The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
8:54 p.m.: The head of the World Health Organization said China’s extreme approach to containing the coronavirus is unsustainable because of the highly infectious nature of the omicron variant, but that it’s up to every country to decide what policy to pursue.
At a media briefing on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described China’s “zero-COVID” strategy as “not sustainable” after similar remarks last week drew sharp criticism from China.
“We know the virus better and we have better tools, including vaccines, so that’s why the handling of the virus should actually be different from what we used to do at the start of the pandemic,” Tedros said. He added that the virus had changed significantly since it was first identified in Wuhan in late 2019, when China largely stopped its spread with lockdowns.
Tedros said the WHO had repeatedly advised Chinese officials about their recommended COVID containment strategies, but that “regarding their choice of policies, it is up to every country to make that choice.”
The ruthless and often chaotic implementation of zero-COVID in China has stirred considerable resentment and food shortages in Shanghai, where some residents have been under lockdown for six weeks.
WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said the agency recognized that China had faced a difficult situation with COVID-19 recently and commended authorities for keeping the number of deaths to a very low level.
8:26 p.m.: Beijing’s Covid-19 cases rose Tuesday as the capital continues to tighten restrictions to control the outbreak.
The capital reported 69 new cases for Tuesday, up from 52 on Monday. Yesterday, city officials said the Fengtai district will lock down some areas for the next seven days after new clusters flared, amplifying the risk of community spread.
In Shanghai, which is slowly starting to emerge from a six-week lockdown, cases rose slightly to 855 on Tuesday from 823 on Monday. No infections were found outside of government quarantine, after the city yesterday reported a third consecutive day of zero cases in the community, a crucial milestone that authorities had said will allow them to unwind the strict curbs that hampered economic activity and curtailed almost every aspect of daily life for residents.
However, many restrictions remain in place in the city. Residents must produce a pass to exit their compounds and can only leave by bike or on foot. The passes are distributed to each apartment by residential committees, allowing one person per family to leave during appointed hours for grocery errands. According to passes seen by Bloomberg News, most compounds will allow residents to leave twice in the next four days, for a maximum of four hours at a time.
Outbreaks are also appearing in other cities. In Sichuan province, a flareup is ballooning in the city of Guang’an, which has seen more than 400 infections in about a week. A new outbreak has also emerged in the northern port city of Tianjin, likely set off by an infection from a worker at a cold storage facility, state broadcaster CCTV reported Tuesday. The city of nearly 14 million people detected 28 infections during a mass testing drive, after an earlier outbreak in January caused disruptions for global carmakers Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG.
8:18 p.m.: If you are traveling internationally or within the U.S. this summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you test for COVID-19 in the days before flying.
The agency’s recommendation for all travelers regardless of vaccination status came in an update to its COVID-19 testing website on May 16.
“Consider getting tested as close to the time of departure as possible (no more than 3 days) before your trip” when heading to any destination, the CDC said.
Before the update, the CDC’s recommendation did not include domestic travelers considered up-to-date on their vaccines, according to CNN.
The agency still recommends wearing masks when using public transportation, but doing so is no longer enforced as of April 18.
Here’s what you should know ahead of the “busy summer travel season,” which begins in late May and lasts for three months, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
In the U.S., COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, according to the CDC.
7:52 p.m.: North Korea on Wednesday reported 232,880 new cases of fever and another six deaths as leader Kim Jong Un accused officials of “immaturity” and “slackness” in handling the escalating COVID-19 outbreak ravaging across the unvaccinated nation.
The country’s anti-virus headquarters said 62 people have died and more than 1.7 million have fallen ill amid a rapid spread of fever since late April. It said more than a million people recovered but at least 691,170 remain in quarantine.
Outside experts say most of the illnesses would be COVID-19, although North Korea has been able to confirm only a small number of COVID-19 cases since acknowledging an omicron outbreak last week, likely because of insufficient testing capabilities.
A failure to control the outbreak could have dire consequences in North Korea, considering its broken health care system and its rejection of internationally offered vaccines that has left a population of 26 million unimmunized.
The outbreak is almost certainly greater than the fever tally, considering the lack of tests and resources to monitor the sick, and there’s also suspicion that North Korea is underreporting deaths to soften the blow for Kim, who already was navigating the toughest moment of his decade in power. The pandemic has further damaged an economy already broken by mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons and missiles development.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim during a ruling party Politburo meeting on Tuesday criticized officials over their early pandemic response, which he said underscored “immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis” and blamed the vulnerability on their “non-positive attitude, slackness and non-activity.”
7:18 p.m.: Mayor Eric Adams upgraded New York City’s COVID-19 alert status to high on Tuesday due to a surge in people testing positive and being hospitalized for the virus.
The change in status from a medium risk alert to high risk comes as coronavirus hospital admissions have increased steadily over the past two months and as more and more New Yorkers are becoming ill.
“Now is the time to double down on protecting ourselves and each other by making choices that can keep our friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers from getting sick,” the city’s Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a written statement Tuesday.
“As a city, we have the tools to blunt the impact of this wave, including distributing tests, masks and promoting treatments. Getting back to Low Risk depends on everyone doing their part, and if we follow guidance, our forecasts anticipate this wave’s peak will not last long. What we do now can make all the difference.”
Health officials have recommended New Yorkers mask up when indoors, but the status upgrade does not come with any new mandates.
The upgrade was triggered by two things, according to Health Department spokesman Patrick Gallahue.
One is that the number of hospital admissions per 100,000 New York City residents now stands at 10.2 — slightly higher than the 10 per 100,000 threshold set by the city.
The other trigger is the recent upswing in the number of people testing positive for the virus. As of Tuesday, that number stood at 308.51 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days. The total number of new cases citywide is 3,472, according to the latest city data. That’s nearly 3,000 cases more than what the city recorded in early March, when the number was 689.
6:14 p.m.: Conservative party leadership candidate Roman Baber said Tuesday that if he became prime minister, he’d fire Canada’s chief public health officer over her management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His pledge comes as he trumpeted an endorsement from one of the leaders of this year’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” — a former RCMP officer who broke ranks with the Mounties over COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
Baber was the MPP for York Centre who sat as an Independent in the Ontario legislature after being ejected from the Progressive Conservative caucus over his public criticism of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns.
He turned the notoriety from that fight into the donations and signatures required to get on the ballot for the federal Conservative leadership race.
Although Baber has sought to broaden his leadership campaign beyond pandemic messaging, he is racing against the clock to galvanize even more support as the June 3 deadline looms for candidates to sign up new party members.
Click here to read more of this story by Stephanie Levitz.
6:03 p.m.: Since their debut just 18 months ago, three COVID-19 vaccines have saved an estimated 2.2 million American lives, changed the trajectory of a pandemic and inspired all manner of conspiracy theories.
Two of those shots prompt a recipient’s own cells to manufacture a key piece of the coronavirus by following instructions encoded in messenger RNA, or mRNA for short. The vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna have revolutionized our approach to immunizations, and they’ve done so with blinding speed.
That’s left many people yearning for something a bit more old-school.
A COVID-19 vaccine from Novavax could fit that bill. In a world of newfangled ideas about training the immune system to spot and defend against an invading virus, the Novavax vaccine does it the old-fashioned way: by introducing an exact replica of the coronavirus spike protein into the bloodstream to show the immune system what the invader looks like.
Add in an “adjuvant” — an immune-boosting substance made from the purified bark of a South American tree — and, voilà! You’ve got the type of vaccine Americans have been taking for years to protect against familiar scourges like influenza and shingles.
Yes, there are nanoparticles and synthetic “recombinant proteins” involved. Legions of precisely uniform spike particles are manufactured not inside chicken eggs but in the cells of the Army caterpillar. These are hallmarks of a 21st century vaccine, one that was developed and tested under the aegis of Operation Warp Speed.
But Novavax touts its technology as a “well-known and established platform” for building vaccines. It expects its product known as NVX-CoV2373 to be embraced by Americans who are still suspicious of the mRNA mainstays, or are disinclined to turn to them as boosters.
3:10 p.m.: Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting one new death in the last week due to COVID-19.
The death involved a person between 60 and 79 years old and brings the total number of deaths on the Island since the start of the pandemic to 33.
New data released today indicates a total of 22 patients are in hospital with a COVID-19 infection, although there are none currently in intensive care.
It shows there were 792 new cases identified over the seven-day period, a drop of 107 cases from the week before.
The Island has a total of 1,139 reported active cases of novel coronavirus.
Officials say there are outbreaks at two hospitals and 10 long-term care facilities.
2:20 p.m.: New Brunswick is reporting five more deaths attributed to COVID-19 since its last report.
The latest figures bring the total number of deaths in the province to 411 since the beginning of the pandemic.
New data covering the period between May 8-14 indicates there are 35 hospitalizations due to the novel coronavirus — down 12 patients since the last report.
The number of patients in intensive care has dropped to four from six.
Officials say 1,004 new cases were confirmed by PCR testing during the seven-day period.
The province reported an average of 143 new cases per day.
2:19 p.m.: At least 1 million people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19, according to one tally, almost 2 1/2 years into a pandemic that continues to kill hundreds of Americans every day.
The death total was marked by Johns Hopkins University, one of several organizations tracking pandemic data. The actual number of dead is almost certainly already higher, since it can take days or weeks for some Covid-19 statistics to filter in. And it doesn’t account for deaths indirectly linked to the pandemic, such as the strain put on hospital systems by the outbreak that may have caused other fatalities.
Almost 300 Americans are currently dying of Covid-19 each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, far less than during the worst of the pandemic. In January of 2021, before the widespread deployment of vaccines, average daily deaths peaked at 3,400. And during the omicron wave that started in late winter of 2021 and extended into this year, daily deaths were about 2,700.
Since then, the U.S. has dropped many public health restrictions, such as requiring face masks on airlines and other forms of transit — though a rise in cases and hospitalizations in places such as New York may lead to back-tracking on those policies. The country has also grappled with how to measure the pandemic and how to judge Covid risk at a time when many people are vaccinated or have been previously infected with SARS-CoV-2.
About 15 million deaths have been attributed to the pandemic across the globe, according to an estimate released May 5 by the World Health Organization that looked at fatalities brought about directly by the virus as well as secondary causes. Among countries hit hardest by the pandemic, the U.S. has one of the worst per-capita death rates, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins.
11:30 a.m. Ontario is reporting 165 people in ICU due to COVID-19 and 1,345 in hospital overall testing positive for COVID-19, according to its latest report released Tuesday morning.
Of the people hospitalized, 38.5 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 61.5 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive. For the ICU numbers, 66.4 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 33.6 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive.
The numbers represent a 3.7 per cent increase in the ICU COVID-19 count and a 19.8 per cent increase in hospitalizations overall. 26 per cent of the province’s 2,343 adult ICU beds remain available for new patients.
Given new provincial regulations around testing that took effect Dec. 31, 2021, case counts — reported at 1,028 on Tuesday, down 3.1 per cent from the previous day — are also not considered an accurate assessment of how widespread COVID-19 is right now. 11 new deaths were reported in the latest numbers.
Read the full story from the Star’s Dorcas Marfo here.
12:55 p.m.: International arrivals at Canadian airports are so backed up, people are being kept on planes for over an hour after they land because there isn’t physically enough space to hold the lineups of travellers, says the Canadian Airports Council.
The council blames COVID-19 protocols and has called on the federal government to do away with random tests and public health questions at customs to ease the serious delays passengers face when they arrive in Canada.
The extra steps mean it takes four times longer to process people as they arrive than it did before the pandemic, said the council’s interim president Monette Pasher. That was fine when people weren’t travelling, but now it’s become a serious problem.
“We’re seeing that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we get back to regular travel,” she said.
The situation is particularly bad at Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, where passengers on 120 flights were held in their planes Sunday waiting for their turn to get in line for customs.
Sometimes the wait is 20 minutes, other times it’s over an hour, Pasher said.
Airports are simply not designed for customs to be such a lengthy process, she said, and the space is not available to accommodate people. The airport is also not the right place for COVID-19 tests, she said, especially since tests are rarely required in the community.
“Getting back to regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two can’t coexist without a significant pressure and strain on our system,” Pasher said.
The health and transportation ministers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Public health measures have scaled up and down over the course of the pandemic as waves of the virus have come and gone. Right now, they are the least restrictive they have been in months, with vaccinated travellers tested only on a random basis.
Still, the requirements are out of step with peer countries, said Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman. She said she wants to know why the Canadian government is acting on advice that is different to that of other countries.
11:15 a.m. Quebec is reporting 14 more deaths linked to COVID-19 and a 23-patient jump in the number of hospitalizations associated with the disease.
The Health Department says 1,634 people are in hospital with COVID-19 after 105 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 82 were discharged.
It says 54 people are in intensive care, an increase of three from the day before.
The province is reporting 625 new cases of the disease confirmed through PCR testing, with 6.4 per cent of tests analyzed Monday coming back positive.
An additional 189 positive results from take-home rapid tests were uploaded to a government portal.
Health officials say 8,889 doses of vaccine were administered in the past 24 hours, including 7,355 fourth doses.
10:50 a.m. U.S. regulators on Tuesday authorized a COVID-19 booster shot for healthy 5- to 11-year-olds, hoping an extra vaccine dose will enhance their protection as infections once again creep upward.
Everyone 12 and older already was supposed to get one booster dose for the best protection against the newest coronavirus variants — and some people, including those 50 and older, can choose a second booster.
The Food and Drug Administration’s authorization now opens a third shot to elementary-age kids, too — at least five months after their last dose.
There is one more hurdle: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must decide whether to formally recommend the booster for this age group. The CDC’s scientific advisers are scheduled to meet on Thursday.
Pfizer’s shot is the only COVID-19 vaccine available for children of any age in the U.S. Those ages 5 to 11 receive one-third of the dose given to everyone 12 and older.
Whether elementary-age children need a booster has been overshadowed by parents’ outcry to vaccinate even younger tots, those under 5 — the only group not yet eligible in the U.S. Both Pfizer and rival Moderna have been studying their shots in the youngest children, and the FDA is expected to evaluate data from one or both companies sometime next month.
10:30 a.m. Following two seasons scuttled by the pandemic, the National Arts Centre is inviting audiences back to its stages with a mix of new and revived shows.
Canada’s multidisciplinary performing arts hub announced a 2021-22 slate Tuesday that resurrects several works that had been sidelined by COVID-19 restrictions but are now buoyed by renewed optimism for the return of live music, theatre and dance.
That includes the world premiere of an orchestral rendition of “Songs for Murdered Sisters” on Feb. 9 and 10, 2023 with baritone Joshua Hopkins, poetry by Margaret Atwood and music by Jake Heggie. The show, which calls attention to gender-based violence, has twice been postponed since it was originally planned for September 2020.
An Ottawa celebration of the life and work of Buffy Sainte-Marie will also now go ahead in September after scrapping a date earlier this year, while the Australian cabaret show “Hot Brown Honey” will run Oct. 12 to 15, more than two years after it was postponed.
NAC president and CEO Christopher Deacon says artists have missed the “exhilarating, inspiring, and restorative” experience of performing for a live audience.
The new season will also mark the return of subscription packages, on sale Thursday. Individual show tickets go on sale June 22.
10 a.m. About a third of the 1 million lives lost to COVID-19 could have been saved with vaccines, a new analysis shows.
Researchers at the Brown School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Microsoft AI for Health analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The New York Times and came up with not only 319,000 needless deaths but also a state-by-state breakdown of where they could have been prevented.
Between January 2021 and April 2022, about every second person who died from COVID-19 since vaccines became available might have lived if they had gotten the shots, the researchers found. Nationwide, about half of the 641,000 people who have died since vaccines became available could have lived if every single eligible adult had gotten jabbed.
“At a time when many in the U.S. have given up on vaccinations, these numbers are a stark reminder of the effectiveness of vaccines in fighting this pandemic,” said Stefanie Friedhoff, associate professor of the practice in Health Services, Policy and Practice at the Brown University School of Public Health, and a co-author of the analysis, in a statement. “We must continue to invest in getting more Americans vaccinated and boosted to save more lives.”
They created a dashboard showing the number of vaccine-preventable deaths per 1 million residents in each state and in the U.S. as a whole. Then they created an “alternative scenario” positing what it would look like if the vaccination pace had been sustained at its highest point last spring and stayed aloft long enough for 85%, 90% or even 100% of the adult population to get jabbed.
What it looked like was 319,000 people still being alive, even when variants’ effectiveness on immunity was factored out.
9 a.m. Indonesia is lifting its outdoor mask mandate because its COVID-19 outbreak is increasing under control, President Joko Widodo said Tuesday. However, a mask mandate remains in place for indoor activities and public transportation, he said.
Widodo also said all fully vaccinated travellers will no longer be required to undergo COVID-19 tests to enter Indonesia.
The announcements came two weeks after millions of Indonesians celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of the Muslim holy moth of Ramadan by travelling to see their families, ending two years of pandemic restrictions and travel curbs. COVID-19 cases have continued to decline, prompting the government to relax its mask policy.
“When people are doing outdoor activities, or in open areas that are not crowded with people, then they are allowed not to wear masks,” Widodo said in a televised address.
In March, Indonesia lifted quarantine requirements for overseas visitors, joining a number of other countries in the region including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines that have announced or already made such moves.
8:10 a.m. It was all about crisis management.
The Ontario leaders’ debate was dominated by the two-year COVID-19 crisis, the affordability crisis that now threatens post-pandemic recovery, and who is best to tackle the climate crisis.
As Ontarians head to the polls June 2, the four major party leaders squared off Monday night for a raucous 90-minute encounter about where the province has been — and where it is headed.
Read the full story from the Queen’s Park bureau
7:55 a.m. Business bankruptcies in Canada moved closer to pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2022, jumping almost 34 per cent year-over-year in what some experts warn could be the start of a growing wave of failures.
There were 807 business bankruptcies and proposals in Q1, up from 733 in the previous quarter and 603 in the first quarter of 2021. Business bankruptcies have stayed significantly lower than normal during the pandemic thanks to government subsidies and loans, but the business community and experts have been saying the lull couldn’t — and shouldn’t — last.
In comparison, bankruptcies and insolvencies in the first quarter of 2019 totalled 972, meaning this quarter’s numbers are still almost 17 per cent down from the last full pre-pandemic Q1.
Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba
7:42 a.m. Administrators at an elite Beijing University have backed down from plans to further tighten pandemic restrictions on students as part of China’s “zero-COVID” strategy after a weekend protest at the school, according to students Tuesday.
Graduate students at Peking University staged the rare, but peaceful protest Sunday over the school’s decision to erect a sheet-metal wall to keep them further sequestered on campus, while allowing faculty to come and go freely. Discontent had already been simmering over regulations prohibiting them from ordering in food or having visitors, and daily COVID-19 testing.
A citywide lockdown of Shanghai and expanded restrictions in Beijing in recent weeks have raised questions about the economic and human costs of China’s strict virus controls, which the ruling Communist Party has trumpeted as a success compared to other major nations with much higher death tolls. While most people have grumbled privately or online, some Shanghai residents have clashed with police, volunteers and others trying to enforce lockdowns and take infected people to quarantine centres.
Many of the Peking University students protesting Sunday outside a dormitory took cellphone videos as Chen Baojian, the deputy secretary of the university’s Communist Party committee, admonished them through a megaphone to end the protest and talk with him one-on-one.
“Please put down your mobile phones, protect Peking University,” he said, to which one student yelled: “Is that protection? How about our rights and interests?”
The crowd of about 200 clapped and cheered as a half dozen protesters broke through the sheet-metal barrier behind Chen.
Tuesday 7:32 a.m.: North Korea on Tuesday reported another large jump in illnesses believed to be COVID-19 and encouraged good health habits, as a mass outbreak spreads through its unvaccinated population and military officers were deployed to distribute medicine.
State media said the anti-virus headquarters reported another 269,510 people were found with fevers and six had died. That raises North Korea’s deaths to 56 after more than 1.48 million people became ill with fever since late April. North Korea lacks test kits to confirm coronavirus infections in large numbers, and the report didn’t say how many of the fever cases were COVID-19.
The outbreak is almost certainly greater than the fever tally, considering the lack of tests and resources to monitor and treat the sick. North Korea’s virus response comes down to isolating people with symptoms at shelters, and as of Tuesday, at least 663,910 people were in quarantine.
In addition to lacking vaccines for its 26 million people, the country also grapples with malnourishment and chronic poverty, and lacks public health tools, including antiviral drugs or intensive care units, which suppressed hospitalizations and deaths in other countries.
Read Monday’s coronavirus news.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION