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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario will ease pandemic restrictions as vaccination deadlines loom; Tehran holds first public Friday Prayers in almost two years

Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario will ease pandemic restrictions as vaccination deadlines loom; Tehran holds first public Friday Prayers in almost two years
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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.6

6:05 a.m.: The Iranian capital Tehran has held its main public Friday prayer service for the first time in 20 months, after it was halted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers said beforehand that all health protocols would be followed to protect the expected hundreds of worshippers during the ceremony at Tehran University. Iran s National Coronavirus Taskforce, which had ordered a halt to the prayers, authorized its resumption.

Public Friday prayers have been underway in other cities, especially in smaller towns across the country since the summer. Individual mosques have been free to hold normal services since early October.

The move comes as Tehran hosts over 400 Muslim scholars and religious leaders for a meeting known as the International Islamic Unity Conference.

Tehran s communal Friday prayer was halted for 20 months over the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 124,700 people and left some 4,400 in critical conditions in hospitals since the February 2019. The statistics show Iran as having the worst COVID-19 fatality rate in the Middle East.

6 a.m.: Deadlines have passed for thousands of GTA hospital workers to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 , with some now being placed on unpaid leave or facing termination.

At the Hospital for Sick Children, 98 per cent of the hospital’s 8,258 staff members — including 100 per cent of its active physicians — are fully vaccinated.

But 145 staff have been placed on unpaid leaves of absence for not complying with the hospital’s mandatory vaccine policy or failing to provide proof of their status, though some are still in the process of submitting their required documentation, said Sick Kids in an email to the Star.

“We anticipate the number of staff on leaves of absence will decrease over the coming days,” said spokesperson Jessamine Luck in an emailed statement.

5:50 a.m.: Worried that the flu and COVID-19 could trigger a winter-time double-whammy of new infections and deaths, France is forging ahead with a nationwide vaccination and booster-shot program against both diseases, offering simultaneous jabs to millions of at-risk people.

The annual flu vaccination campaign kicked off Friday, four days earlier than initially planned, dovetailing with France s COVID-19 vaccination program that as well as trying to reach those who remain unvaccinated is also providing booster shots to those in need.

French health authorities, in instructions issued this week, urged doctors, nurses, pharmacists and midwives to “systematically promote both vaccinations” to at-risk people eligible for COVID-19 booster and flu shots. The note said the jabs can be given the same day, one in each arm.

It added that the onset of the winter flu season with the pandemic ongoing “increases the risk of co-infection and the development of serious cases and deaths."

5:40 a.m.: The federal government will spend $7.4 billion on a revamped suite of targeted pandemic supports in the months after several major relief programs expire on Saturday.

As the Star first reported late Wednesday , the Canada Response Benefit (CRB) — which replaced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit last year — will wind down for good on Oct. 23.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Thursday morning that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) will also officially expire on the same day.

“Our economy is rebounding, and we are winning the fight against COVID. However, it’s also true that the recovery is uneven, and that the health measures that are saving lives continue to restrict some economic activity,” Freeland told reporters alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outside a children’s hospital in Ottawa.

5:25 a.m.: Fully vaccinated Canadian travellers will be able to prove their status with provincially issued vaccine passports that sport machine-readable QR codes and the endorsement of the federal government — and starting Nov. 30, they won’t be able to fly without one.

Meanwhile, Ontario residents will need the newest version of the province’s vaccination credential to enter restaurants, gyms, concert halls and stadiums starting Oct. 22.

Ontario began issuing the newly standardized documents in the past week. The Ford government said Thursday that about four million Ontario residents had already downloaded the updated proof of vaccination.

5:15 a.m.: Amnesty International is calling for an independent parliamentary inquiry into COVID-19 deaths in Italian nursing homes and reports of retaliation against nursing home staff who spoke out about unsafe conditions there.

Amnesty based its findings on interviews with 34 health care workers, as well as union leaders and lawyers. A third of the workers “raised concerns about a climate of fear and retaliation in their workplace,” Amnesty said in a statement Friday.

Italy’s nursing homes, like those elsewhere in Europe, the U.S. and beyond, saw a major share of COVID-19 deaths, and prosecutors in dozens of jurisdictions have opened criminal investigations into whether the deaths could have been prevented.

Italy was the first country in the West to be hit by the outbreak and soon found itself critically short of protective equipment, face masks and hospital beds, particularly in the hardest-hit Lombardy region. During the first wave of contagion, many residents of elder care facilities in Lombardy weren t even taken to the hospital because there was no room for them.

In addition to the high toll on nursing home residents, Amnesty said some employees who complained about lack of protective equipment or raised other concerns about unsafe working conditions in the facilities were subjected to disciplinary proceedings.

5 a.m.: Finally, a reason to look forward to Monday.

Restaurants, bars and fitness centres can begin welcoming more customers starting Monday under a long-awaited easing of Ontario’s COVID-19 capacity limits, the Star has learned.

The moves are part of a “comprehensive” road map to be laid out Friday by Premier Doug Ford and chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore for the next phase of the province’s pandemic reopening plan, sources said.

Bolstered by the lack of a post-Thanksgiving spike in new cases, the liberalization follows a steady easing of restrictions in recent months and will be announced as a new system of smartphone QR codes for proof of vaccination at non-essential venues takes effect Friday.

4:30 a.m.: Taking their strongest stance yet on mandatory vaccination, Toronto police announced Thursday that officers who don’t have both doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of November will no longer be paid and can’t come into work, having “rendered themselves unable to perform their duties.”

As of Nov. 30, any Toronto police employee who is not fully vaccinated or has not disclosed this status will be placed on an “indefinite unpaid absence” — a move lauded by one physician as a “positive step” towards protecting the public, who often have no choice but to interact with officers. These employees will also not be permitted to enter Toronto police buildings or facilities.

And, effective immediately, unvaccinated officers — a category that includes anyone who has not disclosed their status to police — are ineligible for promotion to supervisory or management positions. In the statement, Toronto police chief James Ramer stressed that COVID-19 vaccination “protects the health and safety of each of our members, our workplaces and the public we serve.”
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