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.
9:04 a.m. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week, another sign that the U.S. job market and economy continue their steady recovery from last year’s coronavirus recession.
Unemployment claims fell by 38,000 to 326,000, the first drop in four weeks, the Labor Department said Thursday. Since surpassing 900,000 in early January, the weekly applications, a proxy for layoffs, had fallen more or less steadily all year. Still, they remain elevated from pre-pandemic levels: Before COVID-19 hammered the U.S. economy in March 2020, weekly claims were consistently coming in at around 220,000.
After hitting a pandemic low of 312,000 in early September, claims had risen three straight weeks, suggesting that the highly contagious delta variant was at least temporarily disrupting a recovery in jobs.
8:36 a.m. Pfizer asked the U.S. government Thursday to allow use of its COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 — and if regulators agree, shots could begin within a matter of weeks.
Many parents and pediatricians are clamoring for protection for children younger than 12, today’s age cutoff for the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. Not only can youngsters sometimes get seriously ill, but keeping them in school can be a challenge with the coronavirus still raging in poorly vaccinated communities.
Pfizer announced in a tweet that it had formally filed its application with the Food and Drug Administration.
Now the FDA will have to decide if there’s enough evidence that the shots are safe and will work for younger children like they do for teens and adults. An independent expert panel will publicly debate the evidence on Oct. 26.
One big change: Pfizer says its research shows the younger kids should get a third of the dose now given to everyone else. After their second dose, the 5- to 11-year-olds developed virus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teens and young adults get from regular-strength shots.
8:22 a.m. This Thanksgiving will be a tough one for Carol Charles and her family.
The 50-year-old from Regina usually travels to her younger sister’s house in Edmonton for the holiday.
But Jennifer Rosebluff-Thomas died of COVID-19 last month. She was about 29 weeks pregnant with her ninth child. She was also unvaccinated and contracted the more dangerous Delta variant.
“When they did the emergency C-section, they explained to me that it was to help my sister get more oxygen into her lungs, and they confirmed at that same time that she wasn’t vaccinated and that it was preventable,” Charles said.
“That was the most hurtful part, when they told me it was preventable.”
8:17 a.m. Despite a nearly year-long efforts to immunize seniors against COVID-19, Toronto is one of the health units with the lowest vaccine coverage rates in the province among the 80-plus age group.
Just 87 per cent of seniors over 80 in Toronto have received both doses of the vaccine, according to city data. And Ontario as a whole is lagging behind other provinces when it comes to this age group.
The Toronto health unit is one of three reporting immunization rates under 90 per cent for older Ontarians, according to the province’s data tool, a Ministry of Health spokesperson confirmed this week. The Northwestern health unit is recording just 86.6 per cent uptake of both doses among adults 80 and above. In Lambton, 89.7 per cent of seniors in that age category are fully immunized.
7:55 a.m. Toronto Public Health has declared outbreaks at Dante Alighieri Academy, Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute, St. Jude Catholic School, St. Augustine Catholic School, Millwood Junior School and Huron Street Junior Public School.
“We’re carefully investigating & following our process of working with our school community to notify close contacts and ask them to stay home, monitor for symptoms & get tested,” TPH tweeted.
7:40 a.m. Los Angeles leaders have voted to enact one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates.
The sweeping measure requires the shots for everyone entering bars, restaurants, nail salons, gyms and a Lakers game. The City Council on Wednesday voted 11-2 in favor of the ordinance that will require proof of full vaccination by Nov. 4.
Supporters say it’s a way of preventing more coronavirus surges. Critics say the measure raises concerns about enforcement.
The nation’s second-most populous city faced a huge rise in infections and hospitalizations last winter and a smaller surge this summer linked to the spread of the Delta variant.
7:30 a.m. Torontonians can expect to pay a premium on their energy bills this winter as prices for North American fuel, natural gas and coal reach heights not seen in years.
Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy, projects that gasoline prices at Greater Toronto Area pumps will hit $1.50 per litre in the coming weeks, up 44 per cent from a year ago.
That would be the highest price point for auto fuel anywhere in Ontario since the summer of 2014, when a litre sold for $1.43.
And unlike price surges in recent years, experts say this one could last longer than a few weeks.
7:15 a.m. More pollution, billions of dollars in lost productivity, poorer health and increased stress. All of those problems could await residents of post-pandemic Toronto, if the city doesn’t get a handle on its resurgent traffic woes.
Eighteen months after COVID-19 plunged Toronto into crisis and emptied out its streets, drivers have returned to the roadways in numbers this fall. The city’s famous gridlock is back.
And while the roads are not yet as crowded as before the pandemic, there are troubling signs that the travel patterns that have taken root over the last year and a half could pose a serious threat to the city’s long-term sustainability.
For one, the roadways are busy again despite the city’s office occupancy remaining historically low and commuters staying home. Secondly, and perhaps more worryingly, car use is returning at much faster rates than transit ridership.
6:01 a.m.: The National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada recommend that pregnant women get two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, recently stressed that pregnant women are at a high risk of severe outcomes from the infection.
“With a lot of misinformation about pregnancy and vaccinations circulating online, I would like to assure Albertans that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding,” she tweeted last month. “There is also no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause fertility problems.”
Kerry Williamson, a spokesman for Alberta Health Services, said that from July 15 to Sept. 28 of this year, 14 pregnant women were admitted to intensive care units.
All of them had been unvaccinated, he said.
“We need those who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant or have recently delivered to get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible,” Williamson wrote in an email.
“Vaccines are safe and effective, and they are the best way to protect you and your baby from COVID-19.”
He said there is no data available about how many pregnant Albertans have died from the virus.
6 a.m.: Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is set to release his advice today for safely celebrating Thanksgiving and Halloween.
Earlier this week, Dr. Kieran Moore did touch on some of his recommendations for Thanksgiving, saying celebrating indoors and unmasked with a fully vaccinated group is “absolutely appropriate.”
Ontario’s gathering limits of 100 outdoors and 25 indoors are still in place.
Moore says if there is a combination of vaccinated and unvaccinated people in the group, attendees may consider keeping masks on indoors, particularly for older people or those with chronic medical conditions.
Last year, Ontario recommended that kids in the four COVID-19 hot spots at the time, which were Toronto, Ottawa, Peel and York regions, should not go trick-or-treating.
5:58 a.m.: The World Health Organization is working to ship COVID-19 medical supplies into North Korea, a possible sign that the North is easing one of the world’s strictest pandemic border closures to receive outside help.
WHO said in a weekly monitoring report that it has started the shipment of essential COVID-19 medical supplies through the Chinese port of Dalian for “strategic stockpiling and further dispatch” to North Korea. WHO officials on Thursday didn’t immediately respond to requests for more details, including what those supplies were and whether they had yet reached North Korea.
Describing its anti-virus campaign was a matter of “national existence,” North Korea had severely restricted cross-border traffic and trade for the past two years despite the strain on its already crippled economy.
Thursday 5:57 a.m.: Can I get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time?
Yes, you can get the shots in the same visit.
When COVID-19 vaccines were first rolling out in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended waiting 14 days between the shots and other immunizations as a precaution. But the agency has since revised its guidelines and says the wait is unnecessary.
The CDC and other health experts point to past experience showing that vaccines work as they should and any side effects are similar whether the shots are given separately or in the same visit.
“We have a history of vaccinating our kids with multiple vaccines,” says flu specialist Richard Webby of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Staying up to date on all vaccinations will be especially important this year, experts say.
Since people were masked and staying home, last year’s flu season barely registered. This year, it’s unclear how intense the flu season will be with more places reopening.