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Today’s coronavirus news: Toronto tops 1,100 new infections in its latest daily report, seven more deaths; Fully vaccinated Americans can travel again

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

4:15 p.m.: Toronto topped 1,100 new COVID-19 infections in the latest report from the city.

The city reported Friday that there were 1,106 new infections since the previous day, and seven more deaths.There are 28 more people in hospital for a total of 341.

3:03 p.m.: The entire season-opening three-game series between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets was called off on Friday because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the 2019 World Series champions, who had four players test positive and another five quarantining after contact tracing.

The Nationals announced the postponement of games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at their stadium. That news came a day after Thursday night’s opener was scratched just hours before it was supposed to begin with Max Scherzer pitching for the Nationals against Jacob deGrom of the Mets in a matchup between the recipients of a combined five Cy Young Awards.

“We’re in crisis management mode,” Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said in a video call with reporters Friday.

More than a third of the 26-man roster submitted for opening day is affected by the outbreak and wouldn’t be able to play at this point. Rizzo said players who didn’t make the team will get called up from the Nationals’ training site in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“Our depth is going to have to shine,” the GM said.

2:54 p.m.: Canada’s two most long-standing COVID-19 hot spots marked their second Good Friday in the COVID-19 era by either ushering in or preparing to impose new public health measures to curb resurgent case numbers.

Three regions of Quebec are now under a 10-day lockdown that took effect hours before the province reported the highest daily case load since late January.

The province says 1,314 new cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours, marking the third day in a row Quebec reported more than 1,000 new cases.

The news comes as residents of Quebec City, Levis and Gatineau begin a 10-day shutdown that will shutter schools, gyms and most non-essential businesses.

Ontario did not share new case data today, but residents are trying to take advantage of one last day of loosened public health measures before a provincewide shutdown takes effect on Saturday.

Most Canadians are being asked to spend yet another holiday isolated from family and friends, as case counts surge and hospitals are being pushed to the brink.

Atlantic Canada is the notable exception, where case loads are low. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick reported nine new infections a piece on Friday.

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin says the Easter weekend in his province “is looking very different” than in most other jurisdictions, but said people still need to be careful.

2:36 p.m.: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order Friday prohibiting businesses from requiring customers show proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, following through with his promise to ban controversial immunization credentials that have emerged as a hot-button issue.

The order also prohibits Florida’s governmental agencies from issuing vaccine passports.

“Businesses in Florida are prohibited from requiring patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business,” the order states.

DeSantis’ action puts him at odds with several South Florida businesses that have announced vaccination requirements. Nova Southeastern University, a private institution, is requiring all students and faculty to be vaccinated by the fall semester.

Businesses that do not comply with the order will not be eligible for contracts or grants funded through state revenue, according to the executive order.

2:21 p.m.: The B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus is now predominant across an area containing two-thirds of the U.S. population, with one of President Joe Biden’s top Covid advisers saying it spreads more easily and likely leads to more serious Covid-19 symptoms.

The variant, initially found in the U.K., is dominant in five of 10 regions into which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention groups the U.S population. The CDC identified those regions Friday, saying they include much of the Eastern seaboard, from New York south to Florida, as well as the Midwest and most of the Sunbelt. About 220 million people, or two-thirds of the U.S. population, live in those five regions.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on March 31 that the variant was predominant in five regions, and makes up anywhere from 4% to 35% of cases, depending on the region. At the time, she didn’t identify the regions but said the variant made up 26% of cases nationally.

1:26 p.m.: People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely travel within the United States and abroad as long as they continue to take precautions like wearing a mask in public, according to new guidance released Friday by the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In its updated guidance, the agency still “recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated, because travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.”

With cases rising in some parts of the country and across the globe, the CDC “is not recommending travel at this time,” said agency director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Fully vaccinated people who are traveling internationally do not need to be tested for COVID-19 before leaving the United States unless their destination requires them to be, and they do not need to self-quarantine upon arriving in the country, federal health officials said. However, all air passengers coming into the U.S. must have a negative coronavirus test result from no more than three days before their travel date.

1:17p.m.: Britain reported 30 cases of extremely rare blood clots in people who had received the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, the same sort of events that have prompted some European countries to restrict use of the shot in certain at-risk age groups.

The reports represented 25 more cases than Britain’s medicines regulator had previously received, going some way toward addressing a mystery that has hung over safety concerns about the vaccine: why Britain had not observed the same phenomenon that has been seen in continental Europe, driving countries including France, Germany and Sweden to stop giving the shot to younger people, who are believed to be at higher risk from the rare clotting events.

Britain’s medicines regulator said that it had received reports of no such clotting cases in people who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The clotting cases have generated concern because, scientists said, they were somewhat unusual. They involve blood clots combined with unusually low levels of platelets, a disorder that can lead to heavy bleeding.

12:57 p.m.: Regulators in South Africa, which has been struggling with a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus, approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Thursday, a welcome boost to the country’s stop-start inoculation campaign.

The decision paves the way for the distribution of 31 million doses, which the South African government has already secured, President Cyril Ramaphosa said this week.

The approval is based on a “rolling submission” of data on the vaccine’s performance from Dec. 11 to March 17, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority said in a statement. The single-dose vaccine has been administered to over 269,000 health workers since February as part of the implementation phase of Johnson & Johnson’s trial in South Africa.

12:54 p.m.: Health authorities in Nova Scotia are reporting nine new cases of COVID-19.

Officials say five of the nine new infections are a group of international travellers.

The remaining cases are all linked to domestic travel outside of Atlantic Canada.

Officials say there are 31 active cases of COVID-19 in the province.

12:53 p.m.: Things have been looking up in California. Vaccines will soon be available to everyone older than 16. Los Angeles schools are about to bring hundreds of thousands of students back to classrooms. Disneyland, dark for a year, will throw open its gates in just a few weeks.

At the state capital, however, the coronavirus pandemic still clouds Gov. Gavin Newsom’s horizon. Soon, the secretary of state is expected to announce that a campaign to recall him has officially qualified for a special election.

Led by Trump stalwarts, amplified by Republican National Committee money and fueled during the pandemic by Newsom’s own political missteps, the recall initiative is widely regarded as a long shot. Putting it on the ballot requires roughly 1.5 million signatures from disgruntled voters, a drop in the Democrat-dominated bucket of 40 million residents.

But even if Newsom prevails, the pandemic has both tested and tarnished him politically.

12:52 p.m.: Johnson & Johnson has started testing its COVID-19 vaccine on adolescents, beginning with those ages 16 and 17.

The teens will be added to an ongoing study of the vaccine in adults that began last September, the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based drugmaker said Friday. After initial data from the older teens is reviewed, the trial will expand to add adolescents ages 12 to 15.

J&J says the first teens are being enrolled in the United Kingdom and Spain. Teens in the United States, Canada and the Netherlands will be added, followed by teens in Brazil and Argentina.

The study is testing the safety and efficacy of both one-dose and two-dose regimens of the vaccine, with the two-dose regimens being studied at intervals of one, two and three months after the first shot.

Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for the company’s Janssen pharmaceuticals unit, says it also expects to initiate studies in pregnant women and children.

A total of 100 million J&J doses are pledged for the U.S. by late May or June.

11:37 a.m.: Add travel to the activities vaccinated Americans can enjoy again, according to new U.S. guidance issued Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward.

Previously, the agency had cautioned against unnecessary travel even for vaccinated people, but noted that it would update its guidance as more people got vaccinated and evidence mounted about the protection the shots provide.

”Every day you get more data, and you change your guidance based on the existing data,” said Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska’s College of Public Health.

Khan said the update reinforces the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and is another incentive for people to get vaccinated.

Read the full article here.

11:36 a.m.: Quebec is reporting 1,314 new cases of COVID-19 today and five additional deaths, including one within the past 24 hours.

The Health Department says the number of hospitalizations rose by 16 to 503.

The number of people in intensive care was 121, up two from the day before.

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Public health authorities say 48,507 doses of vaccine were administered on Thursday, for a total of 1,440,680 since the start of the provincial vaccination effort.

Quebec has reported 313,676 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10,681 deaths linked to the disease.

11:35 a.m.: The Dutch government said Friday it is temporarily halting AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccinations for people under 60 following reports of very small number of people suffering unusual blood clots after receiving the shot.

The Dutch decision comes three days after authorities in Germany also stopped using the AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the under-60s, also citing fresh concerns over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots.

Earlier Friday, a Dutch organization that monitors vaccine side effects said it had received five reports of blood clots with low blood plate counts following vaccinations. All the cases occurred between seven and 10 days after the vaccinations and all the people affected were women aged between 25 and 65 years.

The organization said in the period when the five cases were reported, some 400,000 people were vaccinated in the Netherlands with the AstraZeneca shot.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge says the temporary halt is a precautionary measure.

10:30 a.m.: Friday morning, FedEx ground crews at Pearson International Airport unloaded a shipment of three refrigerated containers containing 590,400 Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses, the largest shipment they have processed to date.

10:25 a.m.: The city of Anchorage has ramped up efforts to provide underserved communities the coronavirus vaccine.

The city provided workers from a contracted vaccine provider to administer shots at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday.

The measure is part of an effort to make the vaccine accessible to groups who may normally be unable to get the vaccine, including people without health insurance and people who speak limited English, Alaska Public Media reported.

“We’re really into a place where we just need easier access,” said Anchorage Health Director Heather Harris.

The city has created vaccine clinics in sports arenas, hotels and churches. Anchorage has also targeted the LGBTQ+ and Hmong communities and hospitality workers.

“We are really focused on bringing vaccine, whatever small amount to locations to do folks that might otherwise have access issues,” said Christy Lawton, who leads the city’s vaccine equity effort. “And if that’s, you know, 150-dose clinic we have to do over the next few months at every little church in town, then that’s what we’re doing.”

9:54 a.m.: As COVID-19 variant strains continue surging in southern Saskatchewan, with 21 variant infections in the area’s First Nations, Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation is hoping some recently enacted safety measures continue to keep its numbers low.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate in the community not to have high numbers,” Chief Melissa Tavita said of the first three months of 2021.

From Jan. 1 to the last day of March, the First Nation has recorded 18 viral infections. Three cases are currently active and 15 people have recovered; eight people were self-isolating, as of Wednesday. Tavita said approximately 400 Muscowpetung members live on the reserve.

8:49 a.m.: Russia had a six-week coronavirus shutdown last spring, but was never fully locked down again after that, easing some challenges for its economy, industries and enterprises.

But Russia also saw its mortality rates rise. When virus infections surged again in the fall, the government resisted imposing restrictions that would have shut many businesses.

Russia emerged from 2020 with an economy that overall has shrunk much less than in many Western countries. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Russia’s gross domestic product fell by just 3.6%. That’s a little more than the global average of 3.4%.

Still, it was Russia’s biggest plunge since 2009. In recent years, its GDP grew by about 1% to 2% per year.

7:44 a.m.: Universities across Ontario are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. And a majority of the positive cases have been tied to students’ social gatherings, away from campus.

Earlier this week, the Region of Waterloo public health unit declared an outbreak in two University of Waterloo residences. The cases are attributed to off-campus social gatherings, combining students from Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier universities, held between March 4 and 7.

The issue came on the radar of Premier Doug Ford, who expressed concern earlier this week about the outbreaks on area campuses. At a press conference, Ford urged students to “Don’t be going out, don’t be hanging out, don’t be gathering in groups.”

As of Tuesday, Waterloo had a total of 27 cases, which include variants of concern. Laurier had a total of 22 positive cases as of Wednesday.

Read Urbi Khan’s full coverage here.

7:43 a.m.: The second Easter weekend of the pandemic has become an emblem of exhaustion over public health measures, some say, as politicians across much of Canada warn families not to gather in person for the holiday.

The third wave of COVID-19 crashing across the country has made get-togethers perilous, prompting provincial and federal officials to encourage virtual celebrations and in some cases tighten restrictions.

“We must all avoid social gatherings,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday as he announced tighter public health restrictions across the province, set to begin first thing Saturday.

“I know many of you were hoping to celebrate this important holiday with family and friends. But again, I’m asking people to only gather with their immediate household.”

7:42 a.m.: The number of active COVID-19 cases in First Nations communities has declined by 80 per cent since mid-January thanks to the high uptake of vaccines, says the top doctor at Indigenous Services Canada.

Dr. Tom Wong, the department’s chief medical officer of public health, says the number of active dropped from a peak of 4,875 in mid-January to just 860 as of March 30.

“It’s very encouraging to see that,” Wong said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“We are back to where (we were) in November … when we had that low number of active cases.”

7:41 a.m.: The Ontario Government unveiled its second COVID-19-related budget last week.

Tailored to our present circumstances, the Budget is based on the principle presented by Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfaly that, “you can’t have a healthy economy without healthy people.”

“For the past year, we have been focused on protecting people from COVID-19,” he said. “Many challenges lie ahead. But with vaccines being distributed in every corner of the Province, hope is on the horizon. We are ready to finish the job we started one year ago.”

The budget includes $16.3 billion towards health initiatives, as well as $23.3 billion in investments to protect the economy. The new COVID-19 action plan now totals $51 billion.

7:40 a.m.: Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday this year amid signs the coronavirus crisis is winding down, with religious sites open to limited numbers of faithful but none of the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the Holy Week leading up to Easter.

The virus is still raging in the Philippines, France, Brazil and other predominantly Christian countries, where worshippers are marking a second annual Holy Week under various movement restrictions amid outbreaks fanned by more contagious strains.

Last year, Jerusalem was under a strict lockdown, with sacred rites observed by small groups of priests, often behind closed doors. It was a stark departure from past years, when tens of thousands of pilgrims would descend on the city’s holy sites.

This year, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, is open to visitors and expecting a few dozen. After the morning prayer service they will retrace Jesus’ final steps along the Via Dolorosa.

“Things are open, but cautiously and gradually,” said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land. “In regular years we urge people to come out. Last year we told people to stay at home… This year we are somehow silent.”

Friday 7:38 a.m.: With hopes rising for a powerful rebound in hiring this year, Friday’s jobs report for March will provide crucial insight into whether those rosy expectations may prove true.

The most optimistic economists are predicting that the government will report that as many as 1 million jobs were added in March — a blistering gain that would help recover a decent chunk of the 9.5 million jobs that remain lost to the pandemic. Still, the increase might not be quite that large: Overall, economists surveyed by data provider FactSet have forecast an increase of 615,000.

After a year of epic job losses, waves of coronavirus infections, and small business closures, numerous trends are brightening the outlook. Consumer confidence in March reached its highest level since the pandemic intensified. Americans have increased their spending as the latest stimulus checks have been distributed.

Read Thursday’s coronavirus news.




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