Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 2,005 new cases, 18 more deaths; EU kicks off COVID-19 vaccine campaign

Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 2,005 new cases, 18 more deaths; EU kicks off COVID-19 vaccine campaign

KEY FACTS

  • 10:15 a.m.: Ontario reports 2,005 new cases, 18 more deaths

  • 8:45 a.m.: EU kicks off COVID-19 vaccine campaign

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

11:56 a.m.: Quebec says 6,783 new cases of COVID-19 and 110 additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus have been reported since Thursday.

The three-day total comes after the province did not publish data on the number of new infections or deaths on Friday or Saturday.

Health officials say 2,291 of the new infections and 12 of the deaths were reported in the last 24 hours.

The province has now recorded 192,655 total cases and 8,023 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations went up by 33 since the last figures were published on Thursday, for a total of 1,085.

Of those, 149 people are in intensive care, an increase of three from the previously reported total.

A province-wide lockdown went into effect Friday in Quebec, with businesses deemed non-essential ordered to remain closed until at least Jan. 11.

Officials say 6,145 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered since Thursday, for a total of 17,316 doses since the vaccinations began on Dec. 14.

11:22 a.m.: Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews says the goal in 2021 is to get vaccines out and put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror, then work to fix a battered and beleaguered economy.

But with a $21-billion deficit and Alberta’s wellspring oil and gas economy still in flux, there’s a red-inked elephant in the room: Where’s the money going to come from?

“We will not cut our way out of a $21-billion deficit,” Toews said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.

“We have to get the economy growing again. And economic recovery will very quickly become job No. 1 as we start to get past the pandemic.”

Roll the tape back to the start of 2020. Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government was busy trying to resuscitate an already wheezing economy only to see COVID-19 blow everything apart and take with it Kenney’s signature election promise to balance the deficit in his first term.

That goal is a distant memory with a projected budget deficit this year tripling an original forecast of $6.8 billion. COVID-19 has slashed demand for energy, shuttered businesses and demanded relief aid and job supports to keep people going.

Toews said the plan is to get Alberta out of the financial ditch in February with the budget.

In November, he laid out “fiscal anchors” for the journey: keeping the net-debt to GDP ratio under 30 per cent, reducing public sector spending to match comparable jurisdictions and setting a timeline to get the budget back to balance.

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe said Alberta is in the enviable position of having options. It’s the lowest-taxed province, and oil and gas will continue to deliver billions of dollars to the treasury for the foreseeable future, though not in the same eye-popping amounts as boom times.

Read the full story from the Canadian Press here.

10:15 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 2,005 cases of COVID-19 today and 18 more deaths from the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 572 new cases in Toronto, 331 in Peel, 207 in York Region and 140 in Windsor-Essex County.

The province says 823 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 285 people in intensive care and 194 on ventilators.

The province now has added more than 2,000 cases each day for 13 daysin a row and is entering its second day of province-wide restrictions to stem the spread.

Elliott says data about the number of tests completed over the holidays is coming shortly after a delay from Dec. 24 to Dec. 26.

8:46 a.m.: Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet lapsed overnight as President Donald Trump refused to sign an end-of-year COVID relief and spending bill that had been considered a done deal before his sudden objections.

The fate of the bipartisan package remained in limbo Sunday as Trump continued to demand larger COVID relief checks and complained about “pork” spending. Without the widespread funding provided by the massive measure, a government shutdown would occur when money runs out at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

“It’s a chess game and we are pawns,” said Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana, who stood to lose her $129 weekly jobless benefit unless Trump signed the package into law or succeeded in his improbable quest for changes.

Washington has been reeling since Trump turned on the deal after it had won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House had assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.

Instead, he assailed the bill’s plan to provide $600 COVID relief checks to most Americans — insisting it should be $2,000. House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare Christmas Eve session. But Trump has not been swayed in spite of the nation being in the grip of a pandemic.

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“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted Saturday from Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending the holiday. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”

President-elect Joe Biden called on Trump to sign the bill immediately as the midnight Saturday deadline neared for two federal programs providing unemployment aid.

8:44 a.m.: France started its first coronavirus vaccinations Sunday at a nursing home northeast of Paris, in one of the country’s poorest regions, as part of a Europe-wide vaccination rollout.

“An intense moment, carrying so much hope,” tweeted the head of the Paris region public health service, Aurelien Rousseau.

A 78-year-old woman identified only by her first name, Mauricette, was given France’s first vaccine shot in the town of Sevran. Later in the day, vaccinations will be given at the Champmaillot home in Dijon.

Polls suggest that people in France are a bit skeptical of the new vaccines, so France’s government has been cautious in its messaging and is not making the vaccines obligatory. The government hopes to be able to vaccinate up to 27 million of its 67 million people by summer.

France has reported over 62,570 lives lost in the pandemic. Nearly a third died in nursing homes, so the government decided to give the vaccine to the elderly first, as well as at-risk medical workers.

8:32 a.m.: Beijing officials reported five new locally transmitted coronavirus cases as authorities rushed to mass-test residents. The five cases, linked to earlier infections, lived in the city’s Shunyi district, which has since activated an emergency response plan including mass testing, source tracing and disinfection.

As of Saturday noon, over 120,000 had been tested for the coronavirus. Authorities plan to test 800,000 people in the district. Separately, officials reported four locally transmitted cases in the northeastern port city of Dalia, where over 4.75 million people were tested following more than 20 confirmed cases this month. China reported 22 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 10 imported and 12 domestic. China has so far reported a total of 86,955 cases, with 4,634 deaths.

8:30 a.m.: South Korea has decided not to immediately enforce its toughest distancing rules in the greater Seoul area despite a surge in coronavirus cases there. The area is currently under the second-highest distancing rules. There have been calls for raising the restrictions to the highest level, but the government is reluctant to do so because of worries about the economy.

Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Sunday the government will maintain the current restrictions in the Seoul area until Jan. 3. He said the third-highest level of distancing rules imposed in other regions will also remain in place until Jan 3. Kwon said South Korea logged an average of 999 new cases per day last week, with 690 of them in the Seoul area. Under the current rules, nightclubs, karaoke rooms, fitness centres, gyms and cram schools in the Seoul area have suspended operations.

As additional steps, authorities last week banned social gatherings of more than five people and ordered the shutdowns of ski resorts and other tourists spots. The toughest restrictions would shut down hundreds of thousands of more businesses and order companies to have all nonessential employees work from home. South Korea has reported 56,872 cases overall, including 808 deaths.

8:30 a.m.: Japan is barring entry of all nonresident foreign nationals as a precaution against a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant that has spread across Britain.

The Foreign Ministry says the entry ban will start Monday and last through Jan. 31.

Last week, Japan banned nonresident foreigners coming from Britain and South Africa after confirming the new variant in seven people over the last two days — five from Britain who tested positive at airports and two others in Tokyo.

Japan is also suspending the exemption of a 14-day quarantine for Japanese nationals and resident foreigners in a short-track program that began in November. The entrants now must carry proof of a negative test 72 hours prior to departure for Japan and self-isolate for two weeks after arrival.

Japan is struggling with surging cases since November. It has confirmed a total of 217,312 cases including 3,213 deaths, up 3,700 from the previous 24-hour period. Tokyo alone reported 949 cases, setting a new record, despite calls by experts and government officials for people to spend a “quiet” holiday season.

8:30 a.m.: Doctors, nurses and the elderly rolled up their sleeves across the European Union to receive the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine Sunday in a symbolic show of unity and moment of hope for a continent confronting its worst health care crisis in a century.

Even though a few countries started giving doses a day early, the co-ordinated rollout for the 27-nation bloc was aimed at projecting a unified message that the vaccine was safe and Europe’s best chance to emerge from the pandemic and the economic devastation caused by months of lockdown.

For health care workers who have been battling the virus with only masks and shields to protect themselves, the vaccines represented an emotional relief as well as a public chance to urge Europe’s 450 million people to get the shots for their own health and that of others.

“Today I’m here as a citizen, but most of all as a nurse, to represent my category and all the health workers who choose to believe in science,” said Claudia Alivernini, 29, who was the first of five doctors and nurses at the Spallanzani infectious disease hospital in Rome to receive the vaccine.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called the vaccine — which was developed in record time — a “game-changer.”

“We know that today is not the end of the pandemic, but it is the beginning of the victory,” he said.

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