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Today’s coronavirus news: Schools in Toronto, Guelph health units move to online learning today

Today’s coronavirus news: Schools in Toronto, Guelph health units move to online learning today
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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.

6:22 a.m.: Iran shattered its daily record for new coronavirus infections Wednesday for the second consecutive day, with recorded cases soaring to 20,954.

The country is in the midst of one of the most severe surges of the coronavirus to date, following a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which drove millions to travel to popular vacation spots across the country, crowd markets and congregate in homes for parties in defiance of government health guidelines.

There appears to be no respite in sight, as the country s vaccine rollout lags, with only just over 200,000 vaccine doses having been administered in the country of 84 million, according to the World Health Organization.

Wednesday’s infection count easily surpassed the previous record set Tuesday of 17,430 infections. That signals the biggest surge in over four months.

6:05 a.m.: Starting Wednesday, all Toronto schools will move to virtual learning for at least two weeks, under orders from the regional health authority Tuesday.

One day after hundreds of thousands of Toronto students returned from Easter weekend to in-person classes, , Dr. Eileen De Villa, had them headed back home.

Toronto’s announcement came a day after Peel and Guelph declared the same. Other regions like York abstained, following the provincial stance of prioritizing in-person class even during the latest “shut-down.”

Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Doug Ford signaled Tuesday evening that tougher measures — including a province-wide stay-at-home order — might be on the way.

5:36 a.m.: Czech Prime Minster Andrej Babis fired his health minister on Wednesday, the third health minister who has been ousted during the pandemic in one of Europe s hardest-hit countries.

Jan Blatny was expected to be replaced by Petr Arenberger, the director of Prague’s University Hospital Vinohrady, who will be sworn in later Wednesday.

Babis has repeatedly criticized Blatny over his handling of the pandemic, including imposing strict conditions for the use of experimental drugs to treat COVID-19 patients.

Blatny was also under fire from pro-Russian President Milos Zeman, an ally of Babis, who asked the prime minister last month to replace Blatny over his refusal to allow the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine because it has not been approved by the European Union s drug regulator.

Blatny took office on Oct 29 to replace epidemiologist Roman Prymula, who was dismissed after he was photographed visiting a restaurant that should have been closed as part of the country s restrictive measures to slow down the pandemic.

4:17 a.m.: Ontario concert venue owners are demanding more transparency from the provincial government after the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions outlawed live streaming shows with little advance notice.

For the second time this year, club owners say they ve been left frustrated and confused as the province told them to sideline virtual shows while other industries operate with less strict precautions.

"The government is picking winners and losers without any logic," said Jeff Cohen, owner of the Horseshoe Tavern, a downtown Toronto venue that packed in crowds before the pandemic but turned to live streams over the past year to stay in business.

"The moment we try to do something proactive... we re just getting hit on the head with a rubber mallet."

Doug Ford s "emergency brake" plan, introduced on Thursday, prohibits virtual shows in empty concert halls for the next four weeks. That s left some in the live music industry frustrated, pointing out shoppers are still permitted to wander malls while TV and movie productions continue rolling in film studios.

Since last year, Cohen has been chasing ways to keep the lights on at the Horseshoe while supporting Canadian musicians.

Last August, he launched the Horseshoe Hootenanny, a live streaming concert series that went dark when Ontario s leaders unveiled stricter health guidelines late last year, which made it against the rules to keep the series running.

4:16 a.m.: Provincial governments are grappling with how to bring the third wave of COVID-19 under control, as the more virulent variants of the virus begin to dominate and younger, healthier people are getting very sick, very quickly.

From Ontario and Quebec to British Columbia and Alberta, fear of the variants is growing as swiftly as the caseloads, particularly for young people who might still think the virus won t hit them that hard.

Alberta and Toronto have brought back restrictions to combat the spread.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says widespread rule-breaking has forced his government to bring back tougher public-health restrictions and that failing to do so would cause variant COVID-19 cases to swamp the health-care system by next month.

Kenney acknowledged decisions to shut down indoor dining, curb indoor fitness and reduce retail capacity will meet resistance, even within his own United Conservative Party and caucus.

"But the government cannot ignore the science. We cannot dismiss the medical advice and we cannot ignore the numbers," he said Tuesday.

Restaurants, bars, lounges and cafes are to close to indoor service starting Friday at noon, but curbside pickup, takeout and patio dining are allowed.

Retail stores currently have 25 per cent customer capacity, but that will be lowered to 15 per cent starting Wednesday, and low-intensity group fitness activities will once again be banned.

Indoor social gatherings remain banned and outdoor get-togethers can have no more than 10 people.

Meanwhile, Toronto is the latest COVID-19 hot spot in Ontario to order schools closed while the provincial government maintains that classrooms are safe for in-person learning.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa issued the order on Tuesday, following similar moves by her counterparts in Peel Region and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph. Classes are to move online Wednesday in Toronto, with the closure to be reassessed on April 18 when the scheduled spring break ends.

The health unit said schools should be the last places to close but new variants have increased the risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 and strong measures are necessary.

4 a.m.: Ontario has done a decent job administering COVID-19 vaccines thus far given its limited supply of doses, but as variants continue to send more younger people to hospital, the province needs to switch up its strategy, infectious disease experts suggest.

The province has begun its Phase 2 of the vaccination plan, which targets people aged 50 and older who live in COVID-19 hot spots and those who can t work from home.

But critics say the variants of concern are moving much faster than the vaccine rollout, pointing out that the province has millions of doses in freezers.

Premier Doug Ford shot back at critics on Tuesday, saying most of those doses are spoken for.

"We are ready to go," Ford said. "We have over 1.3 million appointments booked."

Before a shipment of millions of vaccine doses arrived in Canada on Sunday, the province had administered about 2.4 million - or 86 per cent - of 2.8 million doses it had received from Ottawa. That ranked Ontario second among provinces and territories behind only Saskatchewan.

"With the limited amount of supply, I think we have been very successful in our initial strategy, which was to get it into residents of long-term care, their staff, and into health-care workers who are going to be carrying the brunt of everything," said Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease professor at Queen s University.

"But we have to be nimble and change."

In the third wave of the pandemic, the new variants of concern have created a new vulnerable population - young essential workers, Evans said.

"The segment of the population that s driving most of the pandemic is in fact those who are younger, the age groups between about 20 to 40 years old who are doing essential work," he said.

The new variants are both more transmissible and lead to more severe illnesses, Ontario data shows.

4 a.m.: Students at schools in Toronto are taking classes fully online today following an order from the city s top doctor.

The public health unit says the measure is necessary as new COVID-19 variants pose a greater risk of hospitalization and death.

Classes in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph are also moving online after Peel Region took schools virtual yesterday.

Those health units say the measure will be reassessed depending on the COVID-19 situation at the end of the spring break next week.

The province says schools are safe and should remain open amid the third wave of infections for students mental health.

Ontarians aged 60 and older can book vaccine appointments in all public health units starting today.

4 a.m.: As COVID-19 vaccine supplies ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks.

The military commander handling logistics for Canada s vaccine distribution program says there will be enough vaccine delivered to give a first dose before Canada Day to every adult who wants one.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin says that s if provinces follow the advice to delay second doses up to four months.

He also cautions that it is dependent on having no production delays again.

Health Canada anticipates a total of 36.5 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India by June 30.

Canadian provinces suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in people under age 55 on Monday, acting on an advisory committee s concerns about a possible link between the shot and rare blood clots.

Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I. s chief medical officer of health, said the risk of developing a serious problem after being immunized is "very, very low."

She said people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine should look for symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, sudden onset of severe or persistent headache or blurred vision and skin bruising elsewhere than the site of vaccination, developing four to 20 days after vaccination.

There are approximately 31 million Canadians over 16, and no vaccines are approved for anyone younger than 16.

4 a.m.: The Manitoba government is expected to cut some taxes and offer new money to fight COVID-19 in today s provincial budget.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding says there will be supports for people who have been hurt by the pandemic s effects on the economy.

He also says there will be $1.2 billion in COVID-19 spending for such things as protective equipment and extra staffing at vaccination centres.

The Progressive Conservative government has already said the budget will follow through on two earlier tax promises.

One is to start phasing out the education tax on property, and the other is to eliminate the provincial sales tax on personal care services such as haircuts.

Fielding says the tax cuts are needed, even as the province is predicting a $1.6-billion deficit.

"Specifically during a pandemic, Manitobans need relief," he said.

Of the new health-care money, $100 million is expected to go toward getting more COVID-19 vaccines in people s arms. About 14 per cent of adult Manitobans had received at least one dose as of Tuesday.

The Opposition New Democrats called for much more money for the vaccine program.

"This is an investment in our economy. This is an investment in our province. This is an investment in us bringing the pandemic to an end," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

There are 1,020,893 confirmed cases in Canada.

_ Canada: 1,020,893 confirmed cases (60,299 active, 937,453 resolved, 23,141 deaths).*The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 6,520 new cases Tuesday. The rate of active cases is 158.66 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 44,296 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 6,328.

There were 23 new reported deaths Tuesday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 215 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 31. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.08 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 60.89 per 100,000 people.

There have been 28,364,201 tests completed.

_ Newfoundland and Labrador: 1,020 confirmed cases (seven active, 1,007 resolved, six deaths).

There were zero new cases Tuesday. The rate of active cases is 1.34 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of two new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is zero.
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