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Today’s coronavirus news: Moderna seeks FDA approval for fourth vaccine dose for adults


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.

10 p.m.: Drugmaker Moderna asked the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday to authorize a fourth shot of its COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose for all adults.

The request is broader than rival pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s request earlier this week for the regulator to approve a booster shot for all seniors.

In a press release, the company said its request for approval for all adults was made “to provide flexibility” to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical providers to determine the “appropriate use” of a second booster dose of the mRNA vaccine, “including for those at higher risk of COVID-19 due to age or comorbidities.“

U.S. officials have been laying the groundwork to deliver additional booster doses to shore up the vaccines’ protection against serious disease and death from COVID-19. The White House has been sounding the alarm that it needs Congress to “urgently” approve more funding for the federal government to secure more doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, either for additional booster shots or variant-specific immunizations.

U.S. health officials currently recommend a primary series of two doses of the Moderna vaccine and a booster dose months later.

Moderna said its request for an additional dose was based on “recently published data generated in the United States and Israel following the emergence of Omicron.”

6:06 p.m. As of March 21, masks will be strongly encouraged in schools, although they are not required, the Toronto District School Board reports.

Masks will be mandatory in the following circumstances, the TDSB said:

  • For days 6 to10 after a self-isolation period of five days following a COVD-19 diagnosis
  • If you are identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19
  • In public spaces, including schools and childcares, for the first 14 days following travel outside of Canada.

Schools will continue to be mask-friendly environments, the TDSB said. Masks will still be available to both staff and students upon request. Classroom environments will be inclusive of all students, it added.

2:25 p.m. COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions will likely rise as more public health measures are lifted, but nowhere near the levels seen at the peak of the Omicron wave, Ontario’s expert science advisers said Thursday.

New modelling released by Ontario’s science advisory table — ahead of mask mandates being lifted Monday in most settings — suggests that if there is a moderate increase in COVID-19 transmission, hospitalizations will likely rise, though they won’t exceed 1,000.

Transmission could moderately increase if people increase their contacts by 40 per cent and half of those contacts are not wearing masks, or if people increase their contacts by 30 per cent and half are maskless, but the more transmissible Omicron subvariant BA.2 becomes dominant.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore has said he expects BA.2 to become dominant this month.

1:50 p.m. Nearly three dozen companies worldwide will soon start making generic versions of Pfizer’s coronavirus pill, the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool that negotiated the deal said Thursday.

The Medicines Patent Pool said in a statement that agreements signed with 35 companies should help make Pfizer’s antiviral nirmatrelvir, or Paxlovoid, available to more than half of the world’s population.

Generic drugmakers across a dozen countries in Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Eastern Europe will begin producing either the raw ingredients for the Pfizer drug or the pill itself. Among the companies offered a license was one in Ukraine, which has not yet been able to confirm it can participate.

1:10 p.m. As Ontario gets rid of masking requirements for most indoor settings on Monday, European countries that have already dropped public health restrictions are offering a glimpse of how the province may fare in the next several weeks, say doctors and scientists.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, several nations in western Europe with comparable vaccination rates to Ontario are experiencing rising daily case counts as society returns to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy, especially with the arrival of the more transmissible BA.2 subvariant of Omicron.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to assume that Ontario will also see an uptick in daily cases as we drop our public health measures, combined with the spread of BA.2 and an influx of March break travellers returning to Canada, experts say.

Read the full story from the Star’s May Warren and Kenyon Wallace

1 p.m. Canada is loosening COVID-19 travel restrictions beginning in April, federal officials confirm.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault addressed the easing of pandemic travel restrictions in a virtual press conference, Thursday.

The announcement follows warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) about the rise in sequenced cases of the BA. 2, a subvariant of the Omicron strain that is seeing cases of COVID-19 rise globally, especially in parts of Asia.

Read the full story fom the Star’s Ivy Mak

12:15 p.m. Ontario’s science table has released new modelling. COVID-19 case numbers, hospital and ICU occupancy have stopped declining, the report says.

“Given the relaxation of public health measures and consequent increase in transmission, hospital and ICU occupancy will likely increase over the next few weeks, but less than in January 2022 and for a limited period of time if changes in behaviour are only moderate,” the report says.

Lower income neighbourhoods continue to be hit hardest by the pandemic, also during the fifth wave caused by Omicron.

Ontario’s wastewater signals have stopped declining, increasing slightly.

Masks are still effective and they’ll be a choice in most settings as of Monday.

12:10 p.m. The Quebec government is reporting 19 more deaths due to COVID-19 and 39 fewer people in hospital.

There are now 1,034 patients hospitalized with the novel coronavirus after 63 people were admitted and 102 were discharged. Fifty people are in intensive care, which is a drop of six from the previous day.

The provincial government also announced it is expanding access to the antiviral drug Paxlovid. Quebec announced in a press release Thursday that the oral therapy will soon be available from pharmacies with a prescription from a doctor or a specialized nurse practitioner.

11:30 a.m. Health Canada has approved the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of six- and 11-years old.

Up until now, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has been the only one approved use in children.

“Health Canada was the first regulator to fully approve our COVID-19 vaccine, and we are pleased they have taken this important step to expand this authorization to children aged 6 to11 years,” said Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna.

10:50 a.m. (updated) As of April 1, vaccinated travellers entering Canada will no longer have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test as the country enters a “transition” period of the pandemic, federal government officials said Thursday.

“Fully vaccinated travellers may still continue to undergo random testing upon entry to Canada, but they are no longer required to quarantine while awaiting their results,” federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said during a virtual news conference.

“Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travellers will continue to be tested with COVID-19 molecular tests on arrival and on day eight, while they quarantine for 14 days.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Raisa Patel

10:45 a.m. If you live in Hamilton, resist the temptation to set out on a maskless shopping spree the moment Ontario drops its pandemic requirement to cover your face in many indoor locations March 21.

Because while Ontario’s COVID mask mandate is set to end Monday, the city’s own COVID face-covering bylaw is still technically in place — for at least a short while.

Officially, Hamilton public health officials will only say they are “reviewing” the local implications of the contentious provincial decision to end masking requirements for many — but not all — indoor venues directly after the March break. (Masks are still mandatory on transit and in health or long-term care settings until April 27.)

10:30 a.m. Ontario is reporting 644 people hospitalized with COVID-19 with 199 in ICU; 47 per cent were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 and 53 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott.

75 per cent of patients admitted to the ICU were admitted for COVID-19 and 25 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19.

10:15 a.m. As a COVID-19 outbreak overwhelms Hong Kong, it’s hard for its 7.4 million residents to know what’s next.

Uncertainty is the only certainty as store shelves are stripped of goods, mainland Chinese companies throw up sprawling isolation and testing centers and the government sends mixed messages on whether it will lock down the population for a citywide mass testing.

Pandemic restrictions have sucked much of the energy out of a cosmopolitan city known for its neon lights and dense crowds. The latest closure, announced Wednesday, is public beaches. An overburdened health system means those who get infected often have to fend for themselves. And the death toll, particularly among the elderly, keeps rising.

10 a.m. St. Patrick’s Day is here. It’s been two long years since the pandemic did away with in-person events. As COVID-19 restrictions lift in the city, here are some (in-person) ways you can celebrate the festivities in Toronto this week.

Read the full story from the Star’s Dorcas Marfo

9:40 a.m. Farfadaas leader Steeve Charland is back in court Thursday after multiple delays. His bail hearing is expected to take place. He was arrested Feb. 26 in relation to the trucker protest near Parliament Hill.

9:20 a.m. The federal government will announce Thursday at 10:30 a.m. that Canada will end its pre-entry COVID-19 testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers by the end of the month.

8:45 a.m. Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. said it filed suit against Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., alleging patent infringement for their COVID-19 vaccines.

“The patent relates to Alnylam’s biodegradable cationic lipids that are foundational to the success of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines,” the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company said in a release Thursday.

Alnylam said it will not seek an injunction or try to impede the production, sale or distribution of the vaccines. Moderna is facing a separate patent lawsuit in Delaware over its COVID-19 vaccine from Arbutus Biopharma Corp. and Genevant Sciences GmbH.

8:25 a.m. President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy Natalie Quillian are leaving the administration next month, the White House announced Thursday. They will be replaced by Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Zients, an experienced manager and government executive, was brought on by Biden before he took office to devise and execute a “wartime” federal government response to the coronavirus pandemic, including shoring up supply and distribution of vaccines, therapeutics and tests.

His departure comes as the White House is shifting its posture from one of confronting an emergency to nudging Americans back to normalcy as the nation learns to live with a less-severe virus that is likely to remain endemic.

6:45 a.m. Lawmakers in Germany are debating a possible COVID-19 vaccine mandate as the country hit a new record for the number of newly confirmed cases Thursday. Still, some government officials are championing an easing of restrictions.

The country’s disease control agency reported 294,931 new cases in the past 24 hours. The Robert Koch Institute said there have been a further 278 COVID-related deaths, taking the toll since the start of the pandemic to 126,420.

A final decision on an initial proposal to make vaccinations compulsory for all adults in Germany isn’t expected for several weeks. Opponents of this measure have suggested mandatory vaccination only for people over 50, while others reject the idea altogether.

Read more from The Associated Press.

5:40 a.m. Ontario’s expert pandemic advisers are set to release new COVID-19 projections at noon on Thursday.

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says its latest modelling on the disease will be published today at noon.

The projections are expected as the province prepares to drop most of its COVID-19 public health measures.

Capacity limits and proof-of-vaccination rules have already been dropped in most spaces and masks will no longer be required in many settings as of March 21.

Read more from The Canadian Press.

5:35 a.m. A new report says women’s historically high numbers in the country’s labour force remain below where they might have been if COVID-19 had never occurred.

The report from the Labour Market Information Council says female employment is almost one per cent lower than where it could have been if the global pandemic hadn’t altered the trajectory of the economy.

For men, employment levels are about 0.5 per cent below what they may have been had the labour market grown along its historical average over the preceding decade.

The report points to these figures, among others, to suggest the jobs rebound for women may be slightly weaker than the headline numbers suggest.

Read more from The Canadian Press.

5:30 a.m. Two years, five shutdowns and countless pandemic guidelines to boot, Toronto is finally getting the party it was promised. The St. Patrick’s Day parade is back.

St. Patrick’s Day festivities were the first COVID casualty of Toronto’s legendary party scene, back in March 2020.

Since then, we have all reeled from the strain and devastation this pandemic has caused throughout the world. With the death of 4,065 people in Toronto, 12,288 in Ontario, six million around the world, so many of us have lost a loved one. Work went virtual, smiles got veiled behind masks and social celebration became a distant memory, in a fog of public health guidelines.

Now, in 2022, as restrictions seem to be retreating for good, St. Patrick’s Day will once again mark a first — the first parade to return in-person fanfare back to Toronto streets.

Read more from the Star’s Akrit Michael.

5:25 a.m. South Korea reached another daily record in COVID-19 deaths on Thursday as health officials reported more than 621,000 new infections, underscoring a massive Omicron surge that has been worse than feared and threatens to buckle an over-stretched hospital system.

The 429 deaths reported in the latest 24 hours were nearly 140 more than the previous one-day record set on Tuesday. Fatalities may further rise in coming weeks considering the intervals between infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

The outbreak has been significantly bigger than what had been forecast by government health authorities, who maintain that Omicron is nearing its peak. Officials have tried to calm public fears amid concerns about a faltering pandemic response, saying that Omicron is no more deadly than seasonal influenza for vaccinated people and less dangerous than the Delta strain that hit the country hard in December and early January.

Read more from The Associated Press.

5:10 a.m. The World Health Organization will “very likely” reject the only Canadian-developed COVID-19 vaccine for use globally because of its ties to tobacco giant Philip Morris International, a top WHO official said Wednesday.

Health Canada greenlit the dose made by Quebec-based Medicago less than a month ago. The vaccine, which is manufactured using a cousin of a tobacco plant — one the company has stressed cannot be smoked — was found to be 71 per cent effective against symptomatic COVID in trials.

But it’s the fact that the company is partially owned by the famed tobacco maker that has raised eyebrows in Geneva: “It’s well-known that WHO and UN has a very strict policy regarding the engagement with tobacco and arms industry,” Dr. Mariangela Simao, the WHO’s assistant director general for access to medicines and health products, told media on Wednesday.

Read more from the Star’s Alex Boyd.

5 a.m. As pandemic restrictions ease across the country, Canada will soon stop requiring fully vaccinated travellers to show evidence of negative COVID-19 tests, federal sources say.

The change to the border testing requirement will come into effect by the end of the month and will be announced on Thursday by Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault.

Proof of vaccination will still be needed to board any plane, train or boat that is federally regulated.

Read more from the Star’s Stephanie Levitz.


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