Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 321 new COVID-19 cases, 10 deaths; Survey suggests staff worried about bias towards on-site workers if working remotely – 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.

10:45 a.m. Pharmaceutical company Merck agreed to allow other drug makers to produce its COVID-19 pill, in a move aimed at helping millions of people in poorer countries get access to the potentially life-saving drug, a United Nations-backed public health organization said on Wednesday.

The Medicines Patent Pool said in a statement that it had signed a voluntary licensing agreement for molnupiravir with Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

The agreement will allow the Medicines Patent Pool to grant further licenses to qualified companies who are approved to make the drug. Neither drug maker will receive royalties under the agreement for as long as the World Health Organization deems COVID-19 to be global emergency. Molnupiravir is the first pill that has been shown to treat the disease.

10:21 a.m. The Bank of Canada is keeping its key interest target on hold at 0.25 per cent as it says inflation now appears stronger and more persistent than expected.

The central bank also says it is ending its quantitative easing program that aims to boost the economy by buying government bonds.

The bank now forecasts that annual inflation rates will continue their upward swing through the rest of year, averaging 4.75 per cent.

Driving the rise in prices are global forces that have snarled supply chains, pushed up costs for companies and limited the supply of in-demand goods.

10:11 a.m. (will be updated) Ontario is reporting 321 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths; 203 cases are in individuals who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 118 are in fully vaccinated individuals.

In Ontario, nearly 88 per cent of Ontarians 12+ have one dose and nearly 84.1 per cent have two doses.

10:02 a.m. Ontario is starting a $100 million program to help nursing home PSWs with tuition fees to become registered practical nurses, and to help RPNs become registered nurses. This is expected to result in 2,000 more nursing grads by 2025, says LTC Minister Rod Phillips.

9:30 a.m. Sweden, which has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, announced Wednesday it will be offering a third vaccine shot to people 65 and over as well as to health care workers and nursing home staff.

Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said 1.5 million Swedes will receive a booster dose six months after their second vaccine shot. Johan Carlson, head of the Public Health Agency of Sweden, added that everyone down to age 16 will eventually be offered a third jab.

Sweden has not gone into a lockdown or closed businesses, relying instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control infections. On Tuesday the country surpassed 15,000 virus-related deaths.

9:06 a.m. Nico Dagnino has lived and worked in eight different cities in five countries, but nothing could have prepared the adventurous globetrotter for the pandemic.

The Italian migrant worker had just arrived in Toronto as the managing director of Eataly Toronto, an upscale Italian food market chain, when Canada — and the rest of the world — got hit by COVID-19 last year.

The 43-year-old found himself in constant distress, trying to keep the 500-employee business operation afloat amid a great deal of upheaval while being alone and stuck in a country he barely knew.

“The biggest struggle right now is loneliness,” says Dagnino. “I was never exposed to loneliness. I didn’t know what to do.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Nicholas Keung

8:45 a.m. Russia hit another record for daily COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday as authorities across the country moved to keep most people off work in line with a Kremlin order aimed at stemming the spread.

The government coronavirus task force registered 1,123 deaths in 24 hours, the largest daily toll since the pandemic’s start. The number brought the country’s official coronavirus death toll to 233,898, by far the highest in Europe.

The pace of infection remained high at 36,582, just slightly less than an all-time peak reported over the weekend.

8:31 a.m. Ghosts and goblins can scratch the White House from their trick or treating routes this year.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will be in Europe on Halloween and won’t be at the White House to help hand out candy and other treats.

Instead, the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the White House will be lit up in orange light to celebrate the spooky holiday, said the first lady’s spokesperson, Michael LaRosa.

It’s the Bidens’ first Halloween at the White House.

6:10 a.m.: A new survey by technology company Cisco suggests nearly half of Canadian workers are worried that they would be viewed less favourably if they worked remotely in a hybrid-setting workplace.

The survey, which Cisco conducted with pollster Angus Reid, found that 46 per cent of Canadians thought in-person workers could have more career growth opportunities than someone working remotely.

However, 77 per cent of respondents said flexibility is a key factor that’ll be part of their decisions to stay with or leave a company.

Shannon Leininger, president of Cisco Canada, said the results show how important it is for employers to form a workplace culture that supports both remote and in-person workers equally.

She said teams need to get together to define what hybrid work actually means in their office, since the work model will differ from workplace to workplace.

Leninger also said managers need to consider what their offices will look like in a hybrid workspace, and whether desks will be replaced with larger collaboration and meeting areas.

5:55 a.m.: Space travel has blasted back into the headlines thanks to a recent boom in private flights boarded by the likes of William Shatner, whose career was built on fictional journeys to the stars. But as some herald a new golden age of space, some experts are hopeful that as the industry boldly goes where it hasn’t gone before, that all involved don’t forget the meaning that space technology can have for our health here at home.

Lessons learned among the stars may even, they argue, help detect and track the next pandemic.

At least that’s the argument made by a group of space experts, including several Canadians, in an article for Nature Medicine last month, in which they argue that current space technology is already helping monitor and mitigate COVID-19, and could be useful for the next pandemic.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex Boyd.

5:46 a.m.: China’s capital is experiencing its worst Covid outbreak in more than eight months, fueled by tourists returning from northern provinces where the fall colors were in full bloom.

Beijing has reported about 20 infections so far in the latest flare-up, which was initially tied to a couple of retired university lecturers from Shanghai who went on a road trip through the nation’s scenic northwest in early October. A second couple from Beijing was so set on having fun once they returned that they ignored persistent fevers and ultimately exposed hundreds of people to the virus.

The latest eruption was in part set off by the second couple who failed to report to Beijing’s health authorities in a timely fashion and played mahjong with friends despite having high fevers. The initial cluster of Covid infections spiraled into a nationwide outbreak in less than a week’s time..

5:44 a.m.: The Bank of Canada is scheduled this morning to announce what will happen to its trendsetting interest rate, and provide an updated forecast for the domestic economy.

The bank’s target overnight rate has been at 0.25 per cent since the onset of the pandemic, and governor Tiff Macklem has said increases won’t arrive until later next year when economy has healed enough from COVID-19.

Earlier this month, Macklem suggested the economy wouldn’t recover as quickly over that stretch as previously thought because of global supply-chain issues that have become more persistent than expected, alongside higher inflation rates.

That could be reflected in the bank’s quarterly monetary policy report, which sets out the Bank of Canada’s forecast for the economy and the pace of inflation over the next year.

Economists don’t expect the bank to raise rates this week, but do look for the central bank to announce a rollback of bond purchases as part of its quantitative easing program.

5:41 a.m.: Brazilian Senate committee recommended on Tuesday that President Jair Bolsonaro face a series of criminal indictments for actions and omissions related to the world’s second highest COVID-19 death toll.

The 7-to-4 vote was the culmination of a six-month committee investigation of the government’s handling of the pandemic. It formally approved a report calling for prosecutors to try Bolsonaro on charges ranging from charlatanism and inciting crime to misuse of public funds and crimes against humanity, and in doing so hold him responsible for many of Brazil’s more than 600,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The president has denied wrongdoing, and the decision on whether to file most of the charges will be up to Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras, a Bolsonaro appointee who is widely viewed as protecting him. The allegation of crimes against humanity would need to be pursued by the International Criminal Court.

Sen. Omar Aziz, the chairman of the inquiry, said he would deliver the recommendation to the prosecutor-general Wednesday morning. Aras’ office said the report would be carefully reviewed as soon as it is received.

5:42 a.m.: The German parliament will not extend the “epidemic situation of national scope” when it expires next month, but will keep in place certain measures to check the spread of the coronavirus, lawmakers said on Wednesday.

Leading members of the country’s parliament, or Bundestag, said that although coronavirus infections have been rising again recently, they did not see the need to prolong the “epidemic situation” which it was first declared in March 2020 and has been repeatedly extended since then. They said that the situation had fundamentally changed due to the fact that about two-thirds of the population had been vaccinated against the virus.

The health emergency situation declaration had enabled federal and state governments to order key coronavirus measures without the approval of the national and regional parliaments.

“There will no more be school closures, lockdowns or curfews again,” said Dirk Wiese, the deputy head of the center-left Social Democrats parliamentary group. He added that the pandemic still needed to be handled responsibly, but that restrictions on civil rights needed to be eased again.

5:41 a.m.: Vietnam on Wednesday started to vaccinate children as part of an effort to reopen schools after more than half a year of closures due to COVID-19.

About 1,500 teenagers between 16 and 17 years old in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam were among the first to receive jabs before the inoculation program is rolled out nationwide in November, the health ministry said on its website.

During the first phase, Vietnam has only approved the Pfizer vaccine for children. Parents or guardians must sign a consent form for their children to be vaccinated, the report said.

“Vaccination safety for children is the top priority,” health minister Nguyen Thanh Long said during a meeting on Tuesday ahead of the launch.

Last week, the ministry approved vaccinations for children between 12 and 17 years old, with older teens in more populated cities receiving priority for the first doses. There are about 14 million Vietnamese children in that age range.

5:40 a.m.: An uptick in random assaults highlighted by Vancouver police could point to bigger problems that may be magnified by the pandemic, say experts.

Vancouver police said in a series of posts on social media last week that there were 1,555 “unprovoked, stranger assaults” involving 1,705 victims reported between Sept. 1, 2020, and Aug. 31 this year.

“The majority of victims were simply going about their day: running errands, walking, or visiting our city,” said a post.

Const. Tania Visintin said an assault is defined as random when there’s no relationship between the victim and the suspect, and no event led up to the attack.

“Meaning there was no verbal communication or no physical interaction,” she said. “It’s completely random. Out of the blue.”

Police began to notice the increase when officers compared notes at morning meetings to discuss overnight events, Visintin said.

“We need to collect this data,” she said. “And that way we know how we can use our resources to make the city safe.”

Experts say there could be a range of reasons for the rise in random assaults, including the COVID-19 pandemic.