Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario 2 years behind goal of 15K new LTC beds by 2024, fiscal watchdog says; Ontario reporting 1,095 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 23 deaths

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

3:10 p.m. Mayor John Tory tells afternoon briefing the city will work with community organizations and city councillors as part of #VaxTO campaign to get the remaining 35 per cent of Torontonians a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and then as many Torontonians as possible fully protected with two doses.. Text, emails, telephone townhalls and targeted multilingual social media advertising will be used to let people know about vaccination opportunities and give them info about why they should get vaccinated. Tory tells briefing that “the vaccines will be instrumental to bringing this pandemic to an end. They will bring back normal life.”

3 p.m. Toronto is launching a multi-pronged campaign to get as many people vaccinated against COVID-19 as possible, Mayor John Tory announced Wednesday.

“VaxTO” will use texts, emails, voice broadcasts, telephone town halls and “targeted multilingual social media advertising” to convince anyone hesitant about being vaccinated, or who is eligible but hasn’t got a first dose for some reason, to roll up their sleeve.

The campaign got its start over the weekend, Tory said, with a robocall to 150,000 homes in 18 Toronto COVID-19 hot-spot neighbourhoods “which helped hundreds of people who answered the call,” to book a vaccine appointment, he said.

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider: Toronto launches multi-pronged campaign to reach those not yet vaccinated

2:33 p.m. A new audit says the federal government was able to get desperately needed medical equipment to provinces and territories despite long-standing issues plaguing its national emergency stockpile.

Auditor general Karen Hogan said before COVID-19 the Public Health Agency of Canada ignored multiple warnings that its national stockpile of emergency medical supplies wasn’t being properly managed.

“However, when faced with the pressures created by the pandemic, the agency took action,” the audit said.

That included improving how it assessed the needs of provinces, and then went about buying, allocating and distributing the equipment.

2:16 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province will soon start lifting some public health restrictions and most will be gone by early July.

He says the “open for summer” plan is possible because Albertans have “crushed” a spike in COVID-19 cases and are getting vaccinated.

The capacity for places of worship is to be increased to 15 per cent on Friday, and hair salons and restaurant patios can open on Tuesday.

Kenney says movie theatres, libraries and gyms will be allowed to open and indoor dining restaurants will be able to offer indoor dining as of mid-June.

The third phase would see most all public health orders lifted.

The three-stage plan is tied to the percentage of residents 12 and older who have received a first shot of vaccine and to hospitalization numbers.

The government brought in tougher health orders three weeks ago to tamp down a surge in cases that saw Alberta lead North America in daily infection rates.

2:10 p.m. New Brunswick health authorities say they’ve identified a case of COVID-19 contracted through community transmission.

Officials say the infection involves a person in the Fredericton health region and they believe it to be a different strain of the virus currently present in the area.

Public health reported 10 new infections Wednesday, with six cases in the Moncton region and the remaining four in the Fredericton region.

There are now 134 active reported infections across the province, including five people in hospital due to the disease.

2:02 p.m. Since COVID-19 hit, the number of Torontonians seeking refuge from domestic abuse, violence and human trafficking in the city’s publicly funded housing has spiked — a trend that people who work with victims of abuse say illustrates the violence they’ve seen erupt during the pandemic.

People facing domestic violence, abuse or trafficking are eligible by law in Ontario for priority access to social housing — an in-demand form of housing in Toronto, where the general wait-list for subsidized homes was around 79,000 households in March. The priority list is meant as a permanent escape route from abusive scenarios.

But while 638 households joined that list in 2019, 992 were added in 2020, a 55 per cent jump. Demand had already been on the rise, with 428 households added in 2018 and 360 in 2017.

Read the full story from the Star’s Victoria Gibson

1:40 p.m. Nova Scotia is reporting 37 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday.

Health officials have identified 22 new cases in the Halifax area, 11 in the province’s eastern zone and four in the northern zone.

The province currently has 787 known active cases, with 72 people in hospital, including 19 in intensive care.

As of Tuesday, 521,053 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, with 42,205 people having received their required second dose.

1:35 p.m. Royal Caribbean (RCL) was trading higher on Wednesday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave one of the company’s ships the nod to do a test sailing in U.S. waters.

Shares of Royal Caribbean were up nearly 3 per cent after receiving provisional approval from the CDC to begin mock voyages in June, bringing the cruise operator a step closer to sailing out of the U.S. after more than a year of being docked due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The cruise line’s Freedom of the Seas ship will be allowed to sail with volunteer passengers out of the Port of Miami. Vaccine requirements are not mandatory for test sailings per the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order.

The move came after the company submitted a port agreement, another prerequisite for getting the CDC’s green light. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) last week said it plans to return to U.S. sailings in August.

1:28 p.m. Vaccinated kids aged 12 to 17 will have a chance to win a full ride to public universities and colleges in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The governor said the state will raffle off 50 scholarships, which would cover four years of tuition, room and board, books and supplies.

New York will hold weekly drawings on Wednesdays to randomly select 10 winners. Parents or guardians can enter children who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine since May 12.

Schools across the country are using mascots, food trucks and prize giveaways to try to get kids vaccinated before school lets out for the summer.

Cuomo said children who get vaccinated earlier will have the best chance at winning. It’s unclear when applications for the lottery will open up, but people can sign up for notifications on a state website.

1:17 p.m. President Joe Biden on Wednesday asked U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the unlikely possibility that the origins of the virus trace to Chinese lab.

After months of minimizing the possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is responding both to domestic and geopolitical concerns about putting pressure on China to be transparent about the outbreak.

Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus emerged from a laboratory accident, rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal.

Biden in a statement said the majority of the intelligence community had “coalesced” around those two likely scenarios but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.” He revealed that two of the 18 intelligence agencies lean toward the animal link and “one leans more toward” the lab theory, adding, “each with low or moderate confidence.”

Biden directed U.S. national laboratories to assist with the investigation and called on China to cooperate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic.

“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the White House supports a new World Health Organization investigation in China, but added it “would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins.”

Biden, for his part, held out the possibility that a firm conclusion may never be known, given the Chinese government’s refusal to fully cooperate with international investigations.

“The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19,” he added.

1:10 p.m. Health authorities say the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India is behind a growing outbreak in central Newfoundland and Labrador.

Officials reported four new cases today, two of which are connected to the outbreak, which now involves 46 confirmed infections.

A 170-kilometre-wide area of central Newfoundland remains under heightened public health restrictions as authorities try to contain community spread.

There are now 93 active reported infections across the province, including six people in hospital due to the disease.

1 p.m. Albertans can expect to learn Wednesday how the province plans to slowly ease COVID-19 health restrictions.

Premier Jason Kenney and other ministers are to outline the details at a morning news conference.

The government brought in tougher public health orders three weeks ago that were aimed at tamping down a surge of cases that saw Alberta lead North America in daily infection rates. The cases were also threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

More than 2,000 cases — or more — a day were being reported with more than 700 people in hospital.

The numbers have been declining, but chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said Tuesday there are still more than 12,000 active cases, so Albertans must remain vigilant.

There were 565 people in hospital with the illness, with 158 of those patients in intensive care.

“We’re now seeing promising declines in hospitalization numbers,” said Hinshaw.

“Collectively we have the power to bend the curve down and get us past this third wave.”

She urged Albertans to continue to get vaccinated and join the more than 2.5 million people in the province who have now received at least one shot.

12:46 p.m. Ontario’s chief coroner is investigating sudden COVID deaths at home in Hamilton, as well as Haldimand and Norfolk.

The deaths occurred in April and the exact number is not being released. The chief coroner’s office said it was fewer than 10 in both public health units combined.

Hamilton public health has refused to provide any information on the deaths, referring all questions to the chief coroner’s office.

Provincewide, the office is investigating 29 sudden COVID deaths at home in April and another 17 in May as of May 18.

12:50 p.m. The Manitoba government says 102 tickets were issued last week for violations of COVID-19 public health orders.

Most were fines for unauthorized gatherings in private homes or outdoors.

Twenty-two of the tickets were issued in relation to anti-restriction rallies in Winnipeg earlier in the month, and follow dozens of tickets issued in the previous two weeks stemming from those same rallies.

12:40 p.m. Peel Public Health is preparing to ramp down their COVID-19 clinic vaccine capacity as allotment begins to significantly drop.

According to Peel’s medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh, the move comes as the province’s hot spot strategy, which saw an increased vaccine supply to the region, ends after two weeks.

“We will be scaling our clinic capacity to match the per capita allocation that continues to be provided by the province,” said Loh at the May 26 Brampton COVID-19 news conference.

That strategy ran during the first two weeks of May and helped the region reach nearly 70 per cent of first-dose coverage, according to Loh.

12:30 p.m. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former chief aide lashed out Wednesday at the government he once served, saying people died “in horrific circumstances” because of authorities’ failed response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a ferocious attack, Dominic Cummings claimed the government was slow and chaotic in its initial response to COVID-19, and he accused Johnson of failing to learn from early mistakes by resisting a second lockdown in the fall as virus cases soared.

Johnson, he told lawmakers in televised testimony, was “unfit for the job.”

“The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me, fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this,“ Cummings said.

“People did not get the treatment they deserved. Many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.“

12:22 p.m. All in-vehicle passenger road tests for G1 and G2 licenses will remain cancelled until the province enters Stage 1 of the reopening plan, a statement released by the province says.

This comes after DriveTest centres across the province halted in-person road tests as part of the stay-at-home order.

All in-person services at ServiceOntario will continue to operate with capacity restrictions.

11:54 a.m. Ontario’s fiscal watchdog says the province will not meet its goal of creating 15,000 new long-term care beds by 2024.

In a report released today, the Financial Accountability Office says Ontario will need more than 30,000 new beds in the sector in 10 years.

The FAO also says the province will need to hire 17,000 personal support workers and more than 12,000 nurses to fulfill a promise to increase the average amount of direct care per resident to four hours per day.

The report says the province is two years behind its goal of creating 15,000 new long-term care beds.

It projects spending on long-term care will increase to $10.6 billion per year by 2030, up from $4.4 billion per year in 2019-20.

The new report is based on the province’s 2021-22 expenditure estimates.

Last November, the government promised to establish a new standard that would see nursing home residents receive an average of four hours of direct care every day.

Premier Doug Ford has pledged to achieve the standard by 2024-25 and said the province will need to hire “tens of thousands” more personal support workers, registered practical nurses and registered nurses to provide the care.

11:30 a.m. Quebec is reporting 308 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and four more deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

Health officials say hospitalizations dropped by 16 to 399, while the number of people in intensive care was unchanged at 101.

The province says it administered 58,764 doses of vaccine Tuesday, for a total of more than 5.1 million about 56.2 per cent of people in the province have received at least one dose.

The Montreal region is reporting 96 new cases today; no other region in Quebec is reporting more than 40 new infections.

11:25 a.m. Manitoba is expanding its eligibility for second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Anyone who received their first dose on or before March 29 can now book an appointment for a second dose.

Until now, second doses have been limited to Indigenous people and people with certain high-risk medical conditions.

11:20 a.m. Canada’s vaccine milestones continue today, with the country surpassing 20 million people getting at least their first dose.

Ontario reports that 135,308 people got vaccinated yesterday, 81 per cent of them receiving their first dose.

Those vaccinations put Canada up to 20.05 million people vaccinated.

That is about 63 per cent of eligible Canadians over the age of 12, and almost 53 per cent of everyone, including children under the age of 12 who won’t become eligible to be vaccinated for several more months.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has set a marker of 75 per cent of eligible people getting one dose, and 20 per cent with both doses, as a safe place to start lifting many restrictions on outdoor activities, and 75 per cent of everyone fully vaccinated to lift most restrictions overall.

11:11 a.m. Nunavut is reporting seven new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday.

Premier Joe Savikataaq says due to a mistake in reporting recoveries earlier this week, four additional cases have been added to the territory’s total today.

There are now 22 active cases in the territory, all in the capital city of Iqaluit where 8,000 people live.

There have been 230 recoveries since the first case was declared in Iqaluit April 14.

10:42 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is beginning to sketch out a plan to reopen the U.S. border, but Canadians don’t appear keen to rush it. And when travel does resume, they overwhelmingly agree proof of vaccination should be mandatory.

Nearly half of respondents in an Angus Reid Institute poll released Wednesday said the world’s longest undefended frontier should remain closed until at least September. More than three quarters said they would support a vaccine passport.

Canada’s border with the U.S. has been closed to most non-essential traffic for more than a year to limit the spread of COVID-19. But with the Liberal government’s vaccine campaign accelerating, Trudeau is facing calls from business groups and the main opposition Conservatives for a concrete reopening plan.

Since the prime minister is weighing whether to trigger an election in a bid to win back his parliamentary majority, the politics of the timeline are key. “Past Conservative voters are far more likely to advocate an ‘open it up sooner’ stance than past Liberal or New Democratic Party voters,” Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Vancouver-based polling firm, said by email.

“But, regardless of how you vote, people want to travel again. If you are one of millions of Canadians who work in the hospitality or tourism sector, you want to get back to work and see visitors return,” she said.

Last week, Trudeau’s government announced another month-long extension of border restrictions until June 21. Only 23 per cent of respondents in the Angus Reid poll said they would like it to have reopened already. That suggests Canadians are still concerned about the path of the COVID-19 and its variants as the country’s vaccine campaign gathers momentum after a slow start plagued by delivery delays and confusion.

10:11 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting another 1,095 COVID-19 cases and 23 more deaths, according to its latest report released Wednesday morning.

The seven-day average is at 1,622 cases daily, or 78 weekly per 100,000. Ontario’s seven-day average for deaths is at 21.9 daily.

The province says 24,008 tests were completed the previous day, and a 5.3 per cent positivity rate.

There are 1,073 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province, including 672 patients in intensive care. There are 469 people on ventilators.

Read the full story from the Star’s Ann Marie Elpa

10:10 a.m. Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says there are about 741 active COVID-19 cases on First Nations.

Miller says Indigenous people living in Manitoba, hard hit by a third wave of COVID-19, can now book their second shot of vaccine.

10:07 a.m. Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says more than 75 per cent of Indigenous adults have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Miller says there are about 741 active cases in First Nations communities.

He says Indigenous people living in Manitoba, which has the highest rate of new coronavirus infections in the country, can now book their second vaccine shot.

Miller says the Canadian Armed Forces continues to support vaccine rollout in 11 Indigenous communities across the country.

Dr. Tm Wong, chief medical officer of public health at Indigenous Services, says active case counts have dropped drastically over the past couple months.

9:40 a.m. The stage is set for a blitz of soon-to-expire AstraZeneca COVID-19 shots after a delay in getting vaccines to select pharmacies in Toronto, Windsor-Essex and the Kingston area for second doses — and confusion over where to book a shot.

Shipments were expected to be completed Wednesday to about 160 pharmacies in the three regions where people who got first doses March 10 to 19 became eligible for boosters on Friday after Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. David Williams cleared the serum for further use.

First doses of AstraZeneca and related Covishield vaccines were paused May 11 and remain so over an increased risk of rare blood clots, with 16 now reported in Ontario — including one death on Monday of a man in his 40s.

But many Ontarians seeking second doses were left frustrated over the long weekend trying to find pharmacies getting a supply of AstraZeneca or related Covishield — particularly when the pharmacies where they got their first jabs said they would not be stocking it again.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

9:05 a.m. In a four-month span during which the U.S. vaccination campaign was in a race against a spate of COVID-19 surges, a nationwide study has found that roughly 10,000 people became infected with the coronavirus after they had received all their recommended doses.

Two per cent of those patients with “breakthrough” infections died, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

That may sound like bad news. But run the numbers, and infectious-disease experts say it is actually quite good news indeed.

Between Jan. 1 and April 30, a total of 10,262 postvaccination infections were reported by 46 states and territories. Those cases represent less than 0.01% of the 107,496,325 people in the U.S. who had been fully vaccinated by April 30, according to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker.

8:50 a.m. France will impose a mandatory quarantine on visitors from Britain to prevent the spread of a worrying virus variant first detected in India, the French government said Wednesday.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the new measure will be similar to limits imposed in Germany on people traveling from the U.K.

“France is going to take similar measures and so put in place obligatory isolation for people who come from the United Kingdom,” he said.

He didn’t say when the quarantine will be introduced. He said more information would be released shortly.

From Sunday, Germany started requiring people arriving from the U.K. to go into quarantine for 14 days. The decision responded to the spread in Britain of the Indian variant.

Under Germany’s tighter rules, airlines and others are also only be able to transport German citizens and residents from Britain.

The possibility of tighter French restrictions for British visitors was first raised Sunday by Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

The minister suggested that Britain could be put in a health category of its own, somewhere in between the strictest measures that France is imposing on visitors from India and 15 other countries, and more relaxed requirements being readied for visitors from the European Union and some other countries.

8:46 a.m. The European Union took on vaccine producer AstraZeneca in a Brussels court on Wednesday and accused it of diverting promised doses to other nations when it had promised them for urgent delivery among the 27 member states.

The bloc accused the Anglo-Swedish company of pushing EU deliveries back so it could give them to Britain, among other nations. EU lawyer Rafael Jafferali asked the court to impose a fine of 10 million euros ($12.2 million) per infraction.

AstraZeneca’s contract signed with the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, on behalf of member states foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among all 27 countries, with an option for another 100 million.

The doses were expected to be delivered throughout 2021. But only 30 million were sent during the first quarter.

8:40 a.m. One of Japan’s most influential newspapers and an official sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics called for the Games to be canceled, the latest blow for an event already postponed by a year because of the pandemic.

The Asahi — Japan’s second-most widely circulated newspaper and known for its left-leaning views — urged Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in an editorial Wednesday to call off the world’s biggest sporting event, which is scheduled to start July 23.

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“We can’t see how it makes sense to hold the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo this summer,” the paper wrote. “What is most important is the lives of the citizens.”

The Asahi will, however, continue as a sponsor, drawing “a line between their activities as an official partner and their media activities,” the company said in a response to questions from Bloomberg.

8:30 a.m. York Region’s COVID-19 enforcement task force team members issued 52 tickets under the Reopening Ontario Act for the period from May 17 to 23.

The total includes 37 tickets issued by York Regional Police and six tickets by York Region Transit officers, according to a May 25 York Region report.

Team members conducted 1,155 inspections during the seven-day period, and performed 365 education sessions.

Businesses failing to keep their customers and employees safe by not adhering to the mandated COVID-19 safety measures are subject to fines, according to a statement issued by the Region of York. Repeat offenders could face temporary closure.

8:20 a.m. Hot-spot neighbourhoods in Ontario are seeing lower COVID-19 vaccination rates for seniors over 80 than neighbourhoods with lower incidence of the virus — indicating the most at-risk populations are still being missed for the vaccine.

To address stark disparities persisting for seniors in hot-spot communities, geriatricians, public health experts and community centre leads say vaccine rollout should be modified quickly to target elderly groups most at risk for COVID-19. That means increasing culturally-targeted information campaigns, expanding mobile outreach to homebound seniors and enabling primary-care providers to administer jabs, among other tactics.

“A lot of people like to think it’s just vaccine hesitancy, but it’s really not, to any significant degree,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai hospital. “The data really is speaking to the fact there’s a vaccine gap that’s not really fuelled by hesitancy.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Olivia Bowden and Maria Sarrouh

8:05 a.m. As Toronto hit an “incredible milestone” of vaccinating 65 per cent of adults with at least one dose, talk turned to next steps to finally end the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 8,600 Ontarians and paralyzed the province.

Answers, experts say, include the tough work of convincing the remaining 35 per cent, including the vaccine hesitant and those hard to reach, to get a shot. Also, starting now, the launch of the mass rollout of second doses to the vaccine eager.

Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital, called people who have jammed pharmacy phone lines for vaccine appointments and lined up outside clinics “the coalition of the willing.”

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider

8 a.m. The company running mandatory COVID-19 testing for people arriving in Canada is gearing up for an increase in travel.

Whether that’s coming this summer, next fall or next year, it doesn’t know.

But in an exclusive interview with the Star, the executive team at Switch Health expressed little doubt that testing will remain part of the travel landscape until the day that COVID-19 goes away.

“We don’t have a crystal ball to look into right now, but what we can do is prepare,” said Olga Jilani, Switch’s chief financial officer.

Frustrations that Canada wasn’t prepared when the federal government implemented mandatory testing for incoming travellers in February has led to a lot of scrutiny of the Toronto-based company.

Read the full story from the Star’s Stephanie Levitz

7:50 a.m. Notorious antimasker Chris Sky — legally known as Christopher Saccoccia — allegedly threatened to shoot Premier Doug Ford in the head and kill “all the premiers” in Canada, according to court documents.

Saccoccia, 37, also allegedly threatened to kill Robert Carbone — his former friend and leader of the so-called Republican Party of Canada.

On May 12, Saccoccia wanted help getting off the “no-fly list” (it is unclear if he has been placed a federal no-fly list after refusing to wear a mask on a plane) and “during the course of the conversation became irate and made certain threats, one of which was that he would ‘shoot Doug Ford in the head and f-g kill him’,” said the Crown, according to a synopsis of the allegations read during Saccoccia’s bail hearing last week.

No publication ban was put on the bail hearing.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alyshah Hasham

7:40 a.m. Alleged car meets in Mississauga continue to generate COVID-19 gathering violation fines in the city.

According to a Mississauga enforcement report, 14 of the 21 $880 tickets given out May 17 to 23 were for COVID-19 gathering violations related to car meets with all charges stemming from alleged gatherings.

The largest single ticket event was an alleged May 21 car meet where 10 $880 fines were issued. The next night, four more $880 tickets were given out at another alleged car meet.

Car meet-related tickets have been a regular part of Mississauga COVID-19 enforcement since warmer weather has arrived in the city.

7:35 a.m. Canada, unlike its southern neighbour, is keeping secret the details of its vaccine contracts with big pharma, including what they’re paying for doses — and experts say that’s a problem in the fight to build confidence with the public and contain vaccine hesitancy.

As part of a study in vaccine clinical trial and procurement transparency by the University of Toronto and Transparency International, Canada is being called on by researchers to be more forthcoming with details on the total cost and price per dose for COVID-19 vaccines in a bid to ensure fair pricing globally, instill trust with the public and counter hesitancy.

The report notes that 1.3 billion people globally are unwilling to take a COVID vaccine, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Read the full story from the Star’s Omar Mosleh

7:25 a.m. British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, now a household name across the country, fought back tears while asking British Columbians to consider cancelling gatherings with older people in March last year, as the dangers associated with COVID-19 were becoming clear.

Tuesday was all about getting those people back together.

Declaring, “We are in a different place today,” Henry delivered a plan that is meant to guide B.C. residents toward being able to hug their loved ones and neighbours by the summer.

“This is indeed a good day, and one that I have been waiting for for a long time, as I’m sure many in B.C. have, too,” she said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex McKeen

7:16 a.m. Some Ontario schools could reopen May 31, but it’s now up to the government to make the call, says the province’s chief medical officer of health.

Dr. David Williams said Tuesday that he wants schools to resume in-person classes and continues to hold talks with local public health units.

But “as for the decision when it’s going to be — that really is a decision that has to be made up at the cabinet level. And so we’re waiting to hear if, when that decision will be considered.”

Last week, Premier Doug Ford said he knows parents are anxious and while he “would love to get the kids back” into classrooms, he also has concerns about a rise in COVID cases and wants consensus from all involved.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy and Rob Ferguson

7:10 a.m. More than two million COVID-19 vaccine doses have now been administered in Toronto.

“To date, 2,010,103 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Toronto, the first local health region in Canada to administer more than two million vaccine doses.”

6:45 a.m.: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former chief aide said Wednesday that the government “failed” the British people and “fell disastrously short” in handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Dominic Cummings made a blistering attack on the government he once served, telling lawmakers investigating Britain’s pandemic response that ministers and officials went on vacation as the virus swept toward the U.K. in in early 2020 and describing scenes of chaos in government as “like an out of-control movie.”

He said the government “was not operating on a war footing on this in February in any way, shape or form. Lots of people were literally skiing.”

Cummings said Johnson initially regarded the pandemic as “just a scare story. He described it as the new swine flu,”

“The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me, disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this,” Cummings said.

“When the public needed us most, the government failed,” he said, adding that people “died unnecessarily” as a result.

The U.K. has recorded almost 128,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe. Lockdowns shut down most of the economy, and the country experienced one of the world’s deepest recessions

A mass vaccination campaign that started in December has brought infections and fatalities down sharply, but the government acknowledges it will have to answer serious questions about its handling of the virus at a future public inquiry.

6:29 a.m.: Despite the widespread pandemic narrative, only 18 per cent of Ontario homeowners surveyed by Right at Home Realty said they would consider selling and moving to a smaller centre.

Although 44 per cent of those working from home during the pandemic have considered moving out of the city, most say the decision is tied to their work circumstances.

Sixty-three per cent said they would be less willing to move further from their jobs if their employer wanted them back in the office even one to three days a week. But if they were allowed to work from home permanently, 55 per cent said they would consider relocating.

Right at Home Realty president John Lusink said some who have made the move away from Toronto could face “a bit of a shock to the system” if their boss wants them back at work. Those who moved might find it difficult to reverse course as home prices have continued to escalate.

“They will have pulled themselves out of a market they can’t get back into,” he said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski here.

6:28 a.m.: Whistleblower protection groups urged the World Health Organization on Wednesday to launch an independent review into the case of an Italian researcher who reported being pressured to falsify data in a now-spiked WHO report into Italy’s coronavirus response.

The groups, including Transparency International, Whistleblowing International Network and some 30 other public health and anti-corruption groups, sent an open letter to the president of the World Health Assembly. The assembly, WHO’s highest decision-making body, is made up of all WHO member states and is meeting this week.

In the letter, the signatories called for the U.N. agency to commit to reforming its whistle-blowing protection policy. They said the Italian researcher, Dr. Francesco Zambon, had suffered retaliatory treatment for having reported the incident within WHO’s internal ethics system.

Zambon resigned in March, saying he had been isolated and marginalized after he complained internally, and then publicly, about the scandal.

Zambon has said he was pressured by a then-assistant director general, Dr. Ranieri Guerra, to falsify data about Italy’s preparedness going into the pandemic in a report he and other researchers were writing to help other countries prepare as COVID-19 swept across the globe last year.

6:27 a.m.: South Korean officials say they plan to allow people to drop their masks from July if they have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, as they mull incentives to promote inoculation.

Health Minister Kwon Deok-choel said Wednesday the plan is contingent on the government succeeding in its goal of administering first doses to 13 million people by the end of June. Officials say people will continue to be required to wear mask indoors or at outdoor gatherings where it’s difficult to maintain distance.

Other incentives include providing vaccine-takers with discounts at public parks and museums and allowing them to participate in larger private gatherings. The country is currently clamping down on social gatherings of five or more people.

South Korea has wrestled with a slower vaccine rollout than many other developed economies.

Around 3.9 million people so far have received their first doses since the country launched its mass immunization program in late February, which represents less than 8% of the country’s 51 million population.

Health officials have lamented what they describe as excessive public fear of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been linked to rare blood-clotting side effects.

6:26 a.m.: Pakistan is offering jabs to its entire adult population in hopes of boosting COVID-19 vaccination rates, with only 5% of the population inoculated so far.

Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar announced on Twitter that the registration of those ages 19 and above will begin from Thursday. So far, the vaccination was open to those 30 years and above.

Pakistan has reported a steady decline in infections and fatalities from COVID-19 in recent days, but the vaccination response has been sluggish.

The only shots given are three Chinese-made vaccines.

Pakistan has registered 908,576 confirmed cases and 20,465 deaths since last year.

6:15 a.m.: More than half of Canadians feel somewhat anxious about going back to the way life was before it was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey shows.

Leger asked the question for a study done in collaboration with the Association for Canadian Studies.

Data shows 1,647 Canadians responded to a web survey from May 21 to 23, which cannot be assigned a margin of error because it was done online.

Respondents were asked whether returning to what life was like before the novel coronavirus was a source of anxiety for them, given how governments are announcing plans to reopen after more than a year of telling people to stay home.

The results show 52 per cent of those who responded reported feeling some level of anxiety, with those aged 18 to 24 showing the highest levels of unease at 68 per cent.

6:25 a.m.: Ontario’s fiscal watchdog will release a report today examining government spending on long-term care.

The Financial Accountability Office says the new report is based on the province’s 2021-22 expenditure estimates.

It says the overview of the ministry will identify key financial issues including the government’s promise to add and redevelop 30,000 long-term care beds.

The report will also examine the Progressive Conservative government pledge to increase the amount of average daily direct care per resident.

Last November, the government promised to establish a new standard that would see nursing home residents receive an average of four hours of direct care every day.

Premier Doug Ford has pledged to achieve the standard by 2024-25 and said the province will need to hire “tens of thousands” more personal support workers, registered practical nurses and registered nurses to provide the care.

6:22 a.m.: Canada’s “Wild West” efforts to buy medical supplies for provincial governments in the midst of a global pandemic will be assessed by the federal auditor general today.

The federal government spent more than $7 billion last year to buy everything from personal protective equipment, to hand sanitizer and rapid tests.

In the early days of COVID-19 in Canada last spring, global demand for PPE and medical equipment was so high Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland likened it to the “Wild West” of procurement.

Auditor General Karen Horgan is auditing the purchases of four specific items — N95 masks, medical gowns, testing swabs and ventilators, which federal documents suggest account for about one-quarter of the dollars spent.

Public Services and Procurement Canada says as of April 26, it had secured delivery of 131 million surgical gowns, 121 million N95 respirators, and 27,388 ventilators.

A second audit report expected today looks at the federal government’s pandemic support to Indigenous communities including PPE, nurses and paramedics.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Wednesday May 26, 2021.

In Canada, the provinces are reporting 499,352 new vaccinations administered for a total of 21,637,608 doses given. Nationwide, 1,694,908 people or 4.5 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 57,092.403 per 100,000.

There were 1,598,890 new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 25,368,894 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 85.29 per cent of their available vaccine supply.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Wednesday May 26, 2021.

There are 1,365,516 confirmed cases in Canada (47,866 active, 1,292,326 resolved, 25,324 deaths). The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 2,506 new cases Tuesday. The rate of active cases is 125.95 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 27,376 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 3,911.

There were 51 new reported deaths Tuesday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 306 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 44. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.12 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 66.63 per 100,000 people.

There have been 34,315,351 tests completed.



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