Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 1,740 cases with 63 deaths; Canada’s vaccine deliveries further threatened as Europe mulls export controls

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.

10:20 a.m.: Locally, there are 677 new cases in Toronto, 320 in Peel and 144 in York Region.

10:15 a.m.: In its latest report, Ontario is reporting that 9,707 people were vaccinated for a total of 295,817 as of 8 p.m. Monday.

The province says 83,285 have completed their vaccinations, having received two doses.

10:05 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 1,740 COVID-19 cases with 63 deaths.

The seven-day average is down to 2,346 cases daily, or 113 weekly per 100,000.

The seven-day average for deaths is up to 61.4/day — third highest ever.

Labs completed 30,717 tests, with 5.9 per cent positivity rate.

9:50 a.m.: Canada’s anxiety-laden COVID-19 vaccine programs are facing further threats as Europe warns drug makers it might impose export controls on European-made vaccine doses.

All of Canada’s current vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are made in Europe, potentially putting at risk the entirety of Canada’s vaccine deliveries.

Europe — like Canada — is being shorted on deliveries from Pfizer as the company slows production to expand its plant in Belgium.

But AstraZeneca has also now informed Europe productions issues will reduce initial deliveries of its vaccine, which Europe is expected to approve for use later this week.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says in a tweet today that the world’s largest trading bloc will establish “a vaccine export transparency mechanism.”

Canada has no ability currently to produce COVID-19 vaccines but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted repeatedly that Canada will get enough vaccine doses for all Canadians who want it by the end of September.

9:15 a.m.: Colombian Defence Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, one of the country’s most recognized conservative politicians, has died from complications of COVID-19. He was 69.

President Ivan Duque said in a televised address that Trujillo died early Tuesday, adding that he “couldn’t express the pain” he was feeling over the news. He offered his condolences to Trujillo’s wife, children and other family members.

“His life was a reflection of vocation for public service,” Duque said.

Trujillo became defence minister in November 2019, after serving as foreign minister. He was also the mayor of Cali from 1988-1990 and held several ministerial and diplomatic positions during his decades-long political career.

Trujillo ran for president unsuccessfully in 2018, when he was defeated by Duque, who was then a rookie senator, in an internal party contest.

As a foreign minister, Trujillo backed U.S. efforts to force Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro out of office by supporting his rival Juan Guaidó. The campaign to remove Maduro through political and diplomatic pressure floundered, but has led to tougher U.S. sanctions against Venezuela’s socialist government.

8:25 a.m.: The U.K. variant of COVID-19 appears to be circulating widely in communities north of Toronto.

York Region’s public health department is “very concerned” that 15 cases of the more contagious version of the virus have been detected in Markham, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, King and Georgina.

Nine of the cases appear to have been contracted though local transmission and do not have any association with travel histories, said Dr. Karim Kurji, the region’s medical officer of health.

8 a.m. The European Union’s standoff with AstraZeneca Plc intensified as Germany urged the bloc to limit vaccine exports, risking tensions with the U.K. and other buyers of the British drugmaker’s COVID shot.

European authorities are under increasing pressure as the bloc’s underwhelming inoculation campaigns threaten to prolong recession-inducing lockdowns. AstraZeneca, which is in the final stages of the EU approval process for its Covid-19 shot, sparked a backlash after saying initial deliveries would be delayed due to production issues.

An export limitation for vaccines produced in the EU would “make sense,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Tuesday in an interview on ZDF television. Vaccines leaving the EU “need a license, so we know at least what’s produced in Europe and what leaves Europe, where it goes, and if there’s fair distribution,” he said.

The European Commission, which had called on drugmakers to flag vaccine exports in advance, says that AstraZeneca’s delay would mean significantly fewer deliveries this quarter than previously agreed. The setback follows Pfizer Inc.’s announcement earlier this month that supplies from a factory in Belgium would be reduced for three to four weeks because of work to upgrade capacity.

The EU, which has had nearly 18 million coronavirus infections, lags well behind the U.K. and the U.S. in vaccinations. Even Denmark, the bloc’s leader, has given only 3.6 shots per 100 people, about one-third the rate in Britain and half of the U.S. pace. Bigger EU countries are further behind, with Germany at 2.1 shots per 100 people.

Alongside the delivery standoff, AstraZeneca was forced to defend its shot, dismissing a German newspaper report that its vaccine is only effective for 8 per cent of people older than 65.

A report by Handelsblatt late Monday, which cited unidentified sources in Germany’s ruling coalition, is “completely incorrect,” an AstraZeneca spokesman said.

Germany’s health ministry also rejected the report, saying that the newspaper appears to have confused the fact that around 8 per cent of the test subjects were between 56 and 69 years old, and only 3 to 4 per cent were over 70, which isn’t the same as efficacy.

7:33 a.m. Health authorities in Taiwan are quarantining 5,000 people while looking for the source of two new coronavirus cases linked to a hospital.

Officials said on Monday that they have not been able to identify how the husband and wife became infected after a brief hospital stay in the Taoyuan General Hospital, located in the city of Taoyuan just outside Taiwan’s capital city. The man had stayed at the hospital for three days for health problems unrelated to COVID-19, while his wife looked after him.

Those asked to quarantine include patients who were discharged from the hospital from Jan. 6 to 19, and their caregivers.

Taiwan is on higher alert after the latest domestic cluster, which has now seen 15 cases from the hospital in Taoyuan.

7:23 a.m. Ontario is sitting on $6.4 billion in unspent emergency COVID-19 funding as the pandemic rages, according to a new economic analysis, which shows that Ottawa is paying for the bulk of the relief effort.

Ontario is one of six provinces that have left billions on the table, moneys earmarked and urgently needed for health care, long-term care, housing and essential workers, states the study, released Tuesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The other provinces are Alberta, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan.

They should step up and do more to address the crisis, author David Macdonald, a senior economist with the think tank, said in an interview.

Read the full story from the Star’s Theresa Boyle

7:11 a.m. Portugal’s health minister says authorities are considering asking other European Union countries for help amid a steep surge in COVID-19 cases.

Portugal has had the world’s worst rate of new daily cases and deaths per 100,000 people for the past week, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Health Minister Marta Temido says sending patients to other EU countries is not uncommon in the bloc. But, she says, Portugal has the disadvantage of being geographically remote and hospitals across the continent are under pressure from the pandemic. She says the country may instead be asking for medical workers to be sent.

Portuguese hospitals are under severe strain, Temido told public broadcaster RTP. “We have beds available,” she said. “What we’re struggling with is finding staff.”

That request may be difficult to fulfil, because all countries in the 27-nation bloc are dealing with their own pandemic strains, made more difficult now because of the emergence of virus variants.

6:35 a.m. The COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario has never really been one pandemic. It has played out instead in discreet boxes divided by impact and separated by income and postal code, by race, gender and especially age. That’s not to say it’s been easy, for anyone. But it hasn’t been fair either. People of colour, people with precarious work, people in certain industries and certain cities have borne the brunt of the infections, the job losses and the anguishing, lonely goodbyes.

But even given all that, on the morbid bar graph of pandemic tragedy one group stands alone, a bar so much higher than the others it looks like a design error instead of something real. COVID-19 has destroyed the lives of thousands who began the pandemic in an Ontario long-term-care home. More than 3,000 long-term residents have officially died from COVID-19 in Ontario. An untold number of others have been lost to pandemic-induced neglect or a lack of care.

Death on that scale imposes duty. It creates a challenge for Ontario. It is it’s own kind of never again. The good news is no one credible seems to dispute that now. After years of systemic neglect, all sides of the political spectrum agree that the system needs change. It needs more money, more staff, and more beds. It needs newer buildings and better oversight. It needs sustained public attention and care.

Read the fully story from the Star’s Richard Warnica here: The problem with profits: As Ontario’s long-term-care homes stagger under a COVID death toll of more than 3,000, some say it’s time to shut down for-profit homes for good

6 a.m. On the Friday before the Thanksgiving long weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encouraged Canadians to support their local food bank in a photo op at a Metro grocery store in Ottawa.

The appeal was part of the Liberal government’s pledge of another $100 million in funding to food banks and food charities — on top of the $100 million it gave in the spring — to combat rising food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Framed as both a gesture of compassion from a caring government and a meaningful way to address poverty, the announcement was broadly celebrated.

But in Toronto, Valerie Tarasuk was outraged. Canada’s foremost expert on food insecurity couldn’t believe the government was giving money to food banks.

Tarasuk, a professor at the University of Toronto, has been studying food insecurity for nearly 30 years. All of her research suggests that giving people food does nothing to make them less food-insecure, which is defined as having inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints.

The problem is not simply hunger; it’s poverty, she said. The only way to meaningfully address it is to increase income supports so people have enough money to buy food for themselves.

Read the full story from the Star’s Brendan Kennedy on why food banks don’t reduce food insecurity.

5:31 a.m. The U.K. is set to announce changes to its quarantine rules later Tuesday that could see anyone arriving in the country having to spend ten days in a hotel at their own expense.

Vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said there will be an “announcement on this issue later on today,” but would not be drawn on what the changes would entail.

The British government has been reviewing its quarantine policies amid concerns over new variants of the coronavirus. Whether the changes will be universal and apply to everyone arriving, including British citizens, or just to those arriving from high-risk coronavirus countries, is unclear.

Zahawi told Sky News that “as we vaccinate more of the adult population, if there are new variants like the South African or the Brazilian variants, we need to be very careful.”

5:22 a.m. Sweden’s foreign minister says people in the Scandinavian country shouldn’t expect to be able to travel globally during Easter as Sweden extended the advice to avoid unnecessary trips to countries outside the European Union and the Schengen area.

“Our assessment is that there will be uncertainty for several months globally. It is an overall assessment that is about what the situation at the destinations will look like,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Tuesday.

Linde said the recommendation to avoid trips outside the EU will last until April 15. Easter is at the beginning of April.

5:10 a.m. Health authorities in New Zealand said they’ve found no evidence the coronavirus is spreading in the community after confirming the first case outside a quarantine facility in more than two months. The woman developed symptoms at home after she apparently was infected by a fellow traveller while in mandatory quarantine. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said Tuesday that 15 of the woman’s 16 identified close contacts have tested negative, with one result still pending. New Zealand has eliminated community transmission of the virus, at least for now.

5:05 a.m. Chinese airlines are offering refunded tickets as coronavirus continues to spread in the northeast.

The offer Tuesday from the government’s aviation authority comes amid a push to prevent people travelling during the Lunar New Year holiday next month. China has largely curbed the virus’ spread at the local level, but travel limits remain in place where outbreaks have been detected, including in the capital Beijing.

Schools are going on break a week early and migrant workers have been told not to travel back to their hometowns.

5:01 a.m. Health authorities in Taiwan are quarantining 5,000 people while looking for the source of two new coronavirus cases linked to a hospital.

Officials said on Monday that they have not been able to identify how the husband and wife became infected after a brief hospital stay in the Taoyuan General Hospital, located in the city of Taoyuan just outside Taiwan’s capital city. The man had stayed at the hospital for three days for health problems unrelated to COVID-19, while his wife looked after him.

Those asked to quarantine include patients who were discharged from the hospital between Jan. 6-19, and their caregivers.

Taiwan is on higher alert after the latest domestic cluster, which has now seen 15 cases from the hospital in Taoyuan.

4:53 a.m. Indonesia’s confirmed coronavirus infections since the pandemic began crossed 1 million on Tuesday and hospitals in some hard-hit areas were near capacity.

Indonesia’s Health Ministry announced that new daily infections rose by 13,094 on Tuesday to bring the country’s total to 1,012,350, the most in Southeast Asia. The total number of deaths reached 28,468.

The milestone comes just weeks after Indonesia launched a massive campaign to inoculate two-thirds of the country’s 270 million people, with President Joko Widodo receiving the first shot of a Chinese-made vaccine. Health care workers, military, police, teachers and other at-risk populations are being prioritized for the vaccine in the world’s fourth most populous country.

Officials have said that Indonesia will require almost 427 million doses, taking into account the estimate that 15% of doses may be wasted during the distribution process in the vast nation of more than 17,000 islands, where transportation and infrastructure are limited in places.

4 a.m. A new report on billions of dollars the federal government has sent to provinces to help safely reopen the economy suggests much of the money is sitting unused.

Today’s report also suggests that federal efforts to stretch the financial impact of those dollars is falling short as many provinces have bucked cost-matching requests.

The analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says six out of 10 provinces haven’t spent all the money the federal government has sent their way, including for things like personal protective equipment.

Author David Macdonald says some of the money may yet be spent, but notes the longer it remains unspent, the less likely it ever will be spent.

Macdonald’s analysis is based on a review of provincial and federal spending announcements, reconciling duplications, as well as provincial spending documents.

Federal and provincial governments are allocating hundreds of billions in direct spending and liquidity support to help workers, families, front-line workers and businesses make it through the pandemic.

The federal treasury has managed the lion’s share of COVID-19 spending — accounting for about $8 in every $10 of aid, according to the federal Finance Department’s math.

Monday 8:30 p.m.: As Maplehurst Correctional Complex continues to battle the worst COVID-19 jail outbreak so far in the province with 130 active cases, advocates are calling for clarity from the province around when prisoners and correctional officers will be vaccinated.

There are 88 inmate cases and 42 staff cases at the Milton jail, which is currently over capacity and has been running at 96 per cent capacity on average in the past six months, according to a spokesperson for the minister of the solicitor general Monday.

That exceeds the April outbreak at the Ontario Correctional Institute in Brampton, which had 89 inmate cases and more than 20 staff cases; the December outbreaks at the Toronto South Detention Centre, which had 77 inmate cases; and the Joyceville Penitentiary in Kingston, which had 80 inmates test positive.

Read the full story here: Maplehurst’s 130 active COVID cases make it Ontario’s worst jail outbreak of the pandemic

Click here to read more COVID-19 coverage from Monday.


Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 1,740 cases with 63 deaths; Canada’s vaccine deliveries further threatened as Europe mulls export controls