Today’s coronavirus news: BC set to provide update after indicating restrictions could ease; Ontario lifting all restrictions by April 27

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.

7:10 a.m. The coronavirus may have killed one in every 200 South Africans. Excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, seen as a more accurate way of measuring its impact than official statistics, climbed to 301,106 in the week ended March 5, according to South African Medical Research Council data released on Wednesday. That’s triple the official fatality rate of just under 100,000.

The number of deaths per 100,000 people was 506 in a nation of 60 million, according to the council. Researchers say almost all of the excess deaths, which plots mortality against a historical average, are due to the virus.

The level of deaths in the country with the highest official COVID-19 infections and deaths in Africa compares with about 200 per 100,000 in the UK, but is well below the 680 in Peru and 760 in Russia, according to the World Mortality Dataset. Across Africa, South Africa is the only country to compile the data.

6:07 a.m. Canadian workers have spoken: they don’t want to return to the office full time, and they’ll move on if their employer orders them to.

A recent Amazon Business survey of 1,595 Canadian office workers found flexibility is increasingly important, to the point that two in five said they would look for a more flexible job if mandated to come back in person full time.

And if a prospective employer mandated full-time in-person work, more than half would be less likely to accept a job offer.

Read more from the Star’s Rosa Saba.

6 am As Ontario moves to drop mandatory masking in public settings, wastewater surveillance levels across the province continue to show high, albeit stable, numbers of COVID-19 infections, but experts caution it’s too soon to see the impact of the recent lifting of public health measures .

In the absence of widespread polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, wastewater surveillance is now Ontario’s best early indicator in the tracking of COVID spread.

At any other time of the pandemic, what wastewater surveillance currently shows would be alarming: an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 new infections a day, according to provincewide analysis by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. This is four times higher than where daily cases were at the height of the second wave last April, and around where they hit in late December, while the province was still doing widespread PCR testing.

Read more from the Star’s Kenyon Wallace and May Warren.

5:45 a.m. Toronto high school student Stephanie De Castro has no intention of dropping mask use at school — at least not in the near future.

But the 16-year-old suspects plenty of students will do just that, eager to go maskless in class for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, the province announced an end to mandatory masking in schools and most indoor public spaces — exceptions include public transit, nursing homes and retirement homes — starting in about two weeks, and immediate changes to isolation guidelines for close contacts of those with COVID.

Read more from the Star’s Isabel Teotonio.

5:30 am China is tackling a COVID-19 spike with selective lockdowns and other measures that appear to slightly ease its draconian “zero tolerance” strategy.

In Hong Kong, which recorded more than 58,000 new cases on Thursday, barber shops and hair salons were reopening. Many are seeing that as an example of mixed messages from the government of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory that has been ordered to follow the “zero tolerance” approach used on the mainland.

The 402 cases of local transmission recorded on the mainland Thursday were quadruple the number of cases a week ago.

5:25 a.m. Ontario schools have been told to hold in-person graduation ceremonies and proms for Grade 12 this year, and that all assemblies should also be in person, the Star has learned.

Students in this year’s graduating class have only had one normal year of high school — Grade 9. They were in Grade 10 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down schools for more than 27 weeks over the next three years.

A memo will be going out to school boards on Wednesday with the directive, sources familiar with the move told the Star.

“We must restore these experiences,” a source told the Star.

Read more from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy.

5:15 a.m. British Columbian’s public health officer was scheduled to hold a COVID-19 briefing today after indicating earlier this month that more restrictions could be lifted by mid-March.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said last week the province was better positioned to consider removing pandemic restrictions before students begin spring break on Monday.

She said hospitalization numbers were down, immunity from vaccines was up and more at-home rapid tests were being distributed. But Henry has also said there was still a lot of the virus circulating in some parts of the province.

Unlike some other provinces, BC still requires masks in indoor public places and vaccine cards must be shown.

5:05 a.m. Pilots say a Transport Canada backlog is holding up medical certification, leading to months-long delays before they can return to the skies.

Air Line Pilots Association president Tim Perry says a significant number of pilots who have been deemed fit to fly by aviation medical examiners have been waiting a year or more to have Transport Canada greenlight their approvals, calling the delays “ludicrous.”

The bottleneck comes amid a surge in demand for pilots as travel begins to rebound after two years of depressed business due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Along with unions, pilots say the backlog is costing them by way of higher insurance premiums caused by the greater number of employees who are on long-term disability while awaiting their medical certificates.

5 am From masking to vaccinations, Ontario is lifting all COVID-19 restrictions by April 27 as part of its plan to live with the virus that has claimed more than 12,600 lives across the province in the last two years.

That starts with an end to mandatory masking in schools and most indoor public places March 21, as first reported by the Star.

Amid concerns that mandatory masking is being dropped too soon — especially in schools — businesses and institutions are welcome to keep masking and mandatory vaccination policies as COVID-19 infection levels decline but the virus continues to circulate, provincial officials said in outlining the plan Wednesday.

Read more from the Star.


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