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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 577 new cases of COVID-19; Alberta doctors press government to strengthen restrictions as ICU admissions rocket

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.

11:45 a.m. A maverick Toronto MPP is urging Premier Doug Ford to protect the jobs of Ontarians who refuse to get vaccinated or who decline to share their vaccination status with their boss.

Independent MPP Roman Baber (York Centre) told reporters Tuesday at Queen’s Park that his proposed “Jobs and Jabs Act” would prevent employers from firing or suspending workers because they have not had their COVID-19 shot.

Baber, who is himself fully vaccinated, said his private member’s bill would also guarantee the privacy of employees who won’t disclose to their employer whether they have been vaccinated.

“The goal is to protect jobs and preserve livelihoods,” said the MPP, who was defenestrated from the Progressive Conservative caucus in January for publicly questioning the wisdom of pandemic lockdowns and warning of the toll on Ontarians’ mental health.

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzi

11:34 a.m. Montreal Alouettes head coach Khari Jones has tested positive for COVID-19 and will isolate from the CFL team for a minimum of 10 days.

The Alouettes added Jones is fully vaccinated and has followed social distancing guidelines.

Montreal players and staff were tested Monday in the wake of Jones’ diagnosis. No other positive tests were detected.

10:18 a.m. Ontario is reporting 577 new cases of COVID-19, 452 cases in individuals not fully vaccinated In Ontario, 21,212,026 vaccine doses have been administered. Nearly 84.5 per cent of Ontarians 12+ have one dose and 78.2 per cent have two doses. 363 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to tweets from Health Minister Christine Elliott.

The seven-day average is up to 717 cases per day or 34.5 weekly per 100,000 and up to 10.1 deaths per day. Labs are reporting 21,133 completed tests and a 2.3 per cent positive, according to the Star’s Ed Tubb.

9:47 a.m. Health officials in Nova Scotia are expected to announce Tuesday whether the province will move into the final phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan.

Phase 5 is scheduled to be implemented on Wednesday if at least 75 per cent of all Nova Scotians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of Monday, however, about 72.5 per cent of the population had been fully vaccinated, and Premier Tim Houston has said the 75 per cent target was “very firm.”

The last phase would see the removal of most of the public health measures that have been in place since the onset of the pandemic, such as indoor masking and gathering limits.

Officials reported 73 new cases of COVID-19 over the three-day period covering Sept. 11-13.

That figure included 36 new cases in the northern zone, where health officials said there was a large cluster of linked cases within a “defined group” it did not identify.

8:30 a.m. Cyprus’ health minister says the east Mediterranean island nation has achieved the milestone of having 80 per cent of the population receive at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said in a statement on Tuesday it’s expected that 80 per cent of citizens will be fully vaccinated within two or three weeks.

He said the achievement has put Cyprus among those European Union member states that have achieved or surpassed the target set by the 27-member bloc.

Hadjipantela said health authorities will ramp up vaccination efforts to ensure that the country will enter the winter season with a greater degree of safety.

A recent opinion poll showed that 13 per cent of Cypriots are either reluctant about getting vaccinated against COVID-19 or completely oppose it.

The country’s COVID-19 infection rate has dropped in recent days following a sharp spike in new cases that had set record highs.

8:15 a.m. Toronto Public Health is investigating 23 schools for potential “COVID-19 activity,” as of Monday morning.

The public health unit listed the schools in a statement released Monday, adding that they were completing case and contact management to keep staff and students as safe as possible.

Out of the 23 schools identified, 16 belonged to the Toronto District School Board, four to the Toronto Catholic District School Board, one to the French Catholic Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir and two were private schools.

Read the full story from the Star’s Akrit Michael and Joshua Chong

8:05 a.m. Alaska reported yet another record for hospitalizations in people with COVID-19 through the weekend amid an ongoing surge linked to the Delta variant responsible for most of the state’s cases.

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital also reported two new deaths in people with the virus over the weekend, amid high numbers of COVID-19 cases reported in the Fairbanks and North Pole communities including 175 cases reported on Friday alone.

A combination of staff shortages, heavy admissions and a crush of COVID-19 patients is pushing the state’s hospitals to the brink of what the system can handle, medical providers and health officials say.

State data reported Monday showed 210 COVID-positive patients hospitalized around the state as of Sunday, more than half of them in Anchorage. That’s up slightly from the record set Thursday of 208. Virus-related hospitalizations have risen more than 1,200 per cent since late June, when there were barely two dozen COVID-positive patients at one time.

7:50 a.m. The first day of British Columbia’s program requiring that residents have vaccine cards to gain entry to non-essential businesses was met with tension in the streets and anxiety from the businesses required to enforce the rules.

The rollout of B.C.’s so-called vaccine passport Monday — the same day groups of protesters across the country targeted hospitals over pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates — could serve as an example of what is yet to come in Ontario, where a proof-of-vaccination program comes into effect next week.

On busy Government Street in downtown Victoria, the restaurant business appeared to be booming — sunny patios filling with tourists and locals alike. Only small things indicated a change, such as the signs instructing people to have their vaccine card and identification ready, and, in some cases, security guards posted at what is typically the host’s stand.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex McKeen

7:30 a.m. The pandemic has often seen employers and employees pitted against each other.

While government supports have provided a lifeline for businesses, they are also being blamed for keeping workers at home. But the reality is more complicated.

With wage and rent subsidies running out on Oct. 23 — just four days before the Canada Recovery Benefit ends — labour advocates say the loss of these programs will impact both workers and their employers.

“It gave us a sense of security,” said Rena Kisfalvi, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4055, which represents more than 1,000 flight attendants for Sunwing.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba

7 a.m.: An expert advisory panel recommended Tuesday that the U.K. government offer a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine to everyone over age 50 to protect against waning protection this winter.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization’s recommendation came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepared to announce the government’s new plan for combating the pandemic. The World Health Organization has asked wealthy nations to delay booster shots until every country has vaccinated at least 40% of their populations.

The JCVI said booster shots were needed to ensure vulnerable people are protected against COVID-19, because studies have shown that the immunity conferred by vaccines weakens over time. The panel recommended that people over 50 get a booster shot six months after they received their second dose of vaccine.

The move comes despite appeals from WHO, which has urged rich countries with large supplies of coronavirus vaccines to refrain from offering booster shots through the end of the year and make the doses available for poorer countries.

6:06 a.m.: Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be so sad. Dispiriting, sure: a protest outside a hospital, 18 months into a pandemic, as burned-out health-care workers stared down at people who statistically may be the most likely to end up inside a hospital with COVID-19. There had been vows online to block ambulances, and even isolated threats of guns from some People’s Party of Canada supporters.

There is a virus in this country, beyond the obvious one.

Read the full column from the Star’s Bruce Arthur.

6:05 a.m.: Toronto Public Health has quantified Toronto’s remaining vaccine challenge. Our magic number? 336,000.

That’s the approximate number of remaining people who need to become fully vaccinated to push the city’s two-dose vaccination rate from its current level of about 78 per cent of the eligible population to the 90 per cent threshold the city’s public health agency has set as its new target.

Read the full column from Matt Elliott.

6:05 a.m.: Alberta doctors called on the government to restrict unvaccinated people from indoor public spaces on Monday, as COVID-19 intensive care admissions reached an all-time high.

Numbers released by the province show 198 Albertans with COVID-19 were receiving intensive care — surpassing the previous record of 182 admissions in May. Alberta Health Services, as of Monday morning, said the number was even higher, at 202.

Alberta Health Services also said intensive care capacity was operating at 90 per cent with surge spaces added. Without additional surge beds, capacity would be at 148 per cent.

In an open letter, 65 intensive care physicians urged the United Conservative government to take urgent action to protect the health system.

“It is our opinion that the current measures do not go nearly far enough to interrupt transmission or reduce barriers to vaccination. It is also our opinion that the current state of health-care capacity in Alberta is so dire that waiting to see the results of current, less stringent measures will result in devastating consequences,” reads the letter.

“To prevent broad restrictions like those required in earlier waves, we are calling for immediate implementation of certificates of immunity that individuals must provide to enter any indoor public spaces for the purpose of accessing anon-essential service.”

Over the weekend, the province recorded 4,740 new cases: 1,659 infections on Friday, 1,497 on Saturday and 1,584 on Sunday. Government data showed 803 Albertans were in hospital with the virus.

Alberta also continued to have the highest count of active infections in the country with 18,395.

6:04 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin is going into self-isolation because of coronavirus cases in his inner circle, the Kremlin said Tuesday, adding that he tested negative for COVID-19.

The announcement came in the Kremlin’s readout of Putin’s phone call with Tajikistan’s president. Putin has been fully vaccinated with the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, receiving his second shot in April.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin is “absolutely healthy,” but will self-isolate after coming in contact with someone who contracted the virus. He didn’t clarify for how long Putin would remain in self-isolation, but assured that the president will continue working as usual.

Asked if Putin tested negative for the virus, Peskov said “definitely, yes.”

Peskov didn’t say who among Putin’s contacts were infected, saying only that there were several cases.

6:03 a.m.: The number of coronavirus infections and people hospitalized for COVID-19 in West Virginia have set new highs as Gov. Jim Justice scolds residents who continue to balk at getting vaccinated.

At least 40 per cent of the state’s people older than 12 have not received all doses.

The governor said Monday that “this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” He has balked at issuing either a vaccination or mask mandate.

Officials said Monday that confirmed virus cases statewide totaled about 8,860 last week, breaking the previous weekly high of about 8,200 set in early January. A record 852 people were in hospitals Monday for COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus. The previous high of 818 was set Jan. 5.

6:02 a.m.: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is urging the Food and Drug Administration to quickly authorize booster shots for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine as well as permit children ages 5 to 11 to be vaccinated.

Polis said Monday that foot-dragging by U.S. health officials has cost lives. In his words, “The FDA needs to get out of their ivory tower and realize there is a real life pandemic.”

In August, Pfizer said it had started the application process for a third dose of its vaccine for everyone age 16 and older. It asserts that people’s antibody levels jump fivefold to tenfold after a third dose, compared to their second dose months earlier.

The White House has begun planning for boosters later this month, if both the FDA and the CDC agree. Advisers to the FDA will weigh evidence about an extra Pfizer shot Friday. The U.S. already offers an extra dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to people with severely weakened immune systems.

6:02 a.m.: Australia’s capital city of Canberra will remain locked down for a second month after the local government reported 22 new coronavirus infections.

The Australian Capital Territory locked down Aug. 12 after a single case linked to a Sydney outbreak of the virus’ delta variant was detected.

Territorial Chief Minister Andrew Barr said Tuesday that Canberra’s lockdown will be extended until Oct. 15.

Canberra is surrounded by New South Wales state, where Australia’s delta outbreak began when a limousine driver tested positive June 16. He was infected while transporting a U.S. cargo flight crew from Sydney’s airport.

Sydney is Australia’s largest city and has been locked since June 26.

Before delta came to Canberra last month, the city of 430,000 people had not recorded a single case of coronavirus community infection since July 10, 2020.

6 a.m.: A second city in southeastern China has seen a jump in COVID-19 cases in a delta variant outbreak that started late last week.

The National Health Commission said Tuesday that 59 new cases had been identified in the latest 24-hour period, more than doubling the total to 102. All are in Fujian province on China’s east coast.

The port city of Xiamen has confirmed 33 cases in the past two days. Another 59 cases have been found in Putian, about 150 kilometres (90 miles) north on the coast, where the outbreak was first detected.

Xiamen locked down affected neighbourhoods, closed entertainment and fitness venues and cancelled group activities including those for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival holiday. Long-distance bus service to other parts of the province has been suspended.

China has largely stopped the spread of COVID but has sporadic outbreaks. A delta variant outbreak in July and August spread to several provinces, raising concern about new and more contagious variants.

6 a.m.: Pakistan’s planning minister has warned that people who are not vaccinated will not be allowed to work from offices after this month.

In a televised message Tuesday, Asad Umar said unvaccinated people will also not be eligible to enter shopping malls, use public transport or to travel by air after the Sept. 30 deadline.

Umar also asked people to keep social distancing in comments that came hours after Pakistan reported a steady decline in cases of coronavirus.

Umar said about 52% of the adult population in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, had been vaccinated and other cities should also try to vaccinate at least 40% of their eligible population as soon as possible to avoid lockdowns and COVID-19 related restrictions.

Pakistan has reported 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 27,000 deaths since the pandemic began last year.