Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 748 new cases; WHO meets on new variant

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

1:32 p.m. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out several years of social progress in Colombia, saddling the country with higher levels of financial distress and joblessness, according to the government.

“We lost 8 years in our fight against unemployment, poverty and inequality,” Finance Minister Jose Manuel Restrepo said Thursday, at an event in Bogota.

Colombia is expected to grow almost 10 per cent this year, its fastest pace in decades, and gross domestic product has already recovered pre-pandemic levels. But the country must work to ensure that this year’s rapid growth doesn’t leave behind the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, Restrepo said.

1:10 p.m. Saskatchewan has extended its public health order related to COVID-19 until the end of January.

That means masks will remain mandatory for indoor public spaces, including schools, and the province’s vaccine passport system will remain in place.

Premier Scott Moe says the extension will allow the government to monitor how the Christmas season affects COVID-19 cases.

Moe says the measures in place have been working and notes the province is in a much better situation heading into this year’s holidays than it was last year.

He says COVID-19 cases are declining, down about 80 per cent from the peak a few weeks ago.

12:50 p.m. Quebec’s effort to vaccinate children under the age of 12 entered its second day on Thursday, as the province reported the highest number of new daily infections since mid-September.

Health officials said 163,000 appointments had been booked as of 9 a.m. on Thursday for children between the ages of five and 11, representing about one-quarter of eligible children. Premier François Legault congratulated the “brave” kids who got vaccinated Wednesday, on the first day of the province’s pediatric immunization campaign.

“I’m proud of them, really,” Legault tweeted, also thanking parents and the teams working at vaccine centres.

12:32 p.m. Members of Parliament will vote Thursday on whether they can attend the House of Commons virtually, or must be there in person.

Members returned to the chamber this week after a months-long hiatus following the September federal election and COVID-19 pandemic, when Parliament operated in a hybrid model.

The Liberal government believes MPs should continue to have the option to appear for votes and debates via videoconference.

12 p.m. Quebec is reporting 902 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, the highest number of new daily infections since mid-September.

Officials are also reporting five more deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by one from the prior day, to 210, after 20 patients entered hospital with the disease and 21 were discharged.

The number of intensive care patients also dropped by one, to 45.

11:45 a.m. A First Nation in northern Ontario says it requires additional help as it grapples with a potential lung infection outbreak.

Constance Lake First Nation, a community of over 900 residents, declared a state of emergency Monday after probable cases of blastomycosis and three recent deaths came to light.

In a news release, the First Nation says it has reported 44 cases — including eight in children — under investigation for the lung infection, which is typically caused by a fungus that grows in moist soil, leaves and rotting wood.

10:22 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting another 748 COVID-19 cases and five more deaths, according to its latest report released Thursday morning.

Ontario has administered 12,566 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 22,845,723 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.

According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 11,614,857 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 89.1 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 78.1 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan

9:20 a.m. World Health Organization officials met on Thursday to discuss a new coronavirus variant circulating in South Africa and Botswana.

The new variant, called B.1.1529, carries an unusually large number of mutations, Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said in a statement published by the Science Media Centre. It’s likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient, he said.

“It is difficult to predict how transmissible it may be at this stage,” Balloux said. “For the time being, it should be closely monitored and analysed, but there is no reason to get overly concerned, unless it starts going up in frequency in the near future.”

South Africa has detected 22 cases of the variant, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement.

8:50 a.m. France has launched a plan Thursday to give COVID-19 booster shots to all adults, as it opted against a further lockdown or curfew to help combat a worrying uptick in infections in the country.

Coronavirus infections have peaked in France over the last few days, with daily new cases rising above the 30,000 mark.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran laid out the plans during a press conference in which he announced a reduction in the time gap between second and third shots from six to five months. He said France already has enough vaccines to launch the nationwide booster campaign.

8:31 a.m. Denmark has joined other European nations in offering a third COVID-19 vaccination shot to everyone over the age of 18 amid a rise in coronavirus cases.

The Danish Health Authority said Thursday the “decline in immunity is also happening for people in the younger age groups.”

Helene Probst, deputy head of the government agency, said “revaccination is offered at the same interval to everyone over 18 years of age.”

7:42 a.m. Crimped by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is returning Thursday in full albeit with precautions.

Balloons, floats, marching bands, clowns and performers — and, of course, Santa Claus — will once again wend though 4 km of Manhattan streets, instead of being confined to one block or sometimes pre-taped last year.

Spectators, shut out in 2020, can line the route again. High school and college marching bands from around the country have been invited back to the lineup; most of last year’s performers were locally based to cut down on travel. The giant balloons, tethered to vehicles last year, are getting their costumed handlers back.

“Last year was obviously symbolic. It wasn’t everything we would have liked to see in a parade, but they kept it going,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news briefing Wednesday. “This year, the parade’s back at full strength.”

7:15 a.m. The European Union’s drug regulator on Thursday authorized Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for use on children from 5 to 11 years old, clearing the way for shots to be administered to millions of elementary school pupils amid a new wave of infections sweeping across the continent.

It is the first time the European Medicines Agency has cleared a COVID-19 vaccine for use in young children.

The agency said it “recommended granting an extension of indication for the COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty to include use in children aged 5 to 11.”

6:20 a.m. Official figures released Thursday show Germany has become the latest country to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Germany’s disease control agency said it recorded 351 additional deaths in connection with the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, taking the total toll to 100,119.

In Europe, Germany is the fifth country to pass that mark, after Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France.

The Robert Koch Institute, a federal agency that collects data from some 400 regional health offices, said Germany also set a record for daily confirmed cases — 75,961 in a 24-hour period. Since the start of the outbreak, Germany has had more than 5.57 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.

5:30 a.m. COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged five to 11 are ramping up in Ontario Thursday.

The City of Toronto’s pediatric vaccine campaign is picking up in earnest today with kid-friendly clinics and others happening in schools and communities.

Public health in Windsor, Ont., says it is also taking appointments for young kids today, and the city’s police force has said it will be on-site for planned protests at the sites.

A clinic in Hamilton is offering shots today for Indigenous people and their household members above the age of five.

Parent or guardian consent is required for kids to get the shots.

Other health units are offering the pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech shots on designated days this weekend and in the coming weeks.

5 a.m. As Ontario tries to keep a…

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