Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 563 new cases of COVID-19; COVID-19 cases

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

1:25 a.m. The City of Toronto has suspended 248 employees without pay for failing to show proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, giving them until mid-December to get protected against the virus or be fired.

The staff were suspended this week, after interviews with supervisions, for “non-compliance” with the city’s strict COVID-19 mandate policy, the city said Friday in a news release.

“After the period of unpaid suspension, starting on Monday, Dec. 13, staff members who do not provide proof of receiving both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, will have their employment terminated for cause, as they will have chosen not to comply with the vaccination policy,” the release states.

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider

1:05 p.m. Test requirements for travellers vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Canadian border need to be re-examined, particularly for short trips, says the country’s top doctor.

On Friday the Canadian Border Services Agency reiterated the testing requirements for vaccinated travellers entering Canada in advance of the border with the United States reopening next week.

But that policy is being “actively looked at,” said chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam.

“Just to reassure everybody … we are looking at that quite carefully,” she told a briefing Friday.

Currently, anyone crossing into Canada needs to provide a recent, molecular test that shows a negative result for COVID-19.

At a cost of $150 to $300 per test, that can be a pricey proposition, particularly for families.

12:45 p.m. The Quebec government is reporting 571 new cases of COVID-19 Friday as well as one additional death due to the pandemic.

Overall hospitalizations declined by one to 240, with 21 people admitted to hospital and 22 leaving.

The number of people in intensive care saw a bigger drop, going from 63 to 57.

Health officials say another 16,115 vaccine doses have been administered, including 14,683 in the previous 24 hours.

The province’s public health institute says about 90.7 per cent of the population 12 and over have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 88.1 per cent are fully vaccinated.

12:10 p.m. Nova Scotia is reporting 40 new cases of COVID-19 Friday. Health officials say 21 new cases are in the Halifax area, 11 are in the western zone and eight are in the northern zone.

Nova Scotia has 220 active reported cases of COVID-19 and nine people in hospital with the disease, including one patient in intensive care.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang says the recent rise in cases is due mainly to clusters in the western and northern zones.

Strang says the clusters involve faith groups in which a number of people have not been vaccinated.

Officials say 83.3 per cent of the province’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 78.8 per cent is fully vaccinated.

11:15 a.m. Nunavut has started offering COVID-19 vaccine boosters to residents who are ages 12 and older.

People who want the third shot must have received their second dose of vaccine at least six months ago.

The territory’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, says the booster will help increase people’s immunity to COVID-19.

There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. However, masks are mandatory across the territory. Residents need to call their local health centre to book their shot.

10:18 a.m. (will be updated) Ontario is reporting 563 new cases of COVID-19; 314 cases are in individuals who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 249 are in fully vaccinated individuals, according to tweet from Health Minister Christine Elliott.

In Ontario, nearly 88.4 per cent of Ontarians 12+ have one dose and nearly 84.9 per cent have two doses.

9:46 a.m. Germany recorded its second consecutive daily record for new coronavirus cases on Friday as infections pick up across Europe, and its disease control center said unvaccinated people now face a “very high” risk of infection.

The country saw 37,120 reported new infections over the past 24 hours, according to the disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute. That compared with Thursday’s figure of 33,949 — which in turn topped the previous record of 33,777 set on Dec. 18 last year.

While it’s possible that the figures were pushed up by delayed testing and reporting following a regional holiday Monday in some of the worst-affected areas, they underlined a steady rise in infections over recent weeks. Another 154 deaths linked to COVID-19 brought Germany’s total to 96,346 on Friday.

The country’s infection rate has now exceeded its peak during a spike of cases in the spring, though it’s still short of the worst-ever showing in December, according to Friday’s figures. There have been 169.9 reported cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, up from 139.2 a week ago.

9:20 a.m. COVID-19 cases are declining across Canada, but not as quickly as before, federal modelling says.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the country is bending the curve on the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but progress has recently slowed.

Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer, says Canada could still see some “bumps in the trajectory” over the next few months. Some provinces, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, are still lagging behind the rest of the country.

That has prolonged the heavy strain on the health system and critical-care capacity. Nationally, reported cases are now most commonly children under the age of 12. That age group does not yet qualify to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

9:05 a.m. Statistics Canada says the economy added 31,000 jobs in October.

The unemployment rate was 6.7 per cent, down from 6.9 per cent in September, to mark the fifth consecutive monthly decline in the rate.

8:05 a.m. Croatian authorities will limit gatherings and widen the use of COVID-19 passes to curb soaring infections after the numbers of infected people hit new records again on Friday.

The country’s crisis team said after a meeting that the new rules for gatherings will apply starting Saturday while the use of COVID passes will take more time to prepare.

Like much of Central and Eastern Europe, Croatia has seen a huge rise in infections and hospitalizations in the past weeks due to low vaccination rates and relaxed virus rules.

Most countries in the region have vaccination rates of about 50% or less, which is lower than the European Union average of about 75%.

Alarmed by the raging virus, some Croats who so far have not gotten vaccinated could be seen lining up Thursday evening to get a jab at a vaccination point in the capital Zagreb.

Drago Coric said he had been “skeptical” about vaccines but changed his mind after daily new cases peaked to several thousand daily.

Croatia reported nearly 7,000 new infections on Friday after confirming around 6,300 a day before.

“There are lot of (people) today and lately who have been infected,” he said. Coric added he came to get his first shot “for safety.”

7:22 a.m. Pfizer Inc. said Friday that its experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90 per cent as the drugmaker joins the race to bring the first easy-to-use medication against the coronavirus to the U.S. market.

Currently all COVID-19 treatments used in the U.S. require an IV or injection. Competitor Merck’s COVID-19 pill is already under review at the Food and Drug Administration after showing strong initial results, and on Thursday the United Kingdom became the first country to OK it.

Pfizer said it will ask the FDA and international regulators to authorize its pill as soon as possible, after independent experts recommended halting the company’s study based on the strength of its results. Once Pfizer applies, the FDA could make a decision within weeks or months.

Researchers worldwide have been racing to find a pill against COVID-19 that can be taken at home to ease symptoms, speed recovery and reduce the crushing burden on hospitals and doctors.

6:30 a.m.: Shoppers are starting to trickle back. Santa and his elves are on their way, vaxed and masked. The Christmas trees are already getting decorated.

Holiday shopping at the malls won’t quite be back to business as usual this year, but it’s going to be pretty close, according to mall owners, retail experts and even jolly old Saint Nick himself.

“It’s not going to be completely back to normal, but it’s getting there,” said Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner of retail consultancy J.C. Williams Group.

After 19 months of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians are ready to shop in person again.

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

6:26 a.m.: Germany recorded its second consecutive daily record for new coronavirus cases on Friday as infections pick up…

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