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Today’s coronavirus news: Loosened capacity limits now in effect at certain Ontario venues; Israel presses ahead with aggressive booster shot campaign

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

7:30 a.m.: Loosened capacity limits are now in effect at certain Ontario venues where proof of vaccination is required including arenas, stadiums, concert halls and theatres.

Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of health, says the change is due to key public health measures stabilizing in recent days.

The province says capacity limits at outdoor events where people stand will increase to up to 75 per cent capacity or 15,000 people, whichever is less.

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Indoor cinemas, concert venues, sporting events, banquet halls, convention centres, racing venues, and film studios will have capacity limits of up to 50 per cent or 10,000 people, whichever is less.

That means more fans at Toronto Blue Jays games when they take on the New York Yankees in a crucial three-game set next week as they chase a playoff berth.

More fans will also be allowed at Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs games as the N-H-L’s pre-season begins soon.

6:35 a.m.: Israel is pressing ahead with its aggressive campaign of offering coronavirus boosters to almost anyone over 12 and says its approach was further vindicated by a U.S. decision to give the shots to older patients or those at higher risk.

Israeli officials credit the booster shot, which has already been delivered to about a third of the population, with helping suppress the country’s latest wave of COVID-19 infections. They say the differing approaches are based on the same realization that the booster is the right way to go, and expect the U.S. and other countries to expand their campaigns in the coming months.

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“The decision reinforced our results that the third dose is safe,” said Dr. Nadav Davidovitch, head of the school of public health at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and chairman of the country’s association of public health physicians. “The main question now is of prioritization.”

The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of the year so that more people in poor countries can get their first two doses, but Israeli officials say the booster shot is just as important in preventing infections.

“We know for sure that the current system of vaccine nationalism is hurting all of us, and it’s creating variants,” said Davidovitch, who is also a member of an Israeli government panel of experts. But he added that the problem is “much broader than Israel.”

6 a.m.: People who choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine due to personal preferences or “singular beliefs” do not have a right to accommodations under Ontario’s human rights law, the province’s rights watchdog says

The decision to get vaccinated is voluntary, and a “person who chooses not to be vaccinated based on personal preference does not have the right to accommodation under the (Human Rights Code),” the Ontario Human Rights Commission said this week in a policy paper discussing the limits of vaccine mandates and proof-of-vaccination requirements.

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While human rights law prohibits discrimination based on creed — someone’s religion, or a non-religious belief system that shapes their identity, world view and way of life — personal preferences or singular beliefs do not amount to a creed, the commission said, adding it “is not aware of any tribunal or court decision that found a singular belief against vaccinations or masks amounted to a creed within the meaning of the Code.”

Furthermore, even if someone can show they have been denied service or employment over their creed, “the duty to accommodate does not necessarily require they be exempted from vaccine mandates, certification or COVID testing requirements,” the commission said. “The duty to accommodate can be limited if it would significantly compromise health and safety amounting to undue hardship — such as during a pandemic.”

Read more from the Star’s Jim Rankin.

5:30 a.m.: When Wongalwethu Mbanjwa tried to get a COVID-19 vaccination and found his local center closed, a friend told him there was another option: Get one on the train.

So Mbanjwa did.

Not any train, but South Africa’s vaccine train — which has now made its way to the small town of Swartkops on the country’s south coast. Carrying doctors, nurses and, crucially, vaccine doses, it has a mission to bring vaccines closer to people in small towns and poorer parts of South Africa, which has the continent’s highest number of coronavirus infections at more than 2.8 million.

The train is parked at the Swartkops rail station, the first stop on a three-month journey through the poor Eastern Cape province. It will stay for about two weeks at a time at seven stations in the province to vaccinate as many people as possible.

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State-owned rail company Transnet launched the program to aid the government’s rollout. The initiative aims to meet head-on two of the government’s biggest challenges: getting doses out beyond big cities to areas where health care facilities are limited and trying to convince hesitant people in those areas to get vaccine shots.

The train, named Transvaco, can hold up to 108,000 vaccine doses in ultra-cold refrigerators. It has nine coaches, including accommodation coaches and a kitchen and dining area for the staff, a vaccination area and consulting rooms.

5 a.m.: British Columbia has hit the 80 per cent mark with the number of eligible residents who have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The province says that compares with nearly 88 per cent of people who have been vaccinated with their initial dose.

It says B.C. recorded 743 new cases on Friday and that three-quarters of those diagnosed between Sept. 16 and 22 were not fully vaccinated.

Seven more people have died of the infection, for a total of 1,922 fatalities since the pandemic began.

The province says that after factoring for age, people who are unvaccinated are nearly 26 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are fully vaccinated.

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