Today’s coronavirus news: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney brings in vaccine passports; Windsor high school closes due to outbreak; Ontario is reporting 593 new cases – Toronto Star

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

9:40 p.m. Amid a raging fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has declared a state of public health emergency in his province and introduced a slate of new measures — including a vaccine passport system — in a major about face for the United Conservative leader.

Kenney’s announcement came at a news conference Wednesday evening that followed a trying day for Alberta, where the health-care system and its intensive-care units have been struggling to keep up with surging cases.

A person had died at a rate of one per hour — making for 24 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday — along with 1,609 new reported cases.

The premier acknowledged the situation in his province is turning out to be worse than the worst-case-scenario of recent modelling and said Alberta could run out of staffed intensive care beds within the next 10 days.

“Unless we slow transmission, particularly among unvaccinated Albertans, we simply will not be able to provide adequate care to everyone who gets sick based on current trends,” Kenney said. “How bad this situation becomes and how long it lasts is now up to each and every one of us.” Full story here.

8:03 p.m.: British Columbia officials reported 661 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths on Wednesday.

The Health Ministry says in a news release that from Sept. 7 to 13, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 76.5 per cent of cases.

In the two-week period between Aug. 31 and Sept. 13, they accounted for 87.3 per cent of hospitalizations.

After factoring for age, the ministry says unvaccinated people are 37.9 times more likely to be hospitalized than those fully vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, 86.1 per cent of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 78.6 per cent had received their second.

The statement says there were 5,791 active cases of COVID-19, with 288 of them in hospital including 137 in intensive care.

5:45 p.m. A high school in Windsor was closed down due to a COVID-19 outbreak Wednesday. Five individuals tested positive at St. Joseph’s High School, the most recent exposure being recorded on September 9.

The school has been shut down until further notice, the Windsor Essex County Health Unit said in a statement.

The public health unit declares an outbreak when two or more cases are linked to a school and there is evidence that at least one case could have been infected in the school.

All staff, students and visitors who attended the school between Sep. 7 and Sep. 9 were asked to get tested.

5:20 p.m. Teachers, parents and students of the Toronto District School Board will stage a demonstration in front of the board’s headquarters on Tuesday, Sep. 21, to protest the introduction of the hybrid model of teaching in the city.

The group claimed that since schools reopened earlier this month, a single teacher was expected to instruct students online and conduct in-person classes simultaneously.

Earlier, “TDSB officials had promised students with health concerns would have access to fully-virtual classes,” a spokesperson for the protesting teachers said in a statement, adding that almost all classes in many schools are still following the hybrid model.

“Hybrid learning raises serious equity concerns as it disproportionately impacts the learning and mental health of racialized, low-income, and disabled students.”

3:35 p.m. Prince Edward Island is bringing back its mask mandate and introducing new testing rules for kids as the province reported five new COVID-19 infections today.

Premier Dennis King told reporters masks will be required once again in indoor public spaces beginning Sept. 17 at 8 a.m.

He says all children between 8 and 12 years old will have to take a COVID-19 test upon entry on the Island, adding that any child in that age group who has left the province will have to be tested before returning to school.

The Island’s chief public health officer reported five new cases of COVID-19 today, four of which involve close contacts of known infections associated with an outbreak at West Royalty Elementary School in Charlottetown. Dr. Heather Morrison says the remaining case announced today is related to travel.

Officials said Sunday all schools in Charlottetown would be closed for a few days because of the outbreak.

2:59 p.m. Starting next week, New Brunswick will require people to produce proof of COVID-19 vaccination to access services such as indoor festivals, bars, restaurants and gyms.

Premier Blaine Higgs made the announcement today, saying the new rules will come into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 21.

He says travellers to New Brunswick or residents returning to the province will also have to preregister and show proof of vaccination.

Meanwhile, health officials are reporting 63 new cases of COVID-19 today and another death attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell says there have been 48 COVID-19-related deaths in the province since the onset of the pandemic.

2:35 p.m. Ontario did not spend any funds from a new $2.7 billion COVID-19 response program in the first quarter, the province’s fiscal watchdog found, prompting critics to question why the government didn’t use the money during the third wave.

A Wednesday report from the Financial Accountability Office found health spending was $691 million lower than planned in the area of population and public health because the province didn’t spend funds from the pandemic program.

That provincial program – called the COVID-19 Response transfer payment – was introduced this year to support public health. But a spokeswoman for the watchdog’s office said the FAO did not have details on the program’s intended recipients.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott disputed the FAO finding that “no spending occurred” and noted that the $2.7 billion is allocated for the entire fiscal year.

“Just because it wasn’t recorded at the time of the data request by the FAO doesn’t mean that spending hasn’t occurred,” Alexandra Hilkene said. Some expenses, such as for lab testing that occurred in the first quarter, would likely be registered in the second quarter under the program, she said.

“Our government will spare no expense to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians.”

2:30 p.m. Immunocompromised Manitobans will be able to receive a third dose of vaccine against COVID-19.

The province says third doses will be available for anyone whose immunity is moderately to severely weakened due to a medical condition or treatment.

That could include cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, people who were born with serious immune system dysfunctions or those living with untreated or advanced HIV-AIDS.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba’s vaccination rollout, says the plan for third doses recognizes those who are at increased risk of severe illnesses.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended last week that people who are immunocompromised should be immunized a third time.

Third doses will also be available in Manitoba for travel purposes and for individuals who have received one or two doses of a vaccine that is not approved by Health Canada.

2:15 p.m. Recent reports of long lineups in front of COVID-19 testing centres in Montreal are just another argument for the need to offer rapid testing across the province, says Maude Laberge, a professor at Université Laval and a researcher in population health.

“Rapid testing should be available in pharmacies the same way pregnancy tests are available,” Laberge said in an interview Wednesday. “A recent study showed two-thirds of Quebecers with symptoms don’t go get tested, so I think if some tests were accessible easily, that might be an alternative for people who don’t want to wait in line.”

Laberge said the lines outside testing centres might come as a surprise for those who thought vaccination would provide a way out of the pandemic.

“The government sold the idea that the vaccination would get us out of the pandemic because it thought that it would, which is what many people thought as well before the Delta variant,” Laberge said. “We’d like to believe vaccines are 100 per cent effective … but most vaccines are not 100 per cent effective.”

2:10 p.m. One of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s legislature members is calling on him to admit he botched the fourth wave of COVID-19 and to outline a plan to fix it.

Leela Aheer, in a posting on Twitter, says the leader of the United Conservative government needs to show some humility in the face of the crisis that is pushing the provincial health system to the brink of collapse.

Aheer was critical of Kenney’s actions earlier in the pandemic and was kicked out of cabinet in early July, although the premier denied the demotion was punishment for her remarks.

Kenney’s COVID-19 cabinet committee has been meeting for two days to find a solution to spiralling cases that have pushed intensive care beds beyond normal capacity and forced mass cancellation of non-urgent surgeries.

Read more from The Canadian Press.

2 p.m. Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting 10 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 49 active reported infections across the province.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says there are now 19 cases associated with a cluster in the northern Newfoundland town of Roddickton, where just 60 per cent of eligible residents have received a first dose of vaccine.

She says a cluster identified in the eastern region of the province has been linked to large indoor gatherings where people were not wearing masks.

Government data shows nearly 78 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were fully vaccinated as of Monday, and over 87 per cent had received at least one dose of vaccine.

1:45 p.m. The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada is making a bleak prediction about its members’ ability to rapidly recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The association says even with the very best travel conditions, Indigenous tourism operations are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2028.

A report from the association and the Conference Board of Canada shows modest recovery over the last year, but it still projects an overall 54 per cent decline since the pandemic hit last March.

It says Indigenous tourism created about 39,000 jobs and contributed an estimated $1.86 billion in direct gross domestic product before the arrival of COVID-19.

That fell to just $580 million and about 11,000 workers at the height of virus-induced shutdowns and recovered this year to just under 19,000 employees and $858 million in direct GDP.

1:30 p.m. Nova Scotia is reporting six new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday.

Health officials say three of the cases are in the Halifax area, two are in the northern zone and one is in the eastern zone, which includes Cape Breton.

With 20 recoveries also reported, the total number of active cases of coronavirus has dropped to 159, with four people in hospital as a result of the infection.

The new case figure is down significantly from Tuesday, when officials reported 66 new cases and announced that the fourth wave of the pandemic had hit the province.

They also announced that with case numbers steadily on the rise, the final phase of the province’s recovery plan would be delayed until Oct. 4.

According to the latest data, 72.9 per cent of the province’s population is fully vaccinated.

1 p.m. An Illinois region reported Monday and Tuesday that it ran out of intensive care unit beds, a milestone that has meant delayed surgeries and, in some cases, longer waits for appropriate care.

In the latest Illinois Department of Public Health count released Tuesday, the state’s southern region reported that, overnight Monday, its hospitals had no available ICU beds in an area that includes roughly 400,000 people. As of Tuesday morning, 19 hospitals in that region still had zero open ICU beds, said Arien Herrmann, regional hospital co-ordinating centre manager for the area.

The number of available ICU beds in any region is constantly changing, as hospitals admit and discharge patients. Numbers reported to the state are a snapshot in time. But this week was the first time IDPH reported that any of the state’s 11 state-designated health regions had no available ICU beds.

An advocacy group of medical workers described it as “signalling a public health emergency of epic proportions” for the south region, spread from roughly Mount Vernon to Illinois’ southern tip and east to the Indiana line.

“This is not a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ but a pandemic that affects everyone as emergency and routine health care collapses for a region,” said a statement released Tuesday by the group Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team, known by its acronym IMPACT.

12:40 p.m. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Wednesday defended a large indoor rally he held in Brampton, saying his party followed public health guidelines.

Hundreds of people surrounded the stage at Tuesday evening’s event, where he was introduced by 87-year-old former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

Supporters mobbed Trudeau at the end of the event, despite organizers asking people to stand in squares taped on the ground.

Liberal staffers said there were about 400 people in attendance and the gathering met local COVID-19 rules limiting indoor venues to half capacity.

On Wednesday, Trudeau was asked about the wisdom of holding such a large indoor event, which was also attended by 100-year-old former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion.

“First of all, nobody tells Hazel McCallion or Jean Chrétien what to do or what not to do,” he told reporters in Halifax.

“I was so glad they chose to come join us in that event, which followed all public health guidelines.”

Trudeau says it’s important to recognize that nearly 80 per cent of eligible Canadians are vaccinated.

12:30 p.m. Quebec is reporting 785 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and one additional death linked to the coronavirus.

The Health Department says the number of hospitalizations linked to the disease rose by 20 from a day earlier, to 250, and 85 people are in intensive care, a rise of seven.

Of the most recent infections, the province says 577 were among unvaccinated people or those who had received only one dose less than 14 days ago.

The province says it administered 14,896 doses of vaccine within the previous 24 hours.

About 88.5 per cent of Quebec residents 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 83.5 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

Quebecers who do not comply with the province’s vaccine passport system for non-essential services such as dining out and going to shows now risk fines as a two-week grace period ended Wednesday.

12:05 p.m. Ontario is reporting another 593 COVID-19 cases and five more deaths. The province says four of the deaths occurred this month, and one of the deaths occurred more than a month ago, and are being reported as part of a data cleanup, according to the province’s latest report released Wednesday morning.

Ontario has administered 35,691 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 21,247,717 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.

According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 11,031,766 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 84.6 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 74.2 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan

11:30 a.m. A 64-year-old fugitive walked into a Sydney, Australia police station to give himself up almost 30 years after he used a hacksaw blade and bolt cutters to escape from prison, police said on Wednesday.

Darko Desic decided to go back to prison because Sydney’s COVID-19 lockdown made him jobless and homeless, media reported.

Desic surrendered at Dee Why Police Station at Sydney’s fashionable northern beaches on Sunday morning and was denied bail when he appeared in a downtown court on Tuesday charged with escaping from lawful custody in 1992, a police statement said. The charge carries a potential seven-year prison sentence.

11:17 a.m. Toronto is launching #DaysofVaxtion — a blitz of pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics aimed at the roughly 314,000 Torontonians not yet fully protected from the virus and who are most at risk during the pandemic’s ongoing fourth wave.

Mayor John Tory on Wednesday announced the Thursday-to-Sunday campaign, in prepared speech notes calling it “a mega-event made up of a series of micro clinics — smaller pop-up clinics put exactly where we know people need to get vaccinated and where we know people will be over the coming days.”

Toronto Public Health and hospital partner staff will immunize people in TTC stations, parks, malls and schools, including three mobile pop-up sites along Yonge Street, a clinic at Trinity-Bellwoods Park and subway stations including Sheppard, Islington and Warden.

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider

10:36 a.m. The debate over COVID-19 booster shots for all Americans remains intense with less than a week to go before the target rollout date desired by the White House and days before government advisers plan to vote on the issue.

Experts are eagerly parsing the data on booster shots after internal feuding at the Food and Drug Administration spilled into the public this week, with two top vaccine regulators arguing in a review of global data in The Lancet that there is not enough evidence to recommend them.

The drama comes days before a meeting Friday at which the agency’s vaccine advisers, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, plan to decide whether to recommend that the FDA approve boosters for people who received the Pfizer vaccine.

“The timing [of the study] couldn’t be any more exquisite in terms of making a statement,” said Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco who added that the review provides an unequivocal case that boosters are premature. “I doubt that it will go unnoticed.”

Meanwhile, preliminary data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet indicated a decline in effectiveness when it comes to severe disease and hospitalization, leading to anonymous accusations by White House officials in the press that the agency is withholding data.

10:22 a.m. Ontario is reporting 593 new cases of COVID-19 and a 2.5 per cent positivity rate; 447 cases are in individuals who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 146 are in fully vaccinated individuals.

346 people are hospitalized with COVID-19; 311 are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 35 are fully vaccinated.

9:20 a.m. Statistics Canada says the consumer price index in August rose 4.1 per cent compared with a year ago, the largest year-over-year inflation increase since March 2003.

The jump compared with a gain of 3.7 per cent in July.

Fuelling much of the rise was higher gasoline and housing prices compared with the same month one year ago.

Excluding gasoline prices that rose year-over-year by 32.5 per cent in August, Statistics Canada says the annual inflation figure would have been 3.2 per cent last month.

The statistics agency also says homeowner replacement costs, which is related to the price of new homes, rose at an annual rate of 14.3 per cent in August.

8:20 a.m. Hamilton is tied for Ontario’s worst COVID vaccination rate.

Provincial data shows five public health units have just 74 per cent of eligible residents fully vaccinated with two doses — Hamilton, Chatham-Kent, Lambton, Porcupine, and Renfrew County and District.

It compares to 78 per cent for Ontario, while the top public health units are Leeds, Grenville and Lanark at 88 per cent and Halton at 83 per cent. Haldimand and Norfolk, which used to have the lowest rate, has now pulled ahead of Hamilton with 75 per cent.

“Modelling shows us if we don’t soon get to 90 per cent of Ontarians fully vaccinated we may risk many more months of these brutal waves of infection,” said Dr. Adam Kassam, president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) in a September briefing. “We have that ability to really control our fate.”

Hamilton hasn’t had a boost in COVID shots from the announcement of imminent vaccine passports coming on Sept. 22 — in sharp contrast to the province’s 29 per cent bump.

8:10 a.m. (updated) Teachers and staff in the Toronto District School Board who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1 could lose their jobs.

The school board in Canada’s most populous city has published its staff vaccination policy, which takes a harder line than the minimum guidelines set by the province.

The rules apply to employees, trustees and others who come in direct contact with staff and students in the workplace.

Exemptions on human rights grounds will be considered but the board says it will balance its duty to accommodate against its obligations to protect staff and students’ health.

It says failing to comply with the policy or giving false statements about being vaccinated could lead to termination from employment.

The board says 83 per cent of its staff are currently vaccinated against the virus.

8 a.m. Republican legislators in more than half of U.S. states, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers that state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases.

A Kaiser Health News review of hundreds of pieces of legislation found that, in all 50 states, legislators have proposed bills to curb such public health powers since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While some governors vetoed bills that passed, at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health. In three additional states, an executive order, ballot initiative or state Supreme Court ruling limited long-held public health powers. More bills are pending in a handful of states whose legislatures are still in session.

In Arkansas, legislators banned mask mandates except in private businesses or state-run health care settings, calling them “a burden on the public peace, health, and safety of the citizens of this state.” In Idaho, county commissioners, who typically have no public health expertise, can veto countywide public health orders. In Kansas and Tennessee, school boards, rather than health officials, have the power to close schools.

7:35 a.m. Ontario has confirmed more than 300 COVID-19 cases early into the school year — a number that one expert says indicates the virus is spreading faster than last year.

Ahmed Al-Jaishi, an epidemiologist and postdoctorate fellow at the Ottawa Health Research Institute, said he was shocked to see 328 confirmed cases in students and staff reported when the province released its initial set of data Tuesday.

“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Al-Jaishi said. “But my gut reaction was, ‘that’s a big number.’ ”

Based on his research, Al-Jaishi said community transmission for people younger than 20 years old is six times higher compared to last year. This year, Al Jaishi found that there are 60 COVID-19 cases per million for people younger than 20 years old. The number was 10 cases per million last year.

Read the full story from the Star’s Celina Gallardo

6:31 a.m.: Maybe you don’t think Dr. Matt Strauss is qualified to work in public health, but have you considered that famous public health dictum, live free or die? Strauss tweeted that in late August, and it’s an idea that lasted until the Romans came along, more or less, which is a pretty good run. Some places still follow it, to truly tragic results.

Anyway, the anti-lockdown, anti-restriction, anti-public health doctor was hired in early September to be the new interim acting medical officer of health in Haldimand-Norfolk in southwestern Ontario; that appointment was upheld 8-1 by the local board of health Monday night, which is also the local county council. There had been considerable consternation over Strauss’s qualifications before the council went behind closed doors, but it came out with a much softer approach, like people who had been told by the lawyers, well, you’d have to pay him anyway.

It is an absurd, backwards, political hire.

Read the column from Bruce Arthur.

6:28 a.m.: The U.K. plans to offer a third dose of coronavirus vaccines to everyone over 50 and other vulnerable people to help the country ride out the pandemic through the winter months.

The booster shots will be rolled out beginning next week. They were approved a day after the government backed plans to offer one dose of vaccine to children from 12 to 15 years old.

Booster shots are aimed at protecting against a modest waning in immunity among those who have received two jabs.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday “the result of this vaccination campaign is we have one of the most free societies and one of the most open economies in Europe.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, which advises the government, recommended that booster shots be offered to everyone over 50, health care workers, people with underlying health conditions and those who live with people whose immune systems are compromised. They will be given no earlier than six months after a person received their second dose of vaccine.

Around 30 million people will be eligible for the booster shots, which aim to protect against a modest waning in immunity among those who have received two jabs.

Although the number of people now contracting COVID-19 is way higher than this time last year — over 30,000 new infections a day — the British government has opted not to reintroduce further virus restrictions for England, as the vaccine drive this year has reduced the number of people requiring treatment for COVID-19 and subsequently dying.

6:27 a.m.: Cambodia will launch a campaign Friday to begin giving COVID-19 vaccinations to children between 6 and 11 years of age.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday the action was being taken to allow children to return safely to school after a long absence due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In an audio message to province and municipality chiefs posted on his Facebook page, he said more than 1.8 million children were expected to get their jabs under the program, which will use Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine.

He also said he was considering having children 3-5 years-old be vaccinated soon.

6:27 a.m.: Health care workers in France face suspension from their jobs starting Wednesday if they haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19. With about 300,000 workers still not vaccinated, some hospitals fear staff shortages will add to their strain.

Vaccines are now compulsory for medical care, home care and emergency workers in France, and Wednesday is the deadline for such staff to have had at least one shot. Failing that, they face having pay suspended or not being able to work. But a top court has forbidden staff to be fired outright.

6:27 a.m.: The World Health Organization said there were about 4 million coronavirus cases reported globally last week, marking the first major drop in new infections in more than two months. In recent weeks, there have been about 4.4 million new COVID-19 cases.

In its weekly update released on Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said every region in the world saw a drop in COVID-19 cases compared to the previous week.

Although the worldwide number of deaths decreased to about 62,000, with the sharpest decline in Southeast Asia, there was a 7% increase in deaths in Africa. The highest numbers of cases were seen in the U.S., Britain, India, Iran and Turkey and the highly contagious Delta variant has now been reported in 180 countries.

WHO also said children and teenagers continue to be less affected by COVID-19 when compared to adults, adding that deaths of people under 24 due to the disease account for fewer than 0.5% of global deaths.

WHO has previously said children should not be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations given the extreme vaccine shortages globally.

6:25 a.m.: Statistics Canada will say this morning what reading the consumer price index registered for August.

The country’s headline inflation barometer clocked in at 3.7 per cent in July, which was the highest year-over-year increase since May 2011 as price growth accelerated from June.

Part of the elevated inflation reading for July was because prices are being compared to the lows seen one year ago during the early months of the pandemic, particularly gasoline and food.

BMO’s Benjamin Reitzes says although August is seasonally a weak month for the consumer price index, that may not hold true this year as he expects an annual inflation rate of 4.1 per cent in the month.

In a note, he says rising restaurant prices may push up food prices that tend to dip in August and early fall.

He also says the annual inflation rate could be pushed up in August by hot housing prices.