The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Sunday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
9:10 a.m. A little over a year from now, the TTC hopes to start work on a massive transit project beneath the heart of downtown Toronto.
The expansion of Bloor-Yonge station will cost an estimated $1.5 billion, take seven years to complete and require building a new subway platform, elevators, and escalators at an underground transit hub surrounded by dense commercial real estate, all while regular train service continues to operate.
Before the pandemic, the urgent need to expand Bloor-Yonge was evident to anyone who stood on its Line 1 subway platform on a weekday morning, when crowds of downtown commuters could grow dangerously large.
But during the pandemic, those crowds have thinned dramatically. With downtown office towers largely vacant and employers contemplating a shift to work-from-home, when commuters will return to the transit network and in what volume is anyone’s guess. With so much uncertainty, is it time to rethink expensive transit projects that were planned based on pre-pandemic travel patterns?
Read the full story by Toronto Star transportation reporter Ben Spurr: Will Toronto still need those transit megaprojects after COVID-19?
8:47 a.m.: Curiosity runs rampant in the class as I moderate a discussion. This is going well. Next up in the lesson I want to show a video.
But wait. The audio won’t work. Is it the Wi-Fi? Is it an application glitch? How do I fix this? There’s a minute of intense inner stress before my students set me straight: “Ms. Smith, you have to have the video in the same window as your Google Meet and present from there, not your separate screen.”
Read the full story by Claire Smith here: I landed my first job as a teacher during the pandemic. Some skills I developed in college are already obsolete
8:45 a.m.: Maryann Swain waves smoke from burning sage throughout the gym at the Gaagagekiizhik school, just as her grandmother taught her when they were being exposed to pathogens on their reserve. Today, in Ontario’s first Anishinaabe immersion school, the need to clear the room of negative energy is more urgent with the onset of COVID-19.
“People are really scared here,” says Swain, an elder from Grassy Narrows First Nation. “Our people have seen plagues before.”
It’s a long-held tradition among the Ojibwe to disperse the negative energy before the annual fall feast, and at Gaagagekiizhik, where she teaches Indigenous youth about their culture they are reminded of a new challenge to ensuring the survival of their way of life.
Read the full story by Ryan Moore: ‘Our people have seen plagues before.’ An Indigenous school in northern Ontario is facing the challenge of COVID
8:44 a.m.: Pope Francis is encouraging people to try to take away something good “even from the difficult situation that the pandemic forces on us.”
Addressing faithful gathered a safe distance apart in vast St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Francis offered these suggestions: “greater sobriety, discrete and respectful attention to neighbours who might be in need, some moments of prayer in the family with simplicity.”
Francis said that “these three things will help us a lot.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pontiff has often highlighted the economic and social suffering of many.
7:59 a.m.: French churches, mosques and synagogues can open their doors again to worshippers, but only a few of them, as France cautiously starts reopening after a second virus lockdown.
Some churches may defy the 30-person limit which they believe is too unreasonable, and other sites may stay closed until they can fully reopen.
Farid Kachour, secretary general of the association running the mosque of Montermeil, a heavily immigrant suburb northeast of Paris, says that his mosque simply wouldn’t open as long as there is a 30-person limit.
“We can’t choose people” allowed to enter for prayer. “We don’t want to create discontent among the faithful,” he said.
Kachour noted that Muslims pray five times a day and that the mosque would need 40 services a day to allow all the faithful to pray.
7:15 a.m.: Cambodian officials say a family of six and another man tested positive for the coronavirus in a rare case of local infection, and Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed concern that the woman believed to be the source had travelled extensively in the country, including the capital.
The 56-year-old woman’s husband works at the Interior Ministry in charge of prisons. Hun Sen, who himself just emerged from isolation after he was exposed to the infected Hungarian foreign minister, said his three Cabinet ministers will get tested and self-quarantine.
The Health Ministry said in a statement that the woman tested positive three days after becoming feverish. She had been travelling between Siam Reap and Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen also ordered the temporary shutdown of a mall in Phnom Penh, which the woman visited last week.
Cambodia has had 315 confirmed cases of the virus since the pandemic began, most of them acquired abroad.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Hong Kong has reported 115 new coronavirus infections, the first time it has seen cases in the triple digits since Aug. 2. The government on Sunday also announced that classes at kindergarten, primary and secondary schools will be shut for the rest of the year in light of the worsening coronavirus situation in the city. Of the 115 infections reported Sunday, 24 were untraceable. Another 62 were linked to recent outbreaks in dance studios across the city. Employees and recent guests at three restaurants in the city have also been ordered to undergo compulsory testing after multiple positive cases had been linked to the venues. Hong Kong has reported 6,239 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, with 109 deaths.
— South Korea is shutting down indoor gyms offering intense workout classes and banning year-end parties at hotels in the greater Seoul area to fight the virus. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Sunday authorities will also ban the operation of private music institutes teaching singing and wind instruments and saunas at public bath houses in the capital area. He said fitness centres, cafes and libraries operating inside apartment complexes will also be closed. The new steps will be effective from Tuesday. The country reported 450 new cases on Sunday.
— India has reported 41,180 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, with the daily toll staying below the 50,000-mark for the fourth week. New Delhi also got some respite as it added fewer than 5,000 cases for the first time in a month. The New Delhi government decided that half its employees, barring senior officials, will be allowed to work from home starting Monday. India reported another 496 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 136,696. India’s confirmed cases since the pandemic began are more than 9.3 million, second behind the U.S.
— A Chinese factory owned by South Korean semiconductor firm SK Hynix has halted operations after an employee was found to be infected with the coronavirus. According to state-owned Xinhua News Agency, the South Korean national worked in a plant in the southwestern city of Chongqing. He travelled to South Korea on Thursday. He displayed no symptoms, but was found to be infected with the virus when he was tested at Incheon airport in Seoul. The factory has been closed, and employees have been isolated and tested, Xinhua reported. The hotel where the employee lived in Chongqing has also been temporarily shut and hotel employees and recent guests were tracked down and tested. Chongqing has so far tested 3,283 people, and 2,674 have been found to be negative. China has so far reported a total of 86,512 confirmed coronavirus infections, with 4,634 deaths. China does not include asymptomatic cases in its tally.
7:11 a.m.: When Turkey changed the way it reports daily COVID-19 infections, it confirmed what medical groups and opposition parties have long suspected — that the country is faced with an alarming surge of cases that is fast exhausting the Turkish health system.
In an about-face, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government this week resumed reporting all positive coronavirus tests — not just the number of patients being treated for symptoms — pushing the number of daily cases to above 30,000. With the new data, the country jumped from being one of the least-affected countries in Europe to one of the worst-hit.
That came as no surprise to the Turkish Medical Association, which has been warning for months that the government’s previous figures were concealing the graveness of the spread and that the lack of transparency was contributing to the surge. The group maintains, however, that the ministry’s figures are still low compared with its estimate of at least 50,000 new infections per day.
No country can report exact numbers on the spread of the disease since many asymptomatic cases go undetected, but the previous way of counting made Turkey look relatively well-off in international comparisons, with daily new cases far below those reported in European countries including Italy, Britain and France.
That changed Wednesday as Turkey’s daily caseload almost quadrupled from about 7,400 to 28,300.
The country’s hospitals are overstretched, medical staff are burned out and contract tracers, who were once credited for keeping the outbreak under check, are struggling to track transmissions, Sebnem Korur Fincanci, who heads the association, told The Associated Press.
“It’s the perfect storm,” said Fincanci, whose group has come under attack from Erdogan and his nationalist allies for questioning the government’s figures and its response to the outbreak.
Even though the health minister has put the ICU bed occupancy rate at 70%, Ebru Kiraner, who heads the Istanbul-based Intensive Care Nurses’ Association, says intensive care unit beds in Istanbul’s hospitals are almost full, with doctors scrambling to find room for critically ill patients.
There is a shortage of nurses and the existing nursing staff is exhausted, she added.
“ICU nurses have not been able to return to their normal lives since March,” she told the AP. “Their children have not seen their mask-less faces in months.”
Erdogan said, however, there was “no problem” concerning the hospitals’ capacities. He blamed the surge on the public’s failure to wear masks, which is mandatory, and to abide by social distancing rules.
Demonstrating the seriousness of the outbreak, Turkey last month suspended leave for health care workers and temporarily banned resignations and early retirements during the pandemic. Similar bans were also put in place for three months in March.
The official daily COVID-19 deaths have also steadily risen to record numbers, reaching 13,373 on Saturday with 182 new deaths, in a reversal of fortune for the country that had been praised for managing to keep fatalities low. But those record numbers remain disputed too.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said 186 people had died of infectious diseases in the city on Nov. 22 — a day on which the government announced just 139 COVID-19 deaths for the whole of the country. The mayor also said around 450 burials are taking place daily in the city of 15 million compared with the average 180-200 recorded in November the previous year.
“We can only beat the outbreak through a process that is transparent,” said Imamoglu, who is from Turkey’s main opposition party. “Russia and Germany have announced a high death toll. Did Germany lose its shine? Did Russia collapse?”
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has rejected Imamoglu’s claims, saying: “I want to underline that all of the figures I am providing are accurate.”
Last week, Erdogan announced a series of restrictions in a bid to contain the contagion without impacting the already weakened economy or business activity. Opposition parties denounced them as “half-baked.” He introduced curfews for the first time since June, but limited them to weekend evenings, closed down restaurants and cafes except for takeout services and restricted the opening hours of malls, shops and hairdressers.
Both Fincanci and Kiraner said the measures don’t go far enough to contain transmissions.
“We need a total lockdown of at least two weeks, if not four weeks which science considers to be the most ideal amount,” Fincanci said.
Koca has said that the number of seriously ill patients and fatalities is on the rise and said some cities including Istanbul and Izmir are experiencing their “third peak.” Turkey would wait, however, for two weeks to see the results of the weekend curfews and other restrictions before considering stricter lockdowns, he said.
Meanwhile, the country has reached an agreement to receive 50 million doses of the vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company SinoVac and hopes to begin administering it to medical staff and the chronically ill next month. It is also in talks to purchase the vaccine developed by Pfizer in co-operation with the BioNTech pharmaceutical company. A Turkish-developed vaccine is scheduled to be ready to use in April.
Erdogan said he had also spoken with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, over the possibility of procuring a vaccine developed by that country.
7:00 a.m.: The federal government is laying plans for the procurement and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, inking contracts with seven potential manufacturers and saying six million doses could arrive in the country in the first quarter of 2021. The most recent development from Ottawa came Friday when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped former NATO commander Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin to lead the national distribution effort. But various provinces have started spelling out their plans as well. Here’s a look at what they’ve said so far:
Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health says he will release a detailed plan for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine once Ottawa shares more information.
Dr. Robert Strang said Friday there is no certainty yet about the availability of a vaccine, but expressed hopes an initial supply will trickle into Nova Scotia early in the new year.
Strang said a detailed provincial plan, to be released once the federal government has shared more specifics on its end, will include tight control of the supply and clear rules dictating who can be first in line for immunization.
He said he’s waiting for more federal guidance on issues ranging from priority groups to transportation and storage logistics.
Quebec will be ready to start rolling out its vaccine plan as of Jan. 1, say senior politicians.
Premier Francois Legault said Thursday that public health officials have already settled on the list of priority vaccine recipients, but did not release details.
Legault said the province is also working to put the necessary infrastructure in place to support a vaccine rollout. That includes obtaining fridges capable of maintaining the extremely low temperatures needed by one of the most promising potential vaccine options, currently in development through pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
Quebec has also tasked assistant deputy health minister Jerome Gagnon
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is among those leaders calling on Ottawa to provide more clarity as officials scramble to develop a provincewide vaccination strategy.
Early speculation on the number of doses the province could receive was put to rest earlier this week when federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said such details were still in the works.
But Ford has forged ahead, naming former chief of national defence Gen. Rick Hillier to oversee the province’s vaccine rollout.
Hillier said on Friday he hopes to have a plan developed by year’s end, while Ford urged Ottawa to provide detailed information on potential vaccine delivery.
“We need a clear line of sight into the timelines of the shipments,” Ford said.
Alberta’s top medical official has said she expects to receive 680,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine early in the new year, a figure not yet confirmed by the federal government.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw has also said a number of hurdles and unknowns remain as the province works to devise its vaccination scheme.
“These (vaccine) numbers, of course, depend on many factors,” Hinshaw said on Nov. 18. “They depend on the final pieces of the trials that are underway going well. They depend on ensuring that the safety and the effectiveness of the early vaccines can be assured. All of those checks and balances must be cleared.”
On Friday, Hinshaw said the province is working with Ottawa to get vaccine, but it is “a bit of a moving target” on when vaccines might be available.
“But our goal is that whenever vaccine is available, we will be ready to start immunizing individuals on that highest priority list.”
Provincial health officials in B.C. announced on Wednesday that a vaccine strategy for the province is already in the works.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s top doctor, said Dr. Ross Brown of Vancouver Coastal Health will join the group working to organize the logistics around the distribution of vaccines.
Henry said front-line workers as well as those in long-term care homes will likely have priority for vaccinations.
She cautioned that while the province has contracts with vaccine makers, there can be challenges with offshore manufacturing.
“It’s very much focused on who is most at risk and how do we protect them best,” Henry said. “There’s a lot of discussion that needs to happen.”
Henry said the province hopes to have vaccines in hand by January.
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver told the legislature on Wednesday that the territory has been in discussions with various levels of government on a vaccine rollout plan.
He said the goal will be to provide vaccines to elderly people and health-care providers.
Silver said rural and remote communities should also get priority status in northern regions, a fact he said he’s emphasized with federal authorities.
The premier said he has joined the other provincial and territorial leaders in pushing for a national strategy to distribute the vaccine.
“How confusing would it be for 13 different strategies right across the nation?” he said.
Silver said the Pfizer vaccine could cause logistical problems for remote communities because of its cold-storage requirements, but those issues may not apply to other vaccines under development.
4:00 a.m.: The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4:00 a.m. EST on Nov. 29, 2020:
There are 364,798 confirmed cases in Canada.
_ Quebec: 139,643 confirmed (including 7,021 deaths, 120,906 resolved)
_ Ontario: 113,038 confirmed (including 3,624 deaths, 95,876 resolved)
_ Alberta: 54,836 confirmed (including 524 deaths, 39,381 resolved)
_ British Columbia: 30,884 confirmed (including 395 deaths, 21,304 resolved)
_ Manitoba: 16,118 confirmed (including 290 deaths, 6,804 resolved)
_ Saskatchewan: 7,888 confirmed (including 45 deaths, 4,521 resolved)
_ Nova Scotia: 1,271 confirmed (including 65 deaths, 1,078 resolved)
_ New Brunswick: 481 confirmed (including 7 deaths, 363 resolved)
_ Newfoundland and Labrador: 333 confirmed (including 4 deaths, 297 resolved)
_ Nunavut: 164 confirmed (including 33 resolved)
_ Prince Edward Island: 72 confirmed (including 68 resolved)
_ Yukon: 42 confirmed (including 1 death, 29 resolved)
_ Northwest Territories: 15 confirmed (including 15 resolved)
_ Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed (including 13 resolved)
_ Total: 364,798 (0 presumptive, 364,798 confirmed including 11,976 deaths, 290,688 resolved)
Read Saturday’s developments here.