KEY FACTS

6:03 a.m.: New virus variant appears to emerge in Nigeria

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.

6:12 a.m.: Working from home due to COVID-19? Here’s how to make the most of tax season. A tax expert answers your questions about claiming work-from-home expenses this tax season.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba here.

6:10 a.m.: In yearly visits to Sick Kids Hospital, Santa has cradled newborns in his arms, cuddled dying children and witnessed first Christmases and last Christmases.

He has brought joy to the bedsides of young critically ill patients who are enduring long hospital stays, and put smiles on the faces of parents standing vigil at their bedsides.

But this year, because of the pandemic, Christmas will be celebrated with a twist.

Children who have to spend the holiday at Sick Kids will still get a visit from Santa, but this time, it will be done virtually.

Read the full story from the Star’s Nadine Yousif here.

6:08 a.m.: Mexico now has more people hospitalized for COVID-19 than it saw at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in late July.

The Health Department says 18,301 people are in hospitals across Mexico being treated for the disease that can be caused by the coronavirus. That is 0.4% more than in July.

Mexico City is the epicentre of the current wave of infections and 85% of its hospital beds are in use.

The state of Morelos, just south of the capital, became the fourth of Mexico’s 32 states to declare a “red” alert, which will lead to a partial lockdown and the closure of non-essential businesses starting Thursday.

Medical personnel will be first in line Thursday when vaccinations with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine begin Thursday in Mexico City.

6:07 a.m.: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has reported 888 newly confirmed coronavirus cases as of Thursday, an all time daily high. The previous highest number of newly confirmed cases was 821.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike reiterated calls for residents to stay home unless absolutely necessary, wear masks, wash hands often and avoid crowds. She noted a growing number of people were becoming infected in their homes or in offices.

The city government has urged Japanese to wear masks even inside their own homes and to open windows once every two hours to improve ventilation.

Authorities are especially concerned about an increase in severe COVID-19 cases, especially among older Japanese, which is straining medical facilities. Japan has the world’s oldest population.

6:07 a.m.: Ukraine’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 1 million on Thursday.

Ukrainian health officials reported 11,490 new infections Thursday, which brought the country’s total to 1,001,132. Ukraine has also reported 17,395 deaths in the pandemic.

The rapid rise in virus cases in Ukraine has started in September and put a strain on the country’s health care system.

In a bid to curb the spread of contagions, Ukrainian authorities decided to impose tight lockdown restrictions in January. Restaurants, bars, malls, gyms, theatres, cinemas and other non-essential businesses will be closed between Jan. 8 and Jan. 24.

Mass public events will be banned, and schools and other educational facilities — with the exception of daycare centres — will be on vacation. Only grocery shops, pharmacies, banks, post offices, hotels and public transport will operate during this period of time.

6:07 a.m.: China will suspend flights to and from the UK, joining a growing list of countries who have instituted travel bans, in light of a new variant of the coronavirus, its Foreign Ministry announced Thursday.

It did not offer details on when flights would stop. On Tuesday, the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre in London said it will suspend its operation until further notice.

Non-Chinese passport holders from the UK were already banned from travelling to China in November.

6:06 a.m.: Russian authorities reported 29,935 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest daily spike in the pandemic.

This is nearly 2,700 infections more than was registered the previous day. Russia’s total of over 2.9 million remains the fourth largest coronavirus caseload in the world. The government’s coronavirus task force has also registered more than 53,000 deaths in all.

Russia has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. The country’s authorities have resisted imposing a second nationwide lockdown or a widespread closure of businesses.

Earlier this month, mass vaccination against COVID-19 started in Russia with Sputnik V — a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine that is still undergoing advanced studies among tens of thousands of people needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Russia has been widely criticized for giving Sputnik V regulatory approval in August after it had only been tested on a few dozen people.

6:05 a.m.: Threatening to tank Congress’ massive COVID relief and government funding package, President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger aid checks for Americans is forcing Republicans traditionally wary of such spending into an uncomfortable test of allegiance.

On Thursday, House Democrats who also favour $2,000 checks will all but dare Republicans to break with Trump, calling up his proposal for a Christmas Eve vote. The president’s last-minute objection could derail critical legislation amid a raging pandemic and deep economic uncertainty. His attacks risk a federal government shutdown by early next week.

“Just when you think you have seen it all,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote Wednesday in a letter to colleagues.

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“The entire country knows that it is urgent for the President to sign this bill, both to provide the coronavirus relief and to keep government open.”

Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have resisted $2,000 checks as too costly. House Republicans are expected to block the vote, but Democrats may try again Monday.

The president’s last-minute objections are setting up a defining showdown with his own Republican Party in his final days in office.

6:04 a.m.: The way has been cleared for U.S. biotech firm Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to start arriving in the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed news of Health Canada’s approval of the vaccine on Wednesday as he also announced that more doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine will arrive next month than was previously expected.

Between the early doses already in the country, and the shipments now scheduled, Canada should have at least 1.2 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna delivered by Jan. 31, Trudeau said.

Trudeau warned a long road lies ahead until enough doses arrive from the two companies next year to vaccinate 30 million people.

The prime minister also issued a final plea before Christmas for Canadians to avoid attending or hosting large gatherings to prevent a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Our country has been through difficult Christmases before. There have been times when our grandparents or parents couldn’t be with family or had to put traditions on hold,” said Trudeau.

“Well this Christmas, it’s our turn. It’s up to us to protect each other. It’s up to us to pull together to hold on and to know however dark the winter may be, spring is coming and better days will be back.”

6:03 a.m.: Another new variant of the coronavirus appears to have emerged in Nigeria, Africa’s top public health official said Thursday, but he added that further investigation was needed.

The discovery could add to new alarm in the pandemic after similar variants were announced in Britain and South Africa, leading to the swift return of international travel restrictions and other measures just as the world enters a major holiday season.

“It’s a separate lineage from the UK and South Africa,” the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters. He said the Nigeria CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in that country — Africa’s most populous — will be analyzing more samples.

“Give us some time … it’s still very early,” he said.

The alert about the apparent new variant was based on two or three genetic sequences, he said, but that and South Africa’s alert late last week were enough to prompt an emergency meeting of the Africa CDC this week.

The variant was found in two patient samples collected on Aug. 3 and on Oct. 9 in Nigeria’s Osun state, according to a working research paper seen by The Associated Press.

6:02 a.m.: On a small island in British Columbia’s Fraser River is a campsite packed with Canadian snowbirds who found refuge when the border with the United States was shut because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike other years, all 118 full-service sites at Fort Camping in Langley are occupied, said Marilyn Stone, the manager of guest services at the campsite.

It started in March, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians around the world to come home, Stone said.

Travellers from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C. came to quarantine and before they left for the summer, they booked for the winter, she said.

Read the full story from the Canadian Press.

6 a.m.: Advocates say inmates should have speedy access to the COVID-19 vaccine, given how susceptible prisons and jails have been to outbreaks and how prevalent chronic disease is in that population.

“I don’t think they should go to the front of the line, but I certainly don’t think they should be denied their rightful place in the priority line simply because they’re prisoners,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada.

The Correctional Service of Canada said that, as of Monday, there were a total of 201 active COVID-19 cases in federal prisons. The bulk were at Joyceville Institution near Kingston, Ont., Stony Mountain Institution near Winnipeg and the Saskatchewan Penitentiary near Prince Albert.

There have also been several outbreaks in provincially run jails.

Read the full story from the Canadian Press



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