KEY FACTS

1:30 p.m.: On Christmas Eve, California became the first state in the U.S. to exceed 2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases

11:30 a.m: Public Health Agency of Canada ‘actively monitoring’ new variants of COVID-19 seen in U.K. and South Africa

2 a.m.: President Donald Trump throws $900 billion COVID relief and government funding bill into chaos

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

8:00 p.m.: French health authorities have confirmed the country’s first case of the virus variant that prompted strict new lockdown measures in Britain and global travel restrictions.

A French man living in England arrived in France on Dec. 19 and tested positive for the new variant Friday, the French public health agency said in a statement. He had no symptoms and was isolating in his home in the central city of Tours.

Authorities were tracing the person’s contacts and laboratories were analyzing tests from several other people who may have the new variant, the statement said.

Some other European countries have also reported cases of the new variant, which British authorities said appears more contagious and was spreading fast. The British announcement Dec. 19 prompted countries around the world to suspend flights from the U.K., and France banned all passengers and cargo from Britain for two days, causing massive traffic problems around the British port of Dover.

France reopened the border but now requires anyone entering from Britain to have a test showing they do not have the new variant.

A second partial lockdown sharply curbed France’s infections, but they have been again on the rise over the past two weeks. France has among the world’s highest virus death tolls.

7:00 p.m.: Coronavirus hospitalizations in Arkansas hovered near their recent record high Friday, even amid holiday gatherings and travel that health officials have warned are likely to further spread the virus.

State health officials reported there were 1,062 Arkansas residents hospitalized with COVID-19 on Christmas, a drop of 31 from the day before. The state record was set Wednesday, when there were 1,110 patients hospitalized with the disease.

The Arkansas Department of Health on Friday reported 2,122 newly confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus, as well as 32 additional deaths linked to COVID-19.

The actual number of coronavirus cases is believed to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested and some who get the disease don’t show symptoms.

Over the last seven days, more than 18% of coronavirus tests in Arkansas have come back positive, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness and be fatal.

5:15 p.m.: Coronavirus hospitalizations in Texas on Friday approached a peak hit as the pandemic surged over the summer, even amid holiday gatherings and travel that health officials have warned are likely to further spread the virus.

The state health department reported there were 10,868 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state on Christmas, fewer than 30 people behind the record high set in July. Intensive care units in several parts of Texas were full or nearly full, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services

Texas on Friday reported 200 more death from COVID-19. There were 3,123 newly confirmed cases of the virus and another 973 probable cases, according to the health department.

The actual number of coronavirus cases is believed to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested and some who get the disease don’t show symptoms.

Over the past week, more than 16 per cent of coronavirus tests in Texas have come back positive, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness and be fatal.

3:00 p.m.: The Vancouver Coastal Health authority says a COVID-19 outbreak has been declared on a unit at a Vancouver hospital.

Patients on T12A, a respiratory unit at Vancouver General Hospital, tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the hospital and health authority to close it.

The health authority says no new admissions and transfers will be allowed at this time.

The hospital remains open, with the outbreak having a limited impact.

The health authority says the outbreak will not impact the care of patients with respiratory diseases, including transplant patients or others that require specialized care.

Vancouver Coastal Health says it is in the process of notifying patients on the unit, as well as their families.

1:30 p.m.: California’s deadly Christmas was marked by pleas to avoid holiday gatherings outside the home and indoor church services in an effort to curb a coronavirus surge that already has filled some hospitals well beyond normal capacity.

Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have mounted exponentially in recent weeks and are breaking new records. On Christmas Eve, California became the first state in the nation to exceed 2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The first coronavirus case in California was confirmed Jan. 25. It took 292 days to get to 1 million infections on Nov. 11. Just 44 days later, the number topped 2 million.

The crisis is straining the state’s medical system well beyond its normal capacity, prompting hospitals to treat patients in tents, offices and auditoriums.

11:40 a.m.: New Brunswick is reporting one new case of COVID-19 today.

Public health officials say the case involves a person in their 40s in the Saint John region.

The newest case is travel-related and is currently in self-isolation.

The province’s active case count now sits at 43. Nearly 150-thousand tests have been conducted since the pandemic began.

11:30 a.m.: The Public Health Agency of Canada says there is still no evidence that new variants of COVID-19 identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa are in Canada.

However, Dr. Theresa Tam said in the statement released Thursday afternoon that the government continues to analyze genomic databases and is “actively monitoring” the new variants.

“We continue to advise against non-essential travel to other countries and are advising extra caution if you must travel to the United Kingdom or South Africa,” Tam said.

While Tam said she was hopeful, with the approval of a second COVID-19 vaccine for use in Canada, she called on Canadians to continue following public health recommendations.

In Quebec, a province-wide lockdown went into effect Friday, with businesses deemed non-essential ordered to remain closed until at least Jan. 11. Similar restrictions come into effect in Ontario on Saturday.

As of yesterday afternoon, federal public heath authorities said there were more than 75,000 active cases of COVID-19 across Canada and that an average of 3,392 people with COVID-19 were in hospitals across the country during the seven-day period ending Dec. 23. An average of 114 deaths associated with the virus were reported each day during that same period.

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10:40 a.m.: Scientists are eyeing a potential culprit causing the allergic reactions to the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE COVID-19 vaccine: the compound polyethylene glycol, also known as PEG.

Six severe allergic reactions to the vaccine have been reported in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, out of 272,001 doses administered through Dec. 19.

At least two cases of anaphylaxis have also occurred in the U.K. People in the U.S. began receiving Moderna Inc.’s vaccine Monday, and no allergic reactions to it have been reported so far.

Scientists are homing in on PEG as a potential suspect even as health authorities say they are still investigating the incidents and plan to study the issue further. The compound is found in other drugs and is known to trigger anaphylaxis on rare occasions.

9:35 a.m.: South Africa’s normally joyful and lively Christmas celebrations have been dampened by the spike in new cases and deaths driven by the country’s variant of COVID-19.

A record number of 14,305 news cases have been confirmed in the past 24 hours, and with no sign of South Africa reaching a peak, threatening the country’s health systems, experts said.

South Africa has a cumulative total of 968,563 confirmed cases, including 25,983 deaths, by far the most cases in all of Africa. Africa’s 54 countries, representing 1.3 billion people, have together reported more than 2.59 million cases, including more than 61,000 deaths, according to figures released Friday by the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The South African variant, 501.V2, is more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus and is dominant in the country.

7:45 a.m.: Pope Francis made a Christmas Day plea for authorities to make COVID-19 vaccines available to all, insisting that the first in line should be the most vulnerable and needy, regardless of who holds the patents for the shots.

“Vaccines for everybody, especially for the most vulnerable and needy,” who should be first in line, Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks from his prepared text, calling the development of such vaccines “light of hope” for the world.

Amid a surge of coronavirus infections this fall in Italy, Francis broke with tradition for Christmas. Instead of delivering his “Urbi et Orbi” speech — Latin for “to the city and to the world” — from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Square, he read it from inside a cavernous hall at the Apostolic Palace, flanked by two Christmas trees with blinking lights.

7:30 a.m.: South Korea has reported its largest daily increase in coronavirus infections on Christmas Day, as the prime minister pleaded for vigilance to arrest a viral surge that has worsened hospitalization and deaths.

The 1,241 new cases confirmed by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Friday brought the country’s caseload to 54,770. Seventeen COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 773.

More than 870 of the new cases were from the greater capital area, home to half of the country’s 51 million population, where more than 500 infections have been linked to a huge prison in Seoul. Clusters have been popping up from just about everywhere in recent weeks, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, churches, restaurants and army units.

7 a.m.: Around 1,000 British soldiers were spending Christmas Day trying to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers stuck in southeast England after France briefly closed its border to the U.K. then demanded coronavirus tests from all amid fears of a new, apparently more contagious, virus variant.

Even as 4,000 international truck drivers spent yet another day cooped up in their cabs, some progress was evident Friday, with traffic around the English Channel port of Dover moving in an orderly fashion towards the extra ferries that were put on to make the short crossing across to Calais in northern France.

Officials from Britain’s Department for Transport said all but three of the 2,367 coronavirus tests conducted so far have been negative.

5 a.m.: the Toronto Star asked you readers to send photos of your favourite holiday memories.

The Star’s visuals team turned your images into a video, scored by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker.

Watch the video — and consider donating to the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund — here.

3:22 a.m.: The United States will require airline passengers from Britain to get a negative COVID-19 test before their flight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late Thursday.

The U.S. is the latest country to announce new travel restrictions because of a new variant of the coronavirus that is spreading in Britain and elsewhere.

Airline passengers from the United Kingdom will need to get negative COVID-19 tests within three days of their trip and provide the results to the airline, the CDC said in a statement. The agency said the order will be signed Friday and go into effect on Monday.

2 a.m.: President Donald Trump’s sudden demand for $2,000 checks for most Americans was swiftly rejected by House Republicans as his haphazard actions have thrown a massive COVID relief and government funding bill into chaos.

The rare Christmas Eve session of the House lasted just minutes, with help for millions of Americans awaiting Trump’s signature on the bill. Unemployment benefits, eviction protections and other emergency aid, including smaller $600 checks, are at risk. Trump’s refusal of the $900 billion package, which is linked to $1.4 trillion government funds bill, could spark a federal shutdown at midnight Monday.

The optics appear terrible for Republicans, and the outgoing president, as the nation suffers through the worst holiday season many can remember. Families are isolated under COVID precautions and millions of American households are devastated without adequate income, food or shelter. The virus death toll of 327,000-plus is rising.

Previously: In the past 10 days, 33 residents at Tendercare Living Centre in Scarborough have died of COVID-19 and infections among residents have swelled from just a handful less than two weeks ago to 164 infected out of 188 residents, while 56 staff have also been infected.

On Thursday alone, 20 more residents became infected with the virus. More than 90 per cent of residents in Tendercare now have COVID-19.

Read the full story by Star reporter Michele Henry here: Families struggle as deadly COVID-19 outbreak overruns long-term-care home in Scarborough



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