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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 684 hospitalizations with COVID-19, 247 in ICU; Many police services keeping vaccine mandates for now

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

10:15 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 684 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday, while there are 247 in the ICU. Please note that not all hospitals report on weekends.

There are at least 1,787 new cases of COVID-19. There are 21 new reported deaths due to the virus.

10 a.m.: Ontario police services that implemented mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies — under which some employees faced possible termination for not getting the shots — are sticking with the requirement for now.

The province has ended its vaccine certificate program for establishments such as restaurants, gyms and cinemas, and the chief medical officer of health has said he wants to lift provincially imposed workplace vaccine mandates for health and education, which require any unvaccinated employees to do regular testing.

Several large police forces such as Toronto and Ottawa required their rosters to get vaccinated.

Toronto police placed more than 200 members who either refused to get vaccinated or refused to disclose their vaccination status on indefinite unpaid leave in November. A spokeswoman said that at this time the policy remains in place.

Ottawa police put fewer than 10 unvaccinated officers and fewer than 10 unvaccinated civilian employees on unpaid leave when its policy took full effect Feb. 1. The force said there are no changes to its vaccine policy. Windsor Police said the same.

8:30 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 the full story from the Star’s Megan Ogilvie and Steve Russell.

8:30 a.m.: Hong Kong reported 31,008 COVID cases and 153 deaths Sunday. Although reported infection counts were less than 40,000 for the second straight day, after rising to more than 50,000 in the three days prior, officials said the decline could be due to unreported rapid testing results and because of the “weekend effect.”

Authorities would need another week or more to determine whether case numbers had peaked, the officials said.

Public hospitals are expected to repurpose half of their beds for COVID-19 patients by the end of this week to deal with the rise in case numbers, the South China Morning Post cited Hospital Authority Chairman Henry Fan as saying in an interview.

Fan said the plan follows the advice of top mainland Chinese epidemiologist Liang Wannian, according to the newspaper. The Hospital Authority originally proposed to assign 30% of beds in public facilities for COVID treatment, the report said.

Nine projects constructed with the help of China will provide about 50,000 beds and will significantly enhance Hong Kong’s isolation capabilities, Chief Secretary for Administration John Lee said in a blog post on Sunday. Some of the facilities are expected to be completed this month, and the others in April or later, he said.

8:28 a.m.: Saudi Arabia will lift almost all COVID-19 restrictions, effective today, after the progress of the national vaccination program and high overall rates of immunity.

Citizens will no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing outdoors, state-run SPA reported, citing a statement issued by the interior ministry.

Worshippers will no longer need to socially distance inside mosques, including the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, but will be required to remain wearing masks in these places, according to SPA report.

8:28 a.m.: Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary for Administration John Lee said in a blog post Sunday that the city can reverse the trend of rising coronavirus cases and achieve COVID Zero as it increases isolation facilities and testing,

Nine projects built with the help of China will provide about 50,000 beds and enhance the city’s isolation capabilities, Lee said in a blog post on Sunday. Some of the facilities are expected to be completed this month, and the others in April or later, he said. Authorities are working on a compulsory testing scheme of Hong Kong’s entire population of 7.4 million.

The city’s financial markets will remain open in the event of restrictions being imposed on residents, including stocks, derivatives, bonds, currencies and foreign exchange, the city’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in a separate blog post.

8:27 a.m.: China reported its highest number of new daily COVID cases in more than two months as the eastern coastal city of Qingdao detected surging infections, and outbreaks spread in northeastern Jilin and southern Guangdong.

A total of 175 locally transmitted symptomatic cases were found on Saturday, 88 of them in Qingdao, according to the National Health Commission. The provinces of Jilin and Guangdong both reported dozens of new cases.

The origin of the flare-up in Qingdao was traced to people who were infected after receiving mail from other virus-hit provinces and transmitted it further at a family gathering, the city’s local health commission said in a statement on Sunday. The strain of the virus has yet to be identified but it has been established that is not the Omicron variant, according to the statement.

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