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Today’s coronavirus news: Alberta top doc says COVID deaths keeping hospitals from being overrun; CDC endorses COVID booster for millions of older Americans

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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.

6 a.m.: Jackie Logie knew something wasn’t right when her 14-year-old Labrador retriever Flinstone suddenly stopped walking last month.

She already had a yearly appointment with a veterinarian booked the following week — one that took her almost a month to land — but when she tried to move it up, she was unsuccessful. The clinic suggested she call around to other places but warned she’d face similar challenges.

Before COVID-19, she had never been faced with a wait even for small issues. But long waits for emergency and routine treatment have become standard as vets wrangle surging pet ownership and staff shortages. Both have been worsened by the pandemic. People are adopting pets more than ever. And staffing shortages, a growing problem for years, is now so bad retired vets are even being called back into service.

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Read the full story from the Star’s Simran Singh, Dorcas Marfo and Ivy Mak.

5:58 a.m.: The head of Alberta’s health system says the COVID-19 hospital crisis has become so dire, a key reason the system hasn’t collapsed is because patients are dying.

“Each day we see a new high (total of critically ill patients),” Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, said Thursday.

Yiu said hospitals have admitted two dozen or more critically ill COVID-19 patients on average each day since Sunday.

“It’s tragic that we are only able to keep pace with these sort of numbers because in part some of our ICU patients have passed away,” she said. “This reality has a deep and lasting impact on our ICU teams.”

There were 310 patients Thursday in intensive care, the vast majority of them with COVID, and the vast majority of the COVID patients are not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all.

Alberta normally has 173 ICU beds, but has doubled that number to 350 by taking over extra spaces, such as operating rooms, and reassigning staff.

The result is non-urgent surgeries have been cancelled en masse across the province, including transplants, tumours, cancer operations and surgeries on children.

Physicians are being briefed in case resources get so short, they have to decide on the spot which patients get life-saving care and which don’t.

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Yiu said it’s a fluid situation and they’re still determining when and how doctors will be asked to make those life-and-death decisions.

5:57 a.m.: Using its own vaccines, Cuba expects to reach “full immunization” against COVID-19 by the end of the year, the president of the island nation whose 11 million citizens have long been isolated by the American embargo, told the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez devoted much of his recorded address to fulminating against the United States for what he called its policies of economic coercion and deprivation, which he said were meant “to erase the Cuban revolution from the political map to the world.”

But he also extolled Cuba’s medical and scientific communities for what he described as their heroic achievements in creating vaccines to combat the pandemic. More than one-third of the Cuban population has been fully vaccinated with them, he said.

5:56 a.m.: A Florida school district has received cash from President Joe Biden’s administration to make up for state pay cuts imposed over a board’s vote for a student anti-coronavirus mask mandate.

Alachua County school Superintendent Carlee Simon said in a news release Thursday the district has received $148,000 through a U.S. Department of Education program.

Simon says Alachua, where Gainesville and the University of Florida are located, is the first district in the nation to receive such a grant.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials have begun cutting salaries paid to school board members in Florida who voted to require masks for students. DeSantis favours allowing parents to decide whether their children wear face coverings and is in the midst of court battles over this broader issue.

About a dozen school boards in Florida, representing more than half the state’s students, have voted to defy the state ban on mask mandates despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to withhold some of their funding.

5:55 a.m.: South Korea has reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus since the start of the pandemic as people returned from the country’s biggest holiday of the year.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said more than 1,750 of the 2,434 new cases reported Friday were from the greater capital area, where officials have raised concern over an erosion in citizen vigilance despite the enforcement of the strongest social distancing rules short of a lockdown since July.

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It was expected that transmissions would worsen beyond the capital region during the Chuseok holidays, the Korean version of Thanksgiving which began on the weekend and continued through Wednesday, a period when millions usually travel across the country to meet relatives.

“It will be crucial to maintain the effectiveness of our anti-virus campaign throughout next week, when the effect of increased travel during the holidays will manifest more clearly,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said during a virus briefing.

The restrictions in the Seoul metropolitan area prevents gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m. unless the participants are fully vaccinated. Officials have said people’s exhaustion and frustration with social distancing are becoming an increasing challenge in the country’s fight against COVID-19.

The country has now reported a daily increase of more than 1,000 for 80 straight days. It’s previous one-day record was 2,221 reported on Aug. 11.

5:55 a.m.: Australia’s two largest cities are moving closer to ending lockdowns as vaccination rates climb, but leaders are warning that people should remain cautious with their new-found freedoms and that coronavirus case numbers will inevitably rise.

In New South Wales state, where an outbreak continues to grow in Sydney, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has set a target of reopening on Oct. 11 once vaccination milestones are reached.

But she said Friday it would need to be done “with a degree of caution and responsibility” because otherwise too many people would end up in hospitals. Meanwhile in Victoria State, where there is an outbreak in Melbourne,

Health Minister Martin Foley said there had been a “tremendous” increase in vaccinations and there was “no shortage of enthusiasm” among people wanting to get jabs.

Health officials in New South Wales reported 1,043 new cases and 11 deaths on Friday, while officials in Victoria reported 733 new cases and one death.

5:52 a.m.: Two tea houses in one southern Alberta community have become an example of the uncertainty caused by the government allowing businesses to make up their own minds about what is essentially a vaccine passport.

Restaurants, bars and pubs have been debating whether they will require a vaccination record before patrons are allowed to enter or if they will limit them to patios and takeout.

Last week, Premier Jason Kenney brought in a “restrictions exemption program” that allows owners to operate with almost no COVID-19 rules as long as they ask for proof of vaccination. Those that choose not to must abide by stricter public health rules.

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The United Conservative government has been criticized for downloading the decision. Critics say it causes confusion and forces compliant businesses to face the wrath of anti-vaccination customers.

Read the full story from the Canadian Press here.

5:52 a.m.: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday endorsed booster shots for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans, opening a major new phase in the U.S vaccination drive against COVID-19.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations from a panel of advisers late Thursday.

The advisers said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

However, Walensky decided to make one recommendation that the panel had rejected.

The panel on Thursday voted against saying that people can get a booster if they are ages 18 to 64 years and are health-care workers or have another job that puts them at increased risk of being exposed to the virus.

But Walensky disagreed and put that recommendation back in, noting that such a move aligns with an FDA booster authorization decision earlier this week. The category she included covers people who live in institutional settings that increase their risk of exposure, such as prisons or homeless shelters, as well as health care workers.

The panel had offered the option of a booster for those ages 18 to 49 who have chronic health problems and want one. But the advisers refused to go further and open boosters to otherwise healthy front-line health care workers who aren’t at risk of severe illness but want to avoid even a mild infection.

The panel voted 9 to 6 to reject that proposal. But Walensky decided to disregard the advisory committee’s counsel on that issue. In a decision several hours after the panel adjourned, Walensky issued a statement saying she had restored the recommendation.

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