- Toronto, Peel region moving to Stage 3 of COVID-19 recovery plan.
- B.C. students to return to school in September.
- Vietnam says every city, province now at risk of infection.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin says coronavirus ‘may worsen.’
- Russian vaccine could soon be approved for local use, sources say.
- Bosnian minister dies after testing positive.
- Spike of cases in Hong Kong introduces risk of large-scale outbreak.
- Doubts emerge about U.S. dollar’s place as a reserve currency as pandemic batters economy.
- U.S. Democrats, Republicans to resume discussions around coronavirus aid bill.
- Republican lawmaker tests positive at the White House.
- Confirmed COVID-19 deaths in U.S. reach 150,600.
- U.S. officials say Russian intelligence officers are spreading COVID-19 disinformation.
- California, Florida and Texas report record increases in deaths for second day in a row
- Pilgrims begin gathering in Mecca for a physically distanced hajj.
- European Commission acquires enough remdesivir for 30,000 patients.
With reopening efforts taking place around the world, coronavirus infections continue to rise along with them — prompting the possibility of renewed lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Hong Kong reported 118 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including 113 that were locally transmitted, as strict new measures took effect, including a restriction limiting gatherings to two people and a ban on restaurant dining.
The measures, which are the toughest introduced since the outbreak, are to last for at least one week as leader Carrie Lam warned the region is on the brink of a large-scale outbreak.
Meanwhile, European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides says there’s concern over an upswing of new coronavirus infections in several European countries caused primarily by “complacency and laxity” among the public that isn’t strictly adhering to personal hygiene rules.
Kyriakides also said every country belonging to the European Union has submitted requests for the drug remdesivir. Shortly after, the European Commission said it signed a 63 million euro ($97.9 million Cdn) deal to secure thousands of doses, enough to treat about 30,000 patients. The drug is the only licensed experimental drug to treat people with severe COVID-19.
WATCH | Respirologist on rapidly changing concerns around COVID-19:
Health Canada recently authorized the drug for patients with severe COVID-19, though supply is limited.
In the United States, government officials — who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity — told the Associated Press that Russian intelligence officers are spreading disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic through English-language websites, trying to exploit a crisis that America is struggling to contain before the presidential election in November.
Between late May and early July, one of the officials said, the websites published about 150 articles about the pandemic response, including coverage aimed either at propping up Russia or denigrating the U.S.
Russian officials on Wednesday rejected the accusations as “conspiracy theories” and a “persistent phobia.” One of the sites singled out by the U.S. posted a response denouncing as “categorically false” the American assertions that it was linked to the Russian military intelligence service or was involved in propaganda.
Later Wednesday, top members of the Trump administration and Democratic congressional leaders tried to narrow stark differences over a coronavirus aid bill.
Senate Republican leaders are pushing for around $1 trillion US in new aid, on top of more than $3 trillion enacted since early this year. Democrats see a far greater need as they back $3 trillion in new spending, while President Trump said he was in no hurry.
“We’re so far apart we don’t care. We really don’t care,” Trump told reporters, blaming Democrats as he departed the White House for a trip to Texas.
An hour-long meeting broke up late on Tuesday afternoon with no sign of progress. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were expected to resume negotiations with the two senior Democrats in Congress — House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
One of the key points Democrats are looking for is to extend a $600 weekly unemployment benefit, set to expire on Friday. Republicans, arguing that it discourages some workers in lower-paying jobs from seeking employment, have proposed temporarily reducing the federal payment to $200 a week, on top of state unemployment benefits.
Sen. John Thune, the second highest-ranking Republican in the upper house, said lawmakers might have a better idea by the end of this week on whether there is even a chance for a deal so “that we could actually get to a package by the end of next week.”
Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert confirmed he had tested positive for the coronavirus when he visited the White House earlier on Wednesday.
Gohmert, in a video posted to Twitter, added he is asymptomatic and said he had worn a face mask frequently in the past week or two, including at a House judiciary committee hearing on Tuesday.
The Texas lawmaker, who had previously refused to wear a mask amid the pandemic, said he tested positive in a quick test at the executive mansion, and in a follow-up swab test.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said members and staff will now be required to wear masks in the House of Representatives during the pandemic.
Members will be allowed to remove their masks to speak in the House when addressing the chamber, Pelosi said on the House floor.
At least 13 members of the House and Senate — seven Republicans and six Democrats — have tested positive or are presumed to have had COVID-19 since the pandemic began earlier this year.
U.S. deaths from the coronavirus surpassed 150,600 on Wednesday, by the far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The increase of 10,000 COVID-19 deaths in 11 days is the fastest in the United States since early June.
Deaths have risen there for three weeks in a row. California, Florida and Texas all reporting record increases in COVID-19 deaths for a second day in a row on Wednesday.
What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 115,470 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 100,465 of the cases as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting indicates that 8,954 Canadians have died.
Most students from kindergarten to Grade 12 are to return to British Columbia schools full time in September.
Education Minister Rob Fleming says enhanced safety measures and additional resources to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will allow the province to move its education restart plan ahead.
Fleming says the classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development, and that’s why the province is working hard to ensure children can spend the school year with their teachers and classmates.
He says, on the advice of the provincial health officer, students will be organized into learning groups to reduce the number of people they come in contact with, cutting the risk of transmitting the virus.
The government is putting up $45.6 million to ensure safety measures, including increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces, an increased number of hand-hygiene stations and the availability of masks.
Staff and students, or their parents, will be expected to assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19.
In Ontario, pediatric hospitals have updated their recommendations for a safe return to school full-time, offering guidelines on the logistical challenges facing educators this fall.
WATCH | Ford confirms Toronto, Peel moving to Stage 3:
Among the key recommendations from doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and other health officials from across the province is that high school and middle-school students wear masks when distance can’t be maintained, however younger children aren’t expected to wear them.
Toronto and Peel Region will move into Stage 3 of Ontario’s coronavirus recovery plan this Friday, the provincial government said this morning.
Toronto and Peel, Ontario’s two most populous areas, have both seen steady declines in new daily cases over the last week. In the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 update yesterday morning, the two public health units had just six and seven new cases, respectively.
What’s happening in the rest of the world
Authorities in the Spanish capital Madrid backtracked on Wednesday over a highly criticized plan to give an “immunity card” to people testing positive for coronavirus so they can enjoy higher-risk areas like gyms, bars and museums.
Politicians, rights groups and epidemiologists condemned the project, announced by regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, as potentially discriminatory and medically unsound.
After a weekly cabinet meeting of the Madrid authority, her deputy, Ignacio Aguado, told a news conference that the controversial cards would not in fact be issued.
Spain has seen a surge in new infections, including 1,153 in the last 24 hours, prompting regions to reintroduce curbs, and Britain to impose a quarantine on returnees.
WATCH | U.K. orders travellers from Spain to quarantine amid COVID-19 spike:
Russia‘s first potential coronavirus vaccine will win local regulatory approval in the first half of August and be administered to front-line health workers soon afterward, a development source close to the matter told Reuters.
A state research facility in Moscow — the Gamaleya Institute — completed early human trials of the adenovirus-based vaccine this month and expects to begin large-scale trials in August.
The press service of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is co-ordinating and funding Russia’s vaccine development efforts, declined to comment, but its head, Kirill Dmitriev, has denied that Russia’s vaccine push is compromising safety.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered the government to prepare for a possible uptick in coronavirus cases, saying that the situation “remains difficult” and “may worsen.”
Russia has reported more than 828,000 coronavirus cases and 13,673 confirmed deaths. The number of daily new infections has been decreasing since mid-May. But they remain relatively high, with health officials reporting more than 5,000 new cases every day.
Brazil saw a record number of confirmed cases and related deaths. Data from the country’s Health Ministry showed there were 69,074 new cases and 1,595 fatalities, on Wednesday.
Since the pandemic began Brazil has registered more than 2.5 million confirmed cases of the virus and 90,134 deaths.
Despite the climbing numbers, Brazil reopened international air travel to foreign tourists, which had been banned since March.
Tourists from all countries may travel to Brazil as long as they have health insurance for the duration of their trip, the government said in a decree which did not explain the rationale for the decision.
Brazil is reopening its air borders faster than other countries in the region with less severe outbreaks, such as Colombia, Argentina, Panama and Peru which remain closed to international commercial flights.
Brazil’s outbreak, the world’s worst outside the United States, has made it global testing ground for potential vaccines.
The Chinese drug company Sinopharm and Parana state have agreed to launch the fourth major COVID-19 vaccine trial in Brazil and will seek regulatory approval in the next two weeks.
The British government has signed a deal with GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur for 60 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine that could start to be rolled out in the first half of next year.
Britain’s GSK and France’s Sanofi have the largest vaccine manufacturing capability in the world. The government said that if the vaccine proves successful, then priority groups, such as health- and social-care workers, could be given the first doses.
WATCH | Pilgrims gather in Mecca for physically distanced hajj:
Muslim pilgrims, donning face masks and moving in small groups after days in isolation, began arriving at Islam’s holiest site in Mecca in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for the start of a historically unique and scaled-down hajj experience reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic.
The hajj is one of Islam’s most important requirements, performed once in a lifetime. It follows a route the Prophet Muhammad walked nearly 1,400 years ago and is believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.
Rather than standing and praying shoulder-to-shoulder in a sea of people from different walks of life, pilgrims this year are physical distancing — standing apart and moving in small groups of 20 to limit exposure and the potential transmission of the coronavirus.
The minister for veteran affairs in the government of one of Bosnia‘s two highly independent regions has died at the age of 53, a week after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Salko Bukvarevic died Wednesday in a COVID-19 hospital in Sarajevo, where he was admitted last week with pneumonia and breathing problems.
Nearly 80 per cent of the country’s 10,700 cases were registered since mid-May, when a strict, nearly two-month-long coronavirus lockdown was lifted.
Vietnam, virus-free for months, was bracing for another wave of coronavirus infections on Wednesday after state media reported new cases in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the Central Highlands linked to a recent outbreak in the central city of Danang.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said the current wave of infections was different from the second wave Vietnam fought in March, and every province and city in the Southeast Asian country was at risk, state broadcaster Vietnam Television reported.
Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, ordered bars and pubs to shut and banned large gatherings beginning at midnight, after registering its first case linked to the Danang outbreak on Wednesday.
The Dutch government on Wednesday said it will not advise the public to wear masks to slow the spread of coronavirus, asserting that scientific evidence of their effectiveness is mixed.
The decision was announced by Minister for Medical Care Tamara van Ark after a review by the country’s National Institute for Health. The government will instead seek more adherence to social distancing rules after a surge in coronavirus cases in the country this week, Van Ark said at a news conference in The Hague.