Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports less than 100 cases; Indoor pools, community centres in Toronto to reopen Monday; Ontario to allow indoor visits at long-term-care homes

KEY FACTS

  • 3:45 p.m.: Community centres in Toronto to reopen Monday

  • 1:09 p.m. Indoor visists to Ontario long-term-care homes allowed as of July 22.

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

7:20 p.m.: WE Charity is restructuring its operations weeks after its sole-sourced contract with the government shone a spotlight on the organization at the centre of an ethics investigation of the prime minister.

The charity says it will return to its roots by prioritizing international development work focused on children and their families.

But after 25 years of rapid growth, WE Charity says its structure is too complicated and needs to be more transparent.

The Star’s Alex Boutlier has the full story.

6:30 p.m. (updated): After months spent watching the devastating impact of COVID-19 isolation on nursing-home residents, families, neighbours and close friends will soon be allowed indoor visits.

Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton announced Wednesday the new rules that will permit indoor visits of no more than two friends or relatives at a time, starting July 22.

Visitors can help with eating or washing and can provide emotional sustenance for people who have declined from months of loneliness and depression. Before mid-March, when visitors for all but palliative residents were locked out by COVID restrictions, many families and friends provided hours of care for their loved ones, freeing up staff to spend time with other residents.

Next week, before entering the home, all visitors will be required to attest they have tested negative for COVID-19 within the past 14 days. Outside visits, which began June 18, no longer require a COVID test.

Read the full story from the Star’s Moira Welsh.

5:45 p.m.: As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Ontario’s regional health units are reporting a total of 39,062 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, including 2,770 deaths, according to the Star’s latest count.

The rate of new infections in Ontario has fallen sharply over the last two months and has continued to fall so far in July. Over the last seven days, the province’s 34 health units have reported an average of 119 new infections per day — well down from a sustained peak of nearly 600 cases per day, seen in late April.

Wednesday’s total, up 96 cases in 24 hours, include two days’ worth of case reports from Toronto, which last week switched to updating just three days a week.

At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said the city would resume releasing a daily case count via the Toronto Public Health’s Twitter account.

Meanwhile, another nine new fatal cases were reported Wednesday, six in Toronto, two in Peel Region and one in Windsor-Essex; Amid the worst of the province’s epidemic, the health units reported as many as 94 deaths in a single day.

Earlier, the province reported 115 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 31 in an intensive care unit, of whom 22 are on a ventilator — numbers that are themselves near the lowest the province has reported since first publishing hospitalization data in early April.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of total deaths — 2,732 — may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying that in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning 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.

5:40 p.m.: Quebec will allow private sector employees to head back to the office in an effort to revitalize the struggling downtown cores of the province’s largest cities.

Labour Minister Jean Boulet told a news conference Wednesday businesses can bring back up to a quarter of their employees to the office starting Saturday. The province is strongly recommending, however, people continue working remotely if possible.

Boulet said remote working is difficult for some people, while for others, in-person interactions are necessary.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported three new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, for a total of 5,636. The province also reported 129 new cases of the novel coronavirus, for a total of 56,859, of which 26,097 are considered recovered.

The number of people in hospital went down by 10 patients compared with the prior day, for a total of 285, including 20 patients in intensive care, a reduction of one.

Public health authorities said Wednesday they are trying to increase testing capacity in Montreal after they requested over the weekend that anyone who had visited or worked in a bar since July 1 get tested for COVID-19.

Montreal public health reported Tuesday it had identified at least 30 confirmed cases tied to nine different bars in the city.

Masse said the public health department is trying to test 200 people per hour at Montreal’s Hotel-Dieu hospital, where a walk-in clinic has been inundated. “It takes some time to mobilize human resources moved elsewhere in the health system,” Masse said.

4:30 p.m.: The Manitoba government is extending and expanding a wage-subsidy program to spur job creation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until now, the Back To Work program paid businesses who hired or brought back staff up to $5,000 per employee, to a maximum of five workers, through to the end of August.

Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday the program will be extended until the end of October and funds will be available for up to 10 workers at each business. The program is also being offered for the first time to charities and non-profits.

4 p.m.: Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen De Villa says there have been 59 new cases in the city over the last two days, including just 14 on Tuesday, the “lowest in quite some time.”

3:45 p.m. City of Toronto community centres and indoor pools will reopen Monday, Mayor John Tory announced. Indoor capacity will be limited and visitors will be screened.

3:20 p.m. Nunavut’s chief public health officer has announced two presumptive cases of COVID-19 at Baffinland’s Mary River mine.

“The individuals and their contacts are asymptomatic and were immediately placed in isolation. Additional swabs were taken and sent for confirmatory testing at a southern lab, with results expected early next week,” Dr. Michael Patterson said in a news release today.

While there was a presumptive case of COVID-19 at the mine two weeks ago, Patterson said there is no evidence of the disease’s transmission at the site.

In its own news release, Baffinland said that contact tracing done shows that the people who are presumed to have COVID-19 picked it up in a southern location.

The mine tests its workers as soon as they arrive in the territory, and every few days after.

One person who’s presumed to have COVID-19 initially tested negative when arriving at the mine site on July 7, Baffinland said in the release. Results from a test done five days later came back positive. People thought to be in contact with that person were put in isolation, and swabs were done on them.

These swabs were sent to Iqaluit to be tested. One of these swabs tested positive for COVID-19, Baffinland’s release said.

3:02 p.m. Non-profit groups that wanted to use Canada Student Services Grant to hire volunteers say they have not heard a peep from the federal government since WE Charity walked away from managing the $912-million program almost two weeks ago.

That is causing angst for some organizations such as Souls Harbour Rescue Mission in Halifax that have already taken on some students but now don’t know whether the government will actually cover the payments they’ve been promised.

The government had promised students could receive up to $5,000 toward their education costs by volunteering through the program.

Souls Harbour CEO Michelle Porter says the charity will honour the commitment made to the seven students who are now volunteering in its thrift store if the government kills the program.

But she says the cost will have financial implications across the rest of her organization, which provides lunches and a safe space for hundreds of people every week.

The government says it is still working on the details after taking over the program from WE on July 3 but has otherwise provided little to no information.

3 p.m. Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry, who is currently quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus, issued a legal opinion Wednesday saying the governor’s statewide mask mandate and bar restrictions to combat the outbreak appear to violate Louisiana’s constitution.

The Republican attorney general’s office said Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order, in effect since Monday, requiring most people to wear face coverings, limiting bars to takeout and delivery and banning gatherings of more than 50 people in indoor spaces is “likely unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

“Although the mask mandate and the 50-person limit may be good recommendations for personal safety, they may not be enforced with financial or criminal penalties,” Landry wrote. “Both businesses acting under colour of law as mask police and actual police acting as mask police could face liability if individual civil rights are violated due to the proclamation.”

Landry’s legal assessment doesn’t carry the force of law, but the advisory opinion could be used as the basis for a lawsuit if someone wants to challenge the regulations enacted by Edwards. A group of eight Republican lawmakers asked for Landry’s assessment.

2:54 p.m. The RCMP say two men were arrested Tuesday after a sailboat originating in Norway docked in a Labrador community.

The police force says its Makkovik detachment received a complaint Tuesday about a boat that had arrived at a community dock, and officers learned it had sailed from Norway.

The two men on board were detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and taken to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the RCMP said in a statement.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball described the men Wednesday as “foreign nationals” and said the quick police response shows measures restricting outside visitors during the pandemic are working.

He said a penalty for the sailors had not yet been determined.

The RCMP and the premier have said Canada Border Services Agency is now leading the investigation.

2:35 p.m. Alberta health officials say an inmate has tested positive for COVID-19 at the Edmonton Remand Centre.

They say the inmate was asymptomatic when he was admitted to the centre June 30.

As is protocol, he was tested on admission and placed in quarantine for two weeks.

Although an initial test came back negative, the man developed a symptom and was isolated on July 11.

A subsequent test was positive for COVID-19.

The inmate remains in isolation and transfers out of the remand centre have been suspended for a day as a precaution.

2:30 p.m. Arizona, Texas and Florida together reported about 25,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as new restrictions aimed at combating the spread of the pandemic took hold in the United States and around the world.

The face-covering requirements, lockdowns, health checks and quarantine lists underscore the reality that the number of infections is continuing to tick upward in parts of the world and make clear that a return to normalcy may be farther off than many leaders had envisioned just weeks ago.

Alabama will begin requiring face masks after the state reported a pandemic-high of 40 deaths in a single day. In Texas, which again set a record Wednesday for confirmed new cases with nearly 10,800, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has increasingly emphasized face coverings as the state’s way out of avoiding another lockdown, which he has not ruled out.

Among the sternest measures are in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo added to a list now totalling 22 states whose visitors will be required to quarantine for 14 days if they visit the tri-state region. Out-of-state travellers arriving in New York airports from those states face a $2,000 fine and a mandatory quarantine order if they fail to fill out a tracing form.

2:25 p.m. Organizers said Wednesday they have cancelled the 2021 Rose Parade because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on long-range planning for the New Year’s Day tradition.

The Pasadena, California, Tournament of Roses Association said the decision was put off until organizers were certain that safety restrictions would prevent staging of the 132nd parade.

The globally watched parade is held every Jan. 1 except when New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday.

Since its inception in 1891, the parade has only not occurred only three times during the wartime years of 1942, 1943 and 1945.

2:22 p.m. Ontario’s largest school board is weighing the costs of a full return to school come September, saying one model would come with a $250 million pricetag for elementary schools alone.

The Ministry of Education has given boards until Aug. 4 to provide back-to-school plans that take the COVID-19 pandemic into account, and the Toronto District School Board says some options come at a significant cost.

In a planning document, the board says if elementary students are divided into cohorts of 15 and there aren’t any schedule changes, it will need to hire nearly 2,500 more teachers at a cost of $248.9 million.

The TDSB says if it cuts the school day by 48 minutes, it will only need to hire 988 teachers and the cost will be cut to $98.5 million.

Another option, which would see the youngest students in cohorts of 15 and older elementary students in groups of 20, would require just 200 additional teachers at a price of $20 million.

2:20 p.m. The New Brunswick government will be offering rebates to encourage residents to vacation close to home this summer.

The Explore NB Travel Incentive program will provide a 20 per cent rebate on eligible expenses made during a vacation that includes a paid overnight stay in the province between July 15 and Sept. 30.

Tourism Minister Bruce Fitch says the program was created to stimulate a tourism industry suffering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says the rebate will encourage travel within the province and support businesses when they need it the most.

Fitch says the incentive program will also benefit the culture and heritage sectors.

Eligible expenses include accommodations, food and drink, activities, vehicle rentals, ferries and parking.

2:15 p.m. Brampton has laid 14 charges for COVID-19 masking and distancing violations over the last week, including for a large house party with at least 40 people, the city’s mayor says.

“This is still not the time to have parties,” Mayor Patrick Brown said announcing the charges at a Wednesday news conference.

“We can’t have anyone ignoring the advice of public health and putting everyone else in peril.”

The charges, including cases of large residential gatherings, were laid under the city’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

Since Friday, when the city made it mandatory for masks to be worn in indoor public spaces, the mayor said there have been dozens of complaints about people not adhering to the face covering rules.

In many of those instances, Brown said, bylaw officers opted for warnings instead of charges while people get used to the new rules.

Brampton has accounted for more than half of the 6,686 COVID-19 cases reported in Peel Region so far, with Mississauga sitting at just above 40 per cent and Caledon at fewer than five per cent.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jason Miller: Brampton has laid 14 charges for COVID-19 violations in a week

1:53 p.m. Texas set a record for confirmed new coronavirus cases in a single day with nearly 10,800.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott mandated face coverings this month. Some Texas sheriffs have said they won’t enforce the order.

But Abbott has increasingly emphasized face coverings as the way out of avoiding another lockdown, which he has not ruled out.

“If we were two shut down for two weeks, as some people are asking, once we open back up you would then see things begin to spread again,” Abbott told Houston television station KTRK on Wednesday. “Until there are medications to slow the spread of the coronavirus, there is only one thing that can slow the spread and that is by people adopting the use of wearing a face guard of some sort whenever they go out.”

1:53 p.m. Italy’s main nursing federation says 40 nurses with coronavirus died during the peak of the outbreak.

The National Federation of the Order of Nursing Professions released a breakdown of the deaths on Wednesday, based on reporting from its regional chapters in March, April and May. “It’s obvious that the lack of PPE, including the FFP2 masks, was one of the principal causes of infection transmission among nursing personnel,” the report said.

The toll adds to 172 doctors with coronavirus who have died, according to a tally kept by Italy’s main doctors’ association. Both associations included retired personnel.

The nursing group says 32 nurses died of COVID-19. For four others, coronavirus was a determining factor. Of four suicides, two were in hardest-hit Lombardy region.

Italy’s Superior Institute of Health has confirmed 29,768 positive cases among health care workers. Overall, Italy has 243,506 confirmed cases, with 163 infections and 13 deaths recorded Wednesday.

1:53 p.m. Authorities in Spain’s Balearic Islands are pulling the plug on endless drunken nights to the beat of techno music by closing bars and nightclubs in beachfront areas popular with young and international visitors.

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, regional authorities closed all establishments near the beach of Palma de Mallorca and the nearby Magaluf.

The region’s tourism minister, Iago Negueruela, says it wants to shake off a reputation of no social distancing and no masks that went virual and made headlines in Germany and Britain.

Spain has confirmed at least 28,400 deaths from the virus. It’s dealing with dozens of outbreaks reopening last month.

1:51 p.m. The chief medical health officer on Prince Edward Island says hundreds of COVID-19 tests have come back negative since two positive cases were discovered this week at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.

Dr. Heather Morrison said Wednesday more than 1,300 tests have been done since a health-care worker in the emergency department and a patient in the hospital were identified as positive over the weekend. Most of the 101 patients identified through contact tracing have been tested, she added.

“Seventy-six patients have been tested and 16 have appointments to be tested today,” Morrison told reporters in Charlottetown. “Six patients are out of province and are being followed-up, and we are trying to reach three individuals who still need to be contacted.”

Officials originally identified about 125 staff for testing, but expanded the list and have tested about 500.

“Out of an abundance of caution, more staff than originally reported were tested,” Morrison said. “It is a relief to know that all these tests have come back negative.”

There are currently nine active cases on the Island, and Morrison said the infected people are all recovering at home.

The province has had a total of 36 cases, 27 of which are considered recovered.

1:23 p.m. Premier Doug Ford says his government is awaiting the federal government to give the green light for the forthcoming contact-tracing app. Ford and Minister of Health Christine Elliot say Ontario is ready to go. Elliott says app protects privacy.

1:09 p.m. Ontario’s long-term care minister says the province is loosening rules that have restricted visits to the province’s long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Merrilee Fullerton says starting July 22, a person visiting a resident outside a home will no longer need to attest that they’ve taken a COVID-19 test within the previous two weeks.

She says indoor visits, which are currently limited to essential workers and families of palliative patients, will be permitted as of July 22, with a two-person limit.

Essential caregivers will also be allowed back into the facilities when visits resume.

1:07 p.m. Premier Doug Ford is enriching the province’s funding formula for long-term-care homes to encourage more private-sector operators to build new facilities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the Progressive Conservative government, which on Wednesday reiterated its previously announced pledge to spend $1.75 billion in the sector, cannot say precisely how many new beds will be created.

The Tories have committed to adding 30,000 beds over the next decade, but no road map to that goal has been made public.

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie: Doug Ford unveils funding increase for long-term-care homes in wake of COVID-19

1:04 p.m. : Premier Doug Ford says government hopes to build 30,000 new long-term care beds in the next decade. “We inherited a broken system,” he says. Ford promises to mandate air conditioning for long-term-care homes.

12:54 p.m. The Manitoba government is extending and expanding a wage-subsidy program to spur job creation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until now, the Back To Work program paid businesses who hired or brought back staff up to $5,000 per employee, to a maximum of five workers, through to the end of August.

Premier Brian Pallister says the program will be extended until the end of October, and the funds will be available for up to 10 workers at each business.

The program is also being offered for the first time to charities and non-profits as well.

Pallister says the money should help encourage employers to hire more people.

Statistics Canada reported last week that Manitoba has recorded the second-highest rebound in employment levels since the pandemic began, behind only New Brunswick.

12:50 p.m. Health officials in Nova Scotia are reporting one new case of COVID-19 today.

They say the latest case was identified Tuesday and involves a person in the Central Zone of the province, who is in hospital.

There are now two active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

Officials say there are no active cases linked to the novel coronavirus at licensed long-term care homes in the province.

To date, Nova Scotia has had 1,067 positive COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths.

Cases involve people ranging in age from under 10 years old to over 90 years old, who are located in all parts of the province.

12:27 p.m. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says he’s tested positive for the coronavirus and is isolating at home.

The first-term Republican governor has backed one of the country’s most aggressive reopening plans, has resisted any statewide mandate on masks and rarely wears one.

Stitt attended President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa last month, which health experts have said likely contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases there.

12:27 p.m. Alabama will require masks in public after a surge of coronavirus cases filled hospitals.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced the rule Wednesday, a day after the state reported a high of 40 confirmed deaths.

Officials say the mask requirement starts Thursday for people age 6 or older in public and within 6 feet (2 metres) of someone who is not a relative.

There are exceptions, including for people with certain medical conditions, exercising and some work activities. Ivey previously called a statewide mask order unenforceable.

12:08 p.m. France’s new prime minister on Wednesday laid out 100 billion euros ($110 billion) in new spending to rescue the virus-battered economy from its worst crisis since World War II.

The money will notably go to creating jobs for young people facing the worst employment prospects in years, reducing French carbon emissions, and protecting from collapse the small businesses that give rural France its charm.

“The crisis highlighted our difficulties and our failures,” Prime Minister Jean Castex told lawmakers. But despite more than 30,000 virus-related deaths and massive strain on France’s once-renowned public health care system, he said, “We held on.”

Critics from left and right have slammed the government’s handling of the crisis, and legislators pushed back after Castex detailed his priorities to the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

The new virus rescue plan will include 20 billion euros for climate-related investment, including wider use of electric bikes, stimulus for local food suppliers, urban renewal and mass renovation of older buildings.

12:06 p.m. The chief medical health officer on Prince Edward Island says hundreds of COVID-19 tests have come back negative since two positive cases were discovered this week at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.

Dr. Heather Morrison said today more than 1,300 tests have been done since a health-care worker in the emergency department and a patient in the hospital were identified as positive on Sunday.

She says most of the 101 patients identified through contact tracing have been tested, while others will be tested today.

Officials are unable to reach three former patients for testing.

There are currently nine active cases on the Island, and Morrison says the infected people are all recovering at home.

The province has had a total of 36 cases, 27 of which are considered recovered.

12:04 p.m. Public Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting one new case of COVID-19 today.

The new case involves a temporary foreign worker in their 20s in the Moncton region who has been self-isolating.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Jennifer Russell says following self-isolation protocols significantly reduces the risk to the public and helps prevent outbreaks.

The latest case comes as Premier Blaine Higgs considers relaxing entry restrictions for Quebecers who live near the New Brunswick border.

The total number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 168, and 163 of them have recovered.

There have been two deaths, and there are three active cases.

11:55 a.m. Florida reported more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases Wednesday and reached 300,000 total infections.

Florida has 10,181 confirmed cases and a total of 301,810 since the outbreak began there March 1. The state confirmed 112 deaths — the third time in the last seven days its eclipsed 100 – and 4,626 total COVID-19 deaths.

Florida’s rolling seven-day average for deaths has increased to 92 per day, triple the 31 posted a month ago.

As of Tuesday, Florida had the No. 2 death rate in the United States, slightly behind Texas.

When the coronavirus was ravaging New York three months ago, it recorded 799 deaths on April 9 and a top seven-day average of 763 deaths on April 14.

11:53 a.m. Quebec is announcing that private sector businesses can begin bringing back up to a quarter of their employees to the office as of Saturday.

Labour Minister Jean Boulet said today 25 per cent office occupancy is the maximum, adding the government continues to strongly recommend people work remotely if they can.

Mask-wearing will be mandatory where physical distancing is not possible, such as in elevators and common areas.

Chantal Rouleau, the minister responsible for the Montreal region, says the gradual re-entry of office workers will help revitalize the city’s struggling downtown sector.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported three new COVID-19 deaths today, for a total of 5,636.

The province also reported 129 new cases of the novel coronavirus, for a total of 56,859, of which 26,097 are considered recovered.

11:42 a.m. More than 70 rich countries have signed up to a global coronavirus vaccine initiative intended to ensure that any effective shots are fairly distributed around the world — but which may also allow them to buy more vaccines to stockpile for their own citizens.

In a statement on Wednesday, the vaccines alliance Gavi reported that 75 countries have said they would join its new “Covax facility” along with another 90 low-income countries that hope to receive donated vaccines. The Associated Press reported this week that the Gavi initiative may allow rich countries to reinforce their own coronavirus vaccine supplies while leaving fewer doses available for more vulnerable populations.

When Gavi approached donor countries last month, it advertised the plan as an “insurance policy” for rich countries that have already struck deals with drugmakers for experimental COVID-19 vaccines.

Gavi told donor governments that when an effective inoculation is found within its pool of COVID-19 candidates, all countries will receive enough to cover 20% of their populations, including rich countries that may have their own stockpiles. It said countries would be encouraged, but not required, to give up any doses they might not need.

11:32 a.m. Nunavut is reporting two presumptive cases of COVID-19 at an iron mine on the northern tip of Baffin Island.

The territory is the only jurisdiction in Canada without a confirmed case of the infection.

Two previous presumed positive cases turned out to be negative.

One of those was also at the Mary River mine.

The territory’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, says there is no evidence of transmission at the mine site.

He says the two people are asymptomatic and have been placed in isolation.

Additional swabs have been sent to a lab for confirmation and results are expected next week.

11:31 a.m. Days after reopening two theme parks amid a spike in coronavirus cases in Florida, Walt Disney World on Wednesday welcomed back visitors to two more theme parks that had been shuttered since March because of the new coronavirus.

The Florida theme park resort reopened Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, completing a rolling opening of Disney World’s theme parks that started last weekend with Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom welcoming back visitors.

The parks were the last of Orlando’s major theme parks to reopen after being shuttered since March. Both Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando opened their doors last month.

All of the parks have new restrictions.

The number of visitors being allowed in has been capped to allow for social distancing and reservations are required. All visitors and employees must wear masks and get their temperature checked upon entering.

11:03 a.m. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has committed to holding an “independent inquiry” into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic at some point.

The U.K. leader mentioned it during his weekly question and answer session in the House of Commons. His Downing Street office later didn’t offer any details on the timing or conditions for such a probe.

Johnson has been under pressure to hold an inquiry in hopes of learning lessons to stave off a “second wave’’ of infection. Johnson says he doesn’t believe it is “the right moment to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry,’’ given the country is still battling the pandemic.

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But he added “we will seek to learn the lessons of this pandemic in the future and certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened.”

11:03 a.m. Romania’s president announced a 30-day extension for the nationwide state of alert declared for the coronavirus pandemic.

President Klaus Iohannis says the extension was needed because of the rising number of infections.

Among the measures in force are the mandatory wearing of face coverings on public transportation and in shops, while restaurants can only serve customers in outdoor locations.

Romania set a record for new infections on Saturday with 698 cases. That came days after the constitutional Court banned the government from forcing people infected with the coronavirus to quarantine or stay in hospital for treatment.

The government is working on legislation to address the court’s concerns and set new regulations for people affected by the coronavirus.

Romania has 34,226 confirmed cases and 1,952 deaths.

11:03 a.m. A World Health Organization delegation visiting Turkmenistan, a country with no reported coronavirus infections, is recommending the country take stronger actions.

The WHO recommends “activating critical public health measures in Turkmenistan as if COVID-19 were circulating,” delegation head Dr. Catherine Smallwood said.

Smallwood didn’t directly comment on the credibility of the authoritarian and secretive country’s absence of reported cases.

“The responsibility of reporting outbreaks sits firmly with the member state and we rely on health authorities to inform WHO of any outbreaks,” she said. She noted based on what the delegation saw in its inspections the “country fully recognizes the risk currently posed by the virus.”

11:03 a.m. Serbia’s president says he hopes the country will have a vaccine for the coronavirus by the end of this year.

Aleksandar Vucic says it would co-operate with an unspecified country. Media reports in Serbia have indicated it could be China.

Vucic says the vaccine would be a “saviour for Serbia and our economy.”

He added: “We are currently in talks with one country in connection with the vaccine. Its testing is done and it is being given to those exposed.”

Serbia has developed close political and trade relations with China. At the start of the pandemic, Vucic blasted the European Union and the West for allegedly showing little solidarity with Serbia — an EU member candidate country — while China quickly provided help in medical equipment and experts.

Nearly two dozen possible vaccines are in various stages of testing around the world.

11:03 a.m. The White House says an opinion piece by its trade adviser that’s critical of Dr. Anthony Fauci is the adviser’s opinion “alone.”

Alyssa Farah, White House director of strategic communications, tweeted Wednesday the piece by trade adviser Peter Navarro “didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone.”

Farah adds President Donald Trump “values the expertise” of the medical professionals advising the administration. But Trump has also broken with Fauci and publicly accused him of making “mistakes” in his public guidance about combating the virus.

USA Today published Navarro’s piece. It outlines the ways Navarro says he has disagreed with Fauci, who is the leading U.S. expert on infectious diseases and serves on the White House coronavirus task force.

Navarro had shared his views with some reporters and the column comes as allies of Trump, including others inside the White House, have been waging a campaign to discredit Fauci.

11 a.m. At least 36 students at Lake Zurich High School, in suburban Chicago, have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Lake County, Ill., health officials who say they have traced the infections to three summer athletic camps and “recent social gatherings.”

The county said Wednesday there had been health screenings at the camps, which opened July 6, and several students had been turned away because of COVID-19 symptoms.

“Other students began experiencing symptoms during the day and were sent home,” the county health department said on its Facebook page. “The school district was notified that evening that multiple students who attended camps across multiple sports later developed symptoms and received positive test results for COVID-19 later that afternoon.”

The next day, the health department said it met with officials from School District 95 and decided to close the camps while following up on the testing.

“In the past week, 36 Lake Zurich High School students have tested positive for COVID-19,” it said. “And all participants of Lake Zurich High School athletic camps are being instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days from their last possible exposure.”

10:45 a.m. Ontario is reporting 102 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest number since March 25.

But there were nine more deaths reported overnight, up from just one reported a day earlier.

That news comes as the province prepares to further open up businesses and services in many regions Friday — though not in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

“Locally, 31 of Ontario’s 34 public health units are reporting five or fewer cases, with fully 19 of them reporting no new cases,” tweeted Health Minister Christine Elliott on Wednesday.

“With 135 more resolved, there are 33 fewer active cases in Ontario as we continue to track a persistent decline in the number of active cases in the province,” Elliott said on Twitter.

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie: 102 new COVID-19 cases reported by Ontario Wednesday, the lowest total since March

10:43 a.m. The Canadian Real Estate Association says home sales continued to rebound in June after plunging earlier this year due to the pandemic.

The association said Wednesday that sales in June were up 63 per cent on a month-over-month basis, while the number of newly listed properties climbed 49.5 per cent from May to June.

Compared with a year ago, sales in June were up 15.2 per cent.

The actual national average price for homes sold in June was almost $539,000, up 6.5 per cent from the same month last year.

The real estate industry came to a near standstill earlier this year as non-essential businesses closed to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CREA said the jump in sales returned them to “normal levels” for June, noting they were up 150 per cent from where they were in April.

10:32 a.m. Walmart Inc. will require customers to wear masks in all of its U.S. stores to protect against the coronavirus, an admission that the nation’s pandemic has reached new heights and setting up potential confrontations with customers who refuse to don them.

The measure will go into effect starting July 20, U.S. Chief Operating Officer Dacona Smith said in a blog post Wednesday. The retailer will place employees, dubbed “Health Ambassadors,” near the entrance to “remind those without a mask of the new requirements,” it said. Stores will have a single entrance.

Walmart’s decision follows similar moves by Costco Wholesale Corp., Starbucks Corp. and Best Buy Co. Walmart already demands that its workers wear masks and shoppers had been encouraged to do so with signage.

10:23 a.m. Nearly two weeks after a loosened travel agreement between their provinces came into effect, Atlantic Canadian premiers are not rushing to set a date to welcome visitors from the rest of the country.

The Atlantic travel “bubble” that opened on July 3 allows residents of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island to travel between the four provinces without being required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier had floated the idea of lifting restrictions for other Canadians on July 17, but a statement from Dwight Ball’s office says that was a rough estimate of the earliest possible date.

The premier’s office says the travel bubble is being monitored by the chief medical officer of health, and decisions will consider each jurisdiction’s circumstances.

Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King said Tuesday he is comfortable with the regional bubble and isn’t looking to expand it beyond Atlantic Canada any time soon.

In a statement Tuesday, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said the issue would be discussed with the other premiers and medical officers, and any decision would be made as a group.

10:22 a.m. The Bank of Canada is holding its key interest rate at 0.25 per cent in response to what it calls the “extremely uncertain” economic outlook from the COVID-19 pandemic, and plans to keep it there until the picture improves.

In its updated outlook, the bank said Wednesday it expects the economy to contract by 7.8 per cent this year, driven downward by a year-over-year contraction of 14.6 per cent in the second quarter.

The report pegs the annual inflation rate at 0.6 per cent this year, rising to 1.2 per cent in 2021 and 1.7 per cent in 2022.

Its inflation target is 2 per cent, and the bank said in its policy statement it will maintain the current rate until that target is achieved.

The rate will have to stay low to provide “extraordinary monetary policy support” to help recuperate from the economic impact of COVID-19, it said.

9:33 a.m. Countries around the world are reimposing lockdowns and implementing new health checks at their borders in an effort to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus before it spins even further out of control.

Starting Wednesday, all travellers arriving in Greece from a land border with Bulgaria were required to carry negative coronavirus test results issued in the previous 72 hours and translated into English. The new rules, which follow an increase in tourism-related COVID-19 cases, triggered an immediate drop in arrivals compared to recent days.

Residents of Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, were warned on Wednesday to comply with lockdown regulations or face tougher restrictions. Melbourne’s 5 million people and part of the city’s semi-rural surroundings are a week into a new, six-week lockdown to contain a new outbreak there.

“The time for warnings, the time for cutting people slack, is over,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said. “Where we are is in a very serious and deadly position.”

The developments come with more than 13 million cases of coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide, and with over 578,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The actual numbers are thought to be far higher due to a number of reasons including limited testing.

9:25 a.m. The Toronto public board is recommending “quadmesters” for teens — taking two courses at a time — and face masks when physical distancing is not possible in a draft plan it is submitting to public health for reopening this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report is based on the province’s direction to look at three scenarios — in class with strict hygiene rules, online only or a mix of the two.

Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday the province wants kids back in school full-time if feasible.

“I’ve talked to so many parents, talked to school trustees, and 90 per cent of them have the same idea that I have. I want kids in school five days a week. We don’t need to shut the school down on a Wednesday to clean, what they should be doing is cleaning at night-time, and having the kids in class five days a week. So that’s what I’m really advocating for, and I’ll be sitting down talking to the minister of education. He has a good plan, because we have to plan for everything” and will put student safety first, he said.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is the country’s largest, and among the biggest in North America. Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy.

9:20 a.m. Premier Doug Ford is set to announce plans to build more long-term-care homes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With 1,729 deaths of elderly residents in nursing homes — and eight workers in those facilities — the Progressive Conservative government is mindful changes must come.

That accounts for almost two-thirds of Ontario’s officially reported 2,723 COVID-19 deaths since the outbreak began in March.

(A Star tally of local public health units has determined the actual death toll is 2,761 coronavirus deaths in Ontario. That difference of 38 fatalities is because some were not included early in the outbreak since COVID-19 tests had not been conducted before those people — most of whom were long-term-care home residents — died.)

Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott, and Long-Term Care Minister Merilee Fullerton will unveil plans for redesigned facilities later Wednesday. Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie

9:16 a.m. Southwestern Public Health issued a memo to local healthcare providers warning that up to 70 people may have been exposed to COVID-19 after a recent funeral service at Old Colony Church at 49989 Dingle Street in Aylmer.

The funeral was held on Friday, July 3 for the 68-year-old Aylmer woman and member of the church. A prayer service was held the day before. The woman died on Wednesday, July 1, and tested positive for COVID-19.

When asked how the woman may have contracted the virus, Medical Officer of Health for Southwestern Public Health Dr. Joyce Lock said: “It looks like it may have been from family members or connections outside the community.”

She estimated about 50 people attended the funeral service. About 70 was a “generous estimate” of how many people may have been affected during “funeral-related events” that happened before the service. Contact tracing of family and attendees was performed by health officials.

Dr. Lock said funeral attendees adhered to physical distancing protocols and that hand sanitizer was made available, but that face masks were not necessarily worn during the service.

Those who attended have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days, and healthcare providers are asked to test any Old Colony Mennonites without requiring proof that they are at risk, and without redirecting them somewhere else to be tested.

8:12 a.m. Shares rose in global markets on Wednesday as investors took heart from news that an experimental COVID-19 vaccine had revved up people’s immune systems just as desired.

Benchmarks rose in Paris, Frankfurt and Tokyo and U.S. futures also saw sold gains, suggesting a rise on the open on Wall Street.

The focus was on news that scientists soon will begin a 30,000-person study to see if the experimental vaccine developed by Moderna and the U.S. National Institutes of Health is strong enough to protect against the coronavirus.

Upbeat corporate earnings were helping support markets, “But the cherry on top has to be the positive virus vaccine update as optimism on the vaccine is more than a show stopper. It’s the ultimate recession stopper,” Stephen Innes of AxiCorp said in a commentary.

“The positive coverage on a potential COVID-19 vaccine represents a rotating carousel of positive news that is overwhelming rising virus cases in the U.S.,” he said.

7:23 a.m. A group of Ontario child-care operators is asking the province to allow the sector to fully reopen in September.

The group of six female operators, calling themselves Concerned Childcare Providers, say the government’s announcement Monday to boost the “cohort” or grouping numbers to 15 later this month as the province moves into Stage 3 still means fewer spaces for families.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said this week that the province was planning to expand the number of children allowed in daycare centres effective July 27, from the current cohorts of 10 to 15 children.

Lecce said that should help restore 90 per cent of the province’s pre-pandemic child-care system capacity.

The providers call the cohort numbers “arbitrary” and say they will reduce available child-care spaces for families.

The group says full capacity can be accommodated safely if they adhere to strict physical distancing and the recommendations for school reopenings made by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kris Rushowy: Allow daycares to fully open this fall with safety precautions, private operators say

7:20 a.m. The Bank of Canada will make its latest interest rate announcement Wednesday and update its outlook for the economy.

The central bank’s key interest rate has been at 0.25 per cent since March when it was dropped in response to the economic fallout from COVID-19.

Governor Tiff Macklem has seemingly ruled out any further cuts, adding that the central bank doesn’t plan to raise its key rate until well into an economic recovery.

In his first speech as governor late last month, Macklem said the central bank expects to see growth in the third quarter of this year as restrictions ease.

But, he warned of a “prolonged and bumpy” course to recovery.

The bank will outline what Macklem described as a “central planning scenario” for the economy and inflation, as well as related risks — such as local, but not national, lockdowns.

6:15 a.m.: Venezuelan officials say new coronavirus cases have surpassed 10,000 nationwide, with an alarming number of recent illnesses found in the capital of Caracas.

President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday ordered strict enforcement of quarantine measures in Caracas where most of the 303 new daily cases were diagnosed.

Venezuela has been in a nationwide quarantine for 121 days starting shortly after the first cases were diagnosed in mid-March. Officials report fewer than 100 deaths.

The South American nation hasn’t been overrun by the virus like neighbouring Brazil and Ecuador, which experts attribute to the Venezuela’s isolation after years of economic and social crisis.

6:05 a.m.: Russian authorities have lifted mandatory two-week self-quarantine for those arriving as part of easing coronavirus restrictions.

Starting Wednesday, both Russian and international travellers will have to either provide coronavirus test results at the border or take a test within three days of arrival in Russia. Self-quarantine will remain mandatory for those who test positive for the virus or whose health deteriorates upon arrival.

It’s one of several steps in an effort to reopen the country after health officials started reporting a slowdown in infections. Last month, authorities allowed travel abroad for the purpose of work, studying, medical treatment or taking care of relatives. They also let foreigners with work permits or those seeking medical treatment or taking care of family members into the country.

5:56 a.m.: The French tourist industry received a further boost Wednesday with the partial reopening of Disneyland Paris and the opening up of the top floor of the Eiffel Tower.

Disneyland Paris, Europe’s most frequented theme park resort, is partially reopening to the public, four months after it closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The park in Marne-la-Vallee, to the east of the French capital, is opening its doors in a phased way starting Wednesday with Disneyland Parks and the Walt Disney Studios.

5:25 a.m.: Voters in North Macedonia are donning masks to take part in a general election, following months of delays due to the pandemic.

Polls opened Wednesday but there were fears of a low turnout amid a spike in the country’s coronavirus cases. The country of around 2 million has registered more than 8,200 confirmed coronavirus infections and 385 deaths.

Authorities have played down the health risks of visiting polling centres. All voters must wear masks — briefly removing them for identification purposes — and keep two metres from other people.

The handling of the pandemic — and its devastating economic impact in a country where half the population lives on the brink of poverty — has dominated debate ahead of the election called following the resignation in January of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev after the European Union failed to set a date for North Macedonia to begin accession talks.

5:19 a.m.: Members of Tokyo’s coronavirus task force raised caution levels in the Japanese capital to the highest on a scale of four and urged officials to secure more hospital beds, increase testing and raise awareness about the situation’s urgency.

Gov. Yuriko Koike asked residents to avoid non-essential out-of-town trips, but stopped short of requesting business closures. Norio Ohmagari, a member of the task force, said infections appear to be expanding, with the number of untraceable cases on the rise. He said infections are no longer concentrated in nightlife districts and are spreading in workplaces, restaurants, households, nursing homes and child care facilities. Tokyo reported 8,189 cases including 325 deaths as of Tuesday.

5:15 a.m.: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined her government plans to contain future community outbreaks in the South Pacific nation that has not recorded a locally spread case in 75 days.

Its two new cases recorded Wednesday and all 27 of its active cases are people quarantined after foreign travel. Ardern said a system of local or regional lockdowns would be used and a national lockdown would be a last resort. Local lockdowns might involve buildings, suburbs or a city. “Our priority will be to control any cases with the least intrusive measures and over the smallest area we can,” Ardern said.

5:08 a.m.: India’s coronavirus cases surged by 29,429, and authorities are reimposing lockdowns in high-risk areas. The new cases took the national total to 936,181.

The Health Ministry also reported another 582 deaths, taking total fatalities up to 24,309. A two-week lockdown was imposed Wednesday in eastern Bihar state and its population of nearly 128 million. Nearly 2.5 million poor migrant workers have returned to the state after losing jobs in other parts of the country. India’s key southern technology hub, Bangalore, was also put under a weeklong lockdown on Wednesday.

5:01 a.m.: China is further easing restrictions on domestic tourism after reporting no new local cases of COVID-19 in nine days. A directive from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism dated Tuesday said tourist sites could allow 50 per cent of their daily visitor capacity, up from 30 per cent, and that interprovince group tours can resume.

4:45 a.m.: Renewed restrictions took effect in Hong Kong on Wednesday, with restaurants limited to takeout after 6 p.m., as the Asian financial centre battles a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Mask-wearing has been made compulsory on public transport for the first time, with fines of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($650). Public gatherings are once again restricted to four people, after the limit was eased last month to allow up to 50.

The semi-autonomous Chinese territory has seen a return of locally transmitted cases in the past 10 days after a long spell without them. About 300 new cases have been reported since July 6, including more than 220 non-imported ones.

The city reversed plans to allow major public events, postponing a highly popular annual book fair slated to open Wednesday. Hong Kong Disneyland, which had reopened last month, shuttered again in accordance with the renewed restrictions.

Gyms and beauty salons have been ordered closed, and eateries are not allowed to offer dine-in services from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. Schools had already been reclosed from Monday.

12:26 a.m. Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes announced Tuesday he tested positive for the coronavirus before the team departed for Orlando last week. He has become the fourth Kings player to test positive for COVID-19, including Buddy Hield, Jabari Parker and Alex Len.

“I’ve been primarily asymptomatic and am doing well,” Barnes wrote in a tweet. “I’m quarantined and am abiding by the safety protocol until I’m cleared for action. I hope to join my team in Orlando when it is safe to do so! Stay safe out there.”

On June 24, Hield, Parker and Len made various announcements that they tested positive for COVID-19. According to the NBA’s 113-page health and safety protocol, any player that receives a positive test has to be quarantined for 10-14 days and undergo a cardiac screening. They then have to remain asymptomatic and return two consecutive negative tests before returning.

Tuesday 10 p.m.: Two City of Toronto workers in the Parks, Forestry & Recreation department have tested positive for COVID-19.

In a press release issued Tuesday evening, the City said it was made aware of the employees’ diagnoses earlier in the afternoon.

The workers were exposed to the virus sometime between July 6 and 10, the City said. The employees have been advised to self-isolate for 14 days by Toronto Public Health.

The City said that no children in CampTO programs, which began Monday, have been directly exposed to the employees.

The employees have been advised to self-isolate for 14 days by Toronto Public Health, the City said.

Through contact tracing, the city also identified 23 other employees who have been in contact with the two workers. All of them were advised to get tested and self-isolate for 14 days, the City said.

The City said it is in the process of advising families, employees, the union and the public of these cases “as a matter of public transparency.”

Toronto Public Health advises that the risk of contracting COVID-19 for children and families at this CampTO program is very low.

Click here to read more of Tuesday’s coverage.