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.
7:20 am Post-secondary students do not have a choice. Whether or not they are physically or financially able to return to in-person classes in the next month, whether they even feel safe doing so, they must.
If not, they say they’ll be forced to drop their courses and delay graduation.
To Jwalit Bharwani, a Ryerson mechanical engineering student, the school’s return-to-campus plan feels premature, inconsiderate even. All students are expected to be back Feb. 28, with some courses beginning in-person classes starting Monday.
Read the full story from the Star’s Ben Cohen
6:10 am: Holocaust survivors and politicians warned about the resurgence of antisemitism and Holocaust denial as the world remembered Nazi atrocities and commemorated the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on Thursday.
“I have lived in New York for 75 years, but I still remember well the terrible time of horror and hatred,” survivor Inge Auerbacher, 87, told the German parliament. “Unfortunately, this cancer has reawakened and hatred of Jews is commonplace again in many countries in the world, including Germany.”
Commemorations are taking place amid a rise of antisemitism that gained traction during lockdowns as the pandemic exacerbated hatred online.
“This sickness must be healed as quickly as possible,” Auerbacher said.
German parliament speaker Baerbel Bas noted that the coronavirus pandemic has acted “like an accelerant” to already burgeoning antisemitism.
“Antisemitism is here – it is not just on the extreme fringe, not just among the eternally incorrigible and a few antisemitic trolls on the net,” she said. “It is a problem of our society – all of society.”
5:50 am: The Canada Revenue Agency is sending out a new round of letters to pandemic aid recipients to verify they were eligible for the help, and warning of potential need for repayments.
It’s the second time the agency is mailing Canada Emergency Response Benefit recipients as part of a process to verify the eligibility of the millions of Canadians who received the $ 500-a-week benefit.
The CRA sent out more than 441,000 letters to CERB recipients near the end of 2020 asking them to verify they met eligibility rules for the payments.
Thousands more are going out beginning Thursday, this time targeting recipients who may have earned more than the $ 1,000 a month the Liberals allowed beginning in mid-April 2020.
The agency says the people who are receiving letters have tax information that suggests they earned too much income during periods when they received aid.
The letters say the CRA will work on flexible repayment plans for anyone who has to give back some of the money, without interest, but warns that will not be the case for those who do not respond to the government missive.
5:49 am: Canada’s top doctor says even though the average daily COVID-19 case count across the country is down 30 per cent compared to last week, it’s not an accurate reflection of the state of the pandemic.
Dr. Theresa Tam says targeted testing policies and reduced testing continue to underestimate the number of true infections, noting severe illness trends are still rising in most jurisdictions and hospitalization rates are increasing across all age groups.
Quebec announced it will begin tracking COVID-19 rapid test results through an online portal, although experts question its usefulness and the accuracy of such data.
Health Minister Christian Dube says the government-run platform will help Quebec better track COVID-19 transmission in the community, given that publicly run PCR testing is reserved for people in high-risk groups.
COVID cases fueled by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant continue to strain hospitals, with New Brunswick’s health minister saying most emergency room patients could be treated outside hospitals.
5:48 am: Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is set to provide an update today on the COVID-19 situation in the province.
Dr. Kieran Moore’s news conference comes after the provincial government announced its plan last week to gradually lift public health measures.
It’s also Moore’s last regularly scheduled public appearance before restrictions are set to ease on Monday.
Indoor social gathering limits are set to increase from five to 10, and restaurants will be able to reopen their dining rooms at 50 per cent capacity.
Theaters will also be able to reopen, and “spectator areas” such as arenas and concert venues will be able to welcome back as many as 500 guests, or 50 per cent of their usual seated capacity – whichever is less.
Restrictions are due to ease further on Feb. 21, COVID-19 situation allowing, with indoor gathering limits increasing to 25.
5:47 am: South Korea’s top infectious disease expert defended the move to expand the use of rapid testing despite accuracy concerns, as the country broke its daily coronavirus record for the third straight day.
The 14,518 confirmed new cases Thursday were 1,500 more than Wednesday and about double the cases reported on Monday, illustrating a tidal wave of infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
The surge, which could continue for weeks, has left health authorities scrambling to reshape the country’s pandemic response, such as treating a larger number of mild cases at home and shortening quarantine periods.
Officials are also pushing ahead with a more controversial plan to rewire the testing regime that had been centered around gold standard PCR tests and expand the use of rapid antigen kits that will be made available at public health offices, testing stations and pharmacies.
5:44 am: As much of the world sees vaccination slowing and infections soaring with the spread of omicron, Iran has found a rare, if fleeting, respite from the anxiety and trauma of the pandemic.
After successive virus waves pummeled the country for nearly two years, belated mass vaccination under a new, hard-line president has, for a brief moment, left the stricken nation with a feeling of apparent safety.
Now, the specter of an omicron-fueled surge looms large. Hospitals are preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a months-long lull. But so far, the variant has not battered the Islamic Republic as it has many Western countries where most adults got jabs a year ago.
5:43 am: Many Americans agree that they are going to “be stuck with it forever” – or, at the very least, for a long time. A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that few – just 15% – say they’ll consider the pandemic over only when COVID-19 is largely eliminated. By contrast, 83% say they’ll feel the pandemic is over when it’s largely a mild illness.
The poll shows that 59% of Americans think it’s essential that they personally be vaccinated against COVID-19 to feel safe participating in public activities.
But, underscoring what authorities call alarmingly low COVID-19 vaccination rates in US children ages 5 to 11, just 37% of parents consider it essential that their children are vaccinated before they return to normal. And although boosters provide significantly better protection against COVID-19, especially the Omicron variant, than a two-shot course of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, just 47% of Americans think it’s essential that they get one.
Thursday 5:38 am: After spending two years in a strict lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea may finally be opening up – slowly. The reason could reflect a growing sense of recognition by the leadership that the nation badly needs to win outside economic relief.
The North’s tentative reopening has been seen in the apparent resumption of North Korean freight train traffic into neighboring China. But it comes even as Pyongyang has staged several weapons tests, the latest being two suspected ballistic missiles on Thursday, and issued a veiled threat about resuming tests of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles targeting the American homeland.
The apparently divided message – opening the border, slightly, on one hand, while also militarily pressuring Washington over a prolonged freeze in nuclear negotiations – likely signals a realization that the pandemic has worsened an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions over North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles.
Read Wednesday’s coronavirus news.
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