVID. He doesn’t have the expertise or experience.”
Monday 6:19 p.m.: A top workplace safety regulator warned the Republican leaders of the Iowa Legislature that conditions inside the state capitol are hazardous and may be exposing workers to the coronavirus, according to documents released Monday.
Russell Perry, administrator of the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration, warned in a “hazard alert letter” dated April 13 that an inspection by his agency raised concerns for the potential of worker illnesses tied to COVID-19 exposure.
Perry wrote that social distancing is not always practiced or enforced inside the building, temperature checks and health screens are not performed on everyone entering and employees are not required to report positive tests to legislative leaders under their policy. In addition, cases that are reported are not examined to determine whether they were work-related.
Perry wrote that the conditions do not amount to a violation of Iowa law but “may expose workers to COVID-19 hazards.” He asked Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, Senate President Jake Chapman, House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl and House Speaker Pat Grassley to “please facilitate immediate corrective actions where needed.” Perry said the leaders should also review their safety and health practices to determine they comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and state standards.