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.

2 p.m. Quebec is reporting six more deaths linked to COVID-19 Monday and a 16-patient jump in hospitalizations related to the disease.

The Health Department says there are 1,254 people hospitalized with COVID-19, after 62 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 46 were discharged.

The number of people in intensive care climbed by three, to 79.

1:50 p.m. Queen Elizabeth II met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, smiling and greeting him in front of a large bouquet of blue and yellow flowers, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

The audience was the queen’s first in-person engagement since she tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 20. Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the flower arrangement, but royal watchers say the queen and her family leave little to chance when making public appearances.

Trudeau was in the UK for talks on the Ukraine war with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and their Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte.

1:30 p.m. After the pandemic swept in two years ago, rents in New York and several other major American cities plunged, as fear of the virus and the lockdown of urban economies prompted waves of people to leave. But with the virus receding and a sense of normal life slowly returning, many big cities are regaining their appeal, helping fuel a nationwide surge in housing costs and pushing some residents out of homes they can no longer afford.

In few places is that phenomenon more stark than in New York, a city where renters make up two-thirds of all households.

Rents in New York rose 33 per cent between January 2021 and January 2022, according to the online listing site Apartment List, almost double the national rate and the highest increase among the 100 largest U.S. cities tracked by the group. “We’re seeing that rents have returned and basically surpassed where they were pre-pandemic,” Nancy Wu, an economist with StreetEasy, a real estate website, said of rents across New York.

1:15 p.m. Two years after adopting some of the strictest COVID-19 measures of any U.S. jurisdiction, Puerto Rico is eliminating most of its restrictions amid falling infection rates and an aggressive vaccine campaign.

Masks will no longer be required outdoors or indoors except in hospitals and at nursing homes, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said during a press conference Monday. In addition, all occupancy restrictions — including those on restaurants, bars and theaters — will be dropped. Events of 1,000 people or more, however, will still be required to follow special guidelines.

Visitors from the U.S. mainland will no longer have to fill out a health declaration form upon arrival.

1 p.m. Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said Monday that the state will formally recommend against COVID-19 vaccinations for healthy children.

Ladapo made the announcement at a roundtable event organized by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that featured a group of doctors who criticized coronavirus lockdowns and mandate policies. It was not immediately clear when the state would release its health guidance.

“The Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children,” Ladapo said at the end of the roundtable discussion.

“We’re kind of scraping at the bottom of the barrel, particularly with healthy kids, in terms of actually being able to quantify with any accuracy and any confidence the even potential of benefit,” he added.

12:45 p.m. Ontario is offering all nurses incentive pay of up to $5,000 per person to encourage job retention.

The government says it will spend $763 million on the incentive. Payments will come from employers in two instalments, in a lump sum for full-time nurses and as a prorated payment for part-time and casual nursing staff.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says the plan is meant to support the nursing workforce as the province recovers from the pandemic.

Nurses in hospitals, long-term care, retirement homes, home care, mental health and addictions, emergency services and corrections and others who worked directly with patients during the pandemic will be eligible.

11:05 a.m. Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley says she has tested positive for COVID-19.

“Friends, I tested positive for COVID-19 using a rapid antigen test yesterday.I have been triple-vaccinated and my symptoms are mild. I plan to continue to work hard on behalf of Alberta families while in isolation at my home,” she tweeted.

10:22 a.m. Ontario is reporting 693 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 249 people in ICU with COVID-19. There are 1,074 new cases of COVID-19.

Please note that not all hospitals report on weekends.

10:20 a.m. Nunavut employees at the territory’s two mining companies will be returning to work throughout March, as public health restrictions for COVID-19 continue to ease.

Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. will bring its Nunavut employees back to its Meliadine and Meadowbank gold mines on March 14, said spokesperson Sonja Galton in a news release.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. will begin bringing its Nunavut workforce back to the Mary River iron mine on March 7, according to spokesperson Stuart Weinberg.

“As we learn to manage COVID-19 and Nunavut begins to open up again, we believe the time is right to bring our Nunavummiut employees back to site,” said Baffinland CEO Brian Penney a news release from the company.

10:05 a.m. Hundreds of U.S. school districts are shifting from stern mask mandates to softer mask-optional guidelines, giving parents and children final say in a fraught debate.

Some adults say the change is overdue, and that after years of pandemic angst, their kids yearn to see the faces of teachers and classmates. Others say mask choice opens a new arena for peer pressure and ridicule, a perennial issue, but one that’s newly serious with varying vaccination rates and shots out of reach for the youngest students.

Schoolchildren already face pressure to fit in, particularly in matters of clothing and appearance. Parents have limited ability to control their offspring outside the house — not news to anyone who has waged a battle over skirt length or green hair. Now, masks are the new headache.

9:30 a.m. Robert Bruski figures his virtual reality arcade in Waterloo was closed more than it was open to the public since the pandemic began.

Unlike restaurants and fitness facilities, Bruski said the province just did not know how to classify CTRL-V, his Waterloo business where patrons can experience the metaverse.

“We were locked down probably three-quarters of the pandemic,” said Bruski, chief executive officer of CTRL-V. The province struggled with how to classify the arcade throughout the pandemic, placing it in the same category as casinos, move theatres and water parks.

Arcades and gaming venues had a unique experience during the pandemic when compared to other businesses like restaurants.

8:50 a.m. Many managers at U.K. companies expect to dial back their pandemic-era embrace of remote work and flexible arrangements once COVID-19 recedes, dampening hopes among employees that many of the changes will endure.

A survey of U.K. managers and human resources leaders, carried out for workplace management firm GoodShape by Ipsos, showed that more than two-thirds of respondents describe many initiatives currently in place — from working practices to mental-health provision — as “much needed.”

This is in sharp contrast to what they think will happen. Only 34 per cent of managers and HR professionals believe that remote working initiatives will stay in place after the pandemic, the survey of more than 750 people showed, even though 66 per cent support current policies.

8:30 a.m. Scugog employees who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 may now return to work if they agree to undergo rapid tests twice a week.

Councillors voted to amend the township’s inoculation policy to allow unvaccinated municipal staff the option of using a rapid antigen test following a closed-door meeting prior to the start of the Feb. 28 council session. They also agreed to revisit the vaccine policy in the future as provincial pandemic restrictions are reconsidered.

There was little discussion about the policy change among councillors when the issue was brought forward during the public portion of the meeting. The amendment was supported by all members of council except for Ward 3 Coun. Robert Rock, who opposed the tweak. He did not provide a reason for his opposition during the open council session.

5:50 a.m. Quebec is taking its first step toward lifting mandatory masking Monday, starting with elementary and high school students across the province.

Students won’t be required to wear masks while seated in class as they make their way back to school after March Break.

But the COVID-19 mask mandate still applies in common areas of elementary and high schools, while students are circulating and on school buses.

Quebec’s interim public health Luc Boileau has said that as early as next month, wearing masks could become a matter of personal choice rather than an obligation.

5:35 a.m. The official global death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 6 million on Monday — underscoring that the pandemic, now entering its third year, is far from over.

The milestone, recorded by Johns Hopkins University, is the latest tragic reminder of the unrelenting nature of the pandemic even as people are shedding masks, travel is resuming and businesses are reopening around the globe.

Remote Pacific islands, whose isolation had protected them for more than two years, are just now grappling with their first outbreaks and deaths, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Hong Kong, which is seeing deaths soar, is testing its entire population of 7.5 million three times this month as it clings to mainland China’s “zero-COVID” strategy.

Read more from The Associated Press.

5:15 a.m. Saskatchewan politicians are heading back to the legislature today for a spring session that will return to a pre-pandemic normal.

It’s scheduled for 10 weeks with a one-week break in mid-April — the longest spring session since 2020.

With the province lifting public health orders, masks will no longer be required for politicians in the chamber and the gallery will be open to members of the public.

5 a.m. The Star visited a general medicine unit at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital in mid-February to see how health-care workers were coping following the devastating impact of the Omicron wave. The hospital admitted its first COVID patient on March 2, 2020 and has since been among the hardest-hit Toronto-area hospitals in the pandemic.

With COVID cases declining, and COVID wards clearing of the sickest patients, staff said they hoped the worst was behind them.

But they also spoke of their bone-deep fatigue after two years of pandemic medicine and the resilience needed to work through the trauma of multiple COVID waves.

Read more from the Star’s Megan Ogilvie and Steve Russell.