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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 842 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 281 in ICU; New research points back to Wuhan market as origin of virus

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.

10:30 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 842 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 281 are in ICUs. There are 2,001 new cases of COVID-19. Note that not all hospitals report on weekends.

9:30 a.m.: Ontario reported an increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 yesterday.

The province said there were one-thousand-and-24 COVID patients in hospital — 21 more than on Friday — and 284 of the patients were in intensive care.

The province also reported 31 additional COVID-19 deaths.

8:50 a.m.: By and large, many governments are signalling a transition toward a post-pandemic life. But experts in psychology say people’s views on reopening will vary widely, based on both their lived experience and their attitude toward risky behaviours. Some have developed a stress response to the possibility of exposure to the virus, while others have tuned out any fears related to COVID-19.

Read the full story from the Star’s Nadine Yousif.

8:35 a.m.: Scientists released a pair of extensive studies Saturday that point to a market in Wuhan, China, as the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. Analyzing data from a variety of sources, they concluded that the coronavirus was very likely present in live mammals sold in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in late 2019 and suggested that the virus twice spilled over into people working or shopping there. They said they found no support for an alternate theory that the coronavirus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan.

“When you look at all of the evidence together, it’s an extraordinarily clear picture that the pandemic started at the Huanan market,” said Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona and a co-author of both studies.

The two reports have not yet been published in a scientific journal that would require undergoing peer review.

Together, they represent a significant salvo in the debate over the beginnings of a pandemic that has killed nearly 6 million people globally and sickened more than 400 million. The question of whether the coronavirus outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market, a leak from a Wuhan virology lab or some other way has given rise to pitched geopolitical battles and debates over how best to stop the next pandemic.

But some outside scientists who have been hesitant to endorse the market origin hypothesis said they remained unconvinced. Jesse Bloom, a virus expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said in an interview that there remained a glaring absence of direct evidence that animals at the market had themselves been infected with the coronavirus.

“I think what they’re arguing could be true,” Bloom said of the new studies. “But I don’t think the quality of the data is sufficient to say that any of these scenarios are true with confidence.”

In their new study, Worobey and his colleagues present evidence that wild mammals that might have harboured the coronavirus were being sold in December 2019. But no wildlife was left at the market by the time Chinese researchers arrived in early 2020 to collect genetic samples.

The New York Times

8:35 a.m.: Hong Kong has reported a record 26,026 new COVID-19 cases as the city struggles to contain its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

Only seven of the infections were imported cases, health officials Albert Au and Lau Ka-hin told a briefing on Sunday. There were 83 new deaths, with 67 of those coming in care homes.

Hong Kong is battling to contain the coronavirus as the city plans to test every resident multiple times in March. The financial hub will create an online platform for people to report the results of self-administered rapid antigen tests.

From Feb. 25, Bloomberg News is highlighting the number of “reported” cases disclosed by the Hong Kong government instead of the confirmed case number.

This is because the reported cases figure reflects the total number of infections found in the hospital system and detected by private laboratories and doctors in the past 24 hours, making it a more accurate reflection of the state of the outbreak.

The confirmed case number is considered outdated as it contains old cases that authorities were already aware of, and is a reflection of the backlogs at both public and private labs.

Saturday 4:30 p.m.: The “vast majority” of public health restrictions in Alberta will lift as of Tuesday, including the provincial mask mandate, Premier Jason Kenney announced Saturday.

Kenney said metrics such as hospitalizations, test positivity and COVID-19 wastewater data are all trending in the right direction, even since the province relaxed some restrictions earlier this month.

He said the provincial mask mandate will end March 1, along with all capacity limits for venues, mandatory work from home requirements and social gathering limits.

Masks will still be required in higher-risk settings such as public transit, hospitals and nursing homes, he said.

“Increasingly we have to shift to moving the responsibility from the entire society to a much more focused approach based on personal responsibility,” said Kenney, who made the announcement during the opening ceremony for a new hospital in Grande Prairie on Saturday.

“We just cannot continue on like we have for the past two years indefinitely. We’re going to break society if we keep doing that,” he added.

Health Minister Jason Copping said remaining school requirements such as cohorting and physical distancing will also be lifted, as will health screening before youth activities.

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