Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 721 cases of COVID-19; WestJet cutting flights to Atlantic Canada, laying off staff; Health Canada adds 5 products to list of recalled hand sanitizers

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  • 1:02 p.m. The judge-alone murder trial of Alek Minassian will go ahead next month

  • 1 p.m. Quebec is reporting 1,203 new cases of COVID-19

  • 10:17 a.m. Ontario is reporting another 721 cases of the virus

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.

2:55 p.m. New Brunswick is reporting eight new cases of COVID-19.

Six of the cases are in the Campbellton region in the north of the province, involving people ranging in age from their 30s to their 60s.

The other two cases are in the Moncton region and are linked to an outbreak at the Notre-Dame Manor special-care home.

The new cases bring the province’s total to 292, of which 200 have recovered. There have been two deaths.

2:44 p.m Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo says collecting better data can help in addressing inequalities the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed.

Speaking at a virtual public health conference today, Njoo says collecting data on race and ethnicity for health purposes has been neglected for a very long time but everyone recognizes its importance now.

Njoo’s superior Dr. Theresa Tam says having more granular data now, during the second wave of COVID-19, makes it possible to adopt more targeted approaches in different areas of the country.

But she says the fatigue that regular people and public health workers alike feel is presenting new challenges.

Tam says there’s a need for a fine balance between maintaining low virus transmission and at the same time minimizing the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Canadian Public Health Association director Richard Musto says all health and social services organizations should use demographic data to understand fully who is affected disproportionately by the pandemic.

2:17 p.m. Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, says Toronto is reporting 296 new COVID-19 cases today.

2:08 p.m. French President Emmanuel President Macron’s office says France will restore a state of health emergency that expired on July 10.

There are no additional measures that come into force with the move announced Wednesday, but it will allow the government to enforce stricter measures in the future, either locally or nationally. The move is expected to enter into force on Saturday.

France initially declared a state of health emergency in March, paving the way for the government to oblige citizens to stay home in lockdown. Macron is addressing the nation on television Wednesday night and could address further measures.

2:07 p.m. Spain has become the first European Union nation to reach 900,000 infections after adding more than 11,000 confirmed cases.

Spain’s health ministry say it has confirmed 908,056 infections since the beginning of the pandemic, which is seventh in the world.

France is next in the EU with more than 750,000 cases, although the exact number of cases in each country depends on the amount of testing.

More than 5,000 new cases were diagnosed in Spain between Tuesday and Wednesday, the ministry says.

Spanish authorities have confirmed 33,413 deaths from COVID-19, ranking eighth in the world. Health experts believe the actual number is much higher because of a lack of testing.

2 p.m. For the third time in a week, Iran on Wednesday marked its highest single-day record for new deaths and infections from the coronavirus, with 279 people killed and 4,830 new cases.

A Health Ministry spokeswoman, Sima Sadat Lari, made the announcement as Iran, with a population of more than 83 million, struggles with the worst outbreak in the Middle East. Since the first cases of the virus were announced in February, the country has had more than 513,000 confirmed cases and over 29,300 deaths.

In recent weeks, Iran has seen daily death tolls spike to their highest-ever levels, sparking increasing concern even as government officials continue to resist a total lockdown for fear of cratering the economy, which has been hard-hit by U.S. sanctions.

On Wednesday, Iran announced a travel ban to and from five major cities, including the capital of Tehran and the holy city of Mashhad, to prevent the spread of the virus. Kianoush Jahanpour, a Health Ministry spokesman, told state TV that the travel ban aims to reduce risks ahead of a religious holiday on Saturday. Iran’s weekend is Thursdays and Fridays.

1:55 p.m. Coronavirus infections are surging anew in the northern Italian region where the pandemic first took hold in Europe, putting pressure again on hospitals and health care workers.

At Milan’s San Paolo hospital, a ward dedicated to coronavirus patients and outfitted with breathing machines reopened this weekend, a sign that the city and the surrounding area is entering a new emergency phase of the pandemic.

For the medical personnel who fought the virus in Italy’s hardest-hit region of Lombardy in the spring, the long-predicted resurgence came too soon.

“On a psychological level, I have to say I still have not recovered,’’ said nurse Cristina Settembrese, referring to last March and April when Lombardy accounted for nearly half of the dead and one-third of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

“In the last five days, I am seeing many people who are hospitalized who need breathing support,” Settembrese said. “I am reliving the nightmare, with the difference that the virus is less lethal.”

Months after Italy eased one of the globe’s toughest lockdowns, the country on Wednesday posted its highest ever daily total of new infections at 7,332 — surpassing the previous high of 6,557, recorded during the virus’s most deadly phase in March. Lombardy is again leading the nation in case numbers, an echo of the trauma of March and April when ambulance sirens pierced the silence of stilled cities.

1:50 p.m. Manitoba is reporting 146 new COVID-19 cases, continuing a spike that has been concentrated in Winnipeg.

Health officials are also reporting two more deaths: a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s, both from Winnipeg.

The capital city has been under tightened restrictions for two weeks that limit public gatherings to 10 people and require masks in indoor public places.

1:23 p.m. Coach Dan Mullen clarified his comments four days after saying he wanted 90,000 at Florida Field during the coronavirus pandemic, apologizing Wednesday “if I offended people or anybody out there.”

A decision on his team’s game against defending national champion LSU should happen in much quicker fashion.

The 10th-ranked Gators expect the Southeastern Conference to make a call on postponing or playing Saturday’s game against the Tigers by the end of the day, a verdict that will be tied to results of another round of COVID-19 testing.

“I would think that would come today,” Mullen said. “To be honest with you, it’s hard for me to speculate until we get the test results back for today as to where we’re at. I would hate to lead anyone on or speculate on that. I would think today, by today, for everybody involved, that we would have some more answers.”

Florida paused team activities Tuesday after learning it had 19 positives and about a dozen more quarantined because of contact tracing results. Mullen said two assistant coaches also tested positive for COVID-19. Those numbers could increase more with Wednesday’s results.

Florida moved to everyday testing after seeing a spike in positives Sunday, the day after a 41-38 loss at Texas A&M.

1:22 p.m. A Bank of Canada official says pandemic-related shifts in how people shop means central banks must speed up work on creating their own digital currencies.

COVID-19 has meant more people are shopping online, and foot traffic for brick-and-mortar storefronts hasn’t caught up to pre-pandemic levels for many small and medium-sized businesses.

Bank of Canada deputy Timothy Lane says that shift in spending habits coupled with the speed of technological developments has narrowed the window to deliver a digital currency issued by the central bank.

The comments from an online panel today are a turnaround from late February, just before the pandemic struck, when Lane said there wasn’t a compelling case to issue a central bank-backed digital currency.

1:02 p.m. The judge-alone murder trial of Alek Minassian, who killed 10 people when he drove a van into pedestrians along Yonge St. in April 2018, will go ahead next month even as Toronto courts face increased COVID-19 restrictions.

The trial, which will centre on Minassian’s state of mind, is still set to start on Nov. 9 after being postponed earlier this year due to the pandemic, but may take place by Zoom, court heard Wednesday.

Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy said this would allow more people to watch the trial, given the strict limits on the number of people allowed in a physical courtroom.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alyshah Hasham

1 p.m. Quebec is reporting 1,203 new cases of COVID-19, 844 of which are from the past 24 hours.

Authorities said today 359 cases between Oct. 10 and Oct. 12 weren’t previously reported because of a technical problem.

The province is also reporting one death attributed to the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours and five other COVID-19 deaths from previous dates.

Hospitalizations increased by 20 to 488, with 80 patients in intensive care, a decrease of five.

12:31 p.m. The TTC is defending its handling of crowding on the transit system after being criticized for telling riders to board another bus if the one they’re on is too full to allow for social distancing.

A Twitter message posted by the transit agency’s customer service account Tuesday morning advised that “as the city re-opens, social distancing will no longer be possible on our vehicles. As such, if you feel that a vehicle you are on is overcrowded, I would suggest getting off and boarding the next one.”

Although TTC officials have warned since at least June that keeping the recommended two metres apart won’t always be possible on its vehicles as ridership rebounds from its low point earlier in the pandemic, the post sparked controversy, with some users accusing the transit agency of abdicating a responsibility to keep passengers safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

Read the full story from the Star’s Ben Spurr

12:19 p.m. The number of new COVID-19 cases in public schools across Ontario has jumped by 96 from the previous day, to a total of 645 in the last two weeks, and 1,040 in since classrooms reopened.

In its latest data released today morning, the province reported 51 more students were infected for a total of 376 in the last two weeks. Since school began there have been overall total of 580 students infected.

Two more schools have closed on Tuesday, totalling five schools still closed to contain the coronavirus, the Ministry of Health figures read.

Read the full story from the Star’s Zena Salem

12:08 p.m. A popular farm near Toronto is closing its pumpkin patch. Downey’s Farm made the announcement on their Instagram account.

“We have made the difficult decision to remove our front lawn Pumpkin Patch for the remainder of this fall season.”

The farm is popular for picking, photos and family gatherings.

“We have worked hard to keep the tradition alive this year as pumpkins have been on the front lawn every fall since 1986.” The Barn Market store remains open with a limit on the number of visitors inside.

12:04 p.m. Mississauga’s Playdium is permanently closing, they announced Wednesday on Twitter.

“We regret to inform you that we will be permanently closing as of November 1, 2020,” the tweet read.

Playdium first opened its doors in the early 1990s, and is a popular spot for video games, simulators, batting cages, Go-Karts and mini golf.

10:54 a.m. A Wisconsin judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked an order from Gov. Tony Evers’ administration limiting the number of people who can gather in bars, restaurants and other indoor places, a move that comes as the state breaks records for new coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations.

Sawyer County Circuit Judge John Yackel, who blocked the order a day after the Tavern League of Wisconsin sued, set a court date for Monday. The judge said that hearing will give attorneys for the defendant, Wisconsin Department of Health Secretary Andrea Palm, a chance to argue why the order should not be put on hold while the lawsuit plays out.

The Democratic governor’s order, issued by Evers-appointee Palm last week, limited the number of customers in many indoor establishment to 25 per cent of capacity. Gatherings in indoor spaces without an occupancy limit were limited to 10 people. The order does not apply to colleges, schools, churches, polling locations, political rallies and outdoor venues.

10:35 a.m. Toronto home prices continued to soar during the third quarter thanks to pent-up demand from the spring COVID lockdown, but the market is already starting to show signs of cooling off, according to a report from the country’s biggest real estate company.

In the third quarter, the price of an average home in the Greater Toronto Area rose by 11 per cent from the same time a year ago, hitting $922,421, according to the report from Royal LePage to be released Wednesday morning.

That kind of double-digit increase won’t be happening in the fourth quarter, or next year, predicted Royal LePage president and CEO Phil Soper.

Read the full story by the Star’s Josh Rubin

10:25 a.m. The LCBO says an employee at a Brampton store has recently tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a statement issued by the LCBO, the employee works at the 100 Clementine Dr. location, near the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Mavis Road.

The LCBO was notified of the positive case on Sunday and the employee’s last day of work was Oct. 4.

10:17 a.m. The rate of people testing positive for COVID-19 suddenly jumped back up to three per cent as another 721 Ontarians contracted the virus, according to government statistics released Wednesday.

That’s up from a positivity rate of 2.6 per cent the previous day, and means three of every 100 people tested were positive, a level considered an international benchmark for concern and which prompted new restrictions for Toronto, Peel and Ottawa from Premier Doug Ford last Friday.

Meanwhile, York Region and Hamilton saw sharp rises while the number of schools with cases fell slightly.

There were 79 new infections in York, up from 42 the previous day, and 41 in Hamilton, where health officials have been dealing with an outbreak traced to a spin-class studio. That’s an increase from 15 the previous day.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

10:05 a.m. Health Canada has added five new products to its growing list of recalled hand sanitizers. The agency has pulled two Sanix products for containing the “unacceptable ingredient,” methanol.

Authorities also recalled Prairie Potions’ Purify Hand Sanitizer and Antibacterial Spray for using methanol.

Last Best Brewing and Distilling Hand Sanitizer and Rocky Mountain Soap Company’s Nomad Hand Sanitizer (Lemongrass) are both being recalled for missing risk statements and containing unauthorized technical-grade ethanol.

Since June, Health Canada has recalled more than 100 hand sanitizer products, often for containing unauthorized ingredients or improper labelling.

10 a.m. Skate Canada International has been cancelled amid concern of rising COVID-19 cases in Ontario.

The Grand Prix event was scheduled for Oct. 30-31 in Ottawa in front of no fans, but the decision was made to scrap the competition in consultation with the City of Ottawa and the provincial government on Wednesday.

Skate Canada CEO Debra Armstrong said with the recent 28-day shutdown of recreational facilities, among other venues that host large gatherings in the province’s hot spots including Ottawa, and the “continuous shift in requirements across the country,” it became clear it wouldn’t be possible to host the event.

Skate Canada International is one of six Grand Prix events around the world that kick off the figure skating season. The Grand Prix circuit has become primarily domestic competitions due to travel restrictions around the global pandemic, and therefore only open to skaters who live and train in the host countries.

9:30 a.m. The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women’s mental health grew in late September, as a new survey reveals women are displaying higher anxiety levels for the first time in months.

Experts say the results reflect growing anxiety surrounding the home, with children’s return to school and persistent gender roles that have women responsible for child and home care, affecting their return to the workforce.

The survey of 1,003 adults across Canada was conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Delvinia, an automated research platform, between Sept. 18 and 22. It shows that women are experiencing higher rates of moderate to severe anxiety than men — 24 per cent of women surveyed said they feel anxious, compared to only 17 per cent of men.



Survey results also reveal that 27 per cent of respondents with children under 18 reported having moderate or severe anxiety.

Read the full story from the Star’s Nadine Yousif

9:25 a.m. Canada has withdrawn its team from Saturday’s world half-marathon championships due to rising COVID-19 cases in Poland.

Poland reported a record-high 6,526 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The race, originally scheduled for March 29, is being held in Gdynia, Poland.

Paddy McCluskey, Athletics Canada’s chief medical officer, said flying, airport transfers, plus common areas such as hotel lobbies and common dining areas were all concerning, and “we felt it was not prudent to expose our team to those risks.”

The withdrawal was another blow for Canada’s distance runners, as the global pandemic has virtually wiped out the road racing season.

Canada was to be represented by Rachel Cliff, Justin Kent, Ben Preisner, Philippe Parrot-Migas and Thomas Toth.

9:17 a.m. WestJet says it is indefinitely suspending operations to Moncton, N.B, Fredericton, Sydney, N.S., and Charlottetown, while significantly reducing service to Halifax and St. John’s, N.L.

The airline is also suspending operations between Toronto and Quebec City.

WestJet says the suspension eliminates more than 100 flights weekly starting Nov. 2.

The airline says it has worked to keep essential air service going since the start of the pandemic, but demand for travel is being severely limited by restrictive policies.

The airline also says it is laying off 100 corporate and operational support employees.

The cuts do not include airport staff from the affected Atlantic airports due to an earlier restructuring.

9:01 a.m. Two employees at separate Loblaws-owned stores in Mississauga have recently tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the Loblaws’ case tracker, one employee at the Bellshire Gate Shoppers Drug Mart and a second at Ashley’s No Frills on Mclaughlin Road have tested positive.

Management was notified of the Shoppers case Oct. 13 and the employee’s last day of work was Oct. 7.

The No Frills employee’s last day of work was Oct. 3 and management was notified of the case Oct. 12.

9 a.m. An employee at a Mississauga Dollarama location has recently tested positive for COVID-19. Management was notified of one employee at the Square One Dollarama who tested positive on Oct. 12.

The employee’s last day was Oct. 8. Employees who may have been in close contact with the employee are currently self-isolating. The store underwent a deep cleaning before reopening on Oct. 13.

8:30 a.m. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces growing pressure to order a national lockdown as Europe’s leaders labor to contain an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases.

Johnson has tried to strike a balance between targeted restrictions and keeping as much of the economy open as possible. But opposition leader Keir Starmer warned local measures aren’t working and demanded a two-to three-week lockdown after documents revealed a scientific advisory group had called for the same action three weeks ago.

Other countries across Europe widened curbs, with the Dutch prime minster ordering a partial lockdown. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will consult with regional leaders and French President Emmanuel Macron is due to appear on national television. Both may announce new restrictions.

7:24 a.m. The health unit in Six Nations says the community is “in crisis” after a surge of COVID-19 cases over the Thanksgiving long weekend.

Ohsweken public health reported 14 new lab-confirmed and 33 new probable cases of the virus on Tuesday.

The spike in cases is associated with private gatherings and people “travelling from one gathering to the next,” according to an Oct. 13 release.

“Health-care perspectives and advice can’t be ignored,” said Lori Davis Hill, director of health services . “They are working around the clock to keep us safe.”

Testing was carried out over the weekend, and continues into this week.

“Our health-care staff are exhausted, and contact-tracing is not yet complete,” she said. “They are becoming overly stressed as a result of (the) community taking risks to gather.”

In a Facebook post published on Tuesday, the Six Nations assessment centre request patience from those calling to book a test as “staff are experiencing a high level of demand.”

“Some members that attended gatherings are symptomatic but not seeking testing, placing the community at a seriously heightened risk of exposure,” said elected chief Mark Hill. “Please get tested if you are unsure, it is better to be safe than sorry.”

7:07 a.m. A new report on the mental health of Canadian workers suggests loneliness is worse for many people than the fear of dying from COVID-19.

Morneau Shepell’s overall mental health index for September was down 10.2 points from its pre-2020 benchmark. The reading in August was down 11.2 points from the benchmark, while July was down 10.4 points.

While the financial impact of the pandemic and getting ill with COVID-19 were the most prevalent concerns, people who identified loneliness as a concern had the lowest mental health score at minus 25.8.

That was even lower than the score of minus 17.7 for those who cited a fear of dying from COVID-19 as a worry.

Morneau Shepell’s latest monthly report on its mental health index is based on online responses collected Aug. 21 to 30, before the recent surge of COVID cases.

The polling industry’s professional body says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

5:39 a.m.: The World Bank has approved $12 billion in financing to help developing countries buy and distribute coronavirus vaccines, tests, and treatments, aiming to support the vaccination of up to 1 billion people.

The $12 billion “envelop” is part of a wider World Bank Group package of up to $160 billion to help developing countries fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the bank said in a statement late Tuesday.

The World Bank said its COVID-19 emergency response programs are already reaching 111 countries.

Citizens in developing countries also need access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, it said.

“We are extending and expanding our fast-track approach to address the COVID emergency so that developing countries have fair and equal access to vaccines,” said the bank’s president, David Malpass, said in the statement.

“Access to safe and effective vaccines and strengthened delivery systems is key to alter the course of the pandemic and help countries experiencing catastrophic economic and fiscal impacts move toward a resilient recovery,” he said.

The International Finance Corporation, the private sector lending arm of the World Bank is investing in vaccine manufacturers through a $4 billion Global Health Platform, the statement said.

5:11 a.m.: India has confirmed more than 63,000 new cases of the coronavirus, an increase of over 8,000 from the previous day but still far fewer than it was reporting a month ago, when the virus was at its peak in the country.

The Health Ministry reported 63,509 new cases on Wednesday, raising India’s total to more than 7.2 million, second in the world behind the U.S. The ministry also reported 730 fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 110,586. The country was seeing more than 1,000 deaths per day last month.

According to the Health Ministry, India’s average number of daily cases dropped to 72,576 last week from 92,830 during the week of Sept. 9-15, when the virus peaked. Over the last month, the country has been seeing a trend of declining cases on a week-to-week basis.

5:05 a.m.: Health officials are scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss whether to add areas of northern England, including Manchester and Lancashire, to the highest-risk tier, meaning additional anti-coronavirus measures such as closing pubs could soon be imposed there. Only Liverpool was placed in the highest-risk category when the plan was unveiled Monday.

The discussions come as the regional government in Northern Ireland prepares to announce even tougher measures, including a two-week school closure. Northern Ireland has the highest infection rate among the U.K.’s four nations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being criticized by all sides two days after announcing his three-tier approach to controlling the virus.

A report released Tuesday showed that the government’s science advisers have called for tougher measures, including a two- to three-week national lockdown. The opposition Labour Party has called for that advice to be followed, while members of Johnson’s Conservative Party say the measures already in place go too far and are damaging the economy.

5 a.m.: A new poll suggests Canadians are turning against the idea of the government requiring people to get a vaccine for COVID-19 when it becomes available.

Only 39 per cent of respondents in the poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies said a COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory while 54 per cent said it should be voluntary.

That’s a marked shift from July, when 57 per cent supported mandatory inoculations and 43 per cent believed they should be voluntary.

The new poll also suggested more overall reluctance about getting inoculated when a vaccine becomes available, with 63 per cent of respondents saying they would, seven percentage points lower than in July.

4 a.m.: A COVID-19 outbreak at a fly-in reserve in Manitoba and increasing infections in First Nations populations in the province has leaders worried.

“It’s a wake-up call for all of us,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

The First Nations population in Manitoba was largely spared of infections earlier this year during the first wave of COVID-19, as leaders imposed travel restrictions and lockdowns.

But Dumas said the initial success “allowed for a bit of apathy to creep in.”

There have been 179 COVID-19 cases among First Nations people in Manitoba, with most in the last few weeks, according to the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team.

Leading up to the Thanksgiving weekend, there were 143 active cases among First Nations people in the province. Sixty of those were on reserves, which is more than half of all on-reserve cases in the country.

Tuesday 9:42 p.m. China says it has carried out more than 4.2 million tests in the northern port city of Qingdao, with no new cases of coronavirus found among the almost 2 million sets of results received.

The city has reported a total of 12 cases, six with symptoms and six without, since the new outbreak was first spotted over the weekend at a hospital.

China on Wednesday reported 27 new cases of coronavirus, including 13 new cases of local transmission and 14 cases brought from outside the country. The local cases included seven that had been shifted to confirmed from asymptomatic. It wasn’t immediately clear whether any of those involved cases reported in Qingdao.

China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths among 85,611 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Click here for more of Tuesday’s coverage.

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