Today’s coronavirus news: India hits 1 billion vaccine doses; Canada Recovery Benefit is set to expire

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

5:45 a.m.: Over a month into the school year, the province’s largest school boards are reporting staff vaccination rates ranging from a high of 94.8 per cent to a low of 76 per cent.

But a Star analysis of 31 major boards has found inconsistencies in the way they report and present this information that make it difficult to compare rates between boards, and in most cases impossible for parents to know the rate of vaccination of teachers at their boards.

Despite provincial direction that public school board employees disclose their vaccination status, the Star found that over 15,000 staff have not done so, and, because boards don’t break down the data by job category, it’s not clear what these people do.

Read more from the Star’s Kenyon Wallace and May Warren.

5:30 a.m.: Russia on Thursday registered the highest daily numbers of new coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic as the authorities hoped to slow the spread by introducing a nonworking week.

The government coronavirus task force reported 36,339 new confirmed infections and 1,036 deaths in the past 24 hours that brought Russia’s death toll to 227,389 — by far the highest in Europe.

Russia’s daily infections have been surging for weeks and coronavirus mortality numbers topped 1,000 for the first time over the weekend amid low vaccination rates, lax public attitudes toward taking precautions and the government’s reluctance to tighten restrictions. Only about 45 million Russians — roughly a third of its nearly 146 million people — are fully vaccinated.

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday responded to rising contagion and deaths by ordering Russians to stay off work for a period starting Oct. 30 and extending through the following week, when four of seven days are already non-working, including a two-day state holiday. In some regions where the situation is the most threatening, he said the nonworking period could start as early as Saturday and be extended past Nov. 7.

5:15 a.m.: The Canada Recovery Benefit is on the way out, the Star learned late Wednesday.

Two sources told the Star that the benefit, which replaced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) last year, will be gone sooner rather than later. But some support will still be available for those who are not able to go to work temporarily because of strict lockdowns.

The fate of the federal government’s soon-to-expire pandemic support measures could be revealed as early as Thursday.

Supports for struggling businesses will remain in some form but be streamlined and made far more stringent in terms of applicants demonstrating losses.

Read more from the Star’s Raisi Patel.

5 a.m.: India has administered 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine, officials said Thursday, passing a milestone for the South Asian country where the delta variant fueled its first crushing surge earlier this year.

About 75% of India’s total eligible adult population have received at least one dose, while around 30% are fully immunized. The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is the second to exceed a billion cumulative doses after the most populous country China did so in June.

Coronavirus cases have fallen sharply in India since the devastating months at the start of the year when the highly transmissible delta variant, first detected in the country a year ago, was infecting hundreds of thousands daily, sending COVID-19 patients into overwhelmed hospitals and filling cremation grounds.

Officials have bolstered the vaccination campaign in recent months, which experts say have helped control the outbreak since. The country began its drive in January.

Still, there remains a worrying gap between those who have received one shot and those fully immunized. Ramping up the second dose is “an important priority,” V K Paul, the head of the country’s COVID-19 taskforce, said at a briefing last week.

4:50 a.m.: Toronto expects the COVID-19 vaccine to be approved and offered to children aged 5 to 11 within weeks, says public health chief Dr. Eileen de Villa.

De Villa told reporters Wednesday her department is launching a multi-pronged campaign to get as many kids immunized as quickly as possible, including an online “tool kit” with vaccine information for parents, guardians and caregivers.

The kit includes information about the benefits and risks of children getting the jab, she said, adding that in general the vaccine’s protection for kids and adults around them against COVID-19 far outweigh any risk of side-effects.

Read more from the Star’s David Rider.

4:45 a.m.: Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer of health broke into tears in the midst of a COVID-19 modelling presentation over teleconference Wednesday.

Dr. Saqib Shahab teared up while reflecting on the province’s overloaded hospitals and intensive care units.

“It’s distressing to see what is happening in our ICUs and hospitals and I’m sorry,” he said in a press conference over the phone. “It’s a very challenging time.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Kevin Jiang.

4:30 a.m.: Belgium’s government warned Thursday that the country could well be on the cusp of another major surge in COVID-19 cases despite its high vaccination rate.

Though the government recently relaxed the mandatory use of facemasks, it is again starting to encourage the population to use them to counter a rise in cases reminiscent of the first three surges of the past one and a half years.

“We are clearly in a fourth wave,” Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told the VRT network. “We will see a major increase in infections and, unfortunately, hospital admissions.”

The government has this month loosened some restrictions, including allowing for more indoor events and dropping requirements for customers to wear masks in bars.

4:20 a.m.: Geoff Waszek was wary of another pandemic-related lockdown this fall just in time for Halloween, so the owner of Candy’s Costume Shop in Toronto decided to take a cautious approach to ordering this year.

But with COVID-19 cases having stabilized, Waszek was left scrambling to stock his shelves in time.

“We had to do a lot of scrounging this year, going through companies and finding what’s available,” he said.

Waszek is one of many Halloween store owners who say supply chain issues, shuttered suppliers and uncertainty have hampered their recovery from a dismal 2020.

In the end, Candy’s Costume Shop was able to stock about 90 per cent of its shelves, but without certain items. Licensed products like superhero and movie costumes were nearly impossible to find, so his shop has more generic items like capes and masks this year.

U.S.-based, which ships directly to Canadian consumers, said many retailers are struggling as they see a roughly 50 per cent increase in year-over-year demand compared with last year, when many didn’t celebrate Halloween. Spokeswoman Ashley Theis said much of the stock the company ordered won’t arrive until after Halloween.

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