Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 454 new COVID-19 cases; Saskatchewan creating protest buffer zones around hospitals – 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.

1:40 p.m. American Universities that adopted COVID-19 vaccine mandates this fall have seen widespread compliance even though many schools made it easy to get out of the shots by granting exemptions to nearly any student who requested one.

Facing pockets of resistance and scattered lawsuits, colleges have tread carefully because forcing students to get the vaccine when they have a religious or medical objection could put schools into tricky legal territory. For some, there are added concerns that taking a hard line could lead to a drop in enrollment.

Still, universities with mandates report much higher vaccination rates than communities around them, even in places with high vaccine hesitancy. Some universities have seen nearly complete compliance, including at state flagship schools in Maryland, Illinois and Washington, helping them avoid large outbreaks like those that disrupted classes a year ago.

Since announcing its mandate two months ago, Ohio University students and employees who reported being vaccinated at its Athens campus shot up from 69 per cent to almost 85 per cent.

“Educating and encouraging was only getting us so far,” said Gillian Ice, a professor of social medicine who is overseeing the school’s pandemic response. “We had a lot who were on the fence. They weren’t necessarily anti-vaccine. They didn’t think they were high risk.”

1:23 p.m. (updated) Toronto’s public health chief says she expects the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 will be approved and administered “later this month.”

Toronto’s kid vaccination campaign will be “fun” says public health chair Joe Cressy. Family of superheroes is the logo for the campaign and there will be superhero selfie stations.

Asked about timing of the kid vaccine approval, de Villa says it’s up to Health Canada and provincial health ministry but she’s hoping for the end of November and the city is planning for that possibility.

Asked if there is a chance Toronto will roll back latest reopening measures, including full-capacity stadiums and indoor dining, de Villa talks about role of vaccination, distancing, masking to continue our progress.

12:20 p.m. Saskatchewan has introduced a new law that would create a protest buffer zone around hospitals in response to COVID-19.

The government says the goal is to protect patients and health-care workers from harassment.

Earlier this year, several anti-vaccine protests related to COVID-19 were held at hospitals across Saskatchewan.

The province says the legislation would prevent those types of demonstrations from happening on sidewalks within 50 metres of hospitals and create a safe access zone.

Minister of Health Paul Merriman says patients and families should be able to access health-care services safely without interference or intimidation.

12 p.m. The Ottawa Senators have placed a sixth player in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, announcing Wednesday that defenceman Josh Brown has been added to the list.

Brown joins forwards Austin Watson, Dylan Gambrell and Connor Brown and defencemen Victor Mete and Nick Holden on the list.

Associate coach Jack Capuano is also in the league’s COVID-19 protocol.

11:35 a.m. Quebec is reporting 672 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and one more death attributed to the coronavirus.

Health officials say COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by one, to 220, while the number of people in intensive care remained stable at 45.

Quebec has 5,377 active reported cases of COVID-19.

The Health Department says 10,487 vaccine doses were administered in the previous 24 hours.

Quebec’s public health institute says about 90.8 per cent of residents aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 88.3 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

The northern Nunavik territory continues to be the most affected region of the province, with 1,339 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

11:08 a.m. Lifting COVID-19 restrictions helped one of Canada’s most prominent commercial landlords collect more rent in its most recent quarter than at any other point during the pandemic.

RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust said Wednesday that it had collected 98.1 per cent of its billed gross cash rents in its third quarter, up from 90.8 per cent at the same time last year.

Chief executive Jonathan Gitlin attributed the high level of rent collection to RioCan’s “necessity-based retailers,” which he called the “bedrock” of the trust because they make up the bulk of its tenants and were resilient throughout the last 20 months.

He attributed the rest of the rent collection gains to a growing number of tenants able to reopen their doors and increase consumer capacity in recent months as COVID-19 restrictions were loosened.

“Experiential uses like gyms and restaurants limped through the pandemic, but they’re finding their legs,” Gitlin said, on a call with analysts. “They’re becoming viable again.”

10:40 a.m. Niagara saw its share of tragedy and hardship since COVID-19 hit 20 months ago, with many families losing loved ones in outbreaks at long-term-care homes and thousands of people in Niagara Falls out of work, some for well over a year.

There is hope that the pandemic will eventually begin to wane now that the vast majority of people are fully vaccinated, but that hint of optimism isn’t being shared by countless families in Niagara Falls facing an uncertain future.

For many, the coming months and possibly even years could mean stark choices between paying mortgages and rent, or putting food on the table.

At Project SHARE, executive director Pam Sharp said demand was already soaring in the first year and a half of the pandemic: the agency has seen 1,000 new families coming through the doors of its food bank this year, pushing the number of households being served past 4,000.

10:10 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting another 454 COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths, according to its latest report released Wednesday morning.

Ontario has administered 15,257 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 22,652,266 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.

According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 11,544,508 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 88.6 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 77.7 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan

10 a.m. COVID-19 has had a staggering impact on the sheriff’s department in Broward County, Florida, where Sheriff Gregory Tony told a memorial service for nine employees who died from the virus that well over half the department’s 5,600 employees had been exposed and 32 per cent — or 1,800 employees — have contracted the disease.

“We didn’t lose one, two, three — we lost nine,” the sheriff said, noting that the first death from the virus came in April 2020.

Many states and cities are requiring public employees to be vaccinated against COVID, which is now the highest cause of deaths of law enforcement officers this year, and yet infections continue to spread among police and other first responders, who are among those most hesitant to get vaccinated.

9:30 a.m. Guinea will begin vaccinating children aged 12 to 17 in the capital to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the West African nation, the health ministry said.

The youth vaccinations will start Thursday in Conakry, said officials.

Guinea received shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in late October and early November, the National Agency for Health Security said in a statement. It did not specify how many doses were delivered or where they came from, but said they would be used to begin the youth vaccination campaign.

Guinea is the first West African nation to announce vaccinations for this age group, while countries such as South Africa and Morocco in other regions of the continent have already begun youth vaccinations.

9 a.m. Despite its infection surge, Croatia is becoming a new favoured destination for Russians seeking vaccination with Western jabs, which they need to travel around Europe and the U.S.

The biggest vaccination facility in the capital Zagreb has a separate queue for foreigners. Officials said these are mostly Russians who come usually on a one-day trip to get inoculated.

“(Russians) are coming here for their third dose,” said Valentino Rajkovic, a coordinator at the Zagreb fair vaccination center. “In two weeks, they get their COVID passports.”

Russians also have been traveling to neighboring Serbia for vaccinations, because the Russian-made Sputnik V and other vaccines available at home have not been approved by the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency. Therefore, Russian citizens cannot travel to the West with home-made vaccines.

Boris Kulatmetov said he needs to travel to European Union countries to see his clients and has no other way to arrange business meetings, so he came to Croatia to get a vaccine that allows him to travel.

8:15 a.m. A fanciful, three-month relationship with a “different” monarch butterfly was the bright spot in an otherwise dark time of Krista Storey’s life. Just over a year after their first meeting, a butterfly named Braveheart, who captured hearts on social media, has been immortalized in a book of the same name about kindness, respect, acceptance and hope.

The pandemic proved challenging for Storey, then a municipal arts and culture manager who has since been laid off. Like many others in her field, she was dealing with the fallout of her crippled industry. Having to lay off her staff, late nights spent moving programming online and the stress of uncertainty were taking their toll.

Then in September 2020, the 57-year-old mother of two found a monarch butterfly walking across the front lawn of the family’s 32-acre home outside Orillia. A lifelong nature lover, she immediately noticed that something was different about him.

8 a.m. There are so many families in tough circumstances, tougher still due to the pandemic. Job losses have been extreme. The Toronto Star Santa Claus fund exists to help those less fortunate — and thank goodness for that.

This year, the fund aims to deliver 50,000 boxes. Each happily decorated box contains gender neutral, age-appropriate items, such as a toy, a hoodie, hat, mittens, socks, book, cookies and dental hygiene products. The Toronto Star pays for the administrative expenses related to the fund so that donations go directly toward the fund’s initiatives.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kevin Donovan

7:45 a.m. Ontario will “stay the course” with its less restrictive COVID-19 measures despite a 41 per cent increase in infections over the last 10 days, and leave local health units to deal with flare-ups for now, says Health Minister Christine Elliott.

“We know that the numbers have gone up somewhat. We anticipated that would happen,” Elliott told reporters Tuesday as the seven-day average of new cases rose for the tenth day in a row and the province reported 441 more people testing positive for the virus.

“So what we’re seeing right now are largely regional outbreaks which we’re going to be dealing with regionally.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

7:30 a.m. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, wildlife ecologist Jason Fisher and his colleagues at the University of Victoria predicted there would be fewer people in nature and that animals would take back their territory.

But in setting up cameras in the forest of Alberta’s scenic Bighorn Backcountry, they found human activity actually increased in the area, as adventure-seekers who couldn’t travel abroad flocked to the woods to reconnect with nature during lockdown.

As viewers see in the documentary “Nature’s Big Year,” debuting Friday on “The Nature of Things” on CBC TV and CBC Gem, Fisher and the team of scientists also discovered coyote and white-tailed deer roaming the area more.

6 a.m.: As the second pandemic winter looms and major downtown employers push back return-to-office plans, new data exclusive to the Star shows that the volume of weekday workers in Toronto’s financial district is still down by 77 per cent — and some experts say the area will likely never fully recover.

Read the full story by the Star’s Rosa Saba here.

5:53 a.m.: Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have jumped significantly and are at levels close to record numbers seen during previous waves, authorities said Wednesday.

The Health Ministry said the daily tally of new cases reached 14,539 on Tuesday, about 4,500 more than a week ago and the highest number since March 12.

The record daily high of 17,776 was registered on Jan 7.

The country’s infection rate rose to 558 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, more than double the figure recorded in neighbouring Germany.

5:53 a.m.: Germany’s national disease control centre reported a record-high number of new coronavirus cases Wednesday as one of the country’s top virologists warned that another lockdown would be needed if vaccinations do not quickly accelerate.

The 39,676 cases registered by the Robert Koch Institute surpassed the previous daily record of 37,120 new cases reported Friday. The institute said Germany’s infection rate rose to 232.1 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.

“We have a real emergency situation right now,” Christian Drosten, the head of virology at Berlin’s Charite Hospital, said regarding the situation at many hospital intensive care units across the country. “We have to do something right now.”

Government officials have repeatedly said they do not intend to impose lockdowns and have instead appealed to residents to get vaccinated.

Germany currently has a caretaker national government following a September federal election. The parties that are expected to form the next government plan to introduce legislation this week that would allow a declaration since March 2020 of an “epidemic situation of national scope” to expire at the end of the month and provide a new legal framework for instituting coronavirus measures.

5:52 a.m.: As vaccination rates rise in many parts of the world and even countries that previously had strict COVID-containment strategies gingerly ease restrictions, China is doubling down on its zero-tolerance policy.

China pioneered that approach — of strict lockdowns, multiple rounds of mass testing and centralized quarantine — during the world’s first major outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. And it continues now, even as it says it has fully vaccinated 77% of its 1.4 billion people and started giving booster shots.

“The cost is truly rather high, but compared with not managing it, relaxing (the zero-tolerance policy), then that cost is even higher,” Zhong Nanshan, a top government doctor, said in a recent TV interview.

The impact of the restrictions is not widespread — but unpredictable. Unlucky travellers can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the tourists in the Gobi Desert, some of whom were bused 18 hours to finish their quarantine in another city. People from Beijing have complained online about leaving for a work trip and not being able to return home.

5:51 a.m.: Chinese authorities have issued warnings about parcels being potentially contaminated with COVID-19 just as the country’s biggest annual online shopping festival looms, after three workers at a small company that makes children’s clothing tested positive for the virus.

Authorities are testing packages and monitoring people who’ve handled them after the infections were discovered at Haohui eCommerce Co., which is based in Hebei, a province surrounding Beijing. Parcel-delivery services in two cities there — Xinji and Jinzhou — as well as the town of Shenze have been halted, according to a government statement.

Some 300 packages have been tested, all coming back negative. Testing has also taken place in a small county in south China’s Guangxi, where 16 parcels from the company were shipped in what authorities described as a “COVID-related mail chain.” The local health commission said anyone who touched the parcels need to undergo COVID tests and monitoring.

Meanwhile, authorities in Inner Mongolia’s Xilinhot have told people who shopped at or received packages from another clothes store in the past month to report to the local disease prevention department after more traces of COVID-19 were detected. No positive tests have been linked to the items. China has previously inspected goods such as imported frozen food for the virus.

5:51 a.m.: Nepal will obtain enough vaccines to immunize all adults against COVID-19 by mid-April and is focusing on getting doses into remote mountainous areas of the Himalayan nation, the health minister said Wednesday.

The government will hire workers and set up vaccination centres to meet the target, Health Minister Birod Khatiwada told The Associated Press in an interview.

“We are going to meet our target or even exceed our goal because we are already getting enough vaccines,” said Khatiwada, who was appointed last month. “We are going to hire more health workers so they are able to reach all remote corners of the country and set up new vaccine centres to reach all the population.”

Nepal’s immunization campaign began in January with vaccines donated by neighbouring India but stalled when India faced a devastating surge of COVID-19 and halted vaccine exports.

Health Ministry records show 44% of Nepal’s adults have received at least one dose and 37.5% are fully vaccinated. Adults comprise about 72% of Nepal’s population of 30 million. So far, only people over age 18 have received vaccines, but the country plans to immunize people those 12 to 17 when doses are available.

5:50 a.m.: The European Union’s drug regulator said Wednesday that it has started evaluating whether to authorize Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, a decision that could significantly open up COVID-19 vaccination across the continent for young children.

The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency already is evaluating the vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech for use in the 5-11 age group. In a statement on Wednesday, the EMA said it anticipates making a recommendation about Moderna’s vaccine in about two months, unless more data or analysis are needed.

The coronavirus vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have already been cleared for use in children ages 12 to 17 in Europe, and many countries are giving shots to teens.

The EMA’s announcement comes as coronavirus infection levels are rising across much of Europe. It is the only World Health Organization region where COVID-19 has steadily increased for the past six weeks; the number of cases recorded in WHO’s 61-country Europe region accounted for about two-thirds of the 3 million new infections reported globally in the past week.

Moderna said last month that a low dose of its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and appears to work in 6 to 11 year olds. Its vaccine is still pending authorization for use in people under 18 in the U.S.

5:45 a.m.: British Columbia’s unvaccinated health-care workers will be given the first opportunity to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 when it arrives in British Columbia next week, says the province’s top doctor.

The federal government will provide B.C. with a limited number of doses of the vaccine, which has been widely used in the United States, Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday.

She said the vaccine has not yet been available in the province.

“Our first priority will be offering it to B.C. workers who have been affected by the (public health officer) order and who want the vaccine as an option for them to continue to safely work in B.C.,” Henry said at a news conference.

More than 3,000 B.C. health-care workers have not been immunized against COVID-19 and are in violation of the government’s proof-of-vaccination policy, which took effect last month.

Under the order, unvaccinated health-care workers have been placed on three months unpaid leave and could face termination.

Henry said some unvaccinated health-care workers who were placed on leave have suggested they would take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.