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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario and B.C. lifting capacity limits as cases ease

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

6:15 a.m.: Employees at 45 of Ontario’s largest school boards have presented medical exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine at a rate 42 times higher on average than the exemption rate the province’s top doctor says would be expected in the general population.

A Star analysis of immunization data at these boards has found that 521 staff members have provided a documented medical reason for not being fully vaccinated out of 247,335 total individuals covered by the boards’ vaccination disclosure policies. That works out to a rate of about one in 475 people.

But the rate of legitimate medical exemptions granted in the province, based on the true incidence of adverse reactions to the vaccine, should be between one and five in 100,000, or 0.005 per cent at the high end, according to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore.

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Read more from the Star’s May Warren and Kenyon Wallace.

6 a.m.: Ontario is lifting capacity limits today at restaurants, gyms, casinos and some other locations where proof of vaccination against COVID-19 is required.

If museums and galleries, places of worship, and personal care settings choose to require proof of vaccination, they can also lift capacity limits as of today.

Premier Doug Ford announced the development Friday as he unveiled plans for managing the pandemic long term.

The province aims to remove all public health measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 by late March, including mask mandates.

Proof-of-vaccination requirements will start to be lifted early next year – as long as trends don’t become concerning – starting with restaurants, bars, gyms and casinos in January.

Ford describes his approach to loosening restrictions as “super cautious.”

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5:30 a.m.: Children as young as 3 will start receiving COVID-19 vaccines in China, where 76% of the population has been fully vaccinated and authorities are maintaining a zero-tolerance policy toward outbreaks.

Local city and provincial level governments in at least five provinces issued notices in recent days announcing that children ages 3-11 will be required to get their vaccinations.

The expansion of the vaccination campaign comes as parts of China take new clampdown measures to try to stamp out small outbreaks. Gansu, a northwestern province heavily dependent on tourism, closed all tourist sites Monday after finding new COVID-19 cases. Residents in parts of Inner Mongolia have been ordered to stay indoors due to an outbreak there.

The National Health Commission reported 35 new cases of local transmission had been detected over the past 24 hours, four of them in Gansu. Another 19 cases were found in the Inner Mongolia region, with others scattered around the country.

5 a.m.: British Columbia is set to lift capacity restrictions on gatherings across much of the province today.

Many B.C. residents will now be allowed to attend events like hockey games, concerts and weddings without any limits on numbers.

But the move is not universal, since capacity will be capped at 50 per cent in areas where vaccination rates are low.

That includes parts of the Fraser, Northern and Interior health regions.

Attendees at all organized events in B.C. will be required to wear face coverings and show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Many business owners welcome the end of capacity limits, but say not everyone is ready for pre-pandemic-type parties while they still need to wear masks, especially seniors waiting for booster shots and families with children under 12 who can’t yet be vaccinated.

4:45 a.m.: In a pair of Cape Town warehouses converted into a maze of airlocked sterile rooms, young scientists are assembling and calibrating the equipment needed to reverse engineer a coronavirus vaccine that has yet to reach South Africa and most of the world’s poorest people.

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The energy in the gleaming labs matches the urgency of their mission to narrow vaccine disparities. By working to replicate Moderna’s COVID-19 shot, the scientists are effectively making an end run around an industry that has vastly prioritized rich countries over poor in both sales and manufacturing.

And they are doing it with unusual backing from the World Health Organization, which is coordinating a vaccine research, training and production hub in South Africa along with a related supply chain for critical raw materials. It’s a last-resort effort to make doses for people going without, and the intellectual property implications are still murky.

“We are doing this for Africa at this moment, and that drives us,” said Emile Hendricks, a 22-year-old biotechnologist for Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, the company trying to reproduce the Moderna shot. “We can no longer rely on these big superpowers to come in and save us.”

Some experts see reverse engineering — recreating vaccines from fragments of publicly available information — as one of the few remaining ways to redress the power imbalances of the pandemic. Only 0.7% of vaccines have gone to low-income countries so far, while nearly half have gone to wealthy countries, according to an analysis by the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

4:30 a.m.: People in Tokyo can eat and drink in bars and restaurants later in the evening starting Monday as officials ease social distancing rules with the country’s daily coronavirus cases reaching their lowest levels in more than a year.

Crowds have been returning to bars and trains since Japan lifted its moderate state of emergency on Sept. 30. But officials in Tokyo had asked food and beverage businesses to maintain their early closures through Sunday as a precaution against a quick resurgence.

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After seeing daily jumps of nearly 6,000 cases in mid-August, Tokyo is now reporting less than 50 new coronavirus infections a day. The 17 new cases reported on Monday was the lowest since June 2020.

4 a.m.: The first day of school was a nightmare for Maria Camden’s seven-year-old daughter Aubrey, ending in an anxiety attack behind her Paw Patrol mask.

Camden and her two daughters moved from Coquitlam, B.C., to Toronto over the summer, and while 10-year-old Baileigh looked forward to meeting new friends after several months of online learning, the flood of changes was more difficult for Aubrey.

Six weeks into the new school year, Camden said Aubrey is doing better settling into a routine. But some days are still challenging for both girls.

“Overall it’s been a struggle — even things like getting the kids up in time,” Camden said. “It’s the change they’ve had to endure and they’re making it work, but it’s been hard.”

Nikki Martyn, head of the early childhood studies program at the University of Guelph-Humber, said many young students are facing problems getting back into the swing of school after the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to learn from home, where parents were nearby and rigid schedules were often replaced with loosely structured days.

Martyn said older students with more in-person experience are generally doing better than many in kindergarten or Grade 1, whose academic career until September largely took place at the dining room table, in front of a computer screen.

Read more from The Canadian Press.

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