8:35 a.m. New COVID-19 restrictions for Toronto expected within days
7:14 am.: Moderna’s vaccine reports early success in U.S. tests
5:15 a.m.: Hamilton, York, Halton regions enter COVID-19 red zone
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.
11 a.m. Home sales in October set a record for the month, even as they fell back from the all-time monthly high set in September, the Canadian Real Estate Association said on Monday,
The association said October sales were down 0.7 per cent from September.
However, sales last month still set a record for October as they gained 32.1 per cent compared with October last year.
The national average home price also set another October record at $607,250, up 15.2 per cent from the same month last year. Excluding sales in Greater Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area, two of the most active and expensive housing markets, lowers the national average price by more than $127,000, CREA said.
The housing market has been playing catch up this summer and fall from COVID-19 shutdowns that dampened the usually busy spring housing market. Shaun Cathcart, CREA’s senior economist, said that realtors may also be seeing a lot of moves, or “churn in the market,” that would not have happened if not for COVID-19.
“As we’ve moved through the last few months of headline-grabbing data, we’ve seen sales activity for the year-to-date not just catch up with last year, which was surprising enough, but at this point activity in 2020 has a real shot at setting an annual record,” said Cathcart.
“Many reasons have been suggested for why this is when many traditional drivers of the market, economic growth, employment and confidence in particular, are currently so weak. Something worth considering is how many households are choosing to pull up stakes and move as a result of COVID-19.”
The association noted that some 461,818 homes were sold over Canadian MLS systems in the first 10 months of the year, up 8.6 per cent from the same period in 2019.
10:33 a.m. The World Health Organization has recorded 65 cases of the coronavirus among staff based at its headquarters, including at least one cluster of infections, an internal email obtained by The Associated Press shows, despite the agency’s public assertions that there has been no transmission at the Geneva site.
The revelation comes amid a surge of cases in Europe, host country Switzerland, and the city of Geneva, in particular, and the email said about half of the infections were in people who had been working from home. But 32 were in staff who had been working on premises at the headquarters building, indicating that the health agency’s strict hygiene, screening and other prevention measures were not sufficient to spare it from the pandemic.
Raul Thomas, who heads business operations at WHO, emailed staff on Friday noting that five people — four on the same team and one who had contact with them— had tested positive for COVID-19. While the email did not use the term “cluster,” one is generally defined as two or more cases in the same area and the five cases indicate basic infection control and social distancing procedures were likely being broken.
A previous email he sent on Oct. 16 indicated that no clusters had been found at the site.
“As per standard protocols, these colleagues are receiving the necessary medical attention and are recovering at home,” the email Friday said. “These last five cases bring the total reported number of affected members of the Geneva based workforce to 65 since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Farah Dakhlallah, a WHO spokeswoman, confirmed the accuracy of the information about the case count in an email to the AP.
Thomas’ email did not specify who was infected, but a WHO staffer with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the press said the cluster included a member of the WHO director-general’s leadership team who is also an infection control specialist.
10:04 a.m. (will be updated) Ontario is reporting another 1,487 new cases Monday and 10 new deaths. The seven-day average is up 35 to a new high of 1,443 cases/day or 69 cases weekly per 100,000. Locally, there are 508 new cases in Toronto, 392 in Peel and 170 in York Region. Almost 33,400 tests were completed.
10 a.m. Gains in the energy and financial sectors helped lift Canada’s main stock index higher, while U.S. stock markets also rose in early trading in the wake of positive test results for a second potential COVID-19 vaccine.
The S&P/TSX composite index was up 68.73 points at 16,744.37.
In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 321.57 points at 29,801.38. The S&P 500 index was up 25.49 points at 3,610.64, while the Nasdaq composite was up 53.41 points at 11,882.70.
The Canadian dollar traded for 76.44 cents US compared with 76.06 cents US on Friday.
9:20 a.m. Over a third of Canadians are planning to drastically reduce what they would normally spend this holiday season. And another third are seriously considering making cuts.
Spending less is actually a good thing and trust me, no magic will be lost in the process.
What a reduced budget will do is help you and your family focus on helping others, safely connecting with loved ones and giving, though smallish, from the heart.
Here’s how to keep the magic on a tight budget.
8:43 a.m. The United States’ top infectious disease expert says news from Moderna that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate is 94.5 per cent effective “is really quite impressive.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC’s “Today” on Monday that Moderna’s finding, along with similar results from Pfizer last week for its vaccine, “is something that foretells an impact on this outbreak.”
“So now we have two vaccines that are really quite effective, so I think this is a really strong step forward to where we want to be about getting control with this outbreak,” Fauci said.
Asked about the timeline for vaccinating people, Fauci projected that by the end of December, there will be doses available for people at high risk from the coronavirus.
Fauci said the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have different platforms than other vaccines now in the pipeline. But he said the other vaccine platforms are using the “spike protein” of the coronavirus which has been researched very intensively, giving him hope that more than two of these vaccines will also be effective.
8:35 a.m. New COVID-19 restrictions for Toronto expected within days could include capacity limits on stores and malls, Mayor John Tory told CP24 on Monday.
Tory elaborated on comments to the Star a day earlier, saying city and Toronto Public Health officials talked to provincial counterparts over the weekend about new measures to halt “alarming” spread of the virus and an increase in deaths.
“I am trying my best with the medical officer, as are all the other people including the premier, to keep people healthy and to stop this very alarming situation from turning into a much worse disaster that would would take more lives,” he said.
“It’s getting into long-term care again and that would make many more people sick. And we want to keep the schools open too, that’s what we’re really trying hard to do because it’s good for the kids.”
Tory told CP24 that “a number” of measures are under discussion.
Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider
8:30 a.m. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock says he hopes that all nursing homes in England will be able to test visitors for coronavirus to allow them to see their loved ones “by Christmas.”
A pilot program in 20 nursing homes in the southern counties of Cornwall, Devon and Hampshire began Monday. Under it, regular testing will be offered to one family member or friend per resident, which the government hopes will support visits when combined with other COVID-prevention measures such as wearing masks and social distancing.
Hancock told BBC radio that the rollout will be “a challenge but we’ve got to make sure the right rules and protocols are in place so that the testing keeps people safe.”
Around 20,000 people are thought to have died in Britain’s nursing homes during the first wave of the pandemic. Most of the country’s nursing homes are run by the private sector.
8:25 a.m. Coronavirus infections in Russia have hit a new record as a region in Siberia has shut down some non-essential businesses for two weeks in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 22,778 new coronavirus cases on Monday and a total of over 1.9 million confirmed infections. The task force has also registered nearly 33,500 COVID-19 deaths. The resurgence of the virus has swept through the country since September, with the number of daily new cases increasing from roughly 5,000 in early September to over 22,000 this week.
Russian authorities have said there were no plans to introduce a second nationwide lockdown, but on Monday the Siberian republic of Buryatia became the first region to close a wide range of non-essential businesses.
Buryatia authorities have ordered shut cafes, restaurants, bars, malls, cinemas, beauty parlours and saunas starting Monday and until the end of the month. Grocery stores, pharmacies and shops selling essential goods will be allowed to operate.
8 a.m. President-elect Joe Biden’s scientific advisers plan to meet with vaccine makers in coming days even as a stalled presidential transition keeps them out of the loop on government plans to inoculate all Americans against COVID-19.
President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept that he lost the election means that the Biden team lacks a clear picture of the groundwork within the government for a mass vaccination campaign that will last the better part of next year, says Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain.
“We now have the possibility … of a vaccine starting perhaps in December or January,” Klain said. “There are people at HHS making plans to implement that vaccine. Our experts need to talk to those people as soon as possible so nothing drops in this change of power we’re going to have on January 20th.”
A lack of co-ordination between outgoing and incoming administrations would be especially problematic in a worsening public health crisis, said the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“Of course it would be better if we could start working with them,” said Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been through multiple presidential transitions during 36 years of government service.
7:35 a.m. At the Bay Street private equity firm, it’s known as the Ontario-focused investment fund.
Inspired by a powerful demographic trend, Arch Corporation’s current venture aims to “generate stable long-term cash returns.”
The fund has already attracted $7.5 million from a Canadian “ultra high net worth family office” and another $25 million from “one of the largest, independent family-owned multinationals in the GCC” — an apparent reference to an economic alliance of Middle Eastern nations including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
What provincial industry is captivating exclusive investors?
Read the full story from the Star’s Moira Welsh
7:05 a.m: For the second time this month, there’s promising news from a COVID-19 vaccine candidate: Moderna said Monday its shots provide strong protection, a dash of hope against the grim backdrop of coronavirus surges in the U.S. and around the world.
Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5 per cent effective, according to preliminary data from the company’s still ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own COVID-19 vaccine appeared similarly effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.
Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, welcomed the “really important milestone” but said having similar results from two different companies is what’s most reassuring.
“That should give us all hope that actually a vaccine is going to be able to stop this pandemic and hopefully get us back to our lives,” Hoge told The Associated Press.
“It won’t be Moderna alone that solves this problem. It’s going to require many vaccines” to meet the global demand, he added.
A vaccine can’t come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the U.S. over the weekend — 1 million of them recorded in just the past week. The pandemic has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, more than 245,000 of them in the U.S.
6:44 a.m. Olympic “participants” and fans arriving for next year’s postponed Tokyo Games will be encouraged to be vaccinated to protect the Japanese public, IOC President Thomas Bach said Monday.
Bach said it won’t be mandatory, but he left no doubt it will be strongly pushed.
Bach campaigned across Tokyo on Monday, his first visit to Japan since the Olympics were postponed almost eight months ago amid the coronavirus pandemic. He met support at all stops; from Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Yoshiro Mori, the head of the local organizing committee and also a former prime minister.
“In order to protect the Japanese people and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that as many (people) as possible — Olympic participants and visitors will arrive here (with a) vaccine, if by then a vaccine is available,” Bach said after talks with Suga.
“We want to convince as many foreign participants as possible to accept a vaccine,” Bach added later after meeting with Mori. “This makes us all very confident that we can have spectators in the Olympic stadia next year and that spectators will enjoy a safe environment.”
Bach lauded new advances in rapid testing as a boost to hold the games. He said Olympic participants would not be a priority for a vaccine ahead of “nurses and doctors and people who keep our society alive.” And he repeated several times that next year’s Olympics would be the “light at the end of this dark tunnel.”
Bach suggested the IOC would cover at least some of the costs of vaccination. But he said he did not yet know how much the one-year delay would cost. Reports in Japan estimate it will be $2 billion to $3 billion.
“This will take time,” he said. “It’s impossible now to have a sound figure.”
The most pointed question at a news conference with Bach went to Mori concerning a reported $1 million payment from the Tokyo bid committee — which landed the Olympics in 2013 — to the Jigoro Kano Memorial International Sports Institute. Mori heads the body.
Sitting next to Bach, Mori said he did now know about the body’s finances.
“That is not something that I directly oversee,” he replied.
French authorities have been investigating a bribery scandal linked to Tokyo’s winning bid. Last year, Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda was forced to resign after he acknowledged signing off on a $2 million payment to a consulting company based in Singapore. The consultant is believed to have channeled money to influence IOC votes.
Takeda denied any wrongdoing.
Monday was the first of two days of non-stop meetings for Bach in Tokyo; photo opportunities and meetings with politicians and organizers aimed at persuading a skeptical Japanese public that it’s safe to hold the Olympics during a pandemic.
The Olympics are scheduled to open on July 23, 2021, and Bach said he hoped to have a “reasonable number” of spectators at the venues. How many and from where is a decision that is still down the road.
A possible vaccine was announced last week by Pfizer Inc., which could greatly help the IOC and local organizers stage the Olympics. There have also been advances in rapid testing.
All of this is taking place as cases around the world surge heading into the Northern Hemisphere winter. Bach travelled to Tokyo on a chartered flight. He called off a trip last month to South Korea because of the virus’ spread in Europe.
Some athletes and fans from abroad may oppose any suggestion to take the vaccine, which Bach has hinted previously could be key for Olympic “solidarity.”
Japan has held baseball games recently with near-capacity crowds of 30,000 fans at some stadiums. It has also held an exhibition gymnastics meet with 22 athletes entering from abroad, attended by several thousand fans.
Japan has been largely spared during the pandemic with about 1,900 deaths attributed to COVID-19. It has also sealed off its borders until recently, and has almost 100% mask-wearing by the public.
Several polls have shown the Japanese public is ambivalent about the games, facing larger concerns like a slumping economy.
“Our determination is to realize the Tokyo Games next summer as proof that humanity has defeated the virus,” Suga said.
The Olympics and Paralympics involve 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and tens of thousands of coaches, officials, judges, VIPs, sponsors, media and broadcasters entering Japan.
The IOC gets 73% of its income from television, which is a critical factor in its drive to hold the Olympics. American network NBC pays well over $1 billion for every Olympics.
Costs are also an issue with the Japanese public. A government audit report last year said the bill for preparing the Olympics could reach $25 billion. All but $5.6 billion is public money.
6:35 a.m.: In the early days of 2020, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would take hold in Toronto and around the world, the Daily Bread Food Bank was concerned about its rising numbers.
Food bank visits in Toronto were up five per cent over the previous year, and the numbers kept climbing.
By February, demand had reached levels not seen since the 2008-09 financial crisis.
The uptick — even as the economy was strong — was a major concern to Daily Bread’s board of directors, and at a February meeting they discussed ways to meet demand in the event of an unexpected economic shock.
“None of us had any concept of what was to happen,” said Neil Hetherington, Daily Bread’s CEO.
That unexpected shock arrived just one month later with the onset of COVID-19, and demand at food banks soared and have remained high throughout the crisis.
At the current rate, there will be more food bank visits in Toronto this year than ever before.
“They’re just crazy numbers right now,” Hetherington said.
Read the full story by the Star’s Brendan Kennedy here: Food bank visits were already up before COVID-19. Now they’re reaching record highs
6:21 a.m.: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday he is “fit as a butcher’s dog” and firmly in control of the government, despite having to self-isolate because a contact has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Johnson, who is trying to suppress a new surge in U.K. coronavirus infections, quell turmoil within his Conservative Party and secure a trade deal with the European Union, said in a video message on Twitter that he had no COVID-19 symptoms. He said he would continue to govern using “Zoom and other forms of electronic communication.”
Johnson met with a small group of Conservative lawmakers for about 35 minutes on Thursday. One, Lee Anderson, subsequently developed coronavirus symptoms and tested positive.
Johnson said he was contacted by the national test-and-trace system Sunday and was following its order to self-isolate for 14 days even though he is “bursting with antibodies” after recovering from the virus earlier in the year.
“It doesn’t matter that we were all doing social distancing, it doesn’t matter that I’m fit as a butcher’s dog, feel great — so many people do in my circumstances,” he said.
Johnson said the fact he had been “pinged” by the test-and-trace network was evidence the much-criticized system was working. The system routinely fails to contact more than a third of infected people’s contacts.
Britain has recorded almost 52,000 deaths of people who tested positive for the virus, the highest toll in Europe.
Johnson spent a week in hospital with the coronavirus in April, including three nights in intensive care. He later thanked medics for saving his life when it “could have gone either way.”
Several other government ministers, officials and Downing Street staff also became sick with COVID-19 in the spring, including Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Officials say Downing Street is now a “COVID-secure workplace,” with staff observing social distancing measures and some working from home. But a photo released of Johnson’s meeting with Anderson shows the two did not wear masks and appear to be less than the recommended 2 metres (6 1/2 feet) apart.
People who recover from the virus are thought to have a level of immunity, but it’s unclear how long it lasts.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said there have been more than 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reinfection globally, and that the actual reinfection rate is “quite a lot higher than that, but not enormous.”
Johnson had planned a series of meetings and announcements this week intended to reboot his premiership after losing two top aides in messy circumstances.
Chief adviser Dominic Cummings and communications director Lee Cain quit last week amid reports of power struggles inside Downing Street. Cummings and Cain were key players in the 2016 campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, and helped Johnson win a decisive election victory in December 2019.
But their combative style toward civil servants, lawmakers and the media made many enemies, and Johnson is likely to use their departure as a chance to rebuild relations.
He was also due to lead meetings to decide the next steps in Britain’s response to the coronavirus. A four-week nationwide lockdown for England is due to end Dec. 2, but it’s unclear whether it will have been enough to curb a surge in infections.
Meanwhile, U.K. and EU negotiators are meeting in Brussels try to seal a last-minute trade deal before Britain makes a financial break from the bloc on Dec. 31. The two sides have said a deal needs to be sealed within days if it is to be ratified by year’s end, but big differences remain on issues including fishing rights and competition rules.
If there is no deal, businesses on both sides of the English Channel will face tariffs and other barriers to trade starting Jan. 1. That would hurt economies on both sides, with the impact falling most heavily on the U.K., which does almost half of its trade with the 27-nation bloc.
Johnson had also planned this week to lead a televised news conference, announce new environmental policies including a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, and meet with restive Conservative lawmakers from northern England, who want to see progress on promises to close the north-south economic divide.
5:15 a.m.: Three regions in the Toronto area join the COVID-19 red zone today.
The stricter public health measures come into effect in Hamilton, York and Halton regions.
Toronto joined Peel Region in the red alert level — the highest short of a full lockdown — on Saturday.
Another six regions, such as Durham and Waterloo, will move to the orange alert level, and six more, including Windsor-Essex and Sudbury, will join the yellow alert level.
Today’s developments come just days after Premier Doug Ford lowered the thresholds for his colour-coded restrictions system.
He said on Friday that recent COVID-19 projections show the province is “staring down the barrel of another lockdown.”
4:56 a.m. Amnesty International said Belgium authorities “abandoned” thousands of elderly people who died in nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic following an investigation published Monday that described the situation as “human rights violations.”
One of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, Belgium has reported more than 531,000 confirmed virus cases and more than 14,400 deaths linked to the coronavirus. During the first wave of the pandemic last spring, the European nation of 11.5 million people recorded a majority of its COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes.
Between March and October, Amnesty International said “a staggering” 61.3% of all COVID-19 deaths in Belgium took place in nursing homes. The group said authorities weren’t quick enough in implementing measures to protect nursing home residents and staff during this period, failing to protect their human rights.
Amnesty International said one of the reasons so many people died in homes is because infected residents weren’t transferred to hospitals to receive treatment.
“The results of our investigation allow us to affirm that (care homes) and their residents were abandoned by our authorities until this tragedy was publicly denounced and the worst of the first phase of the pandemic was over,” said Philippe Hensmans, the director of Amnesty International Belgium.
When the virus struck Europe hard in March, Belgium was caught off guard and unprepared, faced with a critical shortage of personal protective equipment. As infections surged across the country, nursing homes were quickly overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of contamination as local authorities even requested the help of Belgian armed forces to cope.
Belgium had one of the highest death rates worldwide during the first wave. But while nursing home staff was overwhelmed, the country’s hospitals weathered the crisis, as their intensive care units never reached their 2,000-bed capacity. Vincent Fredericq, the general secretary of the care homes federation Femarbel, told Amnesty International that many residents in need of medical assistance were left behind.
“Everyone was struck by the images of the Italian and Spanish hospitals,” he said. “These situations had a great impact on our federal decision-makers, who said from the outset that it was absolutely necessary to avoid overloading intensive care. Nursing homes have been relegated to second line and residents and staff have been the victims.”
Amnesty International based its investigation on testimonies from nursing home residents and staff, employees of non-governmental organizations defending residents’ rights and directors of nursing homes. The group also spoke with families of elderly people currently living in homes or who died during the pandemic. Most of the people interviewed asked to remain anonymous so that they could speak freely.
Quoting figures released by Doctors Without Borders, the group said only 57% of serious cases in care homes were transferred to hospitals because of “a harmful interpretation of sorting guidelines.”
“Some older people have probably died prematurely as a result,” Amnesty International said. “It took months before a circular explicitly stated that transfer to hospital was still possible, if it was in accordance with the patient’s interests and wishes, regardless of age.”
Maggie De Block, the former Belgian health minister in charge during the early months of the pandemic, refuted last month accusations that access to hospitals was denied to nursing home residents.
“There has never been a message either from the federal government or from my regional colleagues saying that we should not hospitalize people who need it, or that we can refuse elderly or disabled people,” she told local media RTBF.
The prime minister’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
More than half of the care providers quizzed during the group’s investigation said they didn’t receive training on how to use protective equipment and weren’t sufficiently informed about the virus. Amnesty International said systematic testing of nursing home employees in Belgium wasn’t introduced before August, with only one test per month.
One nursing home resident identified as Henriette told Amnesty International that she was afraid every time a care worker came in that they would bring the virus in with them.
The group also noted that the restrictive measures limiting family visits had negative repercussions on many residents’ health. Some relatives told Amnesty International that when they were allowed back, they realized their loved ones had been neglected because staffers were overwhelmed.
“It was very difficult for my husband to eat alone. As time went by, he lost weight,” the wife of one resident said. “When I asked the staff about it, a care worker told me: ‘We can’t feed everyone every day.”
4:00 a.m. New measures take effect in Saskatchewan today to fight COVID-19.
Effective Monday and continuing for the next 28 days, masks will be mandatory in indoor public spaces in any community with a population of more than 5,000.
Restaurants and bars must also stop selling alcohol by 10 p.m. and make sure everyone has finished their drinks by 11.
Rules are also being tightened for gyms, and schools with more than 600 students are being asked to reduce in-class learning.
After the new measures were announced on Friday, hundreds of doctors who signed a letter earlier in the week urging stronger action penned a new letter saying the rules are not enough.
Premier Scott Moe said in a tweet Sunday that “further measures are being considered” in consultation with public health officials.
Sunday 9:11 p.m. A massive surge in COVID-19 cases in recent days wasn’t enough to deter some revelers in Brampton from gathering in large groups to celebrate Diwali on Saturday night.
Peel police Const. Akhil Mooken said the city’s bylaw office and police dispatchers received several complaints from residents about large gatherings in violation of COVID-19 laws.
“We did receive several complaints in regard to noise complaints (and) breaching of the provincial guidelines when it comes to gathering limits,” he said.
“Our partners from the municipal bylaw team are primarily responsible for enforcing those, but we were called up on by them to assist at several places of worship to assist them in dispersing the large crowds that had gathered,” Mooken added.
Read the full story here.
Catch up on Sunday’s developments here
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