As COVID-19 cases continue to rise post-holidays, Ontario is extending online learning for some elementary students until Jan. 25. Meanwhile, Alberta has decided that schools will resume in-person learning on Jan. 11 as planned.
Ontario’s change in schooling plans came as the province reported 3,519 new cases of COVID-19 and 89 more deaths on Thursday, both daily highs for the province.
“With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe,” Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. “We have to get the numbers down and today’s measures will help us continue to stop the spread of this deadly virus.”
Elementary students in southern Ontario will now stick with online learning until Jan. 25, aligning with the date secondary students signed up for in-person learning in those regions are scheduled to return to class.
Meanwhile, elementary students and secondary students in the seven northern Ontario public health unit regions will return to in-person learning on Jan. 11, as planned.
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The positivity rate among school-aged children has increased sharply in recent weeks, according to the province.
Ford said earlier Thursday that one in five kids under the age of 13 in Ontario who are being tested are now positive for COVID-19. “That’s not mentioning all the other kids that haven’t been tested that might have a runny nose or a cough,” he said.
It’s a different picture in Alberta, where Premier Jason Kenney has announced that schools will resume in-person learning on Jan. 11, as the government planned before the holiday season.
“The decision to resume in-class learning on Jan. 11 is based on carefully considering the importance of attending school in person, as well as the latest evidence of cases dropping in all school-related age groups in December,” Kenney said at a news conference Thursday.
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Kenney said schools play a key role in supporting students with their emotional and mental health.
At the same time, the premier said current provincial restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus will remain in place for at least two more weeks to “take into account the very real possibility of an increase in cases as a result of the holidays, and given the fact that our case numbers, hospitalizations and positivity rate for testing remains high.”
– From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 7 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 6:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had recorded more than 635,134 cases of COVID-19 and 16,579 deaths. The number of active cases stood at 80,289.
The push to speed up vaccinations is expected to be high on the agenda as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convenes a virtual First Ministers’ meeting on Thursday.
Earlier this week, Trudeau voiced frustration over the pace of getting Canadians inoculated against the novel coronavirus.
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases reported in the province to 1,524.
New Brunswick reported 24 new cases on Thursday. There are now 130 active cases in the province, and one person is in hospital in intensive care.
There were no new cases reported in Newfoundland and Labrador for the second day in a row.
Health officials in Prince Edward Island reported one new case.
Quebec reported 2,519 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 74 more deaths, including 16 that occurred in the past 24 hours.
On Wednesday, Quebec became the first province to impose a curfew as soaring infections intensified the strain on hospitals. The measure bars people from leaving their homes between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., except to work.
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In Manitoba, health officials reported 208 new cases and 12 new deaths on Thursday. There are now 319 COVID-19 patients in hospital, with 35 in intensive care.
Officials are keeping quiet about whether there will be any changes when the province’s public health orders, which ban most gatherings and the sale of non-essential items, expire Friday at 11:59 p.m. But Manitoba’s acting deputy chief provincial public health officer hinted again there won’t be much change to the status quo come Saturday.
“We still have a high number of cases in acute care,” Dr. Jazz Atwal said on a conference call with reporters. “We still have surgeries and diagnostics being deferred. We have staff who are allocated to acute care and ICU settings that are moved from other jobs, which affects other care.”
Health officials in Saskatchewan reported 334 new cases and three new deaths on Thursday. There are 176 people are in hospital for COVID-19, including 29 in intensive care.
The number of new cases represented a significant spike from just eight days ago, when it was at 153. The Saskatoon area is the hot spot with 83 of the new cases and the north central zone is close behind with 65.
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In British Columbia, health officials are extending the ban on social gatherings for another month as the province reported 761 new cases and eight new deaths on Thursday.
A total of 372 people are in hospital, including 74 in intensive care.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the current orders, including a ban on gatherings with people outside of one’s immediate household, will continue to apply until Feb. 5 at midnight.
In the North, Yukon reported three new cases on Thursday. No new cases were reported in Nunavut and Northwest Territories.
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Thursday evening ET, more than 87.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with 49 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a COVID-19 case tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
COVID-19 vaccine deliveries under the COVAX facility co-ordinated by the World Health Organization to support lower-income countries could start this month, WHO immunization director Kate O’Brien said on Thursday.
“We need about $7 billion [US] in order to deliver enough vaccine to these countries through the end of 2021. The facility has already raised about $6 billion of the $7 billion,” she told an online social media event.
“So the facility has access to over two billion doses of vaccine. We will start to deliver those vaccines probably by the end of January, and if not, then certainly by early February and mid-February.”
In the Americas, the U.S. COVID-19 case count stood at more than 21.5 million on Thursday, with more than 364,000 deaths. Hospitalizations surged in the U.S. as the historic vaccination effort lagged.
The U.S. reported more than 3,800 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins. The New York Times, which has also been tracking COVID-19 cases in the U.S., put the figure even higher, at 3,964.
Mexico saw one of the biggest daily rises in cases and deaths, while health authorities said a doctor who had a serious allergic reaction after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine remained hospitalized.
Brazil is ready to begin vaccinating its population this month, and the country has secured a total of 354 million vaccine doses for 2021.
In Africa, South Africa set out plans to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of its population, in a bid to achieve herd immunity, as a mutant variant drove daily new cases above 21,000 for the first time.
South African officials said the country will import 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate the country’s health workers. It’s the nation’s first announcement of the purchase of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The health minister said the first one million doses will be delivered later this month from the Serum Institute of India, followed by 500,000 doses in February.
Some of South Africa’s hospitals are reporting they are at capacity. The rapid spread of the disease in recent weeks has been driven by a new, possibly more infectious variant of the virus, according to medical experts. There have been 31,368 confirmed deaths in South Africa.
Kenya’s health minister, meanwhile, said the country is expected to start receiving 24 million doses next month of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, as countries in sub-Saharan Africa begin to announce progress in obtaining the desperately needed vaccines.
Mutahi Kagwe on Wednesday said health workers and teachers will have priority for vaccinations in East Africa’s economic hub and that the shots will be voluntary. The ministry on Thursday confirmed his remarks, which were first reported by local media.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan has declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby areas as coronavirus cases continue to surge, hitting a daily record of 2,447 in the capital.
It kicks in Friday and will remain in place until Feb. 7, and includes asking restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and people to stay home and not mingle in crowds.
The state of emergency carries no penalties.
New coronavirus cases in northern China’s Hebei province have more than doubled as officials move to lock down an area that is home to about 75 million people.
Officials announced 51 new cases Thursday, bringing Hebei’s total to 90 since Sunday. Most of the cases have been in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital that is due to host some events of next year’s Winter Olympics.
In the Middle East, Lebanon has begun a 25-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus as infections hit a new record in the tiny Mediterranean nation and patients overwhelm the health-care sector. The lockdown is the third in Lebanon since the first case was reported in late February.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has reached a new agreement with the Pfizer drug company that will allow Israel to vaccinate all citizens over 16 by the end of March. The country of nine million has already vaccinated more than 15 per cent of its population.
Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet has agreed to tighten a lockdown in hopes of slowing a raging coronavirus outbreak. Most schools and businesses will be closed, public gatherings restricted and public transportation limited for a two-week period beginning at midnight Thursday. Thousands of police are expected to be deployed to enforce the closure.
In Europe, the Czech Republic on Thursday reported 17,668 new cases over the past 24 hours — its highest daily tally, health ministry data showed.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 8 p.m. ET