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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 847 hospitalizations with COVID, 273 in ICU; cases, deaths continue to fall globally: WHO

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.

10:15 a.m. Ontario is reporting 847 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 273 in ICU on Wednesday. 82 per cent of patients admitted to the ICU were admitted for COVID-19 and 18 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19.

9:40 a.m.: The number of new coronavirus cases reported globally dropped by 16% last week, marking a month-long decline in COVID-19 infections, according to figures from the World Health Organization.

In its weekly report on the pandemic issued late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency also said that deaths fell by 10%, continuing a drop in fatalities first seen last week. WHO said there were more than 10 million new cases and about 60,000 deaths globally. The Western Pacific was the only region where COVID-19 increased, with about a third more infections than the previous week. Deaths rose by 22% in the Western Pacific and about 4% in the Middle East, while declining everywhere else.

WHO said the Omicron variant remains overwhelmingly dominant worldwide; among virus sequences shared with the world’s largest publicly accessible database, more than 99.5% were omicron while only 0.3% were delta. In the last month, none of the other worrying variants — including beta, gamma, lambda or mu — have been reported, although WHO said there were surveillance challenges in many countries.

9:30 a.m. New Zealand police used riot gear and water cannons to forcibly eject anti-mandate protesters who had occupied the grounds of Parliament for weeks.

9:30 a.m. Hong Kong reported a record of more than 55,000 daily new COVID-19 infections as the city’s spiralling outbreak sees thousands of residents flee while those remaining strip shelves of food and medicine.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam sought to reassure people that there won’t be a “wholesale” lockdown during a compulsory testing blitz, but offered no details.

9 a.m. Many Ontario municipalities are keeping COVID-19 vaccine mandates for their staff even as they lift the proof-of-vaccination requirement at facilities such as community centres.

The province’s vaccine certificate system covering restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas, event spaces ended Tuesday and several municipalities confirmed vaccination would no longer be required to enter their recreation facilities and arts centres.

But many municipalities that enacted policies requiring employees to be double vaccinated or lose their jobs are keeping those mandates in place.

8:15 a.m. Emergency rooms in Saskatchewan are seeing more children under the age of five with respiratory-like illnesses over the past six weeks.

The province’s chief medical health officer says it’s likely a result of COVID-19.

Dr. Saqib Shahab says there’s very little flu in the province and COVID vaccines haven’t been approved yet for preschool-aged children.

He says children under five who have a fever, rapid breathing or aren’t eating should be seen by a doctor.

7:50 a.m. In lifting nearly all of Alberta’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions, Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday his government will also soon introduce legislation preventing municipalities from imposing their own public health bylaws.

The moves are a shift away from what Kenney described as a “divisive” situation where masks and restrictions have come between people, and toward laying down a path “to move forward with some optimism.”

“As of midnight last night, Alberta has lifted basically all of the remaining public health restrictions that were in place,” Kenney said at a news conference inside a Red Deer restaurant.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kieran Leavitt

7:25 a.m. Doctors are urging caution as the province lifts public health restrictions, estimating more than half of Manitobans could be at higher risk of developing a serious COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Kristjan Thompson, president of Doctors Manitoba, says the pandemic is not over just because public-health restrictions have been lifted.

The group says data suggests people most at risk have underlying medical conditions, disabilities, are obese, smoke, are Black, Indigenous or are a person of colour.

7:20 a.m. People aged 12 and over will no longer be required to show proof of vaccination in order to play indoor organized sports in a Region of Peel facility.

On Tuesday, March 1, the region rescinded its letter of instruction from Nov. 12, 2021 requiring all people over the age of 12 to show proof of vaccination in order to enter a Peel fitness/recreation facility.

This comes after the province lifted several COVID-19 restrictions, including capacity and social gathering limits and vaccine passport requirements.

7:15 a.m. B.C. saw a slight drop in hospitalizations from COVID-19 yesterday with 523 people in hospital compared with 549 Monday.

Health officials say there are 83 people in intensive care compared with 85 the day before.

No deaths related to COVID-19 were recorded yesterday.

Officials say just over 90 per cent of those eligible 12 and older have got their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 55.7 per cent have received their third shot.

Wednesday 5:48 a.m.: President Joe Biden, looking to usher the nation out of the coronavirus crisis into what some are calling a “new normal,” used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to sketch out the next phase of his pandemic response, including a new “test to treat” initiative aimed at providing patients with new antiviral medications as soon as they learn they are infected.

With caseloads declining across the country, the coronavirus — perhaps the biggest challenge of the first year of Biden’s presidency — took a back seat in the speech to Russian aggression in Ukraine and the economy. Still, the president did not miss an opportunity to give himself a pat on the back for the latest COVID-19 trends.

“I know you’re tired, frustrated and exhausted,” Biden said. “But I also know this: Because of the progress we’ve made, because of your resilience and the tools that we have been provided by this Congress, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines.”

Read Tuesday’s coronavirus news.

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