Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario doctors share priorities for health system improvements; Canadians still reluctant to hand out Halloween candy, poll finds – Toronto Star

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.

8:55 a.m. Coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are shooting upward in Belgium, pushing the government on Tuesday to consider reimposing some pandemic restrictions that it only relaxed a few weeks ago.

Daily infections in the European Union nation of 11 million increased 75 per cent to reach 5,299 cases a day last week. Hospitalizations have increased 69 per cent to reach 102 daily cases. Deaths have increased slightly, with an average of 13 a day.

To turn around this trend, the Belgian government and regional officials are deciding later Tuesday whether to increase restrictions again, although stopping well short of going into a lockdown. Indications are that authorities are looking at using mandatory face masks is more places and virus passports.

8:40 a.m. Haldimand-Norfolk MP Leslyn Lewis is raising eyebrows at home and on Twitter by using her online platform to question the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

Lewis also likened herself to civil rights activist Rosa Parks for objecting to the recently announced mandatory vaccination policy for MPs.

“The media and the power structure expect me to sit in the back of the bus. I won’t!” Lewis tweeted on Saturday.

“They will try to paint me as a reckless lunatic in order to lynch me into silence. I will always tell Canadians the truth, and no bully or threats will succeed against us!”

8:16 a.m. A COVID outbreak at an Ancaster gym reached 12 cases on the same day fitness centres across Ontario were allowed to move to full capacity.

The outbreak at Lean and Fit Elite in Ancaster includes seven staff and five patrons, according to a Hamilton public health outbreak chart. The outbreak was first declared Oct. 19.

On Oct. 20, the gym was also fined twice — once for failing to “determine indoor capacity limit” and once for violations relating to the COVID safety plan, according to the city’s website.

8:05 a.m. Ukraine reported another record daily number of COVID-19 deaths Tuesday as vaccinations in the nation of 41 million people lags.

Ukraine’s Health Ministry registered 734 deaths in 24 hours, raising the country’s pandemic death toll to 64,936.

Ukrainians can freely choose between the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, but just about 16% of the population has been fully vaccinated, Europe’s second-lowest rate after Armenia.

7:45 a.m. Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have soared to the highest levels in more than half a year as authorities call on people to get vaccinated.

The Health Ministry said the daily tally of new cases jumped to 4,262 on Monday, 1,733 more than a week ago. It was the highest daily increase since April 13.

The trend was not expected to be reversed any time soon.

The ministry predicted that in the next few days the country will have more than 300 people infected per 100,000 in a seven-day period, a significant increase from 217 on Monday.

7:30 a.m. Rosie Karavos has worked at the Pan Pacific Toronto hotel (formerly the Prince Hotel) for 17 years. After months of closures, layoffs and work reductions, she was finally recalled to her dishwashing job in September as visitors started to trickle back into the hotel.

Although there are now cars in the Don Mills parking lot again and more housekeeping staff to clean guest rooms, things aren’t back to normal, she said.

The hotel’s restaurants haven’t reopened so Karavos only works for banquets, meetings and weddings.

“I went from an eight-hour day, 40-hour work week to now four hours, not every day. Sometimes I get 12 hours a week,” said the unionized employee, who has taken a second job to pay her bills.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski

6:55 a.m.: The daily number of COVID-19 deaths in Russia hit another high Tuesday amid a surge in infections that forced the Kremlin to order most Russians to stay off work starting this week.

The national coronavirus task force reported 1,106 deaths in 24 hours, the most since the start of the pandemic. The number brought the country’s pandemic death toll to 232,775, Europe’s biggest by far.

Russia registered 36,446 new daily coronavirus cases, slightly fewer compared to the past few days.

In a move intended to stem the spread of the virus, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a nonworking period between Oct. 30 and Nov. 7, when the country will observe an extended holiday.

5:55 a.m.: According to Ontario’s regulatory body of nurses, there are currently at least 41 applicants who meet all of its registration requirements but are waiting for the immigration authorization to work in Canada. It’s not sure what the numbers are for other provinces.

Statistics Canada reported that in the first three months of this year, the health-care and social-assistance sector had the largest year-over-year increase in job vacancies compared to other sectors, rising by 27,700 to 98,700 vacancies — an increase of 39 per cent. The positions with the largest vacancy increase were registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses. Half of those positions had been vacant for 90 days or more, according to Statistics Canada.

Ontario has, so far, been hardest hit. With a ratio of 725 registered nurses per 100,000 people, it ranks as the lowest province in Canada and well below the national average of 811 nurses per 100,000 people, according to 2019 data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Hospitals across the province currently have a vacancy rate of 18 to 22 per cent for nurses, the Ontario Nurses’ Association says.

Read the full story from the Star’s Nicholas Keung.

5:53 a.m.: Hong Kong will tighten COVID-19 restrictions despite a lack of local outbreaks to better align with China’s policies and increase chances of quarantine-free travel between the territory and mainland, leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday.

It will step up contact tracing, such as requiring the use of its LeaveHomeSafe app in government premises to record the coming and going of visitors. It will also tighten quarantine rules to exempt only emergency workers or those in essential industries such as logistics. Currently, those exempt from quarantine include airline crew, banking and insurance executives, directors of public companies, as well as crew members on cargo and passenger ships, among others.

Hong Kong has not had a major local outbreak since the beginning of the year, with virtually no local transmission in recent months. But it is largely closed to international travel, and travellers from countries deemed high-risk such as the U.S. must serve a 21-day quarantine.

Authorities say resuming quarantine-free travel with the mainland is the top priority, compared to reopening travel internationally.

5:52 a.m.: Children under 18 and people from dozens of countries with a shortage of vaccines will be exempt from new rules that will require most travellers to the United States be vaccinated against COVID-19, the Biden administration announced.

The government said Monday it will require airlines to collect contact information on passengers regardless of whether they have been vaccinated to help with contact tracing, if that becomes necessary.

Beginning Nov. 8, foreign, non-immigrant adults travelling to the United States will need to be fully vaccinated, with only limited exceptions, and all travellers will need to be tested for the virus before boarding a plane to the U.S. There will be tightened restrictions for American and foreign citizens who are not fully vaccinated.

The new policy comes as the Biden administration moves away from restrictions that ban non-essential travel from several dozen countries — most of Europe, China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Iran — and instead focuses on classifying individuals by the risk they pose to others.

It also reflects the White House’s embrace of vaccination requirements as a tool to push more Americans to get the shots by making it inconvenient to remain unvaccinated.

5:52 a.m.: New Zealand’s government said Tuesday it will expand a vaccine mandate to include thousands of workers who have close contact with their customers — including employees at restaurants, bars, gyms and hair salons.

The changes will mean that about 40 per cent of all New Zealand workers will need to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk losing their jobs, up from about 15 per cent previously.

Speaking with reporters, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she didn’t believe the new rules were an overreach of government power.

“This requirement means staff and customers are treated equally and it will play a big part in helping to minimize the spread of the virus in the highest-risk venues by reducing the potential for COVID to enter the business in the first place,” Ardern said.

5:51 a.m.: Coronavirus indicators are shooting upward in Belgium, pushing the government on Tuesday to consider re-imposing some pandemic measures that it only relaxed a few weeks ago.

Daily infections in the nation of 11 million increased 75% to reach 5,299 case on a daily basis last week. Hospitalizations have increased by 69% to reach 102 daily cases. Deaths have increased slightly, with an average of 13 a day.

To turn around this trend, the government and regional officials are set to decide later Tuesday to boost measures again, although stopping well short of a going into a lockdown. Indications are that authorities are looking at increased mandatory use of face masks and virus passports.

The urgency is such that the meeting has already been brought forward three days.

5:51 a.m.: Moderna says it will make up to 110 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine available to African countries.

Tuesday’s announcement says Moderna is prepared to deliver the first 15 million doses by the end of this year, with 35 million in the first quarter of 2022 and up to 60 million in the second quarter. It says “all doses are offered at Moderna’s lowest tiered price.”

The company called it “the first step in our long-term partnership with the African Union,” which has been outspoken about the need for many more COVID-19 vaccine doses. Africa and its 1.3 billion people remain the least-vaccinated region of the world against COVID-19, with just over 5% fully vaccinated.

Moderna said this agreement is separate from its deal with the global COVAX project to supply up to 500 million doses from late this year through 2022. COVAX aims to supply doses to low- and middle-income countries.

5:50 a.m.: The deadline for British Columbia health-care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is today.

The provincial health officer’s order covers doctors, nurses, students, residents, contractors, volunteers and all other health-care professionals.

Premier John Horgan says he’s hopeful that the small number of workers who are resistant to getting vaccinated will get the information they need to get their shots.

Those who don’t have their first dose of vaccine by the deadline can’t work unless they have a recognized exemption.

5:50 a.m.: Many parents are planning to let their children go trick-or-treating this year — but a new poll suggests they may find fewer doors open than in pre-pandemic Halloweens.

Some 93 per cent of respondents whose kids trick-or-treated last year intend to have them go candy hunting again this Sunday, according to a new survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies.

But the online poll suggests fewer than half of Canadians will open their doors to trick-or-treaters due to COVID-19.

Of the 56 per cent who checked no, half said they would typically dole out candy on Halloween but will not this time “given the current pandemic.”

Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque says some parents who kept their kids at home last year may allow them to hit the pavement on Oct. 31, given the high vaccination rates now versus the absence of vaccines a year ago.

Either way, the poll figures suggest they’ll face a few more darkened doorways.

5:45 a.m.: Reducing patient wait times; expanding mental health, addiction and home care services; and preparing for the next pandemic are among top priorities for a group representing Ontario doctors.

The Ontario Medical Association shared its recommendations for improving the province’s health system in a new report published today.

It also highlights the need to strengthen public health units and assign a linked team of health-care providers to every patient.

The group is calling on political parties to include its recommendations in their platforms leading up to next June’s provincial election.

It says tackling the pandemic backlog of services must be done along with reducing the long-standing problem of patient wait times.

Read the full story from The Canadian Press here.