5:29 a.m.: Czech Republic adds record 4,400 new cases

5:19 a.m.: New Zealand eliminates COVID-19 in community for second time

5:11 a.m.: India adds 72K virus cases, gives festival rules

10:12 p.m.: Hundreds of teachers to be switched from in-person to virtual school as TDSB announces huge reorganization

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.

10:43 a.m. The CBC competition series “Battle of the Blades” has been temporarily iced due to someone on the show’s production team testing positive for COVID-19.

In an email Wednesday, the broadcaster said Insight Productions has temporarily halted all training and pre-production on the new season “to ensure the health and safety of the entire cast and crew. CBC fully supports this decision.”

That means the sixth season of the series in which hockey players and figure skaters pair up to skate for charitable donations will no longer begin with a live premiere on Oct. 15.

CBC said it would provide more details on scheduling as soon as possible.

10:19 a.m. (will be updated) Ontario is reporting 583 new cases of COVID-19 today, and one new death due to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says 173 cases are in Toronto, 121 in Ottawa, 75 in York Region, and 70 in Peel Region.

Elliott says 60 per cent of today’s cases are in people under the age of 40.

The province says it has a backlog of 55,413 tests, and has conducted 43,277 tests since the last daily report.

In total, 195 people are hospitalized in Ontario due to COVID-19, including 43 in intensive care.

9:27 a.m. Sri Lankan authorities have banned all public gatherings as a new cluster of COVID-19 expands in the Indian Ocean island nation.

Health authorities said Wednesday the outbreak centred at a garment factory has risen to 1,022 confirmed infections while 1,500 people have been asked to quarantine at their homes.

The health ministry ordered the public not to conduct public gatherings such as exhibitions, parties, conferences, indoor or outdoor events, carnivals, musical shows and processions.

The majority of the infected people are co-workers at a garment factory. The government has also widened a curfew in two suburbs of Colombo where many of the patients live. It earlier closed schools and universities and imposed restrictions on public transport.

The country has reported 4,252 patients with 13 deaths.

9:21 a.m. Shares in major U.S. airlines were poised for gains Wednesday after President Donald Trump tweeted his support for relief package for the struggling industry and prodded Congress to take action.

“The House & Senate should IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support,” Trump tweeted late Tuesday night. “I will sign now!”

That followed the president’s tweets earlier Tuesday saying he told his representatives to end negotiations on a relief package until after the election next month.

Airline stocks rose anywhere from 1 per cent to 5 per cent in premarket trading Wednesday.

The airline industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy since the virus pandemic took hold this spring, with the largest four U.S. carriers losing more than $10 billion (U.S.) between them.

9:18 a.m. New England Patriots star cornerback Stephon Gilmore has tested positive for COVID-19 according to the NFL Network.

The Patriots played the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 5 in a game that was pushed from the previous day due to Patriots quarterback Cam Newton testing positive for the virus.

Despite Newton testing positive, the National Football League opted to play the game rather than postponing it for later in the season, a move that drew criticism for potentially exposing more players to infection.

With just one bye week built into the schedule for each team, the NFL season is highly susceptible to disruption from any outbreaks. If multiple games were to be canceled, the league would be forced to consider determining playoff eligibility with teams having played an unequal number of games or might push back the Super Bowl, which is scheduled for Feb. 7 in Tampa, Florida.

Also on Wednesday, the NFL Network reported that the Tennessee Titans’ plan to reopen their facility was put on hold after two players tested positive for the virus. The Titans were slated to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 4, but that game was delayed to Oct. 25, becoming the first NFL game to be affected by the virus.

In response to the uptick in positive tests, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned the league’s 32 teams on Monday that they would face penalties if they were found to be in violation of COVID-19 safety protocols.

“Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game,” Goodell wrote in a memo obtained by the Associated Press.

9:09 a.m. A new study says many Canadian entrepreneurs are focused on shoring up their balance sheets after recording a drastic drop in revenues and mounting debt during the first wave of COVID-19.

The Business Development Bank of Canada survey says the top priority of business owners is getting their financial houses in order, including reducing operating costs and improving cash flow.

Investing in technology was also a priority for entrepreneurs, according to the study which also listed a focus on remote work, online sales and reviving growth as other key areas.

The study found that small- and medium-sized businesses were hit hard by the crisis, with 76 per cent reporting a decline in revenues and profits during the pandemic.

Nearly half ending up laying off staff, while about 39 per cent of entrepreneurs took on more debt to survive, the BDC said.

Still, the BDC study said 87 per cent of entrepreneurs are confident they will make it through the crisis.

Pierre Cleroux, BDC’s vice-president of research and chief economist, says his “biggest worry” is the high debt levels of many businesses.

“If there’s a second wave and we have to go into lockdowns, the good news is businesses are more prepared,” he said in an interview. “They’ve worked hard to be more efficient, reduce costs and be more present online.

“The bad news is they are more in debt than they were six months ago, so they are more fragile.”

8:49 a.m. Vice-President Mike Pence and his Democratic challenger, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are poised to meet for a debate that will offer starkly different visions for a country confronting escalating crises.

The faceoff Wednesday night in Salt Lake City is the most highly anticipated vice-presidential debate in recent memory. It will unfold while President Donald Trump recovers at the White House after testing positive last week for the coronavirus and spending several days in the hospital, a serious setback for his campaign that adds pressure on Pence to defend the administration’s handling of the pandemic.

For Harris, the debate is her highest-profile opportunity to vocalize how the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, would stabilize the U.S., especially when it comes to resolving the pandemic and addressing racial injustice. She will be able to explain her views on law enforcement, an area in which she’s viewed warily by some progressives, given her past as a prosecutor.

Ultimately, the debate is a chance for voters to decide whether Pence and Harris are in a position to step into the presidency at a moment’s notice. It’s hardly a theoretical question as the 74-year-old Trump combats the virus, and Biden, at 77, would become the oldest person to become president if he’s elected.

While the debate will likely cover a range of topics, the virus will be at the forefront.

8:46 a.m. Toronto resident Miguel Ceron wanted to get a COVID-19 test when the restaurant his partner works at was shut down by public health for having confirmed cases of the virus.

Ceron, 33, is among scores of Ontario residents who took to social media or contacted the Star Tuesday to voice their frustrations about trying to book a COVID-19 test on the province’s new appointment-based system.

“I just got off being on hold for half an hour and ultimately disconnected from a pharmacy trying to get information on appointments,” said Ceron, who like others had difficulty getting through by phone because of high call volumes.

By early Tuesday evening, Ceron, who works in the insurance industry, was still unsuccessful in booking a test.  

Read the full story by the Star’s Irelyne Lavery

8:38 a.m. Just weeks into a school term already marked by disruption, the Toronto District School Board is about to usher in some more.

In a letter sent to families Tuesday evening, the TDSB announced that up to 324 elementary schools will lose some in-person teachers as they will be moved into virtual classrooms.

The board said it announced the reorganization to help support the “significant number of students” — more than 66,000 — who are currently enrolled in online school.

Out of the 324 schools, some will lose up to four or more teachers, while others will lose one or two.

As a result of the loss of teachers, some students attending in-person classes may have to move into different and/or larger classrooms with different teachers, just three weeks after starting school.

Read the full story from the Star’s Breanna Xavier-Carter

8 a.m. Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche said Wednesday that problems at a U.K. warehouse are delaying shipments of testing products to clinics and hospitals, triggering concerns that COVID-19 testing may be disrupted as infection rates rise around Britain.

Roche informed doctors about the problem at its U.K. distribution centre in Sussex, southern England, in a letter that advised customers to “prioritize essential services only.”

Roche said the problem arose after it moved to a new automatic warehouse in September.

The company said that it was “prioritizing the dispatch of COVID-19 PCR and antibody tests and doing everything we can to ensure there is no impact on the supply of these” to the National Health Service.

The glitch affects materials needed to conduct blood tests and screening for diseases including diabetes and cancer. Roche said it could take two weeks to fix the problem.

British doctors have already raised concerns about the number of procedures, tests and screening programs that were put on hold as the health service focused on battling COVID-19 earlier this year.

While normal service has begun to resume, there is still a backlog, and long waiting lists for non-emergency operations.

Britain, which already has the highest virus death toll in Europe at over 42,500, is now facing a second surge in coronavirus cases. A total of 2,883 coronavirus patients were in U.K. hospitals on Tuesday, up from 2,291 a week earlier. A further 76 deaths of people with COVID-19 were recorded Tuesday, compared to 41 a week earlier.

Both figures are well below the peaks seen at the height of the U.K. outbreak in the spring.

Scotland is set to announce tightened social restrictions Wednesday in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, and the British government is considering whether to follow suit.

7:26 a.m. Iranian state TV said the country has hit its highest number of daily deaths from the coronavirus, with 239 new fatalities reported on Wednesday.

The report quoted the spokesperson of the country’s health ministry, Sima Sadat Lari, as saying that the 239 died since Tuesday. Iran has in the past had 235 daily deaths.



The latest death toll brought the total number of fatalities to 27,658. The ministry spokesperson said healthcare professionals recorded 4,019 new confirmed cases since Tuesday, brining the total number of confirmed cases in Iran to 483,844.

7:17 a.m. World shares were mostly lower on Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a stop to talks on another round of aid for the economy.

U.S. futures were up slightly after dropping on Trump’s announcement the day before. Markets were down slightly in Germany, France and Japan but closed higher in Hong Kong.

Hours after his tweets about ending the stimulus talks, Trump appeared to edge back a bit, calling on Congress to send him a “Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200)”

Trump’s announcement via Twitter that he was suspending the talks until after the election came after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell urged Congress to come through with more aid, saying that too little support “would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship.”

Some analysts characterized Trump’s move as likely a negotiating ploy.

“I do not believe hopes of a stimulus deal are now gone forever,” said Jeffrey Halley of trading and research firm Oanda. “One of Mr. Trump’s favourite negotiating tactics, judging by past actions, is to walk away from the negotiating table abruptly. The intention being to frighten the other side into concessions.”

6:45 a.m.: Takeout booze is here to stay, the Star has learned.

Queen’s Park is making permanent a key temporary pandemic measure and allowing restaurants and bars to sell beer, wine and spirits to go.

The sweeping liberalization, designed to help struggling businesses, means nearly every licensed facility in Ontario could be able to sell booze for consumption at home.

Associate Minister of Small Business Prabmeet Sarkaria will introduce the Main Street Recovery Act on Wednesday to legislate changes to reduce red tape and ensure the coronavirus-ravaged restaurants, bars and shops can stay afloat.

“Our government is standing with Main Street businesses and we remain committed to their recovery and renewed success,” said Sarkaria.

“We are determined to support them through this pandemic and beyond.”

Read the exclusive story from the Star’s Robert Benzie here.

5:29 a.m.: Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have hit a record high, surpassing 4,000 cases in one day for the first time.

The Health Ministry said 4,457 people tested positive on Tuesday, almost 700 more than the previous record on Friday.

Most infected still have no or mild symptoms but the recent steep day-to-day increase is followed by an increase of people hospitalized and those who have died.

Of the total of 90,022 cases in the Czech Republic, 1,387 needed hospital treatment on Monday, according to government figures, with 326 in serious condition. That was up from 825 hospitalized at the beginning of last week with 187 in intensive care. Of the 794 people who have died of COVID-19 in the country, 169 were since Sept 28.

5:21 a.m.: South Korea has reported 114 new cases of the coronavirus, its first daily jump of over 100 in a week. Health officials had raised concerns that infections would rise because of increased travel during the Chuseok harvest holiday that ended Sunday. Ninety-two of the cases reported Wednesday by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency were from the Seoul metropolitan area, where the virus has been resurgent since mid-August.

5:19 a.m.: New Zealand has again eliminated COVID-19 in the community as life is about to return normal in its largest city, Auckland. From midnight Wednesday, limits on public gatherings and activities will be lifted, though social distancing is advised.

The Ministry of Health said the last six active cases associated with a minor outbreak in Auckland have recovered, an announcement that Health Minister Chris Hipkins described as a big milestone. “New Zealanders have once again through their collective actions squashed the virus,” Hipkins said. New Zealand went 102 days without a case of community transmission before the Auckland outbreak, which concluded with 186 cases between Aug. 11 and Sept. 25.

5:11 a.m.: India has registered more than 72,000 new coronavirus cases, driving the country’s total to 6.75 million. The Health Ministry also reported 986 deaths, taking the toll past 104,500.

Nearly 10 states account for 77 per cent of the total active cases in the country. India’s recovery rate stands at more than 84%. The government has cited that figure as a reason for further opening the economy by allowing movie theatres to partially reopen next week with 50% capacity. The health ministry also issued guidelines for large gatherings during upcoming religious festivals and barred people from touching idols and holy books at such events to prevent the spread of the virus.

5:08 a.m.: Israeli police clashed with hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews overnight as they sought to enforce restrictions on public gatherings during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, the police said Wednesday.

Footage released by police showed huge crowds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem chanting and hurling stones and metal bars at police officers. The police said 17 people were arrested.

Clashes also erupted in Modiin Ilit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank. Police said they ordered people to leave a synagogue before being attacked with stones and fireworks, Four police officers were wounded and seven people were arrested, police said.

Segments of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community have defied restrictions on religious gatherings intended to contain the country’s coronavirus outbreak, even as the insular community has seen its own cases soar.

5:03 a.m.: Authorities in Sri Lanka on Wednesday widened a curfew and warned of legal action against those evading treatment for COVID-19 after reporting a growing cluster centred around a garment factory in the capital’s suburbs.

The number of confirmed cases has risen to 830 while more than 1,500 people have been asked to quarantine at their homes, health authorities said.

The Indian Ocean island nation had just reported its first community infection in two months on Sunday. The majority of the infected people are co-workers of the first patient, who is from densely populated Western province, which includes the capital, Colombo.

Hundreds of people — both factory workers and residents — waited in lines Tuesday at makeshift medical centres to be tested for the coronavirus in the small town of Minuwangoda, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Colombo, where the factory is located.

5 a.m.: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife may have violated the country’s coronavirus lockdown by inviting a hairdresser into the official residence last week to prepare her for a public service video advocating the wearing of masks.

The Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported that Sara Netanyahu had a hairdresser visit on the eve of the festive Sukkot holiday. Hair salons and barber shops are closed as part of a nationwide lockdown imposed last month, and people have been ordered to remain within 1,000 metres (yards) of home except for essential activities.

Wednesday 4 a.m.: The pandemic may serve as an opportunity for the restaurant industry to innovate in order to avoid closures as public health measures limit the sale of booze and erode already thin profit margins, say addiction and business experts.

Dr. Rupi Brar said the industry has a chance to pivot in ways that satisfy consumer demand while considering its heavy dependence on high markups on alcohol as well as the negative consequences associated with it.

“We know that the production and marketing and distribution of alcohol does create employment and generate income, but the question is, at what cost?” said Brar, an addiction medicine specialist and consultant in substance use disorders at St. Paul’s and Surrey Memorial hospitals in Metro Vancouver.

She said harms related to alcohol use amount to about $14 billion a year, including for health care.

Restaurants and bars have fought the restriction of a 10 p.m. stop on alcohol sales in British Columbia and similar limits elsewhere in the country, but many have come up with new ways to make money and keep much of their staff employed.

Tuesday 10:12 p.m. Just weeks into a school term already marked by disruption, the Toronto District School Board is about to usher in some more.

In a letter sent to families Tuesday evening, the TDSB announced that up to 324 elementary schools will lose some in-person teachers as they will be moved into virtual classrooms.

The board said it announced the reorganization to help support the “significant number of students” — more than 66,000 — who are currently enrolled in online school.

Out of the 324 schools, some will lose up to four or more teachers, while others will lose one or two.

As a result of the loss of teachers, some students attending in-person classes may have to move into different and/or larger classrooms with different teachers, just three weeks after starting school.

For example, two smaller classes may be combined to create one larger class, the letter from the TDSB stated. However, the board was clear in assuring that classroom sizes will remain within public health measures.

Since school began, there has been a number of shortages for teachers in virtual classrooms. In the letter, the board acknowledged the lack of resources, saying, “The reorganization of schools and classes will increase the availability of permanent TDSB teachers for the Virtual School and enhance stability.”

The board said it anticipates all students to have an assigned teacher once the reorganization is complete by Oct 13.

Read more here: Hundreds of teachers to be switched from in-person to virtual school as TDSB announces huge reorganization

Click here to read more of Tuesday’s COVID-19 coverage.

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