Today’s coronavirus news: Politicians issue warnings ahead of hospital protests expected across Canada; B.C. COVID-19 vaccine card system takes effect – Toronto Star

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

5:52 a.m.: Los Angeles County has continued to struggle to reach people infected with the coronavirus as the pandemic drags on, with contract tracers interviewing only around 40% of the people they were tasked with reaching during the last week of August.

That number has slumped since last summer, when contact tracers were interviewing as many as 70% of the infected residents whose cases they were assigned per week.

The contact tracing system — considered a key tool in slowing the spread of the virus — has faced obstacles from the start of the pandemic, when it repeatedly faltered in containing workplace outbreaks.

Now contact tracers, who are tasked with ensuring that infected people isolate themselves, notifying others who may have been exposed and offering county resources, are finding it increasingly difficult to reach people and get them to agree to an interview.

Public health officials worry that younger people — who now make up a larger share of coronavirus infections since seniors have gotten vaccinated at higher rates — may be less likely to answer a phone call from an unfamiliar number.

Contact tracers have started texting people as well, but sometimes “we call them three times in a row. We leave messages. We text them. And they call us back and tell us, ‘Take me off your list and stop texting me,’” said Gema Morales-Meyer, who directed the case and contact interview branch of the L.A. County Department of Public Health until earlier this summer.

“COVID fatigue” could also be a factor, officials say. Early in the pandemic, “even if they were reluctant, they did the interview because it was so new. It was novel. People didn’t know what was going on,” said True Beck, a COVID-19 response manager. Now that much of L.A. has reopened and people are spending more time outside their homes, they seem less likely to pick up the phone, Beck said.

5:47 a.m.: Greece on Monday introduced mandatory weekly testing for all unvaccinated workers as it struggles to boost vaccination rates that are lagging the European Union average.

Public and private sector employees will have to pay for weekly tests or carry a vaccination certificate to gain access to their place of work, while unvaccinated children at high schools which reopened Monday are being given test kits distributed at government expense.

Similar restrictions will also apply at sports stadiums, museums and archeological sites, as well as indoor leisure areas like cinemas and restaurants.

Some 56% of Greece’s residents have been fully vaccinated, while the average rate in the EU is just over 60%.

Greece has imposed vaccine mandates for health care workers and allows the vaccination of children starting at age 12.

5:46 a.m.: Britain’s health secretary said Sunday that authorities have decided not to require vaccine passports for entry into nightclubs and other crowded events in England, reversing course amid opposition from some of the Conservative government’s supporters in Parliament.

Sajid Javid said the government has shelved the idea of vaccine passports for now but could reconsider the decision if COVID-19 cases rise exponentially once again.

“We’ve looked at it properly and whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I’m pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports,’’ Javid told the BBC.

The U-turn came just days after the government’s vaccines minister and the culture secretary suggested that vaccine passports would still be necessary, despite growing opposition from lawmakers. Such passports are required in other European countries, like France.

In particular, members of the governing Conservative party have objected to such passports as an unacceptable burden on businesses and an infringement on residents’ human rights.

5:46 a.m.: West Virginia set two daily records in the past week for positive coronavirus cases as the pandemic continues to ravage the state.

Thursday’s total of confirmed cases was a record 1,738, only to be broken by Saturday’s total of 1,821, according to state health data. The previous one-day high of more than 1,700 was set on Dec. 31.

The statewide total of 7,849 positive cases for the six days ending Saturday has already passed the seven-day total for the previous week, which had been the second-highest during the pandemic. Sunday’s figures will be released on Monday.

The highest for one week was nearly 8,200 cases in early January, a time when virus vaccines were being offered only for people ages 65 and older.

The amount of weekly virus deaths statewide has gone up steadily since early August, when six deaths were reported for the week of Aug. 9. There have been 83 deaths in the past week and 3,207 overall.

5:45 a.m.: A southeastern Chinese province has reported 22 more COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 43 in a fresh outbreak driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Health authorities said Monday that 15 cases were confirmed in Putian city in the latest 24-hour period. Another six were found in Quanzhou city, and one more in Xiamen, suggesting the virus may be moving south from Putian.

All the infections are in Fujian province, which is across from Taiwan on China’s east coast.

Schools have been closed in Putian and anyone leaving the city must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test in the previous 48 hours. The city suspended bus and train service on Saturday and has closed cinemas, bars and other facilities.

China has largely stopped the spread of COVID-19 but has sporadic outbreaks. One outbreak driven by the delta variant spread to multiple provinces in July and August, raising concern about new and more contagious variants.

5:45 a.m.: New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, will remain in the strictest type of lockdown until Sept. 21 after the government on Monday reported 33 new COVID-19 infections.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said lockdown restrictions were working to eliminate the outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

“We don’t want to risk the sacrifices everyone has made and all the hard work you’ve put in by moving to Alert Level 3 too quickly,” Ardern said, referring to a relaxation of Auckland’s Alert Level 4 restrictions.

The rest of New Zealand will remain on Alert Level 2 until next week because of the risk of COVID-19 spreading from Auckland, she said.

“While there is an outbreak in Auckland that continues to produce cases, there is risk,” Ardern said.

The nation since last month has been battling an outbreak that came from Australia. The outbreak had grown to 955 cases by Monday with 21 infected patients in hospital and four in intensive care.

The government is pursuing an unusual strategy of trying to eliminate the virus entirely.

5:45 a.m.: Health workers are visiting kebab stalls, hockey games and hardware stores across Germany in a push to reach people who have yet to get a coronavirus shot as the country’s vaccination sputters.

It is part of a special weeklong vaccination drive during which people will be offered the shots without appointments at easily accessible sites listed on a national website and promoted on social media with the hashtag “Hier wird geimpft,” meaning “Vaccinations offered here.”

“It’s never been easier to get a vaccine,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her weekend video address.

Germany wants 75% of the population to be immunized against the coronavirus, but so far only 62.2% of the population has received all the necessary shots.

Health Minister Jens Spahn on Monday defended growing pressure on unvaccinated people, including an end to free testing next month and — in some German states — no more sick pay for people in quarantine.

5:45 a.m.: British Columbia’s COVID-19 vaccine card system is now in effect as the province aims to curtail cases and hospitalizations in the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Anyone who wants to access a range of non-essential indoor settings must show proof of at least one dose of vaccine, with a second shot required by Oct. 24.

The digital or paper vaccine card is required at settings such as ticketed sports events, concerts, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, casinos, gyms and movie theatres.

The card will not be required at grocery and liquor stores, pharmacies, fast food restaurants, salons, hotels, banks, retail stores, food banks and shelters.

Showing proof of vaccination is not required to vote in the Sept. 20 federal election.

The province says the system is in place until Jan. 31, 2022 and could be extended.

The vaccine card has spurred protests, including outside hospitals in B.C.

While some in the business community have expressed concern that would-be patrons who are upset about the vaccine card could threaten the safety of staff, Premier John Horgan has told businesses to call law enforcement if necessary.

Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba have also introduced vaccine passport programs.

The most recent update from the B.C. government showed almost 79 per cent of eligible residents over the age of 12 had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, while more than 86 per cent had received at least one shot.

There were 5,850 active COVID-19 infections across the province on Friday, the last day for which figures were available.

5:45 a.m.: Some high-ranking Ontario politicians and prominent health-care organizations are issuing warnings ahead of a number of protests expected to take place at hospitals across Canada today.

An organization calling itself Canadian Frontline Nurses posted notices of “silent vigils” expected to take place in all 10 provinces, saying they’re meant to critique public health measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Prospective locations include the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, Toronto General Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

Organizers say they want to take a stand against what they call “tyrannical measures and government overreach,” adding that they are not encouraging nurses to walk out on their shifts or abandon patients.

But Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose province was among those targeted by similar past protests after he announced plans for a proof-of-vaccine system, condemned the latest round on Sunday in a tweet describing such events as “selfish, cowardly and reckless.”

The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and Ontario Medical Association issued a joint statement “strongly condemning” the planned disruptions and calling for designated safe zones around health-care facilities to protect staff and patients — a proposal the province’s New Democrats have also floated.

“Nurses, doctors and other health-care workers have been working around the clock on the front lines of the pandemic for 18 months helping to keep our communities safe,” Sunday’s joint statement reads. “These COVID-19 heroes need the resources and supports to continue the battle – now in the thick of a fourth wave. They cannot and must not be distracted, or worse, discouraged by protests at the doorsteps of their workplaces.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory also took to social media to condemn the protests planned for some city hospitals, adding he’s been in contact with the local police chief about the events and received assurances that staff would be protected and patients could access the buildings.

“I support police in taking whatever action is necessary to protect the lives of innocent people seeking medical care and all of our healthcare heroes,” Tory wrote on Twitter. “We have long passed the time when we can have this tyranny of a few interfere with access to healthcare during a pandemic.”