May 18, 2022

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.

8:13 p.m.: The University of British Columbia says it will keep its mask mandate for indoor spaces until the end of June as experts anticipate the province will enter the sixth wave of the pandemic.

The university says in a statement there are signs of further Omicron variants and increased case numbers.

It says masks provide an added layer of protection, especially for those who are most vulnerable.

The university says it will monitor the situation and adjust protocols if needed.

Simon Fraser University says on its website that it encourages mask use on campuses and particularly in spaces where people are close together.

British Columbia lifted its mask mandate and capacity limits March 11.

7 p.m.: The Alberta government says the number of COVID-19 infections continues to increase in the province but cases with the latest variant of the virus may have reached a plateau.

Health Minister Jason Copping says hospitalizations were up three per cent in the past seven days to 1,126, but the number of individuals with COVID-19 in intensive care dropped to 43 from 46.

He says there are early indications that Omicron BA. 2 subvariant infections may be at a plateau — with the average test positivity rate in the past week at 25.9 per cent compared to 26.6 a week ago.

Copping says the number of patients in hospital has been stable for the past two months at a level that is normal for this time of year, although some facilities are still near full capacity.

He says there are currently 167 patients in ICU compared to the pre-COVID average of 173.

Copping says the government will be launching a campaign to encourage Albertans to get their third vaccine doses since the province, at 46 per cent, currently has the lowest rate in Canada.

5:09 p.m.: While COVID-19 deaths and infections in the Americas region over the past week are at the lowest levels since the pandemic began two years ago, the World Health Organization’s regional arm warned Wednesday that countries should not think the pandemic is over.

COVID-19 remains a threat in Latin America and the Caribbean, where some countries are still struggling against vaccine hesitancy, falsehoods and other misinformation to boost vaccination rates, Pan American Health Organization officials said.

“This is not the time to lower our guard,” said Dr. Ciro Ugarte, the director of Health Emergencies for PAHO. “There are still millions of cases and tens of deaths per week.”

PAHO’s warning comes as Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay join some European countries in dropping mandatory use of face masks and a federal judge in Florida on Monday voided the federal mask mandate for airplanes and other modes of public transportation.

Across the Caribbean, countries such as Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba have also eased COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers.

4:54 p.m.: The treatment of a 92-year-old Shanghai woman who was sent to quarantine late at night has caused anger in China, underscoring the frustration that many are feeling under the nation’s strict COVID Zero rules.

Police and local officials had a locksmith force open a door to the apartment occupied by the woman and her son around 2 a.m. on Tuesday when no one responded to their knocking, the local government said on an official social media account. They acted because they feared “an accident,” and said the pair “voluntarily went downstairs” so they could leave for an isolation facility.

The woman and son later spent hours sitting in a hallway because the quarantine site they were sent to was out of beds, Caixin Global reported, citing a relative.

The government said the two were transferred to a quarantine centre at 3 a.m. on Tuesday and assigned beds and provided with daily necessities. Quarantine staff there also conducted a brief health checkup for them. The government didn’t give full names of the people involved.

4 p.m.: The scientific director of the panel advising Ontario on COVID-19 says cases in the province might rise a bit after the holiday weekend, but it won’t fundamentally change the trajectory of the sixth wave.

Dr. Peter Jüni said wastewater data shows a possible peak, the number of health-care workers testing positive for COVID-19 has plateaued, and test positivity has also plateaued.

There may be a rise in cases following holidays such as Easter, Passover and Ramadan, which is ongoing, but it will likely be small, he said.

“There may be a bit of a bump,” Jüni said. “But no, it would not change the fundamentally the trajectory of this wave.”

The sixth wave will likely either stay on a plateau or start decreasing because of a high level of immunity from vaccines and recent infections as well as warmer weather allowing for more outdoor activities, which have a lower risk of transmission, he said.

Next week’s data will reflect the impacts of gatherings over the long weekend, Jüni said.

Ontario’s case and contact management system is experiencing issues, but there were 1,073 new COVID-19 cases logged Wednesday.

With PCR testing eligibility restricted, Jüni says multiplying the daily case count right now by 20 would give an accurate picture.

He had previously suggested a multiplier of 10, but he says while a wave is at a possible peak, a multiplier of 20 is more accurate.

2 p.m. A new mask-optional phase of the pandemic is arriving, sparking concern from some experts that the shift is occurring too soon.

For months, local officials in the U.S. have been easing mask rules in public places, such as supermarkets and shopping malls. But a federal court ruling Monday striking down the federal mask-wearing order on public transportation systems accelerated the trend, with Uber, Lyft, many airlines and transit agencies making face coverings optional.

In one section of Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday morning, an estimated 30 per cent to 40 per cent of travellers were not wearing masks.

“It’s about time,” tweeted Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita).

But parents of young children who cannot get vaccinated and as well as advocates for people with compromised immune systems are alarmed.

While new COVID-19 hospitalizations are at among their lowest levels nationally, cases are rising slowly — from 25,000 to 37,000 a day over the past two weeks. Nearly 400 people in the U.S. are dying of COVID-19 daily.

1:35 p.m. The Cleveland Guardians placed three players on the COVID-19 injured list Wednesday, including major league batting leader Owen Miller.

Right-handed starter Cal Quantrill and righty reliever Anthony Castro also tested positive for the virus and were moved to the IL prior to Cleveland’s doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox.

Miller, a first baseman, leads the big leagues with a .500 average and a 1.509 OPS.

“They all feel fine,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “That’s good, but it’s frustrating.”

1:17 p.m. A Quebec judge has ruled a mother can have her young son vaccinated against the coronavirus without the father’s consent and ordered the father not to take the child to COVID-19 protests.

In a ruling dated April 12, Superior Court Justice Nathalie Pelletier sides with the 10-year-old’s mother, who says she learned the boy’s father forced him to lie about his age to avoid masking in public places.

The mother says the child’s father took him to the trucker convoy protests in Ottawa last winter, claiming he wanted to instil democratic values in the boy, but she argues those kinds of protests are dangerous for children.

The father, meanwhile, said demonstrations against COVID-19 health orders aren’t risky for children and that he has the right to a contrarian opinion against the vaccine.

1 p.m. travellers were required to wear masks inside Philadelphia’s main airport terminal Tuesday, but not after boarding many airplanes. They had to mask up to enter stores in the city, but not to ride the commuter rails.

As local and federal COVID-19 safety requirements changed yet again this week, Philadelphia stood out for rules that often came into conflict inside the city’s most crowded locations.

Philadelphia started the week by becoming the first large U.S. city to reinstate an indoor mask mandate, which some businesses are suing to block. Then late Monday, regional transit authorities SEPTA and PATCO dropped their longtime mask requirements after a Florida judge struck down a federal mask mandate for public transportation. Some airlines have allowed passengers to remove masks, no matter how packed their flight is, though they will be required to mask up when they arrive at the far more spacious terminals of Philadelphia International Airport to comply with the city’s mandate.

12:40 p.m. Quebec is reporting 26 more deaths due to COVID-19 and 100 more people hospitalized with the disease. There are now 2,381 people in hospital with COVID-19 after 235 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 135 were discharged.

The number of people in intensive care is stable at 101. Health officials say there are 10,833 health workers off the job for reasons linked to the novel coronavirus.

Officials are reporting 2,330 new cases by PCR testing, which is limited to certain groups. They say 33,663 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered in the previous 24 hours.

11:05 a.m. The Redpath Waterfront Festival says its return to Toronto’s waterfront with its first in-person festival after two years. From September 17-18, 2022, visitors are invited to a “Water Weekend” which will take place in HTO Park and Sugar Beach. The Festival will celebrate the last weekend of summer by featuring on-land and on-water programs including Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Navy and Theodore TOO Tugboat.

Last year, due to COVID-19, the Redpath Waterfront Festival was reimagined into a socially distanced trail featuring augmented reality, art installations, and local promotions, called the Redpath Waterfront Trail.

10:54 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 203 people in ICU due to COVID-19 and 1,662 in hospital overall testing positive for COVID-19, according to its latest report released Wednesday morning.

Of the people hospitalized, 45 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 55 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive. For the ICU numbers, 59 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 40.7 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive.

The numbers represent a 1.5 per cent decrease in the ICU COVID-19 count and a 11.8 per cent increase in hospitalizations overall. 25 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 1,073 on Wednesday, down 11.9 per cent from the previous day – are also not considered an accurate assessment of how widespread COVID-19 is right now. 28 new deaths were reported in the latest numbers.

Read the full story from the Star’s Dorcas Marfo

10:15 a.m. If you live in South Dundas or North Dundas you will have to travel outside of the area to get a COVID-19 antiviral treatment if you need one.

The Ontario government launched a program for expanded access to COVID-19 antiviral treatments last week which included over 700 pharmacies that dispense treatments like Paxlovid. None of those locations are in Dundas County.

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit told The Leader that the health unit had no local input into the program locations.

“We have been trying for weeks to get antivirals locally,” he said. Due to low supply in Ontario, until now antiviral treatments for people infected with COVID-19 were only available in Ottawa.

“However now with increased supply availability, we want to ensure that antiviral availability is equitable across all our region and that the community knows exactly where to go locally to get tested and evaluated and receive their prescription in an expedited fashion if they are eligible,” Roumeliotis added.

9:40 a.m. Norwegian health authorities said Wednesday they are open to giving people aged 80 and above a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, but see no cause for a general recommendation for that age category to get a fourth shot.

Geir Bukholm, assistant director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said the agency “believes this can be assessed and chosen by the individual.”

However, the agency urged more people with severely weakened immune systems to take a booster shot of the vaccine.

The agency said the updated assessment was in line with guidelines by the European Infection Control Agency and the European Medicines Agency.

8:55 a.m. Niagara’s hospital system is appealing for the community’s support and kindness, as staff and physicians deal with increasing “disrespectful behaviours” while coping with a surge in COVID-19 patients, outbreaks and deaths.

Niagara Health on Tuesday reported the deaths of seven Niagarans between Thursday and Sunday who were being treated for the virus in hospital.

There were 90 hospital patients being treated for COVID-19 at Tuesday, up from 64 last week. Five patients were in intensive care.

Hospital staff are managing eight outbreaks at Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Welland hospitals, as well as the Welland extended care unit.

8:30 a.m. Walt Disney World has lifted the last of its mask requirements, meaning face coverings will be optional for visitors at all locations on the central Florida Disney property.

The rule change was posted Tuesday on Disney’s website. Masks are still recommended, though not required, for guests who are not fully vaccinated in indoor locations and enclosed transportation.

In February, the park made face coverings optional for fully vaccinated visitors in all indoor and outdoor locations, with the exception of enclosed transportation, such as the resort’s monorail, buses and the resort’s sky gondola. The new rule change removes the transportation exception, as well as the requirement to be vaccinated.

8 a.m. COVID-19 found Dr. Sunjay Sharma just as Ontario started letting its guard down.

The medical director of Hamilton General Hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) had avoided the virus for two years while caring for the sickest COVID patients.

In fact, just days earlier he’d been talking to colleagues about how he dodged the virus despite being so close to it for so long because measures to stop the spread really worked.

“I vividly remember saying that and then like 10 days later I got sick,” said Sharma. “I was not expecting to get COVID at all.”

But by around March 10, he was staring at a positive result on a rapid antigen test.

Read the full story from the Spectator’s Joanna Frketich

7:46 a.m. For the third year in a row, the Magna Hoedown has cancelled its live event.

“Given the considerable lead time needed for an event of this magnitude, as well as the evolving public health guidelines related to the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s event,” said a statement issued April 18 by the Magna’s Neighbourhood Network team.

This marks the third consecutive year York Region’s biggest annual party for a cause has been lassoed due to the pandemic.

Despite the cancellation, Magna will continue its role as a supporter of local charities.

7:35 a.m. Statistics Canada will say this morning how quickly prices increased in March, just one month after the rising cost of gasoline and groceries pushed the annual inflation rate to its fastest pace in more than 30 years.

The annual inflation rate hit 5.7 per cent in February which marked the biggest increase to the consumer price index since August 1991, according to Statistics Canada.

Pushing the rate higher were prices for gasoline and groceries, which further climbed in March after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

6:05 a.m. The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday it will not appeal a federal district judge’s ruling that ended the nation’s federal mask mandate on public transit unless the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the requirement is still necessary.

In a statement released a day after a Florida judge ended the sweeping mandate, which required face coverings on planes and trains and in transit hubs, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said officials believe that the federal mask order was “a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health.” He said it was “an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve.”

Coley said the CDC had said it would continue to assess public health conditions, and if the agency determined a mandate was necessary for public health, the Justice Department would file an appeal.

5:35 a.m. President Joe Biden’s administration has been working for months to prepare people to rethink their personal risk calculations as the nation gets used to the idea of living with an endemic COVID-19.

But that measured approach disappeared abruptly when a federal judge on Monday threw out the federal requirement to mask up when using mass transit. The ruling added to the urgency of the messaging challenge as the administration tries to move past the virus in the lead-up to midterm elections.

After the government last month eased indoor mask-wearing guidelines for the vast majority of Americans – even in schools — masking on planes was one of the last redoubts of the national COVID-19 restrictions. Now, as the policy falls, the administration turns to accelerating its efforts to provide the best advice for millions making their own personal safety decisions in the still-dangerous pandemic.

Read more from The Associated Press.

5:20 a.m. Newfoundland and Labrador residents say they’re frustrated by the lack of free COVID-19 rapid tests when other provinces make them widely available at no cost.

Heather Elliott, a retail worker from St. John’s, says many of her friends and family are scrambling to find take-home rapid tests. PCR testing, meanwhile, is only offered to select groups, such as people over 60, pregnant people and those working in high-risk settings like health care.

“Learning to live with COVID — part of that is being able to identify if you have COVID,“ Elliott said in an interview Tuesday. ”And unfortunately, in Newfoundland and Labrador right now, a lot of the population doesn’t have that option.

Read more from The Canadian Press.

5:15 a.m. Uber Canada says face masks will no longer be required for drivers and passengers as of Friday April 22.

This change in policy does not apply to Quebec.

“In accordance with provincial public health guidelines, masks will no longer be required when using Uber in Canada (except Quebec) effective this Friday, April 22,” an Uber Canada spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday.

But the ride-sharing company says it still recommends donning a face mask.

Drivers will have the right to require passengers to wear masks and can cancel trips if the passenger refuses, according to Uber Canada. Similarly, if the passenger doesn’t wish to wear a mask, they can cancel a trip according to Uber’s usual policies.

Read more from the Star’s Lloyd Quanash.

5 a.m. Shanghai allowed 4 million more people out of their homes Wednesday as anti-virus controls that shut down China’s biggest city eased, while the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast of Chinese economic growth and warned the global flow of industrial goods might be disrupted.

A total of almost 12 million people in the city of 25 million are allowed to go outdoors following the first round of easing last week, health official Wu Ganyu said at a news conference. Wu said the virus was “under effective control” for the first time in some parts of the city.

Under the latest changes, more than 4 million people are included in areas where the status shifted from closed to controlled, said Wu. He said some are not allowed to leave their neighbourhoods and large gatherings are prohibited.

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