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Ontario’s Ministry of Long Term Care unveiled new moves it said could ease strain on a hospital system stretched to the limit by mounting COVID-19 cases, as public health officials in one hot-spot region partially closed two warehouses due to the virus.

The ministry announced Saturday that it will try to free up hospital beds by waiving fees for patients who agree to take a spot in a home that may not be their first choice until they’re placed in the facility they want.

“The third wave of COVID-19 is putting unprecedented pressure on Ontario’s hospitals, requiring immediate action,” Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said in a statement.

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The province said patients who opt for an alternative long-term care placement won’t lose their waiting list spots at their preferred facility. If they’re fully immunized, the government said they could also skip the otherwise mandatory isolation period before moving.

Amazon workplaces to be partially closed due to outbreak

Two Amazon fulfillment centres west of Toronto will partially close under new regional rules that allow temporary shutdowns of workplaces where five or more COVID-19 cases have surfaced over a two-week period.

Peel Region, which enacted the measures earlier this week, says the facilities are located on Heritage Road in Brampton, Ont., and Coleraine Drive in Bolton, Ont.

The rules state that closures can last up to 10 days and require affected employees to isolate and refrain from working elsewhere during that time.

Ontario science table urges province to focus vaccination campaign on COVID-19 hot spots

Healthcare workers wait in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine dose in Toronto in December. Ontario’s science advisory table says half of the available vaccine doses should now be allocated to 74 hot spot neighbourhoods, as opposed to allocation based on age demographic.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table is encouraging a shift in the province’s vaccine strategy, saying allocating shots based on transmission rate rather than age group would considerably reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

The group of scientific experts and health system leaders says focusing on hot spot neighbourhoods where COVID-19 infection rates are highest and residents are less likely to be able to work from home would reduce hospitalizations by 14 per cent and deaths by 11 per cent.

The table says the current approach, which has largely focused on vaccinating people based on age, health condition or status as a resident of a congregate care setting, has left some of those most at risk least likely to receive a shot.

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The table’s analysis shows residents of neighbourhoods with the lowest risk of COVID-19 are 1.5 times more likely to have received at least one shot.

To quell the virus, the table says the province could move to a hot spot-accelerated vaccination strategy, where half of Ontario’s shots are allocated to 74 neighbourhoods with the highest COVID-19 incidence levels.

It says the remaining half could be equally distributed across the province, but noted there could be additional benefits if Ontario further prioritized workers in warehouses, factories and other facilities with large numbers of outbreaks.

Rates of COVID-19 patients in ICU climbing: Tam

Canada’s Chief Public Health officer says the latest national data shows an ongoing rise in severe illness from COVID-19 is continuing to strain the country’s health-care systems and workers.

Dr. Theresa Tam says in a statement that average weekly rates of admission to hospitals, including intensive care units, continue to climb, even with a slight decline in overall new cases.

According to Tam’s numbers, an average of 4,167 COVID-19 patients were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the week of April 16 to 22, marking a 22 per cent increase over the week before.

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Tam says that includes an average of 1,268 people requiring intensive care each day, which is 21 per cent more than in the previous week.

In that same period, the average number of new cases reported each day fell by 2.6 per cent, which she says is a sign that public health enforcement and vaccination efforts are succeeding.

Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling once again for Ottawa to halt all non-essential travel across Canadian borders, after officials in his province reported 36 confirmed cases Friday of the B.1.617 variant first detected in India.

Ontario reports 4,094 new COVID-19 cases, 24 deaths

Ontario is reporting 4,094 new cases of CoVID-19 Saturday along with 24 new virus-related deaths.

Saturday’s figures mark a drop from the 4,505 reported the day before, but an uptick from the 3,682 new cases on Thursday.

The province’s death toll from COVID-19 now stands at 7,887.

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The province says the number of people hospitalized because of the virus sits at 2,277, down 10 from Friday.

Figures show 833 of those patients are in intensive care, with 600 on ventilators.

Ontario’s numbers are based on 52,160 tests completed in the last 24 hours.

Quebec reports 1,106 new COVID-19 cases; Montreal religious gathering attended by more than 300 people

Quebec is reporting 1,106 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday and 13 additional deaths linked to the disease, including three within the past 24 hours.

The Health Department says the number of hospitalizations declined by 22 from the day before and now stands at 662, while the number of people in intensive care rose by nine to 181.

Public health authorities say 83,628 doses of vaccine were administered on Friday, for a total of 2,763,535 since the launch of the provincial immunization drive.

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Meanwhile, Montreal police say they found around 350 people gathered at a synagogue in the city’s Outremont borough on Friday evening.

Police say no tickets were issued, but a report was filed with the prosecution service, who will decide whether any charges will be laid.

Police say they met with one of the leaders of the synagogue to inform him about Quebec’s COVID-19 regulations, which forbid religious gatherings of more than 25 people.

Quebec has reported 343,794 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10,869 deaths associated with the disease since the onset of the pandemic.

Halifax police fine 22 people for party; Nova Scotia reports 52 new COVID-19 cases

Police in Halifax say they broke up a party Friday night and ticketed 22 people for failing to comply with public health orders.

Halifax Regional Police issued a release this morning saying they were called to a “large social gathering” near Dalhousie University at about 1 a.m.

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Police say the number of people at the house exceeded the limit allowed under current pandemic-related health orders.

The release says officers issued 22 summary offence tickets, each carrying a fine of $1,000.

Earlier this week, Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin announced a month-long lockdown for Halifax and surrounding communities beginning Friday morning.

The restrictions limit outdoor and indoor gatherings to five people and prohibit large gatherings, including social events, festivals, sports and wedding receptions.

Nova Scotia is reporting 52 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday as Premier Rankin urges residents to stay home. Officials say 44 of today’s new cases are in the province’s central zone, which includes the Halifax area.

In a tweet following the release of Saturday’s numbers, Rankin said people in the area must stay at home and follow the public health guidelines now that community spread is confirmed.

Rankin Inlet has two active COVID-19 cases after flight from Iqaluit

Nunavut’s chief public health officer says there are now COVID-19 cases in Rankin Inlet that arrived in the community by plane on Friday.

Dr. Michael Patterson says in a news release that there are two cases linked to an outbreak in the territory’s capital, Iqaluit, and that they arrived on Canadian North Flight 239 from Iqaluit to Rankin Inlet.

Patterson says both were identified as close contacts of positive cases only after the flight took off from Iqaluit.

He says shortly after the plane arrived in Rankin Inlet, public health staff found the infected passengers, who were promptly tested and put in isolation.

Patterson says the risk of transmission in Rankin Inlet is low, but everyone still needs to follow public health measures.

Nunavut now has 41 active COVID-19 cases – 35 in Iqaluit, four in Kinngait and two in Rankin Inlet.

Ontario reports second blood-clot condition linked to AstraZeneca vaccine

Ontario is reporting its second case of a rare blood clotting condition stemming from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, chief medical officer of health for Hamilton, says a man in his 60s was diagnosed with immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia after his first dose of the vaccine.

She says the patient has received treatment and remains in hospital.

She notes that serious reactions to the vaccine are extremely rare.

On Friday, Ontario announced its first case of a blood clot related to the AstraZeneca shot. Canada has logged five such cases across the country, and administered more than 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot so far.

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