6:50 a.m.: Millions in England likely to move to tighter restrictions

5:05 a.m.: India reports fewest virus deaths in 11 weeks

4 a.m.: Calls to helplines jump during pandemic

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

8 a.m. When Mollie Jacques signed onto the Service Canada website to check if her Employment Insurance (EI) had come through last week, her heart sank.

The veteran chef got a notice that she’d need to reapply, and that it might take 28 days to start collecting money again.

Two days later, she checked again, and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw her original application, made in March, had been approved.

“Those were the worst two days of this entire pandemic for me. Not knowing if I’d have any money coming in for a month was just awful,” said Jacques.

Adding insult to injury, Jacques’ final CERB payment was just $500, not the $1,000 she’d been expecting and believed she was entitled to.

Read the full story from the Star’s Josh Rubin

8 a.m. A novel method of sampling sewage for COVID-19 is showing an “alarming” surge in viral transmission in Ottawa, researchers say — a detection process that belies flattening case counts registered by the province’s strained testing system.

Toronto is set to get its own poop report within weeks.

Because people with COVID-19 shed the virus in their stool, the presence of viral fragments in municipal wastewater has been successfully used as an early-warning system in different cities. In Ontario, scientists at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the University of Ottawa have been at the forefront of this technique.

After remaining low all summer, the virus levels in Ottawa’s wastewater doubled over the month of September, the researchers say. Then, in the first half of October, it doubled again. Tuesday’s measurements were particularly concerning.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kate Allen and May Warren

7:45 a.m. The Ontario government is going to move “aggressively” and scrap a controversial hiring rule that gives preference to supply teachers with the most seniority, the Star has learned.

After years of complaints from boards and principals about Regulation 274 — which essentially forces them to hire from among a small group of teachers who have spent the most time on the supply list — Education Minister Stephen Lecce is poised to make the announcement on Thursday, sources said.

Since taking over the ministry, Lecce has repeatedly said he does not support Regulation 274 and prefers that schools hire the best fit for the job.

Prompting the change at this time is the hiring challenges boards are now experiencing with COVID-19, with the regulation putting an additional burden on administrators, sources said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy

7:41 a.m. The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office said the exponential surge of coronavirus cases across the continent has warranted the restrictive measures being taken across the continent, calling them “absolutely necessary” to stop the pandemic.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Dr. Hans Kluge warned that even more drastic steps might be needed in such “unprecedented times.”

He called for countries and their citizens to be “uncompromising” in their attempts to control the virus and said most of the COVID-19 spread is happening in homes, indoor spaces and in communities not complying with protection measures.

“These measures are meant to keep us all ahead of the curve and to flatten its course,” Kluge said, while wearing a dark-green mask. “It is therefore up to us to accept them while they are still relatively easy to follow instead of following the path of severity.”

7:30 a.m. The U.S. government will issue its latest snapshot Thursday of the level of layoffs which remain elevated seven months after the viral pandemic erupted and after the expiration of federal unemployment aid for millions of Americans.

The still-high number of people seeking jobless benefits reflects an economy that has recovered only slightly more than half the 22 million jobs that were lost to the pandemic. Many Americans are facing unemployment with vastly diminished aid since a $600-a-week federal benefit expired this summer.

The latest weekly report on jobless claims coincides with fading prospects in Washington for a new federal rescue aid package that economists say is urgently needed for unemployed workers and struggling businesses, states and cities. Congress remains at an impasse.

At the same time, economists say they have grown increasingly skeptical about the government’s figures for unemployment claims, even though there is little doubt that hiring has slowed and many employers are still cutting jobs.

7:26 a.m. Ryanair slashed its schedule and cut back its presence in several countries, blaming tighter travel restrictions that have hammered demand in Europe.

The shares fell after the Irish discount carrier said it will operate at about 40 per cent of its 2019 winter capacity, down from a previous plan to run at 60 per cent. Ryanair will reduce the number of aircraft kept in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal and in Vienna for the season, after bookings weakened materially in November and December, it said in a statement on Thursday.

A resurgence in COVID-19 infections that torpedoed a comeback for summer air traffic is now bearing down on the slower part of the year. Airlines have been clamoring for an easing of travel restrictions to spur demand, but with cases rising further there’s little sign authorities will rescind current health measures.

6:50 a.m.: London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he expects the government to move the city of 9 million people to a higher level of coronavirus restrictions later Thursday as infection rates rise throughout the capital.

Khan told the London Assembly that talks were continuing but he expected authorities to move London into the second of three risk categories based on “expert public health and scientific advice” about what is needed to save lives.

Khan has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeking details about what assistance would be provided to businesses and individuals affected by such a move.

“Nobody wants to see more restrictions,” Khan said. “But this is deemed to be necessary in order to protect Londoners lives by myself, London council leaders and by ministers.”

The move comes as millions of people in northern England are waiting to find out whether they will be placed under the government’s tightest COVID-19 restrictions.

The mayor of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, with 2.8 million people, says he expects to meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s team on Thursday for talks on whether the region will be classified as a “high risk” area. That is the highest risk category in the government’s new three-tier regional COVID-19 strategy and would require restrictions such as closing bars and banning social gatherings outside one’s own home.

5:50 a.m.: After seven months of total blackout, cinemas reopened Thursday in several parts of India with few older titles on the marquee and shows limited to half the capacity.

The reopening of movie theatres comes at a time when India’s confirmed coronavirus tally surpassed 7.3 million. The country is registering the highest number of daily cases globally, and is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country in the coming weeks, surpassing the U.S.

Nearly 10,000 theatres closed in mid-March following coronavirus restrictions. Now, they will become one of the last few public places to reopen outside high-risk areas as India further opens its economy. But they still pose some of the biggest infection risks: the virus can spread easily in closed spaces.



5:10 a.m.: Australia’s prime minister says his government is giving priority to reopening air services to Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday that he discussed reopening air routes with the leaders of all three countries.

He described Japan and South Korea as “two countries that have done particularly well” in dealing with the pandemic.

“There are a number of countries we’re looking at to see what we can do probably next year. We’re not going to rush into this,” Morrison said.

The three Asian countries “are my current priorities in how we would pursue that,” he added.

Australia will allow travellers from neighbouring New Zealand to arrive without hotel quarantine from Friday. New Zealand has mostly stopped community transmission of COVID-19.

5:05 a.m.: India has reported its lowest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in nearly three months.

The Health Ministry on Thursday reported 680 fatalities in the past 24 hours, the lowest in 11 weeks, raising the country’s death toll since the pandemic began to 111,266. The country was seeing more than 1,000 virus deaths per day last month.

The ministry also reported 67,708 new infections, raising India’s total to more than 7.3 million.

According to the ministry, India’s average number of daily cases dropped to 72,576 last week from 92,830 during the week of Sept. 9-15, when the virus peaked. Over the last month, the country has been seeing a trend of declining cases on a week-to-week basis.

Health experts have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the religious festival season beginning later this month, which is marked by huge gatherings of people in temples and shopping districts.

5 a.m.: French police searched the homes of the former prime minister, the current and former health ministers and other top officials Thursday in an investigation into the government response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Health Ministry confirmed the dawn searches, which included the offices of the current health minister Olivier Veran. They came a day after French President Emmanuel Macron announced curfews in Paris and eight other French cities to deal with the rising toll of new infections. COVID-19 patients, doctors, prison personnel, police officers and others in France filed an unprecedented 90 complaints over recent months, notably over shortages of masks and other equipment.

A special French court has ordered an investigation over the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Among those whose homes were searched include former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Veran, his predecessor Agnes Buzyn, top health official Jerome Salomon, and Sibeth Ndiaye, a former government spokeswoman.

4 a.m.: Several helplines for women experiencing violence at home are reporting dramatic increases in calls since public health measures aimed at fighting the spread of COVID-19 came into effect last spring.

The urgency and severity of many callers’ situations have also intensified, said Angela MacDougall, the executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services based in Vancouver.

“What women are saying is that it’s like a pressure cooker in the house and there isn’t a valve,” she said in an interview.

The United Nations has called violence against women and girls a “shadow pandemic” as the COVID-19 crisis fuels social isolation and tensions caused by concerns over health, safety and financial security.

Claudine Thibaudeau, a social worker and clinical supervisor at the Montreal-based helpline SOS domestic violence, said the pandemic has become a “new tool” for abusers to gain power.

The helpline has fielded calls from women diagnosed with COVID-19 who were then kicked out by their abuser, she said, while others are confined to their homes, cut off from support.

As cases climb across Canada, particularly in Quebec, and several provinces tighten health restrictions again, “we’re basically back to square one,” said Thibaudeau.

Thursday 9:53 p.m. South Korea has reported 110 new cases of the coronavirus, half of them linked to a hospital in Busan.

The numbers released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday brought the national caseload to 24,988, including 439 deaths.

At least 54 infections were reported in a hospital for the elderly in the southern port city of Busan.

More than 40 others came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, tied to places including hospitals, churches, schools and offices.

The steady rise in infections is a cause of concern in a country that has just lowered its social distancing measures, allowing high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bars to reopen and spectators to return to professional sports.

Health officials are planning to test 160,000 employees at hospitals, nursing homes and welfare centres for senior citizens in Seoul and nearby areas as part of efforts to prevent outbreaks.

Click here for more of Wednesday’s coverage.

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