The Star Edition
This copy is for your personal non-commercial use only. To order presentation-ready copies of Toronto Star content for distribution to colleagues, clients or customers, or inquire about permissions/licensing, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com
The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
4:30 p.m. (Update): Ontario is reporting 157 people in ICU due to COVID-19 and 890 in hospital overall testing positive for COVID-19, according to its latest report released Tuesday morning.
Of the people hospitalized, 41.9 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 58.1 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive. For the ICU numbers, 69.4 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 30.7 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive.
The numbers represent a 3.3 per cent increase in the ICU COVID-19 count and a 1.3 per cent increase in hospitalizations overall. 27 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 619 on Tuesday, down 7.3 per cent from the previous day – are also not considered an accurate assessment of how widespread COVID-19 is right now. One new death was reported in the latest numbers.
3:37 p.m.: After a reprieve of months, confirmed cases of COVID-19 are surging in the southern tip of South America. But officials in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay hope high vaccination rates mean this latest wave will not be as deadly as previous ones.
At the same time, there is concern that many people are not ready to once again take on the prevention measures that authorities say are needed to ensure cases remain manageable.
Cases have been steadily increasing for weeks, largely fueled by the BA.2 version of the omicron variant. In Chile, the number of weekly confirmed cases more than doubled by late May when compared to the beginning of the month. In Argentina, cases rose 146 percent in the same period, while in Uruguay, the increase was almost 200 percent.
Although the number of positive tests remain far lower than in previous waves, experts say the increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is a reminder that the pandemic is far from over.
Argentina’s health minister, Carla Vizzotti, recently said that Argentina is “starting a fourth wave of COVID-19” while in Chile, Health Minister Begoña Yarza characterized the current moment as “an inflection point in the pandemic” and in Uruguay, President Luis Lacalle Pou, said he was “worried” and called on everyone to be “vigilant.”
The countries are part of a regional trend as cases have been rising across the continent.
1:24 p.m.: People with long COVID-19 who visited a Northwestern Medicine clinic were still experiencing symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue and brain fog for a median of 15 months after first falling ill, despite never needing hospitalization, according to a new Northwestern study.
The study looked at 52 patients who were seen at Northwestern’s Neuro COVID-19 clinic between May 2020 and November 2020, who initially had mild COVID-19 symptoms. Study senior author Dr. Igor Koralnik said the study is the first to look, over such a long time period, at neurological symptoms in people who didn’t need to be hospitalized for COVID-19.
The study was published Tuesday in peer-reviewed journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.
“It’s important because … long COVID is not going to be going away,” said Koralnik, who is chief of Neuro-infectious Diseases and Global Neurology at Northwestern Medicine and oversees the Neuro COVID-19 Clinic.
3:20 p.m.: A high school prom in Hawaii where masked dancers weren’t allowed to touch. A return to virtual city council meetings in one Colorado town after the mayor and others tested positive following an in-person session. A reinstated mask mandate at skilled nursing facilities in Los Angeles County after 22 new outbreaks in a single week.
A COVID-19 surge is underway that is starting to cause disruptions as the school year wraps up and Americans prepare for summer vacations. Many people, though, have returned to their pre-pandemic routines and plans, which often involve travel.
Case counts are as high as they’ve been since mid-February and those figures are likely a major undercount because of unreported positive home test results and asymptomatic infections. Earlier this month, an influential modeling group at the University of Washington in Seattle estimated that only 13% of cases were being reported to U.S. health authorities.
Hospitalizations are also up and more than one-third of the U.S. population lives in areas that are considered at high risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Northeast has been hit the hardest.
Yet vaccinations have stagnated and elected officials nationwide seem loath to impose new restrictions on a public that’s ready to move on even as the U.S. death toll surpassed 1 million people less than 2 1/2 years into the outbreak.
“People probably are underestimating the prevalence of COVID,” said Crystal Watson, public health lead in the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security’s Coronavirus Resource Center. “I think there’s a lot more virus out there than we recognize, and so people are much, much more likely than they anticipate to be exposed and infected.”
10:30 a.m. Ontario is reporting 890 hospitalizations and 157 people in the ICU with COVID-19. The province is reporting 619 new cases of the virus, with 6,534 test completed the previous day and a test positivity of 10.5 per cent.
The province is also reporting one additional death due to the virus.
11:15 a.m.: Moderna Inc. Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said Tuesday that he plans to sell some of his stock options and donate the proceeds to charity. He cautioned investors to not speculate about his motivations.
Bancel plans to exercise 4.59 million options at a rate of 80,000 per week and sell the shares — a process that will be completed around June 2023. He said in a blog post that he wants to avoid a significant number of shares coming to the market at once, which could hurt Moderna’s stock price. He expects to contribute all of the after-tax proceeds to charitable causes, which he estimates will be around $355 million assuming the stock is trading around $140 a share.
The CEO’s family has also been investing proceeds from stock sales in closely held health-care and climate companies, according to the blog post. The family’s investment entity sells 10,000 shares each week under a plan that runs through the end of this year.
Moderna, one of the makers of the mRNA vaccines that have helped to greatly reduce the global impact the Covid-19, saw its stock soar during the pandemic but has more recently pared those gains. After the shares touched a high of nearly $500 in August, concern about the pace of government vaccine orders and future revenue streams has dampened enthusiasm on Wall Street.
10 a.m. Boris Johnson’s office was forced to deny reports the prime minister tried to suppress a probe into lockdown parties, as the government’s efforts to shift public attention from the long-running scandal falter.
The latest row in the so-called partygate saga started when newspapers over the weekend reported a meeting between Johnson and senior civil servant Sue Gray, who had been commissioned to investigate allegations of law-breaking parties in Downing Street and other government offices.
The news triggered a series of claims and counter claims, with cabinet minister Simon Clarke telling broadcasters the meeting was at Gray’s request — only for Johnson’s office to backtrack hours later, saying Johnson asked for the meeting to discuss the process for releasing her report.
The flip-flopping on the official narrative only served to raise suspicions. At a regular briefing on Tuesday, Johnson’s spokesman was still fielding — and deflecting — questions about what was discussed. The meeting was “private,” Max Blain told reporters. Johnson didn’t ask Gray to drop her report, which the prime minister still wants to be published, he added.
Even as the immediate danger to Johnson from partygate has receded with Conservative party MPs losing interest in a leadership challenge, the scandal continues to throw up uncomfortable moments for the prime minister.
That is likely to continue when Gray eventually publishes the report, which is expected this week. Photos published by ITV News on Monday showing Johnson proposing a toast at one lockdown gathering offered a taste of the kind of details Gray has at her disposal. In a sign that Downing Street expects the report on Wednesday, Johnson is due to address an influential committee of rank-and-file Tories on Wednesday evening.
8:41 a.m. Airbnb Inc. announced Tuesday it will stop representing short-term rental properties in China and focus its business in the country on serving Chinese tourists looking for lodgings abroad.
Airbnb joins a series of foreign internet companies including Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc. that pulled out of China after running into fierce local competition and regulatory barriers.
“We have made the difficult decision to refocus our efforts in China on outbound travel and suspend our homes and Experiences of Hosts in China, starting from July 30, 2022,” said the chief strategy officer of Airbnb China, Nathan Blecharczyk, in a statement on its social media account.
Landlords represented by Airbnb have had more than 25 million guest arrivals since 2016, according to Blecharczyk’s statement.
The Chinese government has blocked foreign tourists from visiting since the pandemic hit in early 2020 and has told the Chinese public to avoid foreign travel that isn’t essential for business or study.
8:40 a.m. China’s top official for pandemic control has shifted her attention from Shanghai’s ebbing COVID-19 crisis to Beijing, raising pressure on the capital to contain its lengthy outbreak, and potentially signalling harsher curbs to come.
Sun Chunlan, China’s Vice Premier and health czar whose appearance at virus hot spots across the country typically reflects the central government’s priorities, on Monday urged authorities in Beijing to adhere stringently to COVID Zero and eradicate community spread more swiftly. She inspected the latest areas hit by the virus, according to state media reports, including regions in Beijing’s Haidian district, home to some of China’s top universities.
Sun’s trip to Beijing, after being based in Shanghai for the past month, is a sign the government could be losing patience. The capital reported 48 new cases for Monday, down from 99 on Sunday, which was the highest daily tally of the current flare-up. While the numbers are comparatively small, they have been unrelenting for almost a month, suggesting mass-testing drives, work-from-home orders in some districts and other measures haven’t been enough to squelch the outbreak.
Officials said they will tighten COVID prevention rules for people ranging from security guards to delivery workers and cleaning staff — including staggering shifts, working under a closed-loop system and wearing N95 masks at all times — after recent infections were found among those groups. Companies will be held accountable should such essential workers become infected as a result of lax implementation, said Xu Hejian, spokesman for the Beijing municipal government.
The city also started to recruit volunteers to swab people for COVID as mass testing continues, with plans to make it a regular facet of life long-term.
8:30 a.m. More federal public servants got out of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for religious reasons than for medical concerns, according to new data from 55 departments and agencies.
The numbers show that, as of March 14, just a fraction of government workers in these organizations were granted exemptions to the vaccination requirement that kicked in last fall. Of more than 319,000 employees, more than 3,000 applied for exemptions.
That included 2,040 workers who sought religious exemptions, and 1,184 who applied to opt-out for medical reasons.
Religious exemptions were granted to 540 people, while 357 workers got medical exceptions.
A Star analysis of the data found a similar proportion of exemption applications and approvals across all organizations included in the release.
Read the full story from the Star’s Alex Ballingall here.
6:15 a.m.: An extensive study of thousands of COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals has found links between the severity of their infections and the levels of common air pollutants they experience.
Chen Chen, an epidemiologist at the University of California, says the study suggests that the more long-term pollution people are exposed to, the worse a COVID-19 infection hits them.
The study has been published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The study looked at more than 150,000 COVID-19 cases in Ontario patients and correlated their outcomes with levels of fine particles, ozone and nitrogen dioxide — the three components of smog.
Chen says the research shows that more severe reactions to the virus were associated with higher levels of long-term exposure to the contaminants.
She says it adds to the growing body of evidence that air pollution is what she calls a “silent killer.”
Tuesday 6:11 a.m.: Sweden is recommending a fifth COVID-19 vaccine dose for people with an increased risk of becoming seriously ill, including pregnant women and anyone aged 65 and over, authorities said Tuesday, adding that the country must “be prepared for an increased spread during the upcoming autumn and winter season.”
“The vaccine is our strongest tool for preventing serious illness and death,” Swedish Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said, adding the pandemic is not over.
As of Sept. 1, Sweden recommends that another booster shot is given to people aged 65 and older and people over 18 in the risk groups. The Swedish Public Health Agency said the latter includes pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and people with heart and lung disease.
“In general, the risk of serious illness is assessed as low for adults under the age of 65 who have been vaccinated with three doses, but the risk increases with age and varies within the group,” agency chief Karin Tegmark Wisell said.
Read Monday’s coronavirus news.
Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)
Copyright owned or licensed by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or distribution of this content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited and/or its licensors. To order copies of Toronto Star articles, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com