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,
10:07 pm: Samoa has reported scores of new COVID-19 cases each day since detecting its first case of community transmission last week.
The South Pacific island nation of 200,000 people has been in lockdown since Saturday as it deals with its first outbreak of the pandemic.
The outbreak was discovered when a woman who was about to travel tested positive for the virus last Thursday and indicates the virus likely had been spreading undetected for days or even weeks.
Samoa reported another 95 new cases in 24 hours to Saturday and another 85 on Sunday.
Only 15 of the 196 active cases were imported from overseas, according to the latest government statement available Monday. More than 2,200 tests have been done since Friday, the statement said.
Samoa and several neighboring Pacific island nations were among the last places in the world to avoid virus outbreaks. But the more transmissible omicron variant has changed the equation, and one by one the island nations have been succumbing to COVID-19.
Since the start of the year, Kiribati, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands and American Samoa have all experienced their first big outbreaks.
All Samoan schools are closed, public gatherings are banned, and all stores and other services are shut down, except those considered essential.
The lockdown is initially scheduled to last until Tuesday but many expect it will be extended.
About 65 per cent of all Samoans have had at least two doses of a coronavirus vaccine, according to Our World in Data.
Samoa has had previous virus scares and lockdowns after returning plane passengers tested positive while isolating, but had managed to avoid any community outbreaks until now.
Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Nauru are among the few remaining Pacific island nations to have avoided omicron outbreaks.
4:51 pm: Babies and children younger than 5 were hospitalized with coronavirus at much higher rates during the latest US surge, when the highly transmissible omicron variant was dominant, compared with earlier periods in the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hospitalizations of these children were about five times higher during the omicron surge, between Dec. 19 and Feb. 19, than during the period when the delta variant was dominant, between June 27 and Dec. 18.
Rates of admission to intensive care also rose dramatically among young children, reaching a peak Jan. 8.
Children of color younger than 5 wound up in hospitals at disproportionate rates. Only one-third of the children were white, while 28 per cent were Hispanic, and 23 per cent were Black. Hispanic people represent 18 per cent of the population, and Black Americans make up 13 per cent. (Six percent of the hospitalizations of children younger than 5 of were among Asian or other Pacific Islander children, about the same as their representation in the population.)
Experts say children of color are infected at higher rates because they are more likely to have parents who work in public-facing jobs and more likely to live in poverty and in multigenerational households.
Although hospitalization rates for young children are still relatively low, compared with the rates among older Americans, the virus poses special risks to young children and especially to babies.
Infants 6 months old and younger were the most vulnerable, representing nearly half of the hospitalizations among young children during the omicron period. They were hospitalized at rates about six times as high at the peak of the omicron surge, compared with the peak of the delta wave. Two infants died, the CDC found.
1:46 pm: A southern Ontario school board is sticking to its plan to extend its mask mandate beyond the provincial one, even after the government instructed it to drop the public health measure.
In a statement released Friday evening, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board said it would enforce mask-wearing until April 1, despite the province lifting mandates in most indoor settings starting Monday.
“Supporting staff and families during this phased approach and time of transition is our priority. We are reminding staff and students to wear a mask until April 1 and to exercise their choice by completing the mask exemption process, if needed,” board chair Dawn Danko said in the statement.
She released the statement in response to a letter sent by Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Friday.
The government says the board has no legal authority to mandate masks in the absence of a directive from a public health unit.
In his letter, Lecce repeated points made by the province’s top doctor.
“Ontario now has both the prevention and response tools necessary to manage the impact of COVID-19,” the letter reads, saying the province is now able to remove “many of the emergency measures that have been in place over the past two years. “
The letter noted that some public health measures will remain in schools, such as mandatory COVID-19 self-screening for staff and students, ventilation upgrades and enhanced air quality practices.
1:42 pm: A likely rise in US COVID-19 cases probably won’t amount to a full-scale surge or prompt a renewal of widespread restrictions, one of President Joe Biden’s top advisers said.
“The bottom line is we will likely see an uptick in cases, as we’ve seen in the European countries, particularly the UK,” Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “Hopefully we won’t see a surge. I don’t think we will.”
The BA.2 subvariant of omicron is driving up cases in Europe and Asia, notably in Hong Kong, and now accounts for about 30% of infections in the US, where indoor-mask and vaccine requirements have largely been rolled back.
While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has argued that the US needs to be prepared to resume measures such as requiring masks in indoor public spaces, Fauci said, “right now, at this point, I don’t see that.”
US cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline. BA.2 is about 50% more transmissible than the original strain of omicron, but it doesn’t cause more severe illness or evade immunity from vaccinations or an earlier infection, Fauci said.
Fauci and US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy urged Congress to pass a stalled package of new COVID-19 relief. The White House has sought $22.5 billion in funding, warning that it will soon have to wind down programs and can’t buy more therapeutic treatments.
11:30 am: Ontario is reporting 182 people in intensive care due to COVID-19 and 551 in hospital overall testing positive for the virus, according to its latest report released Sunday morning.
The numbers represent a 1.6 per cent decrease in the ICU COVID-19 count and a 10 per cent decrease in hospitalizations overall. Thirty-one 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 1,680 on Sunday, down 19.1 per cent from the previous day — are also not considered an accurate assessment of how widespread COVID-19 is right now.
Three new deaths were reported in the latest numbers.
Read the full story by the Star’s Erin LeBlanc.
10:30 am: Masks will no longer be part of the required dress code in most Ontario public spaces come Monday, as the government turns the public health measure into an individual choice.
Weeks after the province lifted proof-of-vaccination rules and capacity limits, face coverings won’t be mandatory in schools, retail settings and other spaces.
Hospitals, long-term care homes and public transit and some other areas will keep masks until the end of April, when the province aims to roll back all remaining public health rules.
Provincial politicians and top health officials say COVID-19 indicators have improved enough to remove mask rules, which have also been lifted in other jurisdictions across Canada and around the world.
Some are celebrating the change, but other Ontarians remain wary of the virus risk – as well as a lack of data on cases since the province stopped widespread PCR testing – and say they plan to keep masking after Monday.
Lisa Lam said she will keep wearing a mask at her retail job.
“There’s no freaking way I’m going to change my mind about it,” she said outside a Toronto shopping mall. “I think it’s way too soon.”
Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s top doctor, has said the true number of cases is close to 10 times higher than the daily case counts, which had a seven-day average of 1,821 as of Friday. The province’s expert science advisers said last week that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 cases in the province each day.
7:52 am: As Nova Scotia prepares to lifts its mask mandate for most indoor public spaces Monday, the province’s chief medical officer of health is warning that it’s not a sign the pandemic is over.
Dr. Robert Strang wants people to know that there is “still plenty of virus around” and that they should continue to practice many of the public health measures that have been in place over the past two years and are now voluntary.
“We still strongly recommend that people continue to wear masks, especially in indoor public places,” Strang said in an interview last week. “That doesn’t change, whether it’s mandated or not.”
According to data released late last week, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 remains highly active in the province, resulting in a steady hospitalization rate and 120 deaths since the variant first appeared in December.
7:51 am: Buckhorn Maplefest organizers are optimistic about once again offering its maple sugar bush festival next year, after seeing it canceled for three years in a row now due to COVID-19.
The McLean family made the “difficult” decision to cancel this year’s event, said Erin McLean, because of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic when planning began for it in December.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to set up the festival so we really had to make that call before there was any talk of lifting restrictions back when things were even worse than they are now,” she said.
“It’s a lot of time and effort and investment and it’s just hard to do all of that work and not know how it’s going to pan out, especially since we’d have to completely revamp the festival to make it as safe as we want it to be for everyone to come out. It just wasn’t in the cards this year.”
She said they are hoping for a good maple season this year. In early March they began collecting sap and boiling it down on the McLean farm’s sugar bush south of Buckhorn to produce maple syrup to sell at local farmers markets and directly from their farm.
Sunday 7:49 am: Hong Kong’s leader said Sunday that the government would consider lifting strict social distancing measures as new COVID-19 infections in the city continued trending downward.
“I wouldn’t promise now that there’s room for adjustment,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said. “But following a review, we have a duty to account for the findings in this review and the direction we will take.”
Hong Kong is in the middle of a massive outbreak, recording over 1 million total cases in the city of 7.4 million. The city has been hit hard, with mortuaries full as they try to cope with a high number of deaths. Hong Kong has so far refrained from a strict city-wide lockdown like those that China regularly imposes to control the spread of the virus.
Read Saturday’s coronavirus news.
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