Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario restaurants, gyms reopen as measures ease; MPs to resume parliamentary sitting as convoy protest frays nerves

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

6:20 am: Gyms, movie theaters and museums in Ontario will also be able to reopen Monday, after having been shut down for the last several weeks.

Perhaps more than anything, business owners are hoping this is the last time they’re forced to close, after having gone through waves of lockdowns and reopenings, then back into lockdown, since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

They’re also left to wonder: Will the customers come back?

Read the full story from the Star’s Josh Rubin.

6:20 am: A senior Hong Kong government official has resigned after attending a large birthday party that fueled complaints of double standards by authorities enforcing strict Covid-control measures.

Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui handed his resignation to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday and will leave the post immediately, he said in a statement. Lam is set to hold a briefing at 3 pm, at which more details are expected.

“As one of the principal officials taking the lead in the anti-epidemic fight, I have not set the best example during the recent outbreak,” he said in the statement. Tsui added that he had “behaved in an inappropriate manner when all efforts should have been devoted to controlling the spread of the virus.”

His resignation marks the first time a government official has left a post after flouting pandemic guidance, and comes as the city’s strict zero-tolerance approach to Covid is strained by an omicron variant-fueled surge.

Lam launched a disciplinary probe after Tsui and some 30 officials were found to be among about 250 attendees at a party for the local representative of a mainland Chinese economic development agency on Jan. 3. Days earlier, the government had urged the public to avoid large gatherings due to the global spread of omicron.

6:20 am: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday she has tested negative for the coronavirus after coming into close contact with an infected person on a commercial flight.

Ardern had been isolating since late Saturday after the Jan. 22 exposure first came to light. She intends to continue isolating through Tuesday to complete a 10-day health requirement. She has had no symptoms.

The exposure occurred on a flight from the town of Kerikeri to New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. Health officials listed a dozen flights as exposure events late Saturday, possibly indicating infections among flight crews.

Ardern and Gov.-General Cindy Kiro, who is also isolating while awaiting a second test, were in the Northland region to do some filming ahead of New Zealand’s national day, Waitangi Day, on Feb. 6.

New Zealand has managed to stamp out or contain the virus for much of the pandemic, and has reported just 52 virus deaths among its population of 5 million. But an outbreak of the omicron variant is starting to take hold and is expected to grow rapidly over the coming weeks.

About 77% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. That figure rises to 93% of those aged 12 and over, according to New Zealand officials.

6:19 am: Tokyo has launched a mass inoculation drive for COVID-19 booster shots at a temporary center operated by the military as Japan tries to speed up delayed third jabs to counter surging infections.

Japan began administering booster shots to medical workers in December, but has only provided such inoculations to 2.7% of the population after delaying a decision to cut the interval between the first two coronavirus shots and a booster to six months from the initial eight.

Demand for the shots is intense: Online reservations that started on Friday resulted in all slots for about 4,300 doses to be given at the center this week being filled within 9 minutes. The center is providing the vaccine made by Moderna, Inc.

On a smaller scale, people 65 and older can get booster shots elsewhere.

The center run by the Self-Defense Force in downtown Tokyo reopened Monday after closing down in late November. It will be vaccinating about 720 people aged 18 or older per day this week, ramping up to more than 2,000 a day next month. Another military-run center will begin booster shots next week in Osaka.

6:18 am: People across Asia prepared Monday for muted Lunar New Year celebrations amid concerns over the coronavirus and virulent omicron variant, even as increasing vaccination rates raised hopes that the Year of the Tiger might bring life back closer to normal.

The Lunar New Year is the most important annual holiday in China and falls on Tuesday, Feb. 1. Each year is named after one of twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac in a repeating cycle. The Year of the Tiger follows the Year of the Ox.

This will be the third new year in a row celebrated in the shadow of the pandemic. It was two days before the holiday in 2020 that China locked down Wuhan – a city of 11 million people – following the detection of the coronavirus there.

Some 85% of Chinese are now fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, and more Chinese have been traveling domestically this year, despite government warnings. Many people prepare to celebrate by buying red lanterns and other decorations for their homes, and food to mark the beginning of a new year.

6:18 am: Legislators plan to return to the House of Commons on Monday morning as a Parliament Hill protest against government-imposed COVID-19 measures enters its third full day.

Many of the horn-honking demonstrators who brought Ottawa to a near standstill on the weekend showed no signs of budging as parliamentarians, businesses and school administrators were left wondering when the usual rhythm of the frazzled national capital would resume.

Alexandra Maheux, a spokeswoman for government House leader Mark Holland, said the ongoing protest is not interfering with parliamentary business.

“We have important work to accomplish for Canadians in Parliament, and we’re looking forward to getting this done and delivering results,” Maheux said late Sunday.

She noted that MPs have the flexibility to work in a hybrid House in this sitting, which remains in effect until June, to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Some MPs will be in the chamber on Monday and beyond, and others will participate virtually,” Maheux said.

A memo circulated Sunday by Patrick McDonell, the House sergeant-at-arms, said security plans were being developed to ensure personal safety.

Holland has scheduled a morning news conference in Parliament’s West Block to discuss the sitting.

He is likely to face questions about the roaming crowds and ear-splitting truck horns outside on Wellington Street, and just how long the protest will be allowed to continue.

Several criminal investigations are underway into actions – including the desecration of monuments – during the ongoing protest of vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions, Ottawa police said Sunday.

Residents of the capital were again told to avoid traveling to the city center Sunday as trucks snarled numerous roads. Several city bus routes were redirected to avoid the area around the Hill, and the nearby Rideau Center shopping mall remained closed after shutting down early on Saturday.

Police redoubled their calls to avoid the downtown area in a statement issued Sunday night.

6:17 am: A study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that adult COVID-19 patients with disabilities had 36 per cent longer hospital stays and a 77 per cent increased risk of readmission within 30 days.

Advocate Sandi Bell, who has a mobility disability and vision impairment, said it’s important to see studies highlighting the challenges that COVID-19 has caused for many people with disabilities.

“There is a definite demand for data, because a lot of people just do not know about the daily barriers,” said Bell, a member of the Board of Directors of ARCH Disability Law Center.

“COVID has been the most isolating situation that one could imagine for people with disabilities.”

Researchers at the University of Toronto and Unity Health Toronto looked at 1,279 patients – 22.3 per cent of whom had a recorded disability – who were hospitalized for COVID-19 at seven nearby hospitals from January through November 2020.

They found that patients with traumatic brain injury, intellectual or developmental disabilities, and multiple disabilities had the highest risks for poor COVID-19 outcomes.

The longer hospital stays and increased rates of readmission for people with disabilities persisted even after accounting for age and other factors that might explain differences.

6:16 am: On the East Coast, schools were set to reopen to in-person learning in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island Monday, with added safety measures in place.

6:16 am: Quebec is taking its first steps today to reopen the province after partially shutting down over the holidays due to record-high hospitalizations.

Premier François Legault announced plans last week to gradually loosen public health restrictions as the COVID-19 situation has improved somewhat.

Restaurant dining rooms can open at half capacity today, with no more than four people or two different households at a table. Closing time is set for midnight, with last call at 11 pm

Private indoor gatherings of up to four people, or two family bubbles, are also permitted.

Extracurricular sports can resume in elementary and high schools, CEGEPs and universities, with the mandatory vaccine passport for students 13 and over.

The second phase of Quebec’s plan to ease restrictions is set for a week from now, with places of worship, entertainment and sports venues allowed to reopen at limited capacity on Feb. 7.

6:15 am: Ontario’s restaurants, gyms and theaters will welcome patrons back today for the first time in nearly a month.

It’s the first step in the province’s plan to gradually ease public health restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Restaurant dining rooms, gyms and cinemas will reopen at half capacity today after being shuttered on Jan. 5 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Larger venues will also reopen with capacity limited to 50 per cent or 500 people – whichever is fewer.

Limits on indoor gatherings will increase from five people to 10, while the cap on outdoor gatherings will go from 10 to 25.

The province plans to ease COVID-19 measures further on Feb. 21.


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