BusinessLatest NewsLocal

Today’s coronavirus news: Staffing challenges from surging COVID cases affecting some police, transit services; Omicron could boost waning immunity, shown in blood: advisers – Toronto Star

A pedestrian walks past RH McGregor public school in the Mortimer and Coxwell area on Jan. 3.

Meanwhile, California is struggling to staff hospitals and classrooms as an astonishing spike in coronavirus infections sweeps through the state.

By Star staff and wire services

Thu., Jan. 6, 20227 min. read

Article was updated 13 mins ago

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

6:13 a.m.: Workers, labour advocates and some business owners are asking why — with Omicron running rampant and the economic outlook as uncertain as it’s been during the course of the pandemic — the new federal benefit is lower. For many affected workers, the lower amount will mean a gut-wrenching choice of which necessities of life to do without.

Read the full story from the Star’s Josh Rubin.

6:12 a.m.: Experts say employers need to be more flexible than ever to accommodate the latest wave of remote learning, as parents are finding themselves pushed to the limit.

“The mental health of parents has been really very compromised throughout this whole pandemic,” said Paula Allen, global leader of research at human resources services and technology company LifeWorks (formerly Morneau Shepell).

For employees who have children at home, flexibility makes all the difference, said Allen.

Employers need to prioritize communicating to employees what relief options are available to them, she said, whether it’s compressed work weeks, mental health days or short-term leave — of which there’s been a massive increase.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba.

6:10 a.m.: With gold-standard testing for COVID-19 becoming increasingly difficult to find, debate is swirling over whether a throat swab sample should be collected alongside a nose swab for at-home rapid tests — contrary to some package instructions.

For most tests, accuracy of a combined throat and nose swab has not yet been tested, and Canadian and U.S. official health guidance still advises people to follow the user instructions of the kit they have on hand.

However, debate has emerged on social media and among some experts after anecdotal evidence from people who said they only tested positive after swabbing both the back of their throat and their nasal cavity, despite test instructions to swab the nose only.

Read the full story from the Star’s Nadine Yousif here.

6:09 a.m.: U.S. health officials said Wednesday they are not changing the qualifications for being “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19, but they are urging Americans to stay “up to date” on their protection against the virus by getting booster shots when eligible.

The move to keep the existing definition of fully vaccinated — either two doses of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — comes as health officials warned of waning protections from the initial doses. They are encouraging Americans to get additional doses to stave off serious illness and death from the delta and omicron variants.

The decision to keep the initial definition, established more than a year ago when the vaccines first rolled out, means that federal vaccination mandates for travel or employment won’t require a booster dose.

Maintaining the existing definition of “fully vaccinated” could make it more difficult to encourage some Americans who only begrudgingly got their primary doses of the vaccine to get boosted, since they would not face onerous restrictions often imposed on the unvaccinated — including testing requirements or, in some jurisdictions, being barred from indoor dining and other facilities.

“Individuals are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if they’ve received their primary series,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “That definition is not changing.”

The CDC instead posted information for Americans to more easily determine their eligibility for booster doses so as to remain up to date with their COVID-19 shots.

6:08 a.m.: California is struggling to staff hospitals and classrooms as an astonishing spike in coronavirus infections sweeps through the state.

The fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 is sidelining exposed or infected health care workers even as hospital beds fill with patients and “some facilities are going to be strapped,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Wednesday.

Some 40% of hospitals are expecting to face critical staff shortages and some are reporting as much as one quarter of their staff out for virus-related reasons, said Kiyomi Burchill of the California Hospital Association.

In Fresno County, more than 300 workers at area hospitals were either isolating because of exposure or recovering, said Dan Lynch, the county’s emergency medical services director.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department is driving patients to hospitals in fire trucks rather than ambulances because 450 firefighters are absent after testing positive, acting Assistant Chief Brian Bennett told the Carson City Council on Tuesday, according the Los Angeles Daily News.

Going forward, the county Fire Department will only be sent on medical calls when absolutely necessary, officials said.

6:06 a.m.: Thailand reported its biggest spike in coronavirus cases in weeks on Thursday after a holiday season in which people travelled and gathered in large numbers amid the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

Officials recorded 5,775 new cases, prompting the Ministry of Public Health to raise the official warning level to 4 on a scale of 5, permanent secretary Kiatiphume Wongrajit said. The warning level had been at 3 since the end of December.

Under level 4, the ministry recommends closing high-risk venues, including those with poor ventilation, increasing restrictions on interprovincial travel, limiting group sizes in public places and lengthening quarantine requirements for travellers entering Thailand.

The ministry has submitted a proposal to the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, to ramp up virus restrictions due to the jump in cases. The CCSA is to meet on Friday and is expected to make a decision on the new measures.

6:06 a.m.: Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Thursday asked that the U.S. military in Japan stay inside its bases to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Hayashi said he spoke on the phone with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and was promised utmost efforts to ensure people’s health. It was not immediately clear if a base curfew would be issued.

Maj. Thomas R. Barger, a U.S. Forces in Japan spokesperson, said he could not comment on the request, but that a team was carefully monitoring cases and trends.

Hayashi’s request came as the U.S. military is promising more stringent measures to curb spreading cases. The new measures require all personnel, even when fully vaccinated, to wear masks on base until a third negative coronavirus test, and reiterate an order for all to wear masks when off base, Barger said.

American forces have come under fire after a spike in coronavirus cases in areas where they are based in large numbers, including Okinawa and Iwakuni, both in southern Japan.

6:05 a.m.: Immunity against COVID-19 among vaccinated adult Canadians and those who have already contracted the virus has been waning throughout the population, tests on donated blood have found.

Tests on around 9,000 donated blood samples from across Canada show that antibodies in the blood which fight the virus declined in October among all age groups, with experts saying the waning immunity is likely to have continued in November and December.

But the head of the government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force says that the highly contagious Omicron variant may offer an “immune dividend” offering fresh protection against future infection.

Scientists on the task force are now analyzing the extent of immunity offered by Omicron, as well as “memory of immune protection” in the cells which can kick in with future COVID-19 infections.

With the task force studies of immunity levels informing government policy on booster shots, the findings are likely to influence when and how many booster shots people may have in future.

6 a.m.: Surging cases of COVID-19 driven by the rapidly transmissible Omicron variant are pushing the health-care system to the brink and putting pressure on some police and transit services.

With 170 personnel booked off on leave related to COVID-19, the Winnipeg Police Service declared a state of emergency Wednesday and the Edmonton and Calgary police services warned of staffing challenges after a growing number of members tested positive or were in isolation.

Ontario’s GO Transit says a temporary reduction in train and bus service in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton regions is set to begin within days due to staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced yesterday Ottawa will distribute 140 million rapid tests across the country this month, four times the number delivered in December.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the restrictions on molecular lab tests mean there is no way to be sure of just how many COVID-19 cases there truly are in Canada.

According to the latest figures from Health Canada, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has fuelled 344,140 active cases across the country.