Canada

Today’s coronavirus news: Security threats pose major risks to pandemic recovery, internal notes warn PM; U.S. loosens rules on masks

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

8:50 a.m.: Internal government briefing notes warn Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that economic-based national security threats — from espionage to cyberattacks — pose “significant risks” to Canada’s post-pandemic recovery, long-term prosperity and competitiveness.

The notes, obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, say Canada’s ability to rebound from COVID-19, and its future economic growth, lie in the development of updated legislative and regulatory regimes, new tools, technologies and business models.

The blunt assessment is included in material prepared for Trudeau immediately after the Liberal re-election victory last September and now released under the access law.

The Trudeau government served notice early last year that it was pressing ahead with efforts to counter economic-based threats to national security, such as theft of valuable intellectual property and damage to critical energy and information networks.

The internal notes point out that foreign investment and global trade are critical drivers of the Canadian economy and those of allies.

Given Canada’s population, geography, highly skilled workforce, world-leading scientific and academic institutions, and advanced economy, access to international markets and capital are critical for economic growth and recovery, the notes add.

8:18 a.m.: South Korea reported a daily record of 112 coronavirus-related deaths Saturday. That brings the country’s total deaths related to COVID-19 to 7,895.

The country posted 166,209 new infections, remaining near the daily record high, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said in a statement. Authorities forecast the virus surge could peak in mid-March with daily cases reaching up to 250,000, according to Yonhap News.

8:18 a.m.: Thailand’s coronavirus daily cases continue to rise, with the 25,615 reported on Saturday a new all-time high. There were 40 new virus-related deaths reported. Health authorities have said that despite the higher infection numbers, mortality rates are still manageable compared with the peak of the Delta variant outbreak.

8:15 a.m.: Hong Kong is changing its COVID-testing strategy to obtain faster results with self-administered kits and is easing isolation rules as it battles to suppress its worst coronavirus outbreak to date.

Hospitals will discharge COVID-positive patients if they are in stable condition and allow them to isolate at homes or in community isolation facilities to relieve the burden on hospitals and health care services, health department officials said. People with positive results from rapid antigen tests will be able to register online for followup without seeking confirmation in more sensitive nucleic-acid tests to “avoid resource duplication and time delay”.

For fully vaccinated people who test positive, the isolation period will end if they test negative on two consecutive days on the sixth or seventh day. Patients could also be discharged and return to the community if a polymerase chain reaction test returned a negative result on the 14th day after the infection was initially recorded.

The government needs to reserve space at public hospitals to serve those in greatest need, Lau Ka-hin, chief manager (Quality and Standards) of the Hospital Authority, said at a press conference Saturday. Further details to be disclosed “as soon as possible.”

8 a.m.: U.S. health officials dialed back their threshold for masking recommendations. The guidance signalled that the federal government is prioritizing protecting hospitals and vulnerable people over broadly preventing infections.

Students at New York City’s public schools will not have to wear masks outdoors when they return after a mid-winter break on Monday, the first step to what Mayor Eric Adams said was a plan to ease up on mandates throughout the city. Illinois will lift its mask mandate in schools outside of high-risk areas.

Hong Kong is changing its COVID-testing strategy to obtain faster results with self-administered kits as it battles to suppress its worst coronavirus outbreak to date. The government will allow people with positive results to register the information online for followup without seeking confirmation in more sensitive nucleic-acid tests.

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