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A COVID-19 screening station at a salon in Windsor, Ont., on June 25, 2020.

Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press

Public health restrictions on businesses and gatherings are rolling back further in Ontario today.

The province moved into the second step of its economic reopening plan at 12:01 a.m.

That means hair salons and similar facilities can open today with masking rules, and retail stores can have more people inside.

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Groups of up to 25 people can gather outdoors and five people can gather indoors.

Outdoor attractions and events like performances can open with capacity rules.

The changes are taking effect a few days ahead of schedule due to strong vaccination rates and other public health indicators.

Ontario is reporting 184 new cases of COVID-19 today and 14 more deaths from the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 46 new cases in the Waterloo Region, 19 in Grey Bruce and 17 in Toronto.

She says there are also 17 new cases in Hamilton and 16 in Peel Region.

The province says 271 people are in intensive care because of the virus and 181 are on a ventilator.

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The data is based on nearly 27,300 completed tests.

Elliott says that a record 268,397 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered on Tuesday for a total of more than 14.7 million.

Yukon asks for federal help as territory battles widespread transmission of COVID-19

Yukon’s chief public health officer paused and fought back tears as he urged residents to follow COVID-19 public health orders to help fight widespread community transmission that has pushed hospitals to their limits.

Dr. Brendan Hanley said the territory has the highest active case rate in the country and has asked the federal government for help in controlling the outbreak.

On Wednesday, there were 10 new infections, for a total of 130 active cases, and one more death. Three people have died since the outbreak began. Two others died earlier in the pandemic.

“We have a whole team of heroes working in the trenches right now and I can tell you they are tired,” Hanley said during a news conference.

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Health Minister Tracy McPhee said seven nurses from Ontario were on the way to Yukon.

“The current wave is the biggest challenge that we have faced yet, and we need ... to come together to stop COVID-19 from spreading,” McPhee said.

Just over three-quarters of adults and 62 per cent of youth in the territory have been fully vaccinated.

Some 82 per cent of those currently infected are unvaccinated and are between one and 90 years old.

“This outbreak is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated Yukoners. Unvaccinated individuals need to be extremely careful,” McPhee said.

“Many people are getting infected and our capacity to handle this number of cases and this much illness is sorely stretching our ability to cope. Some people are getting very sick.”

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Hanley said the outbreak is being driven by the Gamma variant first identified in Brazil and is mostly affecting people between 10 and 29 years old. He has said previously that it is strongly linked to recent graduation events, parties and young adults frequenting bars and restaurants around Whitehorse.

Transmission should drop in the next couple of weeks if people stop socializing and limit gatherings to six, he added. He also said parents who are not essential workers should keep their kids home from daycare for the next two weeks. Eighteen cases have been reported at a Whitehorse daycare.

“If we pull in the reins, buckle down, we can make a huge difference in this outbreak.”

Hanley said this is Yukon’s first true wave of COVID-19. The territory had zero to low case counts for most of the pandemic.

Dr. Brian Conway, director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said outbreaks like the one in Yukon will continue to happen across Canada among unvaccinated people.

“We should assume COVID will be around for years and years until it’s proven otherwise,” Conway said.

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He also said making sure every eligible person has both doses of vaccine as quickly as possible is key to stopping the spread of variants.

“We must remind ourselves that this is not the end. There are places around the world that don’t have the vaccination rates that we have and there’s the risk of variants coming in through travel.”

At the same time, public health measures, if followed, will likely be able to control Yukon’s outbreak, Conway said.

“I wouldn’t be discouraged by this outbreak. It’s not something you want to see, but it’s something that’s going to happen.”

B.C. residents should still wear masks in indoor public places: top doctor

British Columbia’s top doctor is encouraging people to continue wearing masks in all indoor places, even as they’re no longer mandatory starting Canada Day.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says masks remain an important layer of protection until more people have immunity from two doses of vaccine, which nearly 31 per cent of residents aged 12 and over have received.

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Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix say in a joint statement that 44 new cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed, for a total of nearly 148,000 cases.

Of the 816 active cases, 108 people are hospitalized, and 34 of them are in intensive care.

Henry and Dix say the next phase of B.C.’s restart plan is a chance to look ahead and reconnect but also to recognize the challenges various communities have faced over the last year and a half.

Police and ICBC will be launching a summer CounterAttack campaign as public health orders are eased and nightclubs and casinos are open for the first time since last year.

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