Today’s coronavirus news: Premier Ford says mask mandate end ‘not far away’; Ontario reports 849 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 279 in ICU – 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.

7:20 p.m. British Columbia says another 22 deaths linked to COVID-19 were recorded over a three-day period, bringing the death toll to 2,873.

A statement from the Health Ministry says the number of people in hospitals due to COVID-19 declined again with 549 patients in hospital as of Monday, a drop from 599 on Friday.

Of those in hospital, it says 85 were in intensive care.

The province also reported 974 new cases of COVID-19 over the three-day period ending Monday, although health officials have said the number is likely higher due to testing capacity limits.

4:41 p.m. Health officials in Prince Edward Island reported one more death related to COVID-19 on Monday.

Officials say the death involves a resident 80 years old or older.

A total of 16 people have died on the Island as a result of the disease.

Officials also reported 933 new infections since their last update on Friday.

There are six people in hospital with COVID-19, including four admitted because of the disease and two patients who tested positive for COVID-19 after being admitted for other medical reasons.

Officials say there has been an average of 314 new infections per day over the last seven days.

2:40 p.m. A group of Canadian Rangers will be helping an Ontario First Nation as it battles a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Canadian Armed Forces say about eight rangers will be providing food, water and care packages to Kasabonika Lake First Nation, located roughly 450 kilometres northeast of Sioux Lookout, Ont.

They say the rangers will also help with transportation and distributing COVID-19 information in the community. The support will be in place until March 10, but can be extended upon request.

In a tweet, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the rangers were “activated” after a request for assistance from the Ontario government.

2:39 p.m. Three more people have died as a result of COVID-19 in New Brunswick.

The latest deaths involve a person over the age of 90 in the Bathurst region, one person in their 70s in the Moncton area and someone also in their 70s in the Edmundston region.

There have been 304 COVID-19-related deaths in New Brunswick since the start of the pandemic.

There are 89 people in hospital with the disease — an increase of 17 since Friday — including three people in intensive care.

2:35 p.m. The end of mask mandates in Ontario is “not far away,” and could come as early as after March Break, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.

Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine certificate system is set to end Tuesday, and all remaining capacity limits for indoor public settings will be lifted as well, but Ford has said mask rules would be in place for “just a little bit longer.”

Ford said he will wait for the recommendation of the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, who said a few days ago that he would have an update in the coming weeks.

“What I’m hearing over the next few weeks, maybe after March Break when kids get back, but we’ll see. I don’t want to set a date,” Ford said at a news conference on Monday.

“We aren’t far away.”

2:07 p.m. With one small jab, Eugena Bryan made history.

It was Dec. 31, 2020 and COVID-19 had already ravaged long-term-care facilities across the province as it swiftly infected residents and care staff, leaving thousands dead in its wake. This vulnerable group had become a top priority for vaccination.

Bryan, a registered nurse who was involved in COVID-19 testing, and her colleagues at the Toronto Western Family Health Team, were asked if they wanted to help administer shots at the beginning of the vaccine rollout. They jumped at the chance and were dispatched to a Toronto long-term-care home.

“It was really devastating what was happening in long-term care … So, we made a pledge to help as much as we could,” said Bryan.

Read more from the Star’s Bailey Martens.

2 p.m. New Zealand is ending a requirement that incoming travellers isolate themselves as it continues to remove coronavirus border protections in the face of a growing domestic outbreak.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday said the requirement that vaccinated travelers isolate for a week after arriving would end on Wednesday. Initially the changes will apply only to returning New Zealanders, as tourists are still not allowed to visit.

Travelers will still need to test negative for the virus before leaving and after arriving.

The changes were welcomed by the tourism industry, although leaders wanted more certainty over when tourists could return. International tourism used to account for about 20% of New Zealand’s foreign income but has evaporated since the pandemic began.

12:45 p.m. Saskatchewan lifted its remaining COVID-19 restrictions today — the first province in Canada to do so.

Residents no longer have to wear masks in indoor public places and are not required to self-isolate for five days if they test positive for the virus.

Saskatchewan ditched its vaccine passport on February 14th.

12:40 p.m. Eased border restrictions came into effect this morning, lifting the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to take a pre-departure COVID-19 molecular test.

The federal government announced earlier this month that double-vaccinated air and land travellers no longer need to present a negative molecular test result, such as a PCR test before departure for Canada.

Unvaccinated children under 12 also no longer need to self-isolate upon return to the country, and Ottawa has lifted its blanket advisory against trips abroad.

Potentially cheaper and easier-to-access rapid antigen tests administered by a health professional remain mandatory for Canadians 12 and over who want to avoid quarantining at home for 10 days upon return to the country.

12:15 p.m. Quebec is reporting seven more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus today and a drop of 10 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The Health Department says 1,446 patients are in hospital with the disease, after 59 people were admitted in the last 24 hours and 69 were discharged.

Officials say the number of people in intensive care declined by four, to 94.

Authorities are reporting 845 new cases detected through PCR testing, which is reserved for certain high-risk groups.

11:49 a.m. Patti LuPone won’t be lunching for the foreseeable future.

The Broadway icon announced Sunday that she has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss more than a week of shows of “Company” on the Broadway stage.

“Hi Dolls. I showed up for Saturday’s matinee, tested positive for Covid with 3 tests,” the 72-year-old singer tweeted. “Unfortunately, I’ll be out of the show for 10 days. I’m so sorry.”

11:43 a.m. Some establishments in Ontario will maintain proof-of-vaccine requirements even after the province ends its vaccine certificate system on Tuesday, saying they want to ensure that people feel safe and comfortable coming through their doors.

Jan Campbell-Luxton, owner of De La Terre Bakery + Café in St. Catharines, Ont., said he and front-of-house staff came to a joint decision to keep checking for proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

Maintaining the policy feels like “a fairly small price” to pay to ensure both staff and customers feel safe, he said.

“We felt like at the moment, it seemed a bit premature to simply abolish the vaccine requirements and just throw everything open,” said Campbell-Luxton. “We’re certainly not interested in kicking people out, so just as it is today, after March 1, if you’re unvaccinated and want to get something to go, you just have to wear a mask and we also do curbside pickup.”

Campbell-Luxton noted the business will also keep a capacity limit of 50 per cent for the time being, despite the province lifting capacity limits in all remaining indoor public settings as of Tuesday as well.

10:47 a.m. Omicron is fading away, and so are Americans’ worries about COVID-19.

As coronavirus pandemic case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths continue to plummet, fewer people now than in January say they are concerned that they will be infected after the rise and fall of the wildly contagious virus variant, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Just 24% say they are “extremely” or “very” worried about themselves or a family member contracting COVID-19, down from 36% in both December and January, when Omicron caused a massive spike in infections and taxed public health systems. Another 34% say they are somewhat worried. More than 140,000 deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to COVID-19 since omicron became the dominant strain of the coronavirus in mid-December.

10:17 a.m. (updated): Ontario is reporting 279 people in ICU due to COVID-19 and 849 in hospital overall testing positive for COVID-19, according to its latest report released Monday morning.

The numbers represent a less than a one per cent decrease in the ICU COVID-19 count and a one per cent increase in hospitalizations overall. 28.7 per cent of the province’s 2,343 adult ICU beds remain available for new patients.

Given new provincial regulations around testing that took effect Dec. 31, 2021, case counts — reported at 1,315 on Monday, down 34.3 per cent from the previous day — are also not considered an accurate assessment of how widespread COVID-19 is right now. Three new deaths were reported in the latest numbers.

Not all hospitals report data to the province early in the week.

Read more from the Star’s Mariam Nouser.

9:15 a.m. A group of congressional Republicans has drafted legislation designed to force the Biden administration to abandon COVID-19 travel restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border.

New York Rep. Chris Jacobs hosted a news conference Sunday to unveil what he’s calling the Northern Border Reopening Act.

Canadian visitors would no longer need to be vaccinated to enter the U.S. or, in the case of air travel, show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, in the unlikely event the bill were to become law.

Democrats currently have control of the House of Representatives and hold the tiebreaker vote in the 50-50 Senate, although that’s expected to change after the November midterms.

The bill is co-sponsored by several House Republicans whose opposition to travel restrictions are well known, including fellow New Yorkers Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin, as well as Minnesota Rep. Pete Stauber.

8:53 a.m. Life is getting a little more back to normal today in Quebec. Bars and casinos can operate at half capacity and the province is ending its COVID-19 mandatory teleworking order on Monday. Cinemas, theatres, places of worship and sports arenas holding fewer than 10-thousand people can operate at full capacity.

8:33 a.m. For two years, Ontarians were told to keep at least six feet apart from others, wear a mask in public spaces, get vaccinated and wash their hands vigorously to protect themselves and loved ones from catching COVID-19.

But as the latest Omicron wave dips, the province is now making the boldest moves toward reopening yet. On March 1, all vaccine mandates in Ontario will be lifted, meaning people no longer have to provide proof of vaccination to eat at a restaurant or watch a movie. Later in the month, Ontario’s top doctors hinted at a review of mask mandates, which have been in place since May 2020.

By and large, many governments are signalling a transition toward a post-pandemic life. But experts in psychology say people’s views on reopening will vary widely, based on both their lived experience and their attitude toward risky behaviours. Some have developed a stress response to the possibility of exposure to the virus, while others have tuned out any fears related to COVID-19.

Read more from the Star’s Nadine Yousif.

8:22 a.m. Japan this week will ease tough coronavirus border controls that have been criticized as xenophobic and damaging to the economy. The new rules, however, provide only a slight improvement: 5,000 new entrants per day, instead of the current 3,500, and nowhere near the estimated 64,000 a day that were entering for long-term visits before the pandemic.

The 5,000 daily arrivals also includes Japanese nationals returning to the country, which means hundreds of thousands of foreigners will still struggle to enter.

An estimated half million foreign students, teachers, workers accredited as technical interns and business travelers have been locked out and waiting to get in for nearly two years. Under the policy that takes effect Tuesday, it would take several more months of patience before everyone can get in.

8:15 a.m. South Korea will no longer require people to show proof of vaccination or negative tests to enter any indoor space starting Tuesday, removing a key preventive measure during a fast-developing omicron surge that’s elevating hospitalizations and deaths.

The Health Ministry’s announcement on Monday came as the country set another one-day record in COVID-19 deaths with 114, breaking the previous high of 112 set on Saturday. More than 710 COVID-19 patients were in critical or serious conditions, up from 200-300 in mid-February, while nearly half of the country’s intensive care units designated for COVID-19 were occupied.

Park Hyang, a senior health ministry official, said rescinding the “anti-epidemic pass” would free more health workers to help monitor nearly 800,000 virus patients with mild or moderate symptoms who have been asked to isolate at home to save hospital space.

7:10 a.m. New York state’s mandate requiring mask use at schools will end on Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

She cited steep declines in COVID-19 numbers in announcing the move. Cities and counties can keep mask mandates in place as they see fit, she added.

On Friday, New York Mayor Eric Adams announced the end of mandatory mask use in outdoor settings at city schools.

7:05 a.m. The pandemic put the tourism industry in a holding pattern, but some attractions pushed through and planned their debuts despite the uncertainty. Fresh new offerings — including a mind-bender on International Drive and a simulated intergalactic experience — are beginning to blossom in Central Florida.

Worldwide conditions played ever-changing roles in their creations, from supply-chain issues to the fluid public mindset.

“We opened to that unsure crowd that wanted to do … something,” said Marc Gregory Tipton, sales and marketing manager of Museum of Illusions Orlando, which came to Icon Park in January 2021.

But before welcoming visitors, parts of the attraction had to be assembled. The museum features artistic brain teasers, using angles and mirrors to create visual trickery and photo opportunities. But the company, created in Croatia in 2015, was unable to send a setup team to Florida because of travel restrictions.

5:51 a.m.: Dead bodies are piling up on gurneys in hospital hallways as Hong Kong’s health system is overloaded by its biggest COVID-19 outbreak of the pandemic.

Officials said they are struggling to move the dead to the city’s public morgues quickly enough after more than 400 people died from COVID-19 last week, according to the latest official statistics. The news comes as the city is struggling to tamp down on an omicron-fueled outbreak, with more than 26,000 cases and 83 deaths reported Sunday.

The city’s hospital authority blamed transportation delays for the situation. “That is why some bodies that were planned to be transported stayed in the hospital,” said Lau Ka-hin, the chief manager of quality and standards at Hong Kong’s hospital authority.

Monday 5:40 a.m.: Speaking about his government’s decision to lift various public health restrictions ahead of schedule, Premier Doug Ford expressed a popular sentiment about COVID-19 as the pandemic’s second anniversary nears.

“Everyone’s done with this,” he said on Feb. 15. “Like, we are done with it … Thank God, on March 1 we’re moving out of this, and I just can’t wait.”

Not everyone shares the premier’s enthusiasm, however.

Katie Babcock wishes she could be “done” with COVID and all the disruption it has caused her life, but the 42-year-old marketing and communications professional knows that immunocompromised people like her can’t simply wish their risk away. “I don’t have the privilege not to live in fear,” she said.

Babcock’s life will actually become more constrained on March 1, when the province eliminates proof-of-vaccination requirements and capacity limits, because she will be deepening her isolation in order to protect herself. If masking is no longer required indoors, her world will shrink even further.

The public health measures some see as restrictive and inconvenient, she considers potentially life-saving.

Read Brendan Kennedy’s piece here.

Read Monday’s coronavirus news.

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