Today’s coronavirus news: Public health agency trying to find out how many Canadians struggling with long COVID

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.

2:10 p.m. Taking no chances that a player might fail a COVID test, the Toronto Maple Leafs took a longer way to Tampa than usual.

They took a bus Thursday to Buffalo and flew from there, adding about two hours to their travel day, to get to Tampa for Friday’s Game 3.

It’s a loophole that other professional teams have used to cross the border into the United States. Crossing by air requires proof of a negative COVID test. Crossing by land does not.

“We’re just following the lead of NBA and MLB teams that have been making that the trip across the border,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “The biggest thing at this point is to do all we can to avoid any false positives or anything like that might come up.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Kevin McGran

2 p.m. Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the government is trying to find out how many Canadians are suffering from long COVID as researchers work to learn more about the prolonged effects of the virus.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada have launched a survey to try to get a broad idea of how common it is for people to feel lingering effects after COVID-19 infection, which can be difficult to identify and even harder to track.

Relatively little is known about the effects of long COVID, also known as post-COVID-19 condition, including how to diagnose it.

The public health agency says there have been reports of more than 100 symptoms associated with the condition.

1:40 p.m. Doug Lambrecht was among the first of the nearly 1 million Americans to die from COVID-19. His demographic profile — an older white male with chronic health problems — mirrors the faces of many who would be lost over the next two years.

The 71-year-old retired physician was recovering from a fall at a nursing home near Seattle when the new coronavirus swept through in early 2020. He died March 1, an early victim in a devastating outbreak that gave a first glimpse of the price older Americans would pay.

The pandemic has generated gigabytes of data that make clear which U.S. groups have been hit the hardest. More than 700,000 people 65 and older died. Men died at higher rates than women.

White people made up most of the deaths overall, yet an unequal burden fell on Black, Hispanic and Native American people considering the younger average age of minority communities. Racial gaps narrowed between surges then widened again with each new wave.

With 1 million deaths in sight, Doug’s son Nathan Lambrecht reflected on the toll.

“I’m afraid that as the numbers get bigger, people are going to care less and less,” he said. “I just hope people who didn’t know them and didn’t have the same sort of loss in their lives due to COVID, I just hope that they don’t forget and they remember to care.”

1:18 p.m. The trial expansion of St. Lawrence Market operating hours, including the first-ever Sunday openings, will start July 31. The pilot project was set to launch in 2020 but was put on hold during the pandemic.

12:50 p.m. The Edmonton Oilers took the long way to get to L.A. ahead of Game 3 in their first-round playoff series against the Kings.

Instead of taking a charter flight directly to California, the club opted to fly to Vancouver after their Game 2 win on Wednesday, spend the night in a hotel, then bus over the border on Thursday morning before flying from Bellingham, Wash., to California. The unique journey allowed the team to avoid COVID-19 testing before entering the U.S.

Current restrictions require people entering the States via air to provide a negative COVID-19 test, something not required at a land border crossing.

Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said the longer travel day was the smartest move for his group and that players were involved in choosing the itinerary.

12:30 p.m. The head of Chorus Aviation Inc. says travellers are returning to the skies en masse, leaving the company poised to benefit after feeling the pinch of COVID-19’s fifth wave last quarter.

“I think the pace of the recovery is extremely strong. People are anxious to get back up in the air,” CEO Joe Randell told analysts on a conference call Friday.

The Halifax-based company, which leases planes across the globe and provides regional service for Air Canada via Chorus subsidiary Jazz Aviation, will see its fleet “very fully utilized” this summer, including Jazz’s 48 planes, he said.

“It’s all go.”

Business travel, which yields fatter margins and a traditionally disproportionate share of ticket earnings, is also starting to come back after a much slower rebound than leisure trips.

12:15 p.m. Quebec is reporting 22 more deaths due to COVID-19 and a 68-person drop in the number of people hospitalized with the virus.

The Health Department says there are 2,051 COVID-19 patients in the province’s hospitals with the disease after 127 people were admitted in the past 24 hours and 195 were discharged. There are 60 people in intensive care, which is four fewer than the previous day.

Officials say 1,243 new cases were reported by PCR testing and that nine per cent of tests conducted Thursday came back positive. The number of health-care workers who are absent due to the virus continues to drop, with 7,337 off the job compared to 7,506 a day earlier.

11:30 a.m. At IBM’s new headquarters in downtown Toronto, the private office has fallen out of favour. In fact, in the entire 63,000-square-foot space, only three remain. One belongs to IBM Canada president Dave McCann, but he’s not picky about who uses it.

“Mine doesn’t have a lock, it’s used every day by whoever feels like it when I’m not here,” he said.

One of McCann’s first missions since he became president in January after 13 years with the company has been to facilitate the consolidation of IBM’s four downtown offices into one headquarters in the heart of the city’s financial district.

This new workspace is designed for the new era of the hybrid workforce: a balance of working from home with returning to the office. The goal is to rebuild a work culture that the company feels can only truly be realized with some level of in-person interaction.

Read the full story from the Alex Cyr, special to the Star

11:05 a.m. Masks are no longer required in most indoor public places in Prince Edward Island.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Heather Morrison says she still strongly recommends that residents keep masking, especially in places where physical distancing can’t be maintained.

Masking is still required in high-risk settings such as hospitals, long-term care homes and public transit.

School staff and students must also continue masking when they are on school buses and when not seated in class.

Morrison says fully vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 are required to isolate for seven days and unvaccinated residents must isolate for 10 days.

10:40 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 17 new deaths linked to COVID-19 and a small decrease in the number of people in hospital with the virus.

There have been 411 COVID-19-related fatalities in the past month.

The Ministry of Health says there are 1,662 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, fewer than the 1,676 reported in hospital on Thursday.

There are 210 people in intensive care due to COVID-19, a small increase from 205 the day before.

9:40 a.m. As Service Canada reports a surge in demand for passports, people are advertising to offer to stand in line for people who don’t want to wait when they apply for the travel document.

As Toronto sees hours-long waits outside passport offices, ads are appearing online offering “line-standing” services for a fee.

Service Canada spokesperson Saskia Rodenburg confirmed, in an email, the government agency is seeing a “significant increase in [passport application] volumes.”

Service Canada issued almost 1.3 million passports between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, according to Rodenburg. That’s 3.5 times the approximately 363,000 passports Rodenburg said Service Canada issued the twelve months before.

Read the full story from the Star’s Dorcas Marfo and Isaac Phan Nay

9:24 a.m. After two years of dining room closures, the parent company behind restaurants like Swiss Chalet, The Keg and Montana’s is preparing for one of the most lucrative restaurant days of the year.

“This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and for most of the country this will be the first Mother’s Day weekend since 2019 that restaurants have been open,” said Recipe Unlimited Corp. CEO Frank Hennessey during an earnings conference call Thursday.

“We’re expecting to be extremely busy.”

The company, which also includes brands like Harvey’s, St-Hubert and Kelsey’s, reported a 62 per cent increase in net profits in its first quarter despite 79 fewer restaurants and forced closures because of COVID-19.

Recipe Unlimited is still ramping up its restaurant workforce, though Hennessey said the availability of labour appears to be slowly improving.

Still, he said the company plans to use the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program to recruit new staff members.

9 a.m. Statistics Canada says the jobless rate fell in April to another record low as employment was little changed for the month with a gain of 1,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate came in at 5.2 per cent for April compared with the previous record low of 5.3 per cent set in March. The drop in the rate came as the number of jobs in professional, scientific and technical services rose by 15,000 in April and the public administration category gained 17,000.

The number of people working in retail trade fell by 22,000 in April and those working in construction dropped by 21,000. Statistics Canada says a number of signs point to an increasingly tight labour market in recent months including a drop in the number of part-time workers that would prefer full-time work.

8:15 a.m. Almost 50 per cent of all eligible residents 60 years and older have received their fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose, the city says in a release.

Toronto Public Health (TPH) and Team Toronto partners have now administered fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 127,681 eligible residents, and approximately 48.5 per cent of residents age 60 and older have now received their fourth vaccine dose. Information about vaccination rates across Toronto continues to be shared on the City’s Vaccine Dashboard.

7:22 a.m. Two new COVID-19 outbreaks in Halton have been revealed Thursday, according to Halton Public Health.

A new outbreak at Sunrise of Burlington retirement home is affecting the third floor and was declared May 3, according to Halton Region.

Meanwhile, there’s also a new outbreak at Martindale Gardens retirement home in Milton that was declared May 4 and is affecting the Fourth Floor of the building. It’s unknown how many infections are connected to the outbreaks. There are three active and known outbreaks in Milton and five in Burlington.

6:37 a.m. The use of Johnson and Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, also known as Janssen, has been limited to “certain individuals” over rare blood clot risks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday, May 5.

It’s now limited to those 18 and older “for whom other authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccines are not accessible or clinically appropriate,” the FDA’s statement said. Additionally, those 18 and older can opt to get the J&J shot if “they would otherwise not receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Janssen Pharmaceuticals said “our number one priority is the safety and well-being of those who use the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine,” in a statement provided to McClatchy News and noted its fact sheet on the single-dose shot has been updated in co-ordination with the FDA.

6:36 a.m. Less than three months after Beijing hosted the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, the Olympic Council of Asia said Friday that this year’s Asian Games in China are being postponed because of concerns about the spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the country.

The OCA said it had not picked new dates but said they would be announced “in the near future” after talks with local organizers and the Chinese Olympic Committee.

The OCA statement said local organizers were “very well prepared to deliver the games on time despite the global challenges. However, the decision was taken by all the stakeholders after carefully considering the pandemic situation and the size of the games.”

The postponement reflects a growing concern among the Chinese leadership about rapidly spreading outbreaks from Shanghai to Beijing in an important political year. The ruling Communist Party is holding a major meeting this fall and doesn’t want any signs of instability, pandemic-related or not.

China is staying with a “zero-COVID” strategy of lockdowns and other restrictions despite the economic costs and the fact that many other countries around the world are loosening up and trying to live with the virus.

6:36 a.m. Hundreds of workers at a technology factory in China clashed with authorities and flooded past isolation barriers after weeks under lockdown, a stunning breakdown in the Communist Party’s efforts to contain COVID-19 infections.

The Shanghai factory, which is owned by Taiwan’s Quanta Computer Inc. and makes devices for Apple Inc. among others, has been operating under tight restrictions since the beginning of April. In a video shared on Twitter and YouTube, workers rushed through barriers and tangled with guards in white protective gear who tried to keep them inside.

Quanta employees confirmed the clash occurred Thursday evening, while the company did not immediately provide comment. One worker said that people are worried about further tightening because there are positive COVID cases on the campus. The government is taking a central role in managing the plant’s operations, said another employee on-site.

6:35 a.m. Chinese cities are moving toward regular mandatory free testing for COVID-19, an approach that would cost the government 1.8% of gross domestic product if it’s rolled out to more places, according to an estimate from Nomura Holdings Inc.

Testing 70% of the population every two days would amount to 8.4% of China’s fiscal expenditure, Nomura economists led by chief China economist Lu Ting wrote in a note. That’s based on the cost of a single-person polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test of 20 yuan.

The spending could “crowd out” other government expenditure in areas such as infrastructure, the economists wrote, adding that “there are also opportunity costs, as people have to spend time every two days to take the test.”

The benefits of regular mass tests would be limited by the greater-infectiousness of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, according to Nomura. As a result cities will continue to face frequent lockdowns and intercity travel will remain limited, it said.

6:30 a.m. If you’ve already had COVID-19, your booster is still your best line of defence against severe outcomes, according to Dr. Barry Pakes, York Region’s Medical Officer of Health.

In his weekly update on the local fight against COVID-19, the Region’s top doctor said that while uptake on third and fourth doses of a COVID-19 vaccine had been encouraging York Regionwide, questions were still being asked whether they were still necessary after a bout of the virus.

“Over 30,000 fourth doses have been administered to York Region residents 60 years of age or older (and) the fourth dose is particularly important for those over 70 and 80,” said Dr. Pakes. “So, we strongly encourage older York Region residents to get their booster as soon as possible. Anyone above the age of 12 should now have three doses and children 5 – 11 should have two doses.

“The protection provided by the vaccine (after experiencing COVID) is longer-lasting and better than having COVID-19 disease and it is also far safer. If you haven’t received a fourth dose, please make an appointment.”

While the Region continues its push for boosters, there are hopeful signs on the horizon, he added.

“It was recently shared in a GTA newspaper column that COVID-19 reports are now somewhat like speaking about the weather: it is hard to say something new, but we still need to know about changing conditions so we can be prepared and respond,” said Dr. Pakes. “But, in fact there are new developments with COVID-19 and our response each and every hour, every day and every week, so I look forward to continuing to share these updates with you.

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