Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 213 new infections; Ottawa announced $13.9M in funding for a voluntary self-isolation centre

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

10:57 a.m. Health Minister Christine Elliott said Friday there were 213 new infections reported.

On June 29, there were 257 cases. Until Thursday, July 21 was last day Ontario topped the 200-case threshold that public health officials have said is a key threshold in keeping the virus at bay.

“There are 71 cases in Toronto, with 38 in Peel and 37 in Ottawa,” Elliott said on Twitter noting “67 per cent of today’s cases are in people under the age of 40.”

But she emphasized that 26 of Ontario’s 34 public health units “are reporting five or fewer cases with 18 reporting no new cases.”

Queen’s Park says 2,813 people have died from the virus since the outbreak struck in March — data reconciliation actually lowered the death toll by one from the day before.

The Star has determined there have been at least 2,856 COVID-19 deaths in Ontario.

Read the full story by the Star’s Robert Benzie

9:54 a.m. Ottawa has announced $13.9 million in funding over 12 months for Toronto Public Health to create a voluntary self-isolation centre. It will consist of around 140 rooms for people with no place to quarantine safely.

9 a.m. The City of Toronto says curbside bars and restaurants will be allowed to use portable heaters in an attempt to extend the outdoor dining season.

The change affects restaurants that took part in the city’s CafeTO program, which allowed more than 700 venues to extend their patio spaces into sidewalks and curb lanes.

Mayor John Tory says the restaurant industry had been asking for the change to maximize their capacity as the weather gets colder during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city says the use of heaters could extend patio season into November and will encourage physical distancing.

It says space heaters will have to follow safety standards, and will have to be removed when restaurants close down.

The CafeTO program has been running since July and the city is seeking feedback from businesses about decisions around its future.

8:50 a.m. Health officials in Thailand say a 29-year-old player from Uzbekistan who is a member of the Buriram United Football Club has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Dr. Yong Poosvorawan, an expert from Chalulongkorn University, said Friday that there is a high chance that the player, whose name was not released, contracted it outside of Thailand. The incubation period for the disease can sometimes be longer than 14 days.

Dr. Sophon Iamsirithaworn, director of the Communicable Disease Control Department, said the team’s 44 players and staff have been put under a 14-day quarantine. The player, who has shown no symptoms, was admitted to a Bangkok hospital.

8:40 a.m. The U.K’s coronavirus reproduction factor, or R value, has risen above 1 for the first time since March, as the epidemic grows again across the country, official figures show.

The government’s latest estimate, released on Friday, is between 1.0 and 1.2, driven by a fresh surge in cases among younger people.

A separate study by Imperial College of more than 150,000 people in England estimated the R number as 1.7 and found the virus is now doubling every seven to eight days.

The R value is the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to; cases grow exponentially when the number goes over 1. Government scientists believe the R rate was last above 1 in early March, just before the U.K’s national lockdown.

U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it underlined the need for people to abide by the law and socialize in groups of no more than six.

8:35 a.m. The prime ministers of four central European countries were meeting Friday to discuss the political crisis over a disputed presidential election in Belarus, relations with Russia and fighting COVID-19 as they gear up for a European Union summit later this month.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was to brief his counterparts from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary on his talks in Warsaw this week with Belarusian opposition leaders, including opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Belarus has seen a month of street protests against the results of the country’s Aug. 9 presidential election, which is widely believed to have been rigged. Official results gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term with 80 per cent of the vote, but protesters dispute the count and are demanding he step down after 26 years in office.

The prime ministers of Europe’s Visegrad Group nations meeting in Poland’s eastern city of Lublin plan to discuss the best forms of support for Belarusian civic society.

8:30 a.m. Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

In New York, victims’ relatives began gathering Friday morning for split-screen remembrances, one at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and another on a nearby corner, set up by a separate organization.

The Stephen Siller Tunnels to Towers Foundation objected to the memorial’s decision to forgo a longstanding tradition of having relatives read the names of the dead, often adding poignant tributes. Memorial leaders said the change for the 19th anniversary of the attacks was a coronavirus-safety precaution.

Kathy Swift arrived early at the alternative ceremony, wearing a T-shirt honouring her slain brother, Thomas Swift, who worked in finance.

“We still have to remember,” said Swift, 61. “The whole country’s going downhill. It’s one thing after another, and now with the COVID. I’m glad they’re still having this, though.”

Trump and Biden are both headed — at different times — to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

6:13 a.m. The number of people infected with the coronavirus is surging in the Czech Republic, setting a record for the second time this week. The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase in the COVID-19 cases reached 1,382 on Thursday.

In the two previous days, the number of infected in one day surpassed 1,160.

In reaction to the spike, the Czech Republic has returned to mandatory wearing of face masks in interior spaces.

The Czech Republic has had a total of 32,413 COVID-19 cases and 448 people have died, according to government figures on Friday.

6 a.m. There are many ways Toronto could be made an affordable place to live for low-wage earners.

What the COVID-19 virus may have done, many experts say, is inoculate the city from any careless notion that it shouldn’t be.

“They are the fabric and connective tissues that hold (the city) together,” says Michelle German, vice-president of policy and strategy at Toronto’s WoodGreen Community Services.

“And we’re at a pivotal moment,” says German, who like so many has changed her vocabulary from low-wage to essential when describing such workers in the face of their pandemic heroics.

As we move, fretfully at first, into a new decade, there is little doubt that Toronto 2030 will need many more of the low-wage earners who help run our hospitals, nursing homes, coffee shops and grocery stores — yet increasingly can’t afford to live here.

The solutions — both obvious and doable — are to make their wages higher and their housing costs lower.

Read the full story by Joseph Hall

5:54 a.m. On Saturday, after seeing himself on the front page of the Toronto Star, Leymo Mohammed had an exciting thought: What if The Wiggles read my story?

It was a very Leymo kind of question. The Star article was about his harrowing experience losing his mom, Bontu Abdulahi, to COVID-19 in May. Abdulahi was a personal support worker, 44-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, and fiercely devoted single mom to her two kids, Biftu, 13, and Leymo, 17.

In the Star article, Leymo pays tribute to the woman who showed him unwavering love and support, especially when he struggled with his autism. But any conversation with Leymo has a tendency to veer towards The Wiggles, and his interviews with the Star were no exception. “Do you think the article will mention the Wiggles?” he asked the reporter on more than one occasion.

The Australian group was formed in 1991 and went on to become a multimillion-dollar children’s entertainment juggernaut that sells out stadium shows around the world. They are wildly popular with the under-10 set — and at least one Toronto teen who will be turning 18 on Sunday.

Read the full story by the Star’s Jennifer Yang

Friday 5:25 a.m. Thousands of refugees and migrants have spent a third night in the open on the Greek island of Lesbos after two consecutive nights of fires in the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp left them homeless.

Some awoke Friday after sleeping by the side of the road, having cut down reeds and used salvaged blankets to make rudimentary shelters to protect them from the night-time chill and the scorching day-time sun. Others used tents or had just sleeping bags to protect them from the elements.

Greek authorities have said the fires on Tuesday and Wednesday evening were deliberately set by some of the camp’s residents angered by isolation orders issued to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after 35 residents were found to have been infected.

The camp had been under a lockdown due to last until mid-September after the first virus case was identified in a Somali man who had been granted asylum and left the camp but later returned to Moria from Athens.

“We have spent three days here without eating, without drinking. We are in conditions that are really, really not very good,” Freddy Musamba, a former camp resident from Gambia who denounced the situation in Greece and the conditions under which he had been living.

Friday 4:35 a.m. The United Nations independent expert on poverty is warning that the worst impacts from the coronavirus pandemic on poverty are yet to come, and that measures taken by governments to protect people so far have been insufficient.

“The social safety nets put into place are full of holes,” said Olivier De Schutter, a Belgian legal scholar appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council as special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

“These current measures are generally short-term, the funding is insufficient and many people will inevitably fall between the cracks,” De Schutter said.

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His message was directed to world leaders meeting this month for the U.N. General Assembly. He called on them to take more decisive steps to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities, according to a U.N. statement released Friday.

De Schutter said the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic is unprecedented in times of peace since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

He warned that 176 million additional people worldwide could fall into poverty, with $3.20 per day being used as the poverty baseline.

Even though governments have pledged social schemes to help, the world’s poorest people are often excluded because they don’t have the digital literacy or internet access, he said.

In some cases, government programs are now running out.

“Families in poverty have by now used up whatever reserves they had and sold their assets,” he said. “The worst impacts of the crisis on poverty are still to come.”

Friday 4 a.m. A doctor who has been working with some of Calgary’s most vulnerable citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic is worried homeless shelters won’t have enough space to keep everyone safe once the cold weather hits.

“Currently — at least in Calgary, and I expect it’s reflected in other parts of the province — there just simply isn’t enough space for people to be much more than, in the peak of winter, inches apart,” said Dr. Richard Musto, a retired public health officer who is volunteering during the pandemic.

Beds, cots and mats are to be spaced two metres apart if there is enough room, says the Alberta government’s guidelines for shelters.

But, acknowledging space limitations, the document says it’s acceptable for people to sleep one-metre apart head-to-foot when there isn’t an outbreak.

Musto said the rules mean staff may have to scramble to move people if cases arise.

“That’s very, very difficult to do and can’t happen instantaneously,” he said.

“Better to anticipate that there’s going to be more outbreaks and make sure we’ve got the spacing for that now.”

Eight COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed at the Calgary Drop-In Centre, one of the largest homeless shelters in North America, as of Wednesday night. Three have recovered, Alberta Health said.

Friday 4 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has agreed to hold a virtual first ministers meeting on federal health care transfers to the provinces and territories.

His agreement during a conference call with premiers Thursday came one day after Quebec’s Francois Legault and Ontario’s Doug Ford issued a joint call for a significant increase in the funding Ottawa sends them to help cover mushrooming health care costs.

The federal government has already committed to transferring $19 billion to the provinces to help them cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, including some $10 billion for health-related expenses.

But Legault and Ford pointed out that money is a one-time transfer and argued that what the provinces need is sustainable, long-term funding to cover the ballooning costs of new technologies, drugs and an aging population, as well as ongoing pandemic-related costs.

They did not put a price tag on their demand but said a significant increase to the annual transfer is needed.

The federal government will transfer almost $42 billion to provinces and territories for health care in the current fiscal year under an arrangement that sees the transfer increase by at least three per cent each year.

Friday 4 a.m. Mike Charlebois describes karaoke as a way of life, a form of expression and a little bit of escapist fun — something he says is more important than ever as the world grapples with a health crisis.

“Whether you have talent or you don’t, you have a microphone, you have a stage, you have lights projected on you, you’re a star for a moment, regardless of who you are,” said Charlebois, a professional performer, host and karaoke event organizer in the Montreal area.

Those fleeting moments of wannabe rock stardom appear to be coming to an end. On Thursday, a provincial bar owners’ association reported the Quebec government was preparing to ban karaoke after an outbreak at a Quebec City bar was linked to dozens of cases.

While the government had not confirmed the news late Thursday, the province’s top doctor, Horacio Arruda, has said the combination of droplet-projecting singing, shared microphones and alcohol consumption make karaoke the ideal environment to spread COVID-19.

But singers and bar owners who aren’t ready to stash their microphones say the activity can be safe and worry all karaoke enthusiasts are being punished for the acts of an irresponsible few.

“Karaoke isn’t the problem. The problem is the management of the bars that doesn’t respect the rules,” said the well-known Quebec performer whose stage name is Billy Karaoke.

Thursday 8:24 p.m. British Columbia’s provincial health officer says she does not foresee a scenario where the entire public school system will have to shut down again because of COVID-19.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a briefing Thursday that local outbreaks may require individual schools or learning groups to stop classes and self-isolate, but a system-wide closure would only happen under severe circumstances.

“That would mean that we were in dire straits in many other aspects of our community and that’s what we’re trying absolutely to avoid,” Henry said.

Henry made the comments as British Columbia reached a record of daily COVID-19 cases on the same day that schools reopened across the province.

Officials announced 139 new cases for a provincial total of 6,830 since the pandemic began.

There were no new deaths and the total number of fatalities remains at 213.

Read more here: B.C. sets daily record of COVID-19 cases at 139, hospitalizations climb

5 p.m. Ontario’s regional health units are reporting another 161 COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, according to the Star’s latest count.

As has been the case in recent weeks, most of the new cases continue to come in the GTA. Toronto reported another 58 new cases on Thursday; Peel added 32; and York Region 14.

With Thursday’s total, Ontario’s seven-day average for new cases is up to 168 cases per day.

That’s the highest that measure has been in more than two months and nearly double what the health units were reporting less than a month ago on Aug. 16, when the seven-day average hit a recent low of 85 cases daily.

The rate of infection remains well below the worst of the pandemic; Ontario saw that seven-day case average reach a mid-April peak of nearly 600 cases daily.

One new fatal case was reported Thursday, in Windsor-Essex.

The province has now seen a total of 46,027 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, including 2,856 deaths.

The vast majority of the province’s COVID-19 patients have since recovered, and the recent rise in cases has not yet resulted in a significant jump in hospitalizations or deaths. The province lists 1,567 active cases of the disease, a number that has been rising in recent weeks.

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases. This means they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

The Province cautions its separate data, published daily at 10:30 a.m., may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system. In the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

Read Thursday’s rolling file