Coronavirus news and updates for Thursday, April 14, 2022

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

1:15 p.m. Ontario’s premier says he would have “no problem” extending the remaining mask mandates beyond the end of the month, if recommended by the province’s top doctor.

Premier Doug Ford made the comments Thursday at an unrelated news conference in Toronto.

The province has lifted mask mandates in most settings except those deemed high-risk like long-term care homes, hospitals and public transit.

Masking requirements for those settings are due to expire on April 27 but Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s top doctor, has said he’s considering extending them amid the latest wave of COVID-19 cases.

Ford says he’d accept that recommendation if Moore makes it, because he wants to protect vulnerable people.

His remarks came ahead of expected new modeling on COVID-19 from the province’s expert pandemic advisory group.

12:54 p.m. Health Canada has approved AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 antibody drug Evusheld for individuals with weaker immune systems, adding another layer of protection for those at high risk of getting severely ill with the virus.

The approval, announced on Thursday, clears the way for physicians to prescribe the drug to people whose bodies cannot mount a robust immune response to COVID vaccines, including transplant patients and some cancer patients.

The drug — a combination of two antibodies — is given as a preventative measure before an individual is sick with COVID.

Approved for adults and adolescents aged 12 and older and weighing at least 40 kg (88 pounds), the drug is given by injection and requires a single visit to a health care provider.

The therapy was authorized for emergency use in the US in December, and on March 24 the drug was recommended by the European Medicines Agency.

In a press release, Health Canada said “No drug, including Evusheld, is a substitute for vaccination.”

“Vaccination remains the most important tool in preventing serious illness from COVID-19 infection,” the release said.

12:05 p.m. Ontario is reporting 177 people in ICU due to COVID-19 and 1,392 in hospital overall testing positive for COVID-19, according to its latest report released Thursday 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, 65 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 35 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive.

The numbers represent a 2.7 per cent decrease in the ICU COVID-19 count and a 4.5 per cent increase in hospitalizations overall. 27 per cent of the province’s 2,343 adult ICU beds remain available for new patients.

Read the full story from the Star’s Dorcas Marfo

11:40 a.m. Quebec is reporting 26 more deaths attributed to coronavirus and a 94-patient jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Health authorities say there are 2,154 people in hospital with the disease after 282 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 188 were discharged.

There are 96 patients listed in intensive care, an increase of 13 patients.

Health officials are reporting 3,190 new infections confirmed by PCR testing, adding that 16.5 per cent of test conducted Wednesday were positive.

Officials say 12,995 health-care workers are absent due to COVID-19.

8:52 am (updated) Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has helped lead the city’s fight against COVID-19 for more than two years, has tested positive for the virus.

Tory’s results came Thursday morning amid mild symptoms, according to a statement issued by his office. The mayor “feels fine and is isolating at home” and will continue to work remotely while he isolates and recovers.

“I am thankful that I have been fully vaccinated and have the best protection possible against COVID-19,” the 67-year-old Tory said.

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider

8:45 a.m. British authorities have authorized a coronavirus vaccine for adults made by French drugmaker Valneva, despite the government’s decision last year to cancel an order for at least 100 million doses.

The UK is the first country to authorize Valneva’s vaccine, which is also under review by the European Medicines Agency. Britain’s medicines regulator said Thursday that the two-dose vaccine is intended for adults ages 18 to 50, with the second dose given about a month after the first.

The Valneva vaccine is made with the decades-old technology used to manufacture shots for flu and polio. It is the sixth COVID-19 vaccine the UK has cleared and the only one that utilizes a “killed” virus; scientists grow the coronavirus in a lab and then inactivate the virus so it cannot replicate or infect cells.

8:30 a.m. Hong Kong will ease some social distancing measures later this month, allowing people to dine in at restaurants in the evening and lifting restrictions on private gatherings, as the number of COVID-19 infections declined in recent weeks.

From April 21, restaurants will be able to operate until 10 pm with a maximum of four people per table, officials said Thursday.

Other businesses that were ordered to temporarily close due to Hong Kong’s fifth wave of infections, such as beauty parlors, gyms, theme parks and cinemas, will also be allowed to re-open, although capacity will be limited to 50 per cent. Bars and pubs will remain closed.

Restrictions that currently only allow two households to gather will also be lifted.

“To relax these measures, to allow some degree of normal activities in society, with more interactions among citizens, inevitably they will come with some transmission risks,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said during a news conference Thursday.

8:20 a.m. New COVID-19 infections in Africa are at their lowest since April 2020 and have declined for 16 consecutive weeks, the World Health Organization said.

Over the past week 18,000 new cases were identified and 239 deaths were recorded, the WHO said in a statement on Thursday. Those represent declines of 29 per cent and 37 per cent respectively from the week before, the WHO said.

8 am Jennifer Jewell ate just one piece of food per day, for years, to afford her one-bedroom apartment.

The 51-year-old lives with arthritis and medical conditions that have weakened her muscles, leaving her fatigued and in pain. Benefits under the Ontario Disability Support Program offered her less than $500 for shelter costs each month — so she dipped into funds meant for basic needs such as food to afford the $676 unit in Toronto’s Cabbagetown area where she lived for two decades.

It wasn’t ideal, she said, but it kept a roof over her head — that is, until 2020, when she left under threat of eviction, having stopped paying rent when a new landlord wanted to take over the unit.

She found herself facing Toronto’s rental market, where the average market cost for a one-bedroom unit increased by 47.7 per cent in the last decade, while shelter allowances for benefit recipients barely budgeted.

For three months, she couch-surfed, before landing in a west-end encampment — and later, in one of the temporary hotel shelters the city set up in response to COVID-19. With the closure of those sites now looming, her search for permanent housing keeps hitting a wall.

Read the full story from the Star’s Victoria Gibson

7:40 a.m. Chinese President Xi Jinping says his government will stick to its zero tolerance approach to COVID-19 even as public anger simmers in Shanghai and economic costs mount.

“Prevention and control work cannot be relaxed,” Xi said during a trip to the island province of Hainan, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late Wednesday, the same day the financial hub saw a record 27,719 new cases.

Officials implementing COVID Zero need to adhere to the principle of “people first and life first,” Xi said. “Persistence is victory,” he added.

Xi — who is likely to seek a third five-year term during a Communist Party congress later this year — is facing one of the biggest tests of his tenure. The lockdown of tens of millions in the city of Shanghai and the northeastern province of Jilin has fueled widespread criticisms of his government’s response to the highly infectious omicron variant.

7:30 a.m.. California is no longer recommending a five-day quarantine period for people who are exposed to the coronavirus but remain asymptomatic, a move that could potentially result in a relaxation of similar rules in Los Angeles County.

Doing so, officials say, would relieve the burden for employers and institutions to keep otherwise healthy people at home following exposure. The move also reflects a new pandemic reality, according to state officials — that slowly but steadily increasing vaccination rates and the availability of anti-COVID drugs are reducing the overall risk of California’s hospitals being overwhelmed in potential future surges.

Individual counties can keep rules in place that are stricter than the state’s, if local health officials believe it’s necessary. Currently, LA County requires those exposed to the coronavirus who are either unvaccinated or not up-to-date with their first booster shot to quarantine for at least five days following their last exposure to an infected person.

Thursday 5:45 am: Hong Kong will ease some social distancing measures later this month, allowing people to dine in at restaurants in the evening and lifting restrictions on private gatherings, as the number of COVID-19 infections declined in recent weeks.

From April 21, restaurants will be able to operate until 10 pm with a maximum of four people per table, officials said Thursday.

Other businesses that were ordered to temporarily close due to Hong Kong’s fifth wave of infections, such as beauty parlors, gyms, theme parks and cinemas, will also be allowed to re-open, although capacity will be limited to 50%. Bars and pubs will remain closed.

Restrictions that currently only allow two households to gather will also be lifted.

“To relax these measures, to allow some degree of normal activities in society, with more interactions among citizens, inevitably they will come with some transmission risks,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said during a news conference Thursday.

Read Wednesday’s coronavirus news.

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