Today’s coronavirus news: Northern Ontario schools reopen to in-class learning; WHO experts arriving in China to begin probe of virus origins; South Korea to vaccine its 52M people for free
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.
5:16 a.m. The Japanese Health Ministry has found a coronavirus variant in people arriving from Brazil that’s different from the ones in Britain and South Africa.
The variant was found in four people tested at the airport, the ministry said Sunday. Japan was working with other nations, the World Health Organization and other medical experts to analyze the variant.
The previously identified variants from Britain and South Africa are more contagious, but the behaviour of this variant and the illness it causes are not yet known.
5:12 a.m. Authorities in northern France launched a weeklong mass testing program on Monday to assess the rate of coronavirus infections and the spread of a more contagious variant that first appeared in southern England in November.
In the city of Roubaix, health officials said they hope to test 10% of the population by Saturday. That represents 10,000 people.
Sequencing will be carried out on the positive samples to detect whether the variant is present.
France has been criticized for its slow vaccination program, having vaccinated only a fraction of some of its neighbours.
5:10 a.m. South Korea’s president says it’ll offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all its people free of charge in phases.
President Moon Jae-in made the comments in his New Year’s address on Monday. He has maintained an earlier government announcement that the inoculation will start from February.
South Korean officials have said they’ll have vaccines for 56 million people, an amount seemingly enough for the country’s 52 million people.
Who will get vaccinated first has not yet been decided but is likely to be people at long-term care centres and nurses and doctors.
After weeks of a resurgence, South Korea’s virus caseload has gradually slowed amid tough distancing rules that include a ban on social gatherings of five or more people. Earlier Monday, South Korea reported 451 new virus cases, the first time for its daily tally to come below 500 in 41 days. The country’s total stands at 69,114 with 1,140 deaths.
5:05 a.m. More than 80% of people in Japan who were surveyed in two polls in the last few days say the Tokyo Olympics should be cancelled or postponed, or say they believe the Olympics will not take place.
The polls were conducted by the Japanese news agency Kyodo and TBS — the Tokyo Broadcasting System.
The results are bad news for Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee as they continue to say the postponed Olympics will open on July 23.
Tokyo is battling a surge of COVID-19 cases that prompted the national government last week to call a state of emergency. In declaring the emergency, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he was confident the Olympics would be held.
5:02 a.m. Experts from the World Health Organization are due to arrive in China this week for a long-anticipated investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, the government said Monday.
The experts will arrive on Thursday and meet with Chinese counterparts, the National Health Commission said in a one-sentence statement that gave no other details.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the experts would be travelling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.
Negotiations for the visit have long been underway. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed disappointment last week over delays, saying that members of the international scientific team departing from their home countries had already started on their trip as part of an arrangement between the WHO and the Chinese government.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China had approved the visit following consultations between the sides and called it an opportunity to “exchange views with Chinese scientists and medical experts on scientific co-operation on the tracing of the origin of the new coronavirus.”
4:54 a.m. Alberta kids return to full-time in-person classes this week, but the back-to-school story is a bit more complicated in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced last week that lockdown restrictions imposed last month would continue until Jan. 21, but schools were an exception and would reopen Monday.
A full return to classes in Manitoba, however, won’t happen until Jan. 18, although in-person learning has been available as an option for children in kindergarten through Grade 6 as well as for older kids with special needs.
Students’ return to the classroom in Saskatchewan depends on the schedule of each school division.
Regina Public Schools kept elementary and high school students learning at home last week with the plan to resume in-person learning today.
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, meanwhile, already welcomed students back last week.
Monday 4 a.m. Elementary school students across northern Ontario can return to in-class learning this morning.
The northern portion of the province is allowed to return to school buildings as positivity rates for COVID-19 are relatively low.
The provincial government announced on Thursday that schools across southern Ontario, meanwhile, would not be returning to in-person classes today as planned.
Instead, students in southern Ontario will continue attending classes remotely until at least Jan. 25.
To account for the change, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Saturday that the list of essential workers eligible for emergency child care would be expanded.
It now includes RCMP officers, custodial and clerical education workers and postal staff.
Sunday 9:30 p.m.: Now that COVID-19 vaccines have started arriving in Canada, where’s the national public awareness campaign around their safety and effectiveness?
It’s a question public health experts have been asking as vaccinations have begun for high-risk populations, with access for the general public likely to start in the spring.
“You always want to start this stuff sooner rather than later,” said Dr. Nitin Mohan, a physician epidemiologist and partner at ETIO Public Health Consultants, on the need for a public awareness campaign.
Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada told the Star that a “mass campaign” is planned for the spring, although a budget estimate hasn’t been finalized.
In the meantime, a campaign for winter 2021 budgeted at $4.5 million “will include regular updates on vaccine distribution and administration, as well as advertising, outreach and social media marketing to provide Canadians with vaccine information, including facts and expert answers, and to address misinformation,” the agencies said in a written statement.