Today’s coronavirus news: First U.K. COVID-19 variant case detected in B.C.; China sentences lawyer who reported on outbreak to 4 years

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

6:18 a.m.: In 2020, it was Canada that led the charge to have the Tokyo Games postponed, the first country to withdraw because of concerns related to the pandemic.

It was a shock to the Canadian athletes’ system. They tend to be a regimented bunch, working with strict schedules, but they’re also optimistic.

Read the full story from the Star’s Laura Armstrong here.

6:16 a.m.: With Canada embarking on the largest and most important immunization campaign in the country’s history, Black and Indigenous health leaders say public health agencies should take advantage of the trust they have within their communities, which may be more skeptical or hesitant toward the COVID-19 vaccine due to general mistrust in a health-care system that has historically mistreated them.

There is significant vaccine hesitancy within the general population — a recent survey by polling firm Angus Reid found that 48 per cent of Canadians said they would get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon it was available to them, while 31 per cent would get it eventually, 14 per cent wouldn’t get it and seven per cent weren’t sure. Experts say whatever hesitancy exists in the general population is compounded for racialized and Indigenous people by systemic racism, historical injustices and negative personal experiences with the health-care system.

Read the full story by Brendan Kennedy here.

6:15 a.m.: Christmas is traditionally a real estate dead zone. But this year — of all years — Realosophy president John Pasalis said the agents at his Leslieville brokerage were busy right up to the holidays.

Some of that activity suggests that Toronto’s condo recovery may already be underway.

The single-family home market has seen blazing sales and price growth this year as buyers sought more space to work and study. But the city’s condo market has dragged as rents dropped and listings flooded the market, especially for smaller units downtown.

Experts like Pasalis, however, said there are gathering signs that condos are poised to sell again and agents are reporting a discernable uptick in investor interest.

Read the full story from Tess Kalinowski here.

6:03 a.m.: Moscow has started offering a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine to people older than 60 after Russia’s Health Ministry cleared it for use among the elderly.

Earlier this month, mass vaccination against COVID-19 started in Russia with the Sputnik V vaccine, which is still undergoing advanced tests among tens of thousands of people needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Front-line workers, such as doctors and teachers, were the first in line to get the shots, and until Saturday only those aged 18-60 were allowed to be vaccinated.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry cleared Sputnik V for use among those older than 60. In Moscow, the elderly can sign up for immunizations starting Monday.

Russia has been widely criticized for giving Sputnik V regulatory approval in August after it was tested only on a few dozen people

Russian authorities have reported over 3 million confirmed coronavirus infections, the fourth highest caseload in the world, and more than 55,000 deaths. Russia has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of confirmed infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring.

6:03 a.m.: A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a former lawyer who reported on the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak to four years in prison on charges of “picking fights and provoking trouble,” one of her lawyers said.

The Pudong New Area People’s Court in the financial hub of Shanghai gave the sentence to Zhang Zhan following accusations she spread false information, gave interviews to foreign media, disrupted public order and “maliciously manipulated” the outbreak.

Lawyer Zhang Keke confirmed the sentence but said it was “inconvenient” to provide details — usually an indication that the court has issued a partial gag order. He said the court did not ask Zhang whether she would appeal, nor did she indicate whether she would.

Zhang, 37, travelled to Wuhan in February and posted on various social media platforms about the outbreak that is believed to have emerged in the central Chinese city late last year.

She was arrested in May amid tough nationwide measures aimed at curbing the outbreak and heavy censorship to deflect criticism of the government’s initial response. Zhang reportedly went on a prolonged hunger strike while in detention, prompting authorities to forcibly feed her, and is said to be in poor health.

China has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and delaying the release of crucial information, allowing the virus to spread and contributing to the pandemic that has sickened more than 80 million people worldwide and killed almost 1.8 million. Beijing vigorously denies the accusations, saying it took swift action that bought time for the rest of the world to prepare.

6:03 a.m.: Germany’s confirmed death toll in the coronavirus pandemic has topped 30,000 as the country hopes its lockdown will bring down case numbers.

The national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, said Monday that another 348 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to 30,126.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 10,976 to 1.65 million. That increase is much lower than a week ago, but lower testing and reporting over the Christmas period likely accounts for much of the difference.

Germany had a relatively low death rate in the first phase of the pandemic but has seen hundreds of deaths per day in recent weeks. Among major European nations, Italy, the U.K., France and Spain still have higher death tolls.

A shutdown that was deepened on Dec. 16 with the closure of schools and most shops is scheduled to remain in place until Jan. 10 and appears likely to be extended.

6:02 a.m.: The governor of a province at the centre of an expanding COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand has been confirmed infected with the coronavirus after meeting with public health officials including the deputy prime minister.

The meeting Sunday attended by the Samut Sakhon governor, Deputy PM Anutin Charnvirakul and others was considered a low risk of spreading the virus because everyone wore masks, said Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyotin, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 response centre.



The governor, Weerasak Wijitsaengsri, did not have symptoms but would be treated at a hospital, Taweesilp said.

Anutin, who is also Thailand’s public health minister, wrote on Facebook that he has tested negative for the virus and is isolating at home for 14 days.

Thailand reported 144 new cases Monday, most of them locally transmitted, and its total has reached 6,285.

The Southeast Asian country had virtually no cases beyond quarantined travellers for months, but its totals have surged since an outbreak among migrant workers at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon was detected in mid-December.

The province was put under lockdown on Dec. 19. Confirmed cases related to the seafood market have been found in 43 other provinces, including the capital, Bangkok.

Taweesilp said every province has to work hard to control the virus situation and the number of new infections could reach the thousands daily if nothing was done to prevent the spread. “The best way is to avoid travelling and meetings.”

6:02 a.m.: Authorities have banned New Year’s Eve revelers from congregating in Sydney’s downtown harbourside to see the celebrated fireworks due to the pandemic risk. New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday people who live in the city centre can invite up to 10 guests to their homes to celebrate.

The guests will have to apply for permits to enter the area. Australia’s largest city recorded five new cases of COVID-19 connected to a cluster in the northern beaches region, bringing the total to 126 infections since Dec. 10. Around 1 million people usually congregate on the harbour foreshore to see the annual fireworks that centre on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

6:01 a.m.: Japan on Monday reported its first member of parliament to die from the coronavirus. Yuichiro Hata, 53, had served as transport minister under a now-defunct opposition party. He developed a slight fever on Thursday and planned to be tested for the virus as a precaution, but his condition suddenly worsened on Sunday, said Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary general of the constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, to which Hata belonged.

Hata was the son of late Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, who headed an opposition-led government in 1994. Fukuyama said he hopes Hata’s death will raise public awareness of the danger of the virus.

“He was still just over 50 and his condition worsened so quickly. I feel strongly that we really should not underestimate the risk of the coronavirus,” he said. Japan is struggling with a surge in infections that is showing no signs of slowing.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government has been reluctant to impose tougher restrictions that would further damage the pandemic-hit economy. Japan has reported 220,236 cases, including 3,252 deaths, as of Sunday. Three other national lawmakers have contracted the virus and recovered.

6:01 a.m.: South Korea has confirmed its first cases of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Monday the cases are a family of three people who came to South Korea on Dec. 22. They arrived a day before South Korea halted air travel from Britain until Dec. 31 to guard against the new version of the virus.

The three people, who reside in the U.K., are under quarantine in South Korea. South Korea on Monday registered 808 new coronavirus cases, raising its national caseload to 57,680 with 819 deaths.

6:01 a.m.: Sri Lanka’s government announced Monday that cinemas will be allowed to reopen throughout the country on Jan. 1 after being closed for three months because of the coronavirus. The reopening, which will require the following of strict health guidelines, is part of the island nation’s efforts to return to normalcy despite lockdowns in different parts of the country.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa decided to reopen the cinemas because of the hardships faced by the industry, his office said in a statement. Patrons will be required to wear face masks and have their body temperatures taken before entering the cinemas.

Seats will also be kept vacant between patrons and cinemas can admit only 25% of their normal capacity. Consumption of food and drinks will not be allowed because that would require the removal of face masks. Sri Lanka has confirmed 41,053 coronavirus cases, including 191 fatalities.

6 a.m.: Indonesia’s government plans to ban foreigners from entering the country for 14 days starting Jan. 1 in an attempt to keep out a new coronavirus variant that is believed to spread more rapidly.

Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said the Cabinet made the decision on Monday. The government also announced 5,854 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the country’s total to 719,219 confirmed cases, including 21,452 deaths.

Sunday 8:39 p.m.: The discovery of two more Canadian cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom underlines the importance of genome sequencing so the country is not flying blind if or when a new mutation arrives at our borders, experts say.

On Sunday, Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Barbara Yaffe reported that a case of the COVID-19 variant had been detected in Ottawa, a day after the country’s first two cases were identified in Durham Region. The individual in Ottawa had recently travelled from the U.K.

Read more on this story from The Star’s Omar Mosleh.