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

12:30 p.m. Ontario is expanding eligibility for fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines for some.

Starting Thursday, anyone 60 and older, members of the First Nations, Inuit, Métis communities who are 18 and older along with members of their households, will be eligible to book a second booster shot.

The move comes as the province is in the midst of a sixth wave of COVID, the surge of cases in recent weeks fueled by the Omicron and BA.2 variants.

“Vaccines are our best defence against COVID-19 and its variants. Because of our exceptionally high vaccination rates and Ontario’s cautious approach, we currently have one of the lowest hospitalization rates in the country,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott in a statement released Wednesday.

Read the guide from the Star’s Ivy Mak

12 p.m. Quebec is reporting 12 more deaths attributed to COVID-19 Wednesday and a 61-patient rise in hospitalizations linked to the disease.

Health authorities say 1,540 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 after 226 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 165 were discharged.

There are 66 people listed in intensive care, a drop of three.

Officials are reporting 3,761 new COVID-19 cases based on PCR testing, which is limited to certain high-risk groups; they are also reporting 1,481 new positive results from take-home rapid tests uploaded by the public on an online portal.

11:22 a.m. At the Durham District School Board, the number of staff and students absent due to self-reported positive COVID-19 tests has more than doubled in the past few weeks — and schools are struggling to fill teacher vacancies.

For example, on April 1, the DDSB saw about 2,200 school-based staff absent. That’s 200 more absences than what has been typical over the past month.

School-based staff includes teachers, early childhood educators, educational assistants and clerical staff.

“Staff absenteeism due to COVID is high,” director of education Norah Marsh told trustees at the DDSB’s April 4 standing committee meeting. “We are seeing an increase in absenteeism, more so than we saw in January and February.”

10:47 a.m. Spain’s health minister wants to lift face mask requirements for indoor spaces except public transportation and medical centers after Easter Week, when many residents travel and see their families.

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias said Wednesday that she would bring the proposed action to a government Cabinet meeting on April 19. If approved as expected, it would take effect the following day.

Over 92 per cent of Spaniards over age 12 have received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. The country’s high vaccination rate has meant relatively low pressure on hospitals during the most recent surge of infections.

Authorities made outdoor mask use no longer obligatory in February as a wave of cases caused by the more contagious omicron variant eased. In March, Spain eliminated mandatory home isolation for people infected with the coronavirus but experiencing no or mild symptoms.

10:20 a.m. Ontario is reporting 1,074 COVID hospitalizations, which is 36 per cent higher in a week, or a doubling time of about 16 days — accelerating, and faster than Waves 2 and 3, but still significantly slower than early January, when this metric was doubling every 4-5 days, says the Star’s Ed Tubb.

168 people are in ICU and 3,444 new COVID-19 cases and 32 virus-related deaths.

10:11 a.m. Canada should get ready to rapidly deploy fourth doses of COVID vaccine in the coming weeks as protection against the virus continues to wane, particularly for those 80 and older, the national body responsible for vaccination advice said Tuesday.

For many who have rolled up their sleeves for a first, second and even third, the news has been met with some confusion. What happened to vaccination being just two shots?

While fourth doses have become common in some other countries and an option already in some provinces, the missive from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, known as NACI, is the first cohesive Canadian guidance on the practice. It comes at a time, NACI says, when protection from vaccines is wavering, restrictions are lifting and the future of the pandemic is anything but certain.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex Boyd

9:25 a.m. (updated) It’s booster time again in Ontario.

Fourth shots of COVID-19 vaccines begin Thursday in Ontario for the general population age 60 and up and for First Nations, Metis and Inuit over 18, along with members of their households.

The move comes as hospitalizations for the rapidly spreading virus rose above 1,000 for the first time in weeks on Tuesday as a sixth wave of the pandemic takes deeper hold following an end to most pandemic restrictions in March.

“As we continue to live with COVID-19, we are using every tool available to manage the virus and reduce its impact on our hospitals and health system, including by expanding the use of booster doses,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement Wednesday.

“I encourage everyone who’s eligible to get boosted as soon as you’re able.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

8:17 a.m. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti tested negative for the coronavirus early Wednesday, allowing him to fly to London to be with the team for the Champions League match against Chelsea.

Ancelotti contracted COVID-19 last week and did not travel to England with the rest of the Madrid squad on Tuesday ahead of the first leg of the quarterfinals. He missed his team’s 2-1 win over Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Saturday.

“He will travel to London this morning to join the first-team training camp,” Madrid said in a statement.

8:02 a.m. Germany’s health minister has backed off a decision to end compulsory isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19, declaring that it was a mistake and sent the wrong signal.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Monday that obligatory self-isolation, usually for 10 days — which can be cut to seven days with a negative test — would be scrapped May 1 and replaced with a strong recommendation to isolate for five days. Local health offices would still have ordered infected people in health facilities to stay off work.

Lauterbach, who first announced his change of heart on a television talk show Tuesday night, said Wednesday that the idea “was a mistake I am personally responsible for.”

“I have withdrawn the proposal because the completely wrong impression would have arisen that either the pandemic is over or the virus has become significantly more harmless than was assumed in the past,” he told reporters in Berlin.

7:40 a.m. From a bank CEO to grocery store workers, everyone, it seems, is getting hit by COVID-19 as the sixth wave sweeps across the GTA. With cases skyrocketing again, businesses are grappling to manage a surge in employee absences.

On April 5, Bank of Nova Scotia CEO Brian Porter missed the annual shareholder meeting after contracting COVID-19.

“The health and safety of our employees is our top priority, and, as a result, Brian is fully isolating,” CFO Raj Viswanathan said during the meeting.

Scotiabank’s director of media relations, Clancy Zeifman, said Porter expects to make a “full and quick recovery” but did not comment on whether or not the bank has seen a spike in employee absenteeism from the sixth wave.

Read the full story from the Star’s Clarrie Feinstein

7:17 a.m. After two years, Mississauga high school teacher Laura Kirby-McIntosh was “really excited” to return to the classroom last week for the first time since the start of the pandemic. It lasted five days.

She — and her husband Bruce McIntosh, who’s on dialysis — tested positive for COVID last weekend.

“I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck,” said Kirby-McIntosh, who believes she contracted the virus at school and transmitted it to her husband and teenager. On Tuesday, their symptoms included exhaustion, fatigue, coughing, sniffles and body aches.

Read the full story from the Star’s Isabel Teotonio and Andrew Bailey

5:51 a.m.: Ontario is expected to detail its plan for fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses on Wednesday.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province intends to offer fourth shots to people aged 60 and older.

Fourth doses are already available to long-term care and retirement home residents and immunocompromised people in Ontario. Plans to expand second booster shots are expected after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization advised provinces and territories to prepare to roll out fourth shots in the coming weeks.

The committee is recommending provinces prioritize people aged 80 and older and long-term care residents, and strongly recommends fourth doses for people between the ages of 70 and 79.

NACI says it’s still studying whether second booster shots are necessary for younger adults and adolescents.

5:50 a.m.: Fire broke out Wednesday morning in the COVID-19 ward of a hospital in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, leaving one person dead and two seriously injured, firefighters said.

The fire department said it had evacuated 34 patients from the COVID-19 ward of the Papanikolaou hospital.

Another four of those evacuated had already been in serious condition due to the coronavirus, and were under increased monitoring, authorities said. The body of one person was found on the second floor, the fire department said.

It was unclear what sparked the blaze. Video footage from the site showed thick black smoke billowing out of two windows on a lower floor of the facility and firefighters clambering up to the windows.

Thirty firefighters with 11 firefighting vehicles battled the blaze, which appeared to have been extinguished by mid-morning.

5:49 a.m.: Germany’s health minister has backed off a decision to end obligatory isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19, declaring that it was a mistake and sent the wrong signal.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Monday that the obligatory self-isolation, usually for 10 days — which can be cut to seven days with a negative test — would be scrapped May 1 and replaced with a strong recommendation to isolate for five days. Local health offices would still have ordered infected people in health facilities to stay off work.

Lauterbach announced his change of heart on ZDF television Tuesday night, saying he would give more details on Wednesday. The plan is now to keep a five-day obligatory isolation.

In a tweet early Wednesday, Lauterbach said that dropping obligatory isolation would have relieved local health offices of a burden “but the signal is wrong and damaging.”

“I made a mistake here,” he said.

“Corona is not a cold,” Lauterbach added. “So there must continue to be isolation after infection. Ordered and supervised by health offices.”

5:48 a.m.: Following a public uproar, Shanghai will allow parents to stay with children infected with COVID-19 as China’s largest city sees another jump in cases.

A top city health commission inspector on Wednesday said parents who “fully comprehend the health risks” and sign an agreement will be permitted to accompany their children in monitoring facilities.

However, the parents must wear masks, eat separately, avoid sharing personal items and “strictly follow” all aspects of the management system, Wu Ganyu told reporters.

News that parents were being separated from their infected children sparked a wave of protest online, further fuelled by photos showing several children held in each cot and no parents in sight.

5:48 a.m.: U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, R-California, announced Tuesday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I’m feeling fine, and grateful to be vaccinated and boosted,” the 61-year-old Schiff tweeted. “In the coming days, I will quarantine and follow CDC guidelines. And remember, please get vaccinated!”

Schiff chairs the House Intelligence Committee and represents the 28th Congressional District.

Schiff didn’t indicate where he might have contracted the infection or whether it involved a new COVID-19 subvariant, BA.2, that has provided worrying upticks in caseloads overseas and is spreading in the United States.

Several other political figures have tested positive for COVID-19 recently, including White House press secretary Jen Psaki, CIA Director William Burns and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

5:47 a.m.: Republicans blocked a Democratic attempt to begin Senate debate on a $10 billion COVID-19 compromise, pressing to entangle the bipartisan package with an election-year showdown over immigration restrictions that poses a politically uncomfortable fight for Democrats.

A day after Democratic and GOP bargainers reached agreement on providing the money for treatments, vaccines and testing, a Democratic move to push the measure past a procedural hurdle failed 52-47 Tuesday. All 50 Republicans opposed the move, leaving Democrats 13 votes short of the 60 they needed to prevail.

Hours earlier, Republicans said they’d withhold crucial support for the measure unless Democrats agreed to votes on an amendment preventing President Joe Biden from lifting Trump-era curbs on migrants entering the U.S. With Biden polling poorly on his handling of immigration and Democrats divided on the issue, Republicans see a focus on migrants as a fertile line of attack.

Wednesday 5:45 a.m.: Confronting the pandemic’s lasting shadow, President Joe Biden has ordered a new national research push on long COVID, while also directing federal agencies to support patients dealing with the mysterious and debilitating condition.

Biden assigned the Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday to co-ordinate an urgent new initiative across federal agencies, building on research already under way at the National Institutes of Health.

He also directed federal agencies to support patients and doctors by providing science-based best practices for treating long COVID, maintaining access to insurance coverage, and protecting the rights of workers coping with the uncertainties of the malaise. Of particular concern are effects on mental health.

Read Tuesday’s coronavirus news.