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

1:25 p.m. Quebec Premier François Legault says he is abandoning his threat to tax the unvaccinated.

Legault told a news conference today he is worried about dividing Quebecers and is backtracking in order to maintain social peace in the province.

The premier announced on Jan. 11 he planned to make the unvaccinated pay a significant financial penalty because they were overrepresented in the health-care system.

About 10 per cent of the province’s eligible population are unvaccinated.

Legault is also announcing that gyms and spas will be allowed to reopen on Feb. 14.

12:52 p.m. Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said it is “encouraging” to see the average daily case count continue to decline and she believes the Omicron wave is subsiding.

“These are encouraging developments,” de Villa says but notes that re-opening allows for greater opportunities for COVID-19 to spread.

Vaccine remains one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and others, she says.

Three doses offers maximum protection for those eligible, the doctor says.

12:50 p.m. Hit the road.

That’s the message from Premier Doug Ford to the anti-vaxxers whose truck protest in Ottawa has effectively shut down streets and businesses around Parliament Hill since last week.

“I hear the protesters, the province hears the protesters, the country hears the protesters — now, it’s time to let the people in Ottawa get back to their lives,” the premier said in Ajax on Tuesday.

“People have to move on. We have to let the people of Ottawa live their lives.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie

12:40 p.m. Team Toronto has administered more than 158,000 vaccine doses to kids 5-11 years old in 10 weeks, Mayor John Tory says.

12:36 p.m. R&B singer R. Kelly has contracted COVID-19 while awaiting sentencing in a Brooklyn federal jail for his racketeering conviction, his lawyer revealed in a court filing early Tuesday.

The singer’s diagnosis has hampered his ability to speak on the phone about his appeal of his conviction, which is due Thursday, said Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, in asking for a two-week extension.

“It is vitally important that Mr. Kelly meaningfully participate in his post-trial defense,” Bonjean wrote in the motion, saying she hoped to communicate with him in an upcoming Zoom call.

12:30 p.m. Ongoing protests in Canada over COVID-19 restrictions have been garnering attention south of the border.

Donald Trump himself shouted out Ottawa’s so-called “trucker convoy” during a speech Saturday in Texas.

One of Trump’s most controversial supporters in Congress, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, also expressed solidarity.

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted her support over the weekend.

And GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee shared drone footage of the truckers on Twitter, complete with an “O Canada” soundtrack.

12:15 p.m. Canada is considering sending more money or ancillary vaccine supplies to the COVAX global vaccine sharing alliance after a plea from the organizers that it was running out of cash.

COVAX celebrated delivering its one billionth dose in mid-January and one-third of the population in the countries reliant on COVAX for their vaccines is now fully vaccinated.

Seth Berkley, the CEO of the Gavi vaccine alliance helping run COVAX, is hopeful that bigger vaccine supplies in 2022 will help meet the World Health Organization target to get 70 per cent of the population in every country fully vaccinated by the end of June.

But Berkley says COVAX can’t accept any more donations of doses unless it also gets more cash to buy syringes and other supplies needed to get those doses into arms.

11:35 a.m. Quebec’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are continuing their slow decline as the province reports 63 new deaths linked to the pandemic.

The Health Department said today COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by 36, to 2,852, after 207 people were admitted to the province’s hospitals in the past 24 hours and 243 were discharged.

The number of people in intensive care dropped by five, to 218.

Premier François Legault will provide an update on the COVID-19 situation this afternoon alongside the province’s health minister and its interim public health director.

11 a.m. How many Ontarians caught COVID-19 in the Omicron wave?

New data from the science table advising Premier Doug Ford’s government estimates a wide but “plausible range” of between 1.5 million and four million people since Dec. 1 based on surveillance testing of virus levels in wastewater.

Cases peaked around Jan. 11, according to modelling released Tuesday that confirms what health officials have been saying — the Omicron wave has crested — but cautions that hospitalizations could “rebound” to new highs in late February and into March following this week’s reopening.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

10:30 a.m. Ontario school boards and child-care centres will receive rapid COVID tests on a bi-weekly basis from now on, with 3.6 million to be distributed this week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce has announced.

In a statement released Tuesday morning, Lecce said “we reopened schools with a commitment to keep students learning in classrooms with enhanced measures in place to keep them as safe as possible. Nothing matters more. That is why we have already deployed 5.2 million rapid tests to schools and child care settings in 2022 to reduce risk and further protect Ontario families.”

Boards are now to send out the additional 3.6 million rapid antigen tests, and biweekly from now on.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy

10:18 a.m. Ontario is reporting 3,091 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 568 people in ICU.

84 per cent of patients admitted to the ICU were admitted for COVID-19 and 16 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19.

In Ontario, 30,707,331 vaccine doses have been administered; 91.9 per cent of Ontarians 12+ have one dose and 89.2 per cent have two doses, according to tweets from Health Minister Christine Elliott.

9:53 a.m. Ontario’s expert science advisers say COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions will likely increase following Monday’s reopening, but they are not sure by how much.

In new modelling released today, the COVID-19 science advisory table says public health measures have helped to control this wave, and any relaxation of them will increase the spread of COVID-19.

The modelling shows a wide range of scenarios for hospital admissions after many businesses and facilities were allowed to reopen this week with capacity limits, up to nearly 6,000 by mid-March.

The scenarios depend partly on how many people in the community have immunity from recent Omicron infections – a challenging number to determine given limits the province has placed on access to PCR testing.

9:20 a.m. New COVID-19 modelling from Ontario’s science table says wastewater testing shows peak virus around Jan 4, cases peaking around Jan. 11 and a “plausible range” of 1.5 million to 4 million cases since Dec. 1.

9:10 a.m. Ski jumper Marita Kramer will miss the Beijing Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19, the Austrian team said Tuesday.

Kramer cannot travel after a PCR test in Salzburg confirmed the infection detected over the weekend in Germany, the Austrian ski federation said.

9:05 a.m. Ontario is now sending out biweekly shipments of rapid tests to Ontario school boards, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce; some 3.6 million additional RATs should start arriving this week.

9 a.m. U.S. regulators are urging drugmaker Pfizer to apply for emergency authorization for a two-dose regimen of its COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years old while awaiting data on a three-dose course, aiming to clear the way for the shots as soon as late February, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

The company’s application is expected to be submitted as soon as Tuesday.

Early Pfizer data has shown the vaccine — which is administered to younger kids at one-tenth the strength of the adult shot — is safe and produces an immune response. But last year Pfizer announced the two-dose shot proved to be less effective at preventing COVID-19 in kids ages 2-5, and regulators encouraged the company to add a third dose to the study on the belief that another dose would boost the vaccine’s effectiveness much like booster doses do in adults.

8:40 a.m. Statistics Canada says real gross domestic product rose 0.6 per cent in November before COVID-19 cases began to surge at the end of the year.

The agency also says its initial estimate for December suggests real GDP was essentially unchanged for the final month of 2021 to bring growth to 4.9 per cent for the full year.

8:15 a.m. After the big snow storm, in the middle of the January freeze, two videos of diehard exercisers working out in a snowy parking lot garnered nearly a million views on Twitter.

The short clips feature Yorkville’s CrossFit YKV gym owner Blair Lyon cheering on a handful of members as they execute lunges and barbell squats bundled in countless layers of athletic clothing, exhaling visible puffs of air.

The videos, apart from robbing viewers of an excuse for not working out in the cold, paint the picture of an industry in need of extreme resilience from members and business owners alike to stay afloat as it emerges from a fourth pandemic lockdown.

“We had no other choice but to do these in freezing cold, but it’s not so bad; it’s just part of my routine now” said Ronald Boado, who can be spotted in one of the videos doing a set of burpees, imprinting a snow angel on the ground in the process. “It’s a little crazy, but it’s what I do for my mental health.”

Read the full story from Alex Cyr

7:15 a.m. As facilities reopen across Durham, municipalities are working to protect staff from increasingly abusive behaviour from residents frustrated by COVID-19 rules.

“If somebody gets abusive that’s just not proper. You’re an adult, put your mask on. Life isn’t just about you, it’s about other people,” said Oshawa regional councillor Rick Kerr.

More and more often, front-line staff at municipality buildings are taking abuse from patrons — usually those upset by COVID-19 public health regulations, officials say. The increase in abuse is especially impacting staff who work in the screening stations checking for proof of vaccination and mask wearing.

“In the arenas you’ve got families with young kids and someone is yelling and swearing at staff,” said Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster. “When the pandemic is over, will people have learned new behaviours, that you can just launch at the person behind the counter?”

6:50 a.m. The World Health Organization says overuse of gloves, “moon suits” and the use of billions of masks and vaccination syringes to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus have spurred a huge glut of health care waste worldwide.

The U.N. health agency reported Tuesday that tens of thousands of tons of extra medical waste has strained waste management systems and is threatening both health and the environment, pointing to a “dire need” to improve those systems and get a response from both governments and people.

“Part of the message for the public is to become more of a conscious consumer,” said Dr. Margaret Montgomery, technical officer of WHO’s water, sanitation, hygiene and health unit. “In terms of the volume, it’s enormous.”

“We find that people are wearing excessive PPE,” Montgomery said, referring to personal protection equipment.

6:25 a.m. As he goes through the now painfully-familiar steps of reopening his gym after a lockdown, Paul Brown wonders just how much more he can take.

“This has been devastating. There’s really no other word for it,” said Brown, whose midtown boxing-focussed gym was getting a trickle of customers Monday. Ontario opened up indoor dining, gyms, movie theatres and event spaces after they’d been closed since early January to slow the spread of COVID.

“January is our busiest time of year, and we were closed. Normally we get a lot of people in because of New Year’s resolutions,” said Brown, who estimates he’s bringing in just 25 per cent of his usual income, between his gym and his hair salon.

Brown is still waiting for a $10,000 small business grant promised by the Ontario government in early January to materialize (the provincial government said the grant money will be paid to eligible businesses in February). He’s also still struggling to stay afloat after his application for a federal COVID loan was turned down because he’d forgotten to put down his landlord’s contact information.

Read more from the Star’s Josh Rubin.

6 a.m. Athletes and team officials are testing positive for COVID-19 at much higher rates than other people arriving in China for the Beijing Olympics, organizers said Tuesday.

Figures released by local organizers showed 16 of 379 athletes and officials who arrived Monday tested positive for COVID-19. They have been taken into isolation hotels to limit the spread of the infection and could miss their events.

The positive test rate of 4.2 per cent for athletes and officials compared to 0.66 per cent for Olympic “stakeholders,” a group which includes workers and media. Only seven of 1,059 people in that category arriving at Beijing were positive in similar tests Monday.

The rates were confirmed in PCR and other follow-up tests for tens of thousands of people at the Beijing Olympics who will live, work and train in closed-off communities separated from the general public. The Chinese government is pursuing a zero-tolerance public health strategy.

5:45 a.m. Though government subsidies have kept business bankruptcies at bay, the level of delinquent debt carried by Toronto and GTA businesses has been steadily rising since the beginning of the pandemic, foreshadowing a difficult 2022 for many hard-hit firms.

“This is clearly a sign of firms under financial stress,” said Philip Cross, a senior economist at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Cross isn’t surprised to see delinquent debt rising. The Bank of Canada has already noted a rise in “zombie businesses,” he said, defined as businesses unable to even meet their interest payments.

“They’re being kept afloat by government loans … But at some point, they’re going to expire,” he said.

Read more from the Star’s Rosa Saba.

5:30 a.m. Three members of the Canadian team in Beijing were in COVID-19 protocols on Tuesday, the Canadian Olympic Committee said.

The 414-member Canadian delegation includes athletes, coaches and team staff. The trio of Canadians are impeded in “their ability to fulfil their role at Games,” the COC said in a statement.

“We are managing each one on a case-by-case basis and to respect the privacy of the people involved we will not be sharing names at this time,” the COC said.

“Part of our strategy was to arrive early to allow time for confirmation testing and, if necessary, the medical expert panel process to unfold.”

5:20 a.m. Science experts advising the Ontario government on the pandemic are expected to release new COVID-19 projections today.

That will come a few hours before Premier Doug Ford is expected to make an announcement with his government’s new minister for long-term care.

Ontario began easing restrictions yesterday as part of a plan to roll back measures imposed amid soaring cases of the Omicron variant.

Several restrictions remain in place for the long-term care sector.

Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra is due to take questions at today’s announcement for the first time since he took over the file, following the resignation of former minister Rod Phillips last month.

Calandra has stepped into the job amid rising COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths in long-term care homes due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

5:15 a.m. Crowds have thinned out considerably on Parliament Hill and the surrounding area, where anti-COVID restrictions demonstrators have been protesting for days.

But those that remain say they are staying put until all the restrictions are lifted, with the president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association saying some protesters have been extending their stays at hotels, or are asking to rebook for the coming weekend.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday he will not meet with anyone involved, noting reports that some participants have been seen harassing local businesses, waving Nazi flags, defecating on residential lawns, urinating on National War Memorial and stealing food from the homeless.

The Ottawa Paramedic Association reported that paramedics asked for police escorts after rocks were hurled at an ambulance from a truck in the convoy.

But Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen said Trudeau was “gaslighting” the protesters, who deserve the chance to be heard and be given some respect.

5 a.m. Chinese people on Tuesday rang in the Lunar New Year despite pandemic restrictions, as small crowds gathered outside shut temples offering traditional prayers for the Year of the Tiger.

At the Lama Temple in Beijing, dozens of people gathered to bow in prayer before the ornate west gate of the Tibetan Buddhist site that was often thronged with worshipers before the pandemic.

Wang Ying, who works at an accounting firm, said praying outside the temple was better than burning incense at home.

“I think sincerity is more important than burning incense sticks,” she said, after finishing her devotions.

Wang also said she is looking forward to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Friday. Marking the holiday, Beijing residents also took photos outside displays for the Games in the city’s central Tiananmen Square.

4:30 a.m. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the fact that both he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have contracted COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated, shows his province’s vaccine requirement has “run its course.”

Arguing the Omicron variant spreads among the vaccinated and unvaccinated, Moe said yesterday the province’s proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test requirement will “very soon come to an end,” but did not provide a date.

Vaccines have been shown to have significant benefit in preventing hospitalization and death, and data suggests a third dose boosts protection against the Omicron variant.

Moe’s comments came hours after Trudeau revealed his positive test, saying he had no symptoms and would keep working remotely this week as he follows public health guidelines.

COVID-related hospitalizations dropped again in Ontario, as the province began easing pandemic restrictions to allow restaurant dining rooms, gyms and theatres to reopen at 50-per cent capacity.

Quebec also took steps to reopen, including allowing restaurants to operate at half capacity, permitting private indoor gatherings of up to four people and the resumption of extracurricular sports in elementary and high schools, CEGEPs and universities.