Today’s coronavirus news: Three members of Canadian Olympic team in Beijing enter COVID-19 protocol; Trucker protest continues in Ottawa

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

6:25 am As he goes through the now painfully-familiar steps of reopening his gym after a lockdown, Paul Brown wonders just how much more he can take.

“This has been devastating. There’s really no other word for it, ”said Brown, whose midtown boxing-focused gym was getting a trickle of customers Monday. Ontario opened up indoor dining, gyms, movie theaters and event spaces after they’d been closed since early January to slow the spread of COVID.

January is our busiest time of year, and we were closed. Normally we get a lot of people in because of New Year’s resolutions, ”said Brown, who estimates he’s bringing in just 25 percent of his usual income, between his gym and his hair salon.

Brown is still waiting for a $ 10,000 small business grant promised by the Ontario government in early January to materialize (the provincial government said the grant money will be paid to eligible businesses in February). He’s also still struggling to stay afloat after his application for a federal COVID loan was turned down because he’d forgotten to put down his landlord’s contact information.

Read more from the Star’s Josh Rubin.

6 am Athletes and team officials are testing positive for COVID-19 at much higher rates than other people arriving in China for the Beijing Olympics, organizers said Tuesday.

Figures released by local organizers showed 16 of 379 athletes and officials who arrived Monday tested positive for COVID-19. They have been taken into isolation hotels to limit the spread of the infection and could miss their events.

The positive test rate of 4.2 per cent for athletes and officials compared to 0.66 per cent for Olympic “stakeholders,” a group which includes workers and media. Only seven of 1,059 people in that category arriving at Beijing were positive in similar tests Monday.

The rates were confirmed in PCR and other follow-up tests for tens of thousands of people at the Beijing Olympics who will live, work and train in closed-off communities separated from the general public. The Chinese government is pursuing a zero-tolerance public health strategy.

5:45 am Though government subsidies have kept business bankruptcies at bay, the level of delinquent debt carried by Toronto and GTA businesses has been steadily rising since the beginning of the pandemic, foreshadowing a difficult 2022 for many hard-hit firms.

“This is clearly a sign of firms under financial stress,” said Philip Cross, a senior economist at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Cross isn’t surprised to see delinquent debt rising. The Bank of Canada has already noted a rise in “zombie businesses,” he said, defined as businesses unable to even meet their interest payments.

“They’re being kept afloat by government loans… But at some point, they’re going to expire,” he said.

Read more from the Star’s Rosa Saba.

5:30 am Three members of the Canadian team in Beijing were in COVID-19 protocols on Tuesday, the Canadian Olympic Committee said.

The 414-member Canadian delegation includes athletes, coaches and team staff. The trio of Canadians are impeded in “their ability to fulfill their role at Games,” the COC said in a statement.

“We are managing each one on a case-by-case basis and to respect the privacy of the people involved we will not be sharing names at this time,” the COC said.

“Part of our strategy was to arrive early to allow time for confirmation testing and, if necessary, the medical expert panel process to unfold.”

5:20 am Science experts advising the Ontario government on the pandemic are expected to release new COVID-19 projections today.

That will come a few hours before Premier Doug Ford is expected to make an announcement with his government’s new minister for long-term care.

Ontario began easing restrictions yesterday as part of a plan to roll back measures imposed amid soaring cases of the Omicron variant.

Several restrictions remain in place for the long-term care sector.

Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra is due to take questions at today’s announcement for the first time since he took over the file, following the resignation of former Minister Rod Phillips last month.

Calandra has stepped into the job amid rising COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths in long-term care homes due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

5:15 am Crowds have thinned out considerably on Parliament Hill and the surrounding area, where anti-COVID restrictions demonstrators have been protesting for days.

But those that remain say they are staying put until all the restrictions are lifted, with the president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association saying some protesters have been extending their stays at hotels, or are asking to rebook for the coming weekend.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday he will not meet with anyone involved, noting reports that some participants have been harassing local businesses, waving Nazi flags, defecating on residential lawns, urinating on National War Memorial and stealing food from the homeless.

The Ottawa Paramedic Association reported that paramedics asked for police escorts after rocks were hurled at an ambulance from a truck in the convoy.

But Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen said Trudeau was “gaslighting” the protesters, who deserve the chance to be heard and be given some respect.

5 am Chinese people on Tuesday rank in the Lunar New Year despite pandemic restrictions, as small crowds gathered outside shut temples offering traditional prayers for the Year of the Tiger.

At the Lama Temple in Beijing, dozens of people gathered to bow in prayer before the ornate west gate of the Tibetan Buddhist site that was often thronged with worshipers before the pandemic.

Wang Ying, who works at an accounting firm, said praying outside the temple was better than burning incense at home.

“I think sincerity is more important than burning incense sticks,” she said, after finishing her devotions.

Wang also said she is looking forward to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Friday. Marking the holiday, Beijing residents also took photos outside displays for the Games in the city’s central Tiananmen Square.

4:30 am Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the fact that both he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have contracted COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated, shows his province’s vaccine requirement has “run its course.”

Arguing the Omicron variant spreads among the vaccinated and unvaccinated, Moe said yesterday the province’s proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test requirement will “very soon come to an end, ” but did not provide a date.

Vaccines have been shown to have significant benefit in preventing hospitalization and death, and data suggests a third dose boosts protection against the Omicron variant.

Moe’s comments came hours after Trudeau revealed his positive test, saying he had no symptoms and would keep working remotely this week as he follows public health guidelines.

COVID-related hospitalizations dropped again in Ontario, as the province began easing pandemic restrictions to allow restaurant dining rooms, gyms and theaters to reopen at 50-per cent capacity.

Quebec also took steps to reopen, including allowing restaurants to operate at half capacity, permitting private indoor gatherings of up to four people and the resumption of extracurricular sports in elementary and high schools, CEGEPs and universities.


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