https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2022/05/02/covid-19-coronavirus-omicron-updates-toronto-ontario-may-2.html

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.

12:30 p.m. People’s fear of contracting COVID-19 might be waning, but almost one in four Canadians still reports having high anxiety, according to a researcher at the University of Waterloo.

“My expectation was that we’d see lower levels, because we’re trying to go back to normal. Kids are back to school, people are going back to work like they used to before the pandemic and the concerns with the virus and the disease itself is the lowest it’s been,” said Gustavo Betini, a PhD student in the school of public health science, who has spent the past year studying the mental health effects of COVID-19 as part of a research internship with Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC), supported by Mitacs, a national nonprofit research organization.

Data collected from more than 35,000 surveys since the beginning of the pandemic is intended to inform policymakers and stakeholders in the mental health field, including Health Canada.

12 p.m. Quebec is reporting three more deaths attributed to the coronavirus Monday and a 12-patient drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The Health Department says there are 2,170 patients hospitalized with the disease after 97 people were admitted in the past 24 hours and 109 were discharged.

There are 78 patients in intensive care, an increase of three over the same period. Health officials say there are 7,377 health network employees who are absent due to COVID-19.

11:30 a.m. Ian McGrath has made it clear to his bosses: If the company forces staff to return to the office, he’ll tender his resignation.

The Halifax-area tech worker says he’s thriving working from home. His productivity has soared, his last annual review exceeded expectations and he’s now one of the company’s top performers.

“I’ve also achieved a much better work-life balance,” McGrath said. “I’m healthier, happier and more productive.”

Businesses are issuing return-to-office plans across the country, calling white-collar workers back to their cubicles after two years of working from home.

As pandemic restrictions are lifted and case numbers ease, some companies want workers back in the office five days a week. On the other side of the spectrum, others are vacating pricey leases in prime downtown areas and asking employees to work remotely for good.

11:15 a.m. What happens if I get COVID-19 while traveling? Depending on your destination, it could result in an unexpected change in plans, such as being required to stay isolated in a hotel.

It’s why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you have backup plans ready if you’re traveling abroad. You might have to stay longer than planned if you test positive.

In some places, you won’t be able to board flights until you test negative. In others, you might also be required to stay in a quarantine facility.

Since results from a PCR test can remain positive for weeks after an infection, those who have had COVID-19 might have to get documentation from a doctor or health authorities saying they’ve recovered. Some travel only requires an antigen test.

11 a.m. Danish health officials said Monday that 1.1 million excess COVID-19 vaccines will be discarded in the coming weeks because their expiration date is near, and efforts to donate them to developing countries have failed.

Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of COVID-19 in Denmark, said the epidemic in the Scandinavian country “is currently under control, and the vaccine coverage in the Danish population is high.”

Around 81 per cent of Denmark’s population of 5.8 million has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, while nearly 62 per cent have received a booster shot.

The agency said that Denmark, like most countries across the world, has a surplus of vaccines.

10:40 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 211 people in ICU due to COVID-19 and 1,423 in hospital overall testing positive for COVID-19, according to its latest report released Monday morning.

The numbers represent a 12.8 per cent increase in the ICU COVID-19 count and a 0.9 per cent increase in hospitalizations overall. 27 per cent of the province’s 2,343 adult ICU beds remain available for new patients.

Given new provincial regulations around testing that took effect Dec. 31, 2021, case counts – reported at 1,275 on Monday, down 43.2 per cent from the previous day – are also not considered an accurate assessment of how widespread COVID-19 is right now. No new deaths were reported in the latest numbers.

Read the full story from the Star’s Dorcas Marfo

10:30 a.m. New Zealand welcomed tourists from the U.S., Canada, Britain, Japan and more than 50 other countries for the first time in more than two years Monday after dropping most of its remaining pandemic border restrictions.

The country has long been renowned for its breathtaking scenery and adventure tourism offerings such as bungy jumping and skiing. Before the spread of COVID-19, more than 3 million tourists visited each year, accounting for 20 per cent of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5 per cent of the overall economy.

But international tourism stopped altogether in early 2020 after New Zealand imposed some of the world’s toughest border restrictions.

The border rules remained in place as the government at first pursued an elimination strategy and then tried to tightly control the spread of the virus. The spread of omicron and vaccinations of more than 80 per cent of New Zealand’s 5 million population prompted the gradual easing of restrictions.

10:25 a.m. Hamilton’s largest hospital network has significantly scaled back scheduled care to cope with overcrowding and staff shortages causing more strain than at any other time in the pandemic.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) is down to 65-per-cent to 70-per-cent of its pre-COVID volumes, chief medical executive Dr. Michael Stacey told The Spectator Saturday.

It’s a major step back for the hospital network, which had recently got up to 90-per-cent and was well on its way to being fully operational. This happens as HHS and St. Joseph’s Healthcare are already facing a pandemic backlog of 14,585 surgeries.

“We’re operating well above capacity at the present time and on top of that we have this precarious staffing position primarily from people self-isolating due to COVID,” he said. “It really is challenging for us because we had been looking toward getting back to the pre-COVID levels of activity or possibly even above that to be able to deal with that backlog.”

10:16 a.m. As restrictions continue to ease across Canada and worldwide, British Columbians are feeling more hopeful than ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New data from Pacific Blue Cross’s February BC-based population study on mental health shows 70 per cent reported a positive rating, 13 percentage points more than last year (January 2021) at the height of the pandemic.

The outlook on mental health is promising as 31 per cent of British Columbians expect improvements in their mental wellbeing over the next few months.

The February 2022 results represent the most positive self-evaluated mental health levels since March 2020. However, there are gaps compared to the pre-pandemic baseline, signaling additional efforts are required in the mental health space.

9:50 a.m. Pfizer Inc. slumped after Paxlovid, its pill for treating COVID-19, failed to show benefit as a preventive therapy in a trial.

Paxlovid is poised to become one of the fastest-selling drugs of all time, with $24 billion (U.S.) in projected 2022 sales, according to analytics group Airfinity Ltd. Pfizer has also reaped billions in global sales from its COVID-19 vaccine.

The company said late Friday that the drug failed to hit its main goal of reducing the risk that adults exposed to the coronavirus through contact with a household member would become infected. Compared with those who took a placebo, people who received Paxlovid had about a third less risk of infection, which wasn’t statistically significant.

9:35 a.m. The last time federal Conservatives were picking a leader, their race was transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than two years later, they are at it again. But this time, the race is happening during what appears to be the end of Canadians living under government-imposed pandemic rules.

The events of the past 25 months, from when the health crisis first landed until now, are shaping the contest for who will lead the Conservative party after Sept. 10.

“The whole concept of talking about freedom is definitely a direct result of the pandemic,“ said Chris Chapin, a managing principal at the Upstream Strategy Group, who worked on past leadership campaigns for Ontario Progressive Conservative candidates.

9:15 a.m. Steven Del Duca is promising $1 fares on all transit lines in Ontario if his Liberals defeat Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives on June 2.

That would mean significant saving for commuters.

On the TTC, fares are $3.25, while on GO Transit, it can cost as much as $21.15 one-way from Niagara Falls to Union Station.

The Liberal leader, who was transportation minister in premier Kathleen Wynne’s government, said fares would be temporarily cut until January 2024 to help offset soaring inflation and encourage ridership that is down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie

8:05 a.m. Blazers in knit fabrics, pants with drawstrings or elastic waists, and polo shirts as the new button-down. Welcome to the post-pandemic dress code for the office.

After working remotely in sweats and yoga pants for two years, many Americans are rethinking their wardrobes to balance comfort and professionalism as offices reopen. They’re giving a heave-ho to the structured suits, zip-front pants and pencil skirts they wore before the COVID-19 pandemic and experimenting with new looks. That has retailers and brands rushing to meet workers’ fashion needs for the future of work.

“Being comfortable is more important than being super structured,” said Kay Martin-Pence, 58, who went back to her Indianapolis office last month in dressy jeans and flowy tops after working remotely in leggings and slippers for two years. “Why feel buttoned up and stiff when I don’t have to?”

7:45 a.m. For travelers heading to Europe, summer vacations just got a whole lot easier. Italy and Greece relaxed some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday before Europe’s peak summer tourist season, in a sign that life was increasingly returning to normal.

Greece’s civil aviation authority announced that it was lifting all COVID-19 rules for international and domestic flights except for the wearing of face masks during flights and at airports. Previously, air travelers were required to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery from the disease.

As of Sunday, visitors to Italy no longer have to fill out the EU passenger locator form, a complicated online ordeal required at airport check-in.

Italy also did away with the health pass that had been required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and other venues. The green pass, which showed proof of vaccination, recovery from the virus or a recent negative test, is still required to access hospitals and nursing homes.

7:22 a.m. Banin Hassan says there is only one reason she would consider getting another shot of a COVID-19 vaccine to boost her first two doses.

“If they make it mandatory and restrict activities or travel from my life again, I would consider it ‘cause I love to travel,” says the Hamilton-based consultant, who is 27.

“Other than that, there isn’t anything that would change my mind.”

Canadian government data shows young adults lag other age groups in getting boosted. About 35 per cent of people between 18 and 29 have received a third dose. That goes up to 42 per cent for 30- to 39-year-olds. On average, 72 per cent of Canadians 40 and older have received theirs.

A Calgary-based doctor who has studied vaccine hesitancy says he is not surprised young adults are behind.

6:27 a.m. A rapidly spreading variant and close, indoor quarters are likely factors that have led to cruise ship passengers testing positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks, according to the CDC.

A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said most cases have not been severe.

“The vast majority of cases did not have severe outcomes, with only one COVID-19 hospitalization reported” in the outbreak on the Ruby Princess, which is still under investigation, said CDC spokesman Nick Spinelli.

And avid cruisers aren’t likely to give up the ocean-going travel freedom they lost for so many months during the pandemic.

A robust 2022 cruise schedule remains unchanged at the Port of Los Angeles, a port spokesman said.

6:26 a.m. Shanghai reported fewer than 10,000 COVID-19 cases for a second day, adding to cautious signs the financial hub’s outbreak is starting to ease as Beijing imposed a raft of new restrictions aimed at avoiding a similar crisis in the capital.

Shanghai — home to 25 million people — reported 7,333 new cases for Sunday, down from 7,872 on Saturday. On Sunday, city authorities clarified their threshold for zero community spread, saying six districts “basically” met this criteria and can enjoy less restrictive measures.

However, in Beijing, which reported 41 new cases for Sunday compared with 59 cases on Saturday, authorities are clamping down to ensure the Labour Day holiday period doesn’t spark a wider outbreak. The city has closed gyms and cinemas and banned dining-in at restaurants during the holiday, which runs through Wednesday. Parks and open entertainment venues will operate at 50% capacity.

After the holiday ends, students and workers will need to get a negative COVID test within 48 hours to be able to return to school and work. Residents will have to get a negative result within seven days to catch public transport and enter public venues, and everyone in the city of about 22 million people will then need to be tested weekly.

Beijing authorities announced a new round of mass testing in 12 districts, starting on May 3, during a press briefing Monday. Since April 22, Beijing has reported a total of 400 COVID cases across 14 districts, according to the city government.

6:25 a.m.: Canadian government data shows young adults lag other age groups in getting boosted. About 35 per cent of people between 18 and 29 have received a third dose. That goes up to 42 per cent for 30- to 39-year-olds. On average, 72 per cent of Canadians 40 and older have received theirs.

A Calgary-based doctor who has studied vaccine hesitancy says he is not surprised young adults are behind.

“Even before the booster, with the second and the first dose, we did see much lower uptake in the 25 (group) compared to the 65-plus community,” says Dr. Jia Hu, who leads a group that advises on how to increase uptake.

Hu is the CEO of 19 to Zero, made up of doctors, nurses, economists and other experts, who aim to help governments, companies and communities across Canada build trust in vaccines.

“One thing that allowed us to get vaccine uptake rates higher in the 30-range was vaccine mandates, because I don’t think there’s hesitancy in this population (about the shots themselves),” Hu says. “In that age group, people are less concerned about COVID causing severe illness. Mandates let them live life again.”

Read the full story from The Canadian Press.