Today’s news on coronavirus: WHO hosts a special meeting on worrying new COVID-19 variant; The EU wants to stop flights from southern Africa over variant

The latest news about coronavirus from Canada and around the world on Friday. This file will be updated during the day. Web links to longer stories, if available.

7:45 A partnership between Peel Public Health and a specific crusader with a cloak to promote COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged five to 11 years was short-lived.

Peel Public Health has removed a video with its chief health officer, Dr. Lawrence Loh, and “Brampton Batman,” played by local man Stephen Lawrence, who has portrayed the cartoon and movie hero at many events in recent years.

The video received a number of positive and negative comments on social media, and Loh said that while the superhero theme was similar to that used by other public health agencies, the attention the clip received was “becoming a distraction.”

7:30 The bars are closed in Vienna and the Christmas market is empty in Munich as several European nations tighten up or even lock down to fight an increase in coronavirus infections.

Meanwhile in London, couples sip mulled wine at a seasonal market near the Thames, the audience at full capacity fills the seats at the nearby National Theater, and friends squeeze together over pints at pubs throughout the city.

Not for the first time in the pandemic, Britain is out of step with many of its neighbors. But this time, it’s gratifying to be different.

The UK has undergone three nationwide lockdowns and recorded nearly 145,000 deaths due to coronavirus, the highest number in Europe after Russia. Now it is watching as hospitals struggle with increasing cases in countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, bringing closures and restrictions. But while Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that a “snowstorm from the east” could still ruin Britain’s Christmas, many scientists say the wind is now blowing the other way.

06:30: World Health Organization advisers are holding a special session on Friday to elaborate on a worrying new variant of coronavirus that has been discovered in South Africa, although a top expert says its effect on COVID-19 vaccines may not be known for several weeks .

The technical advisory group on the development of COVID-19 met virtually to discuss the so-called B.1.1.529 variant, which has caused stock markets to faint and led the EU to recommend a break in flights to southern Africa. .

The group could decide whether it is a “variant of concern” – the most worrying type, like the well-known delta variant – or a “variant of interest”, and whether it should use a Greek letter to classify it.

“We do not know much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that having so many mutations can have an impact on how the virus behaves. , ”Said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical manager at COVID-19., In a chat on social media on Thursday.

Fewer than 100 full genome sequences of the variant are available so far, she said.

“It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has on any potential vaccines, for example,” Van Kerkhove said.

The advisory group chairman Dr. Anurag Agrawal, director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi, reached by phone, saying it was too early to comment on the variant. He said more data was needed before he could add the information already available.

“This is one to see. I would say we are concerned, but I think you want us to be concerned,” Van Kerkhove said. “We have people involved in this.”

5:56: COVID-19 Outbreaks in elementary schools in Ontario have peaked since the beginning of the school year, with more than 160 current outbreaks, nearly doubling the number from two weeks ago and nearly tripling the total number from a month ago.

And while scientists and doctors say that community vaccination rates, masking and ventilation upgrades in classrooms have played a role in helping keep cases in schools from rising even higher, they warn that outbreaks may well continue to rise with the cold weather – even with Thursday’s launch of COVID vaccine clinics for children aged five to 11 years.

This is because with the recommended eight-week interval between the two pediatric doses, it will take more than two months before the first group of children receiving a shot is considered fully vaccinated. For example, children who get their first shot in late November will not complete their vaccine series until early February.

Read the full story from Star’s Kenyon Wallace

5:44: Two cases of the new COVID-19 strain, which is causing alarm in parts of southern Africa and nervous financial markets worldwide, have been found in travelers in mandatory quarantine in Hong Kong.

A traveler from South Africa turned out to have the variant – currently known as B.1.1.529 – while the other case was identified in a person who had traveled from Canada and was quarantined in the hotel room opposite his, the Hong Kong government said late Thursday. The traveler from South Africa used a mask with a valve that does not filter the exhaled air and may have transmitted the virus to its neighbor when the door to the hotel room was open, a spokesman for the health ministry said on Friday.

B.1.1.529 carries an unusually large number of mutations and is “clearly very different” from previous incarnations, Tulio de Oliveira, a bioinformatics professor who runs gene sequencing institutions at two South African universities, said at a briefing Thursday. . Early PCR test results showed that 90% of 1,100 new infections in the South African province, including Johannesburg, were caused by the new variant, de Oliveira tweeted.

South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the mutation was “of serious concern” while World Health Organization officials have met to discuss the virus.

5:43: The German Air Force will begin assisting in the transfer of intensive care patients on Friday as the government warned that the situation in the country is more serious than at any point in the pandemic.

Referring to the sharp increase in cases, Minister of Health Jens Spahn said that contacts between people must be greatly reduced to slow down the spread of the virus.

“The situation is dramatically more serious, more serious than it has been at any point in the pandemic,” he told reporters in Berlin.

Spahn said Germany had to organize large-scale patient transfers in the country for the first time since the outbreak began in early 2020.

The German news agency dpa reported that a Luftwaffe A310 medevac aircraft will fly seriously ill patients from the southern city of Memmingen to the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Friday afternoon.

Hospitals in southern and eastern Germany have warned that they are running out of intensive care units due to the large number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

The country’s disease control agency said 76,414 newly confirmed cases were reported within the last 24 hours. The Robert Koch Institute, a government agency, said Germany also had 357 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total number since the start of the outbreak to 100,476.

In response to a newly discovered variant that has spread in South Africa, Spahn said airlines coming from there would only be able to transport German nationals. Travelers will have to be quarantined for 14 days, whether they are vaccinated or not, he said.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” he said.

5:42: Members of parliament are able to work from home again after adopting a proposal Thursday to resume hybrid meetings in the House of Commons.

Liberals and new Democrats joined forces to pass the motion for opposition from Conservatives and Bloc Québécois MPs who had wanted to return to normal, personal operations.

The proposal allows MEPs to participate virtually in cases, including votes and debates in the Commons and its committees, from Friday and continues until Parliament breaks until the summer of June.

It passed late Thursday with a vote of 180-140 after the NDP supported the Liberals in putting an end to two days of debate on the matter.

MEPs first adopted the hybrid format a year ago, with the aim of limiting the number of Commons members in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19. But the agreement between all parties to allow this format expired in June last year.

Since Parliament resumed on Monday after a five-month hiatus, all but one of the country’s 338 MPs have been in the Commons because there was no unanimous agreement to return to hybrid meetings.

The missing MP – conservative Richard Lehoux – tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, two days after attending a personal Tory caucus retreat.

5:41: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel is “on the verge of an emergency” on Friday after authorities discovered the country’s first case of a new coronavirus variant in a traveler returning from Malawi.

The Ministry of Health said the traveler and two other suspects, all of whom had been vaccinated, were placed in solitary confinement.

A new variant of coronavirus has been discovered in South Africa, as scientists say, is a concern due to its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

At a cabinet meeting convened Friday to discuss the new variant, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it is more contagious and spreads faster than the delta variant. He said authorities are still collecting information on whether it evades vaccines or is more deadly.

“We are currently on the verge of an emergency,” he said. “I ask everyone to be prepared and participate fully in the work around the clock.”

Late Thursday, Israel declared South Africa and six other African nations to be “red countries” from which foreign nationals are barred from traveling to Israel. Israelis are forbidden to visit these countries, and those who return from them must go through a period of isolation.

Israel launched one of the world’s first and most successful vaccination campaigns at the end of last year, and almost half of the population has been given a booster shot. Israel recently expanded the campaign to include children as young as 5 years old.

5:40: EU nations were in the process of halting flights from southern Africa on Friday to counter the proliferation of a new COVID-19 variant, as the bloc of 27 nations is battling a massive increase in cases.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that she “proposes, in close coordination with the Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop flights from the southern African region.”

Researchers say the new coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa is a concern due to its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

Germany said von der Leyen’s proposal could be adopted as early as Friday night. Spahn said airlines returning from South Africa will only be able to transport German nationals home, and travelers will have to be quarantined for 14 days, whether they are vaccinated or not.

Germany has seen new record daily case numbers in recent days and passed 100,000 deaths on Thursday as a result of COVID-19.

The Italian Ministry of Health also announced measures to ban entry into Italy for anyone who has been to seven South African nations – South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini – for the past 14 days due to the new variant.

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