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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario works to create more critical care beds in hospitals as COVID-19 cases soar; Ottawa and Air Canada settle on an aid package

Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario works to create more critical care beds in hospitals as COVID-19 cases soar; Ottawa and Air Canada settle on an aid package
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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.

6 a.m. Around one in 10 Canadians said they don’t plan on getting the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a new survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, raising questions about how health-care providers could best communicate the importance of getting the jab to skeptical patients.

Experts say the results are mostly encouraging, as they show a majority of Canadians are willing to get inoculated. But they raise the persistent issue of vaccine doubt and how hospitals, including CAMH, can best respond.

“Most patients and their families have been agreeable, in fact, enthusiastic” about the vaccine, said Dr. David Gratzer, a psychiatrist at CAMH. But he added the hospital, like other places offering the vaccine, has encountered some hesitancy.

Since Ontario’s vaccine rollout began, CAMH has been offering inoculations to staff and long-term patients. Gratzer said it’s now giving vaccines to short-term-stay patients as well, and has opened vaccinations to the public in line with eligibility criteria set out by the province.

5:54 a.m. With COVID-19, space exploration and climate change high on many minds, a “do tank” in Geneva bankrolled by Switzerland s government is gearing up to develop long-term projects like a global court for scientific disputes and a Manhattan Project-style effort to rid excess carbon from the atmosphere.

Backers of the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator want to bridge the Swiss city’s image as a hub for conflict resolution with visionary scientific ambitions on big-picture issues, including the future of humanity.

First created in late 2019, GESDA presented its first activity report Tuesday and announced plans for a summit in October bringing together hundreds of United Nations officials, Nobel laureates, academics, diplomats, advocacy group representatives and members of the public. .

The initiative s backers include the heads of top Swiss universities and of the world’s largest atom smasher, located at European nuclear research organization CERN. They say the coronavirus pandemic has given science a platform unseen for several decades and want to leverage the attention from a public health crisis that has taken nearly 3 million lives and quashed economies to encourage thinking about the interplay among science, politics and society.

Peter Brabeck, a former chairman and CEO of Nestle who was tapped by the Swiss government to lead GESDA, used COVID-19 as an example of how advance planning could help head off future health crises, noting that the mRNA vaccine technology being used now to fight the pandemic has been around a decade.

“We could have perhaps been more prepared for the pandemic than we were today,” Brabeck said from GEDSA headquarters at Geneva’s Campus Biotech. “Only a scientific breakthrough is not enough. It has to be embedded in a diplomatic framework so that it can be implemented” by governments and companies.

“Technology is advancing at an incredible speed. But the framework around it -- diplomacy -- is slower than ever, so we have to find a way that we can accelerate the diplomacy also,” he said.

The pandemic has featured vaccine nationalism, political squabbles and mutual recriminations between China -- where the coronavirus first emerged -- and the United States, which is experiencing the world’s most deadly outbreak. The reputation of the World Health Organization also has suffered.

“I would not pretend that GESDA could avoid such a confrontation as it happened in the World Health Organization,” Brabeck said. “What GESDA can do is basically to call attention before this thing escalates...(and) if diplomacy would come in before the fact, a lot of these conflicts might be resolved.”

5:49 a.m. Austria s health minister announced his resignation on Tuesday, saying that he couldn t continue in the grueling job of helping lead the country s coronavirus response because of persistent personal health problems caused by overwork.

Rudolf Anschober, 60, had been health minister since January last year, when his Green party became the junior partner in a governing coalition under conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The soft-spoken minister has been one of the main faces of Austria s coronavirus response, which has gathered mixed reviews.

Anschober, who suffered a burnout nine years ago, said he had suffered two episodes of sudden fatigue in the past month, as well as high blood pressure and tinnitus.

He said he had “clearly overworked” and hadn t felt “completely fit” for several weeks. This wasn t a burnout, he added, but doctors advised him to take a break.

“In the most serious health crisis for decades, the republic needs a health minister who is 100% fit,” Anschober said. “I am not at the moment, and I won t be in the coming weeks if I don t pull the emergency brake.”

“This pandemic takes no breaks and so a health minister can t take a break either,” he added.

Austria was one of the first countries in western Europe to mandate the use of masks last year and was able to ease its first lockdown quickly.

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5:42 a.m. Ontario schools are to remain closed until further notice following this week’s spring break, with students learning online until the province’s medical officer of health deems COVID levels safe enough for them to return, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday.

The news came just one day after Education Minister Stephen Lecce issued an open letter to all of the province’s parents, saying schools would reopen come April 19 unless local public health units decided otherwise.

While the widespread move to virtual learning was lauded by educators who have been wary about returning to school April 19 given surging COVID cases, they and critics accused the government of making bad decisions that led to this point.

Tuesday 5:40 a.m. After months of negotiating, Ottawa and Air Canada have settled on an aid package that will provide as much as $5.9 billion to the airline to help it recover from the economic damage brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In exchange for the money, Air Canada has agreed to several requirements from the federal government, including customer refunds, reinstated service to regional communities, new environmental disclosures and job security for the tens of thousands of workers that the company temporarily laid off since the pandemic began.

At a news conference Monday evening, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Air Canada will be required to repay all the financial aid offered to the company.

The aid includes $4 billion in general repayable loans, as well as a $500-million equity investment that will give the government an unspecified stake in the company. Air Canada will also have access to a $1.4-billion loan that it will draw from to repay customers who bought non-refundable fares but did not travel due to the pandemic. The aid is offered through the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility program, Freeland and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jacob Lorinc

Monday 10:36 p.m.: The Hospital for Sick Children is preparing to accept up to 50 pediatric in-patients from most Greater Toronto hospitals — some from as far away as Newmarket and Oshawa — to make space for the ever-rising numbers of severely ill COVID-19 patients needing care.

The directive requires 14 hospitals in the GTA to transfer pediatric in-patients to SickKids, with few exceptions. By late Monday, hours after the directive came into effect, SickKids had already admitted about 10 patients, with plans for more to arrive in the coming days.

The transfer of dozens of ill children solely for capacity reasons is yet another marker of the crisis GTA hospitals are facing in the third wave as the province on Monday reported a record COVID-19 patients in ICUs.

“The number of patients with COVID-19 in Ontario’s critical care system is the highest it’s ever been, and the number of new patients we’re admitting is the highest it’s ever been,” said Dr. Kali Barrett, a critical care physician at University Health Network.

“With this rate of acceleration of growth, we will reach a breaking point very soon.”

Monday 9 p.m.: Ontario will add 350 new ICU beds by the end of this week, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott. The pledge comes as Ontario reached a record 619 patients in the province’s ICU beds.
Read more on Toronto Star
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