Today’s coronavirus news: EU wants to stop flights from South Africa on a variant; Israel warns of ’emergency’ after detecting new virus strain

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

5:56 am: COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario elementary schools have reached a high level since the beginning of the school year, with more than 160 outbreaks current, nearly double the number two weeks ago and nearly triple the total from a month ago.

And while scientists and doctors say community vaccination rates, masking and ventilation updates in classrooms have helped prevent cases in schools from spiking further, they warn that outbreaks could continue to rise with the weather. cold, including Thursday’s launch of COVID vaccine clinics for children ages five to 11.

This is because with the recommended interval of eight weeks between the two pediatric doses, it will take more than two months for the first group of children to receive an injection to be considered fully vaccinated. For example, children who receive their first injection in late November will not complete their vaccine series until early February.

Read the full story of Star’s Kenyon Wallace

5:44 am: Two cases of the new COVID-19 strain have been found that has raised alarm in parts of southern Africa and puzzled financial markets around the world in travelers under mandatory quarantine in Hong Kong.

A traveler from South Africa was found to have the variant, currently known as B.1.1.529, while the other case was identified in a person who had traveled from Canada and was quarantined in the hotel room across from his, the Hong Kong government. he said Thursday night. The traveler from South Africa wore a mask with a valve that does not filter exhaled air and may have transmitted the virus to his neighbor when the hotel room door was open, a spokesman for the health department said on Friday.

B.1.1.529 carries an unusually large number of mutations and is “clearly very different” from previous incarnations, Tulio de Oliveira, a bioinformatics professor who runs gene sequencing institutions at two South African universities, said in a briefing on Thursday. . The first results of the PCR test showed that 90% of the 1,100 new infections in the South African province that includes Johannesburg were caused by the new variant, de Oliveira tweeted.

South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the mutation was “very concerning” while officials from the World Health Organization have met to discuss the virus.

5:43 am: The German air force will begin assisting the transfer of intensive care patients on Friday, as the government warned that the situation in the country is more dire than at any point in the pandemic.

Citing the sharp increase in cases, Health Minister Jens Spahn said contacts between people must be drastically reduced to slow the spread of the virus.

“The situation is dramatically dire, more serious than it has been at any point in the pandemic,” he told reporters in Berlin.

Spahn said Germany had to organize large-scale transfers of patients within the country for the first time since the outbreak began in early 2020.

The German news agency dpa reported that a Luftwaffe A310 medical evacuation plane will transport seriously ill patients from the southern city of Memmingen to the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Friday afternoon.

Hospitals in the southern and eastern regions of Germany have warned that they are running out of intensive care beds due to the large number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

The country’s disease control agency said 76,414 newly confirmed cases were reported in the past 24 hours. The Robert Koch Institute, a government agency, said Germany also had 357 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total since the start of the outbreak to 100,476.

In response to a newly discovered variant that has been spreading in South Africa, Spahn said airlines coming from there could only carry German nationals. Travelers will need to be quarantined for 14 days, whether vaccinated or not, he said.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” he said.

5:42 am: Members of Parliament can go back to work from home after passing a motion Thursday to resume hybrid sessions of the House of Commons.

Liberals and New Democrats joined forces to pass the motion over objections from Conservative MPs and the Québec bloc who had wanted to fully return to normal operations in person.

The motion gives MPs the option of virtually participating in proceedings, including voting and debate in the Commons and its committees, beginning on Friday and continuing until the House pauses for the summer in June.

It passed Thursday night with a 180-140 vote after the NDP backed the Liberals to end two days of debate on the matter.

MPs first adopted the hybrid format a year ago, aiming to limit the number of members in the Commons to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But the agreement of all parties to allow that format expired last June.

Since Parliament resumed on Monday after a five-month hiatus, all but one of the country’s 338 MPs have been in the Commons because there was no unanimous agreement to return to hybrid sessions.

The missing MP, Conservative Richard Lehoux, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, two days after attending a conservative caucus retreat in person.

5:41 am: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel is “on the threshold of an emergency situation” on Friday after authorities detected the country’s first case of a new variant of the coronavirus in a traveler who returned from Malawi.

The Health Ministry said the traveler and two other suspected cases, all of whom had been vaccinated, were isolated.

A new variant of the coronavirus has been detected in South Africa, which scientists say is of concern due to its high number of mutations and its rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

At a cabinet meeting called on Friday to discuss the new variant, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it is more contagious and spreads faster than the delta variant. He said authorities were still gathering information on whether he evades vaccines or is more lethal.

“We are currently on the threshold of an emergency situation,” he said. “I ask everyone to be prepared and fully join the work twenty-four hours a day.”

On Thursday night, Israel declared South Africa and six other African nations as “red countries” from which foreign nationals are prohibited from traveling to Israel. Israelis are prohibited from visiting these countries and those returning from them must spend a period of isolation.

Israel launched one of the first and most successful vaccination campaigns late last year, and almost half of the population received a booster shot. Israel recently expanded the campaign to include children as young as 5 years old.

5:40 am: European Union nations were moving to halt air travel from southern Africa on Friday, seeking to counter the spread of a new variant of COVID-19 as the 27-nation bloc battles a massive spike in cases.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that she “proposes, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region.”

Scientists say the new variant of the coronavirus detected in South Africa is a concern due to its high number of mutations and its rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

Germany said von der Leyen’s proposal could be enacted Friday night. Spahn said airlines returning from South Africa will only be able to transport German nationals home, and travelers will have to go into quarantine for 14 days, whether vaccinated or not.

Germany has seen a new record for daily case numbers in recent days and surpassed the 100,000 death mark from COVID-19 on Thursday.

Italy’s Ministry of Health also announced measures to ban anyone who has been to seven southern African nations (South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini) from entering Italy in the past 14 days due to the new variant.

The Netherlands is planning similar measures.

“These nations are considered high risk areas. It means a quarantine and a double test for travelers from these countries, ”said Dutch Health Minister Hugo De Jonge.

In Israel, the Health Ministry said it detected the country’s first case of the new variant of the coronavirus in a traveler who returned from Malawi. The traveler and two other suspected cases have been isolated. He said all three are vaccinated but is currently investigating their exact vaccination status.

A fourth coronavirus spike is hitting the 27-nation EU especially, with governments scrambling to tighten restrictions in a bid to contain the spread. The proposed ban on flights came in the wake of similar action by Britain on Thursday.

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