Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 655 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 158 in ICU

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

3:55 p.m.: Two public health experts say Quebec has already entered a sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic driven by the BA.2 subvariant.

While the province’s public health director has been reluctant to confirm a new wave, Dr. Don Vinh of the McGill University Health Center has little doubt it’s underway.

Ontario and British Columbia have also seen upticks in hospitalizations in recent days, but Vinh says it is impossible to know how the latest wave will evolve or whether it will impact all of Canada.

He says Quebec has seen an increase in outbreaks in seniors and long-term care homes as well a 60 per cent increase in the number of health workers off the job with the virus, which are clear indicators that cases are on an upward curve.

Benoît Barbeau of the Université du Québec à Montréal also believes the province has entered a sixth wave, but says there’s no reason to be alarmist.

He says the combination of vaccination and high levels of prior infection, combined with warming weather that will make it easier to go outside, means Quebec is much better equipped to handle this wave than the previous ones.

3:05 p.m. Two more people have died in Newfoundland and Labrador from COVID-19 as hospitalizations due to the disease reached 40 today for the first time since the pandemic began.

Numbers posted to the province’s online COVID-19 dashboard show seven of the 40 people in hospital are in intensive care.

Today’s hospitalization figures topped last Friday’s high of 33 people in care.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical health officer, said on March 9 that the province’s health-care system could manage between 40 and 60 hospitalizations from COVID-19.

Officials reported 1,157 new COVID-19 infections since the last report Friday — 370 from Saturday, 539 from Sunday and the remaining 248 confirmed today.

The province dropped all pandemic-related restrictions in most places, including masking in public, on March 14.

1:30 p.m. Ryerson University joins other Ontario post-secondary institutions announcing it is dropping COVID-19 vaccination and masking policies effective May 1.

“This decision is supported by direction from government and public health authorities, it is in keeping with other sectors across the province and is reflective of the approach to Spring/Summer semester taken by other Ontario universities,” said Ryerson in a release Monday.

The school says its decision is based on current public health information and advice, but adds that as has been the case throughout the pandemic, the situation can change quickly and Ryerson will make necessary adjustments to reintroduce measures and restrictions should they need to.

In recent days, schools such as the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, McMaster University, and the University of Guelph have indicated they will pause masking and vaccination requirements on May 1 for the spring/summer session. Meanwhile, schools such as Queen’s University, the University of Toronto, Western University, and York University have not announced changes.

Read the full story by the Star’s Isabel Teotonia here.

12 p.m. Passengers and crew members tested positive for COVID-19 aboard a 15-day Princess Cruise trip to the Panama Canal that returned Sunday to the Port of San Francisco.

Those affected aboard the ship the Ruby Princess were either asymptomatic or showed mild symptoms of COVID-19 and were isolated and quarantined, Princess Cruises said in a statement. The cruise line did not say how many guests and crew members tested positive, or at what point in the trip they did so.

The ship has since departed San Francisco for a 15-day cruise to Hawaii.

The cruise line requires guests to show a negative COVID-19 test and proof that they were fully vaccinated at least 14 days before the start of the trip. Vaccination rates for guests and crew members on the Ruby Princess were at 100 per cent, Princess Cruises said.

11:45 a.m. Quebec is reporting one more death Monday attributed to COVID-19 and a 27-patient increase in hospitalizations.

Health authorities say 1,115 people are hospitalized with the disease after 92 patients were admitted and 65 left hospital. There are 53 people listed in intensive care, a drop of three cases.

The Health Department says it registered 1,614 new COVID-19 cases based on PCR testing, which is limited to certain high-risk groups.

Quebecers over the age of 80, those who live in high-risk settings such as seniors homes and long-term care homes, and immunocompromised people will become eligible Tuesday for a fourth dose.

11:30 a.m. Police have laid nine charges against independent MPP Randy Hillier in relation to his social media posts and other alleged activities during the convoy protests in Ottawa.

Footage of Hillier, 64, surrendering to police was posted on social media early Monday morning, and he is expected to appear in court later.

Hillier, who represents Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, was charged with counseling an indictable offense and counseling and uncommitted indictable offence, mischief, as well as assaulting and obstructing/resisting an officer, among others.

“In February, Ottawa Police received multiple complaints about social media posts and other activities of an individual as part of the ongoing illegal protests,” police said in a news release.

Read the full story from the Star

11:05 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 655 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 158 in intensive care on Monday.

That’s compared with 553 hospitalizations and 157 people in ICUs Sunday. There were 551 people in hospital one week ago.

The province notes more than 10 per cent of hospitals do not report hospitalization data on weekends, so the real number is likely higher.

The test positivity rate Monday of 17.9 per cent is the highest its been since it hit 18.8 per cent on Jan. 25 during the height of the Omicron wave – although the total number of tests, 6,243, is a 90-day low.

The province is reporting three more COVID-19 deaths.

Ontario is also reporting 1,741 new cases of COVID-19, but the province’s top doctor has said the actual number is likely 10 times higher than the daily log, since access to PCR testing is restricted.

8:45 a.m. This might just be the biggest party season yet. Every postponed wedding, stagette, retirement party, baby shower, christening celebration, engagement bash and more are on the horizon.

The busy schedule might have you a bit worried, but the expenses might concern you more.

With each party comes spending etiquette, which I’ll just preface here: it’s changed! Some people are not financially OK because of lingering pandemic impacts. If this is you, I encourage you to find a spending balance that works for you. Trust me, your friends and family will understand, unless they are super selfish — in which case you may want to decline their invitation altogether.

Read the full story from Lesley-Anne Scorgie

8:31 a.m. Smaller investors in Istanbul Airport, set to be the world’s highest-capacity hub when completed, have agreed to exit the project after the coronavirus pandemic slowed travel and delayed expected profits.

Limak Yatirim Holding AS and Mapa Insaat AS are each selling their 20 per cent stakes in the operating company IGA Havalimani Isletmeleri AS, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The two remaining partners Kalyon Insaat AS and Cengiz Insaat AS will raise their holdings to 55 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively, after the transaction, the people said, asking not to be identified because the talks are confidential.

7:45 a.m. Muriel Thompson did everything she could to avoid getting sick with COVID-19.

The 79-year-old from Belleville was undergoing treatment for lymphoma and knew the pandemic put her at risk. She was triple-vaxxed, always wore a mask on her rare trips out of the house and kept within her small family bubble.

But still, the virus found her. Less than a week after testing positive, Muriel died in a hospital intensive care unit on March 22, her body unable to recover from the COVID ravaging her lungs. No friends or family were by her side.

Her son, Dale Thompson, said the disease robbed his mother of the chance to recover from cancer. He wants the public to remember that people — many of them vulnerable like his mom — are still dying of COVID.

Read the full story from the Star’s Megan Ogilvie, Kenyon Wallace and May Warren

5:35 a.m. South Korea’s daily average of new COVID-19 cases declined last week for the first time in more than two months, but the number of critically ill patients and deaths will likely continue to rise amid the Omicron-driven outbreak, officials said Monday.

South Korea reported an average of about 350,000 new cases last week, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Monday. It was the first drop in the weekly average in 11 weeks, KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong said.

The current outbreak has likely peaked and is expected to trend downward, Jeong said citing expert studies. But new cases in South Korea will likely drop slowly because of relaxed social distancing rules, an expansion of in-person school classes and rising infections due to the mutant coronavirus widely known as “stealth omicron,” she said.

Read more from The Associated Press.

5:30 a.m. Lauren Socha knows there is a chance her toddler got the placebo instead of the COVID vaccine, but that day in January still felt like a “little bit of hope.”

There hasn’t been a lot of that since Arthur was born. Waves of the pandemic intensified and receded. Vaccines arrived in cargo planes, politicians posed on the tarmac. Most Canadians rushed to get their shots while others loudly objected. Vaccine rates for children over five stalled.

“If both of my kids could get vaccinated right now, I would not hesitate at all,” she says.

Kids under five are the only age group without vaccine access, as Canadians await the first approval for that cohort.

For Socha, a vaccine trial was the only way her son could get a shot at protection. (Her daughter is a newborn.)

Read more from the Star’s Katie Daubs.

5:15 a.m. China began its most extensive lockdown in two years Monday to conduct mass testing and control a growing outbreak in Shanghai as questions are raised about the economic toll of the nation’s “zero-COVID” strategy.

China’s financial capital and largest city with 26 million people, Shanghai had managed its smaller, past outbreaks with limited lockdowns of housing compounds and workplaces where the virus was spreading. But the citywide lockdown that will conducted in two phases will be China’s most extensive since the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, confined its 11 million people to their homes for 76 days in early 2020.

Shanghai’s Pudong financial district and nearby areas will be locked down from Monday to Friday as mass testing gets underway, the local government said. In the second phase of the lockdown, the vast downtown area west of the Huangpu River that divides the city will start its own five-day lockdown Friday.

5 am White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said she tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday after returning from Europe with President Joe Biden, in the latest infiltration of the coronavirus into the West Wing’s protective bubble around Biden.

Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy press secretary, said she last saw Biden “during a socially distanced meeting” on Saturday. Biden, because he is fully vaccinated, is not considered a “close contact“ under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Jean-Pierre traveled to Belgium and Poland with Biden after press secretary Jen Psaki tested positive for the virus last week.

Biden returned to the White House early Sunday morning from the four-day trip that saw him work to bolster the NATO alliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Read more from The Associated Press.

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