Today’s coronavirus news: Doctors, caregivers push for in-home COVID-19 vaccinations for housebound seniors; Vaccination ‘passports’ may open society, experts say, but inequity looms

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.

6:23 a.m.: Workplace inspectors fanned out across Peel Region last week, targeting warehouses in the hard-hit manufacturing, logistics and distribution sectors. But even as the province was stepping up its own enforcement, some experts and advocates were wondering why the region itself wasn’t doing more to publicize where exactly COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace were occurring.

Earlier this month, the City of Toronto began publicly listing, by name, specific businesses that had been hit by a COVID outbreak. But for now, Peel, which has seen some of the worst workplace outbreaks in the province, isn’t following suit.

Some epidemiologists and public health experts, believe that publicly naming businesses helps keep workers safe. They argue that the risk of public exposure encourages employers to do everything they can to avoid outbreaks and that public scrutiny can help push bad actors to change.

Read the full story from the Star’s Richard Warnica.

6:22 a.m.: Ontario universities have been hit with $ 1 billion in costs and lost revenue because of COVID-19 and are now making a public appeal to the province for help.

The Council of Ontario Universities, in a statement posted Friday on its website, says while institutions were able to find $ 500 million in one-time savings, they are still short the remaining $ 500 million and there is an “urgent need for sector-wide cost recovery.”

COVID has had “a significant impact on the sector, which is why we are looking for short-term relief,” said Steve Orsini, the council’s president and CEO.

“We want to work with the government over long-term sustainability, (which) would also be a goal,” he added. “Our focus now is getting COVID-19 relief to deal with the net impact on the sector so that we can continue to invest in students and communities and really help to support Ontario’s economic recovery.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy

6:14 a.m.: A crisis over the supply of medical oxygen for coronavirus patients has struck nations in Africa and Latin America, where warnings went unheeded at the start of the pandemic and doctors say the shortage has led to unnecessary deaths.

It takes about 12 weeks to install a hospital oxygen plant and even less time to convert industrial oxygen manufacturing systems into a medical-grade network. But in Brazil and Nigeria, as well as in less-populous nations, decisions to fully address inadequate supplies only started being made last month, after hospitals were overwhelmed and patients started to die.

The gap in medical oxygen availability “is one of the defining health equity issues, I think, of our age,” said Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who said he survived a severe coronavirus infection thanks to the oxygen he received.

Doctors in Nigeria anxiously monitor traffic as oxygen deliveries move through the gridlocked streets of Lagos. Desperate families of patients around the world sometimes turn to the black market. Governments take action only after hospitals are overwhelmed and the infected die by the dozens.

6:13 a.m.: The thrills and chills of the big screen are back big-time in the world’s largest film market.

With the coronavirus well under control in China and cinemas running at half capacity, moviegoers are smashing China’s box office records, with domestic productions far outpacing their Hollywood competitors.

February marked China’s all-time biggest month for movie ticket sales, which have so far totalled 11.2 billion yuan ($ 1.7 billion). China overtook the U.S. as the world’s biggest market for movie ticket sales last year as the American box office took a massive hit from the closure of cinemas because of the pandemic.

Chinese theatres were able to reopen by midyear and have seen steady audience growth since then. Local movies have also benefited from periodic unofficial “blackout” periods, when only domestic productions are allowed to be screened. A dearth of major Hollywood blockbusters over recent months appears to have also boosted the market for Chinese films.

6:12 a.m.: On the same day Brazil reached the grim milestone of 250,000 deaths by COVID-19, the country’s health ministry signed a deal with Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech for the purchase of 20 million doses of the Covaxin vaccine, which is yet to be approved by local regulators.

The administration of President Jair Bolsonaro said the first 8 million Covaxin shots, which will be made by Brazilian company Precisa Medicamentos, will arrive in March. A second batch of another 8 million doses is expected for April and in May, another 4 million doses will be available.

So far Brazil has vaccinated less than 4% of its population of 210 million people, with some cities stopping immunization campaigns last week due to shortages.

Neither Precisa nor Bharat confirmed the deal or the delivery dates.

6:12 a.m.: Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday extended Oregon’s declaration of a state of emergency until May 2 as confirmed COVID-19 cases drop but hundreds of new cases continue to be reported daily.

The Oregon Health Authority on Thursday reported 553 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the state total to 154,554. The state’s death toll is 2,204.

The agency’s weekly COVID-19 report, which was released Wednesday, shows a sharp decreases in daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the previous week. The health authority reported a 35% decrease in cases and a 42% decrease in hospitalization.

The emergency declaration is the legal underpinning for the executive orders the governor has issued, including her orders surrounding reopening Oregon, childcare, schools and higher education operations.

Oregon Republican state senators refused to show up to Thursday’s floor session, objecting to the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions and handling of reopening schools, vaccine rollout and economic recovery.

6:11 a.m.: Hong Kong has begun administering its first COVID-19 vaccines to the public, kicking off its mass inoculation targeting all 7.5 million residents.

People age 60 and older and health care workers are among some 2.4 million people prioritized to receive vaccines at community centres and outpatient clinics across Hong Kong.

The government said Friday registrations for the first two weeks of the program are full.

Participants so far will be receiving the vaccine by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. A million doses arrived in the city last week, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and other top government officials were vaccinated first in a bid to bolster confidence in the program.

Hong Kong has struck deals to buy 22.5 million doses of vaccines from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which will deliver the shots developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.

6:10a.m.: Governments say getting vaccinated and having proper documentation will smooth the way to travel, entertainment and other social gatherings in a post-pandemic world.

But it also raises the prospect of further dividing the world along the lines of wealth and vaccine access, creating ethical and logistical issues that have alarmed decision-makers around the world.

Other governments are watching Israel churn through the world’s fastest vaccination program and grapple with the ethics of using the shots as diplomatic currency and power.

Inside Israel, green passports or badges obtained through an app is the coin of the realm. The country recently reached agreements with Greece and Cyprus to recognize each other’s green badges, and more such tourism-boosting accords are expected.

Anyone unwilling or unable to get the jabs that confer immunity will be “left behind,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.

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6:09 a.m.: The state of emergency Japan set up to curb the spread of the coronavirus will be lifted in six urban areas this weekend and remain in the Tokyo area for another week, a government minister said Friday.

Partially lifting the emergency, and just a week early, underlines Japan’s eagerness to keep business restrictions to a minimum to keep the economy going.

The emergency, which began in January, centres around asking restaurants, bars and other businesses to close at 8 p.m.

Japan has never had a mandatory lockdown, but has managed to keep infections relatively low, with deaths related to COVID-19 at about 7,700 people.

6:09 a.m.: With new infections soaring due to a highly contagious coronavirus variant and hospitals filling up, one of the hardest-hit countries in the European Union is facing the inevitable: a tighter lockdown.

The Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Andrej Babis has announced a plan to “radically” limit free movement of the citizens and further measures, including the closure of nursery schools and schools for children with disabilities that until now have remained open.

“We need to limit movement for three weeks because the new variants are more aggressive,” Babis said Thursday night. “We can see a dramatic increase of patients in hospitals.”

The government is set to announce the details of the new lockdown on Friday. The minority Cabinet first wants to win support from the opposition to extend the state of emergency, a powerful tool that makes it possible to limit people’s travel and other basic rights.

Another option is to declare a new state of emergency after the current one expires on Sunday. A vote in Parliament’s lower house is expected Friday.

6:07 a.m.: There has been a chorus of seniors and caregivers who are pushing for in-home inoculations lest thousands of vulnerable Canadians be left behind.

Some geriatricians are also dismissing the suggestion that unique storage and handling requirements prevent home-based deploymentof the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, both often described as delicate and tricky to transport.

Specific details about where and how Ontario will administer shots were absent when retired Gen. Rick Hillier outlined the rollout earlier this week, but he insisted the evolving plan would include a variety of venues and that seniors would mostly likely be vaccinated in their own neighbourhood.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube seemed to dismiss the prospect of in-home vaccinations outright when he detailed that province’s plans earlier this week, citing precise cold-storage and handling requirements.

But that doesn’t mean at-home inoculations can’t occur, counters Ottawa physician Dr. Alykhan Abdulla, who says thawed vaccines can survive six hours – plenty of time for a paper-route style delivery to housebound seniors in the same neighbourhood.

6 a.m.: As British Columbia teachers argue for broader mask requirements in elementary schools, some families and educators say it’s been easy for kids to adapt to the rules in other provinces.

Heather Thompson, a special-education teacher at Whitehorn Public School in Mississauga, Ont., said masks were introduced to students from grades 1 through 12 in September in Peel’s school district.

“Kids are easier than adults, frankly,” said Thompson, who works with Grade 4 and 5 students.

“I find once they’re told a rule, they’re pretty compliant. We don’t often give kids credit where credit is due.”

B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside announced an expansion of indoor mask-wearing rules for middle and high schools on Feb. 4, but elementary students were excluded.

While elementary teachers are required to wear masks in common indoor areas, it remains a personal choice for elementary students and their families.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said young children don’t get as sick with COVID-19 and don’t pass it on as well as others. Data from around the world support the importance of other safety measures, but masks are more complicated for kids, she said.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2021.

In Canada, the provinces are reporting 55,116 new vaccinations administered for a total of 1,707,398 doses given. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 4,505.094 per 100,000.

There were 3,510 new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 2,043,599 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 83.55 per cent of their available vaccine supply.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.

There are 858,217 confirmed cases in Canada (30,335 active, 806,017 resolved, 21,865 deaths).The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 3,094 new cases Thursday. The rate of active cases is 79.82 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 20,722 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 2,960.

There were 59 new reported deaths Thursday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 367 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 52. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.14 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 57.53 per 100,000 people.

There have been 24,030,155 tests completed.

TORONTO STAR