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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario science advisory table set to release new COVID-19 modelling; Most Canadians support border measures as Omicron spreads: poll

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

5:52 a.m.: Indigenous and racialized workers, especially women, lived with a higher rate of economic insecurity than white workers during COVID-19, due to precarious jobs, pandemic layoffs and exposure to the virus, a new report states.

Researchers with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) analyzed labour force data from the first year of the pandemic and from before COVID-19, in an effort to quantify what many have suggested to be true: that the economic impact of the pandemic was not equal.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba.

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5:51 a.m.: The Canadian workforce is experiencing some of the hottest wage growth in years, fuelled by employers seeking to fill job vacancies by offering competitive pay and hiring bonuses. On average, though, new hires have been the primary recipients of significant salary bumps, while established employees have faced moderate to meagre gains.

Average hourly wages were 5.2 per cent higher in November compared with two years earlier, Statistics Canada reported Friday. Across all industries, average wages grew at a rate of 10 per cent for new employees — those with job tenure of three months or less — compared to 6.4 per cent for employees that have been in their current job for 18 months or longer.

The differences are most apparent in industries where job vacancies are high. In food services, new hires welcomed wage increases of 8.5 per cent from two years earlier, while established employees saw gains of 2.3 per cent. In health care and social assistance, which recorded soaring job vacancies over the summer, newly hired nurses saw pay increases of 20.5 per cent, to $35.40, while long-time nurses saw increases of 2.3 per cent, to $40.47.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jacob Lorinc.

5:50 a.m.: With daily case counts going up, the highly-transmissible Omicron variant starting to spread, and families gathering over the holidays, business owners and lobby groups worry the provincial government could bring restrictions back to help slow the spread.

Already, some local health units have done just that, with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit choosing to reinstate a number of restrictions, including a 50 per cent capacity for indoor dining at restaurants. Elsewhere, Algoma, Sudbury, and Southwest Public Health have instituted local restrictions.

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Read the full story from the Star’s Josh Rubin.

5:48 a.m.: Germany’s Parliament is set to debate a proposed vaccine mandate for hospital and nursing home staff on Tuesday, among other measures meant to help break the country’s biggest wave so far of coronavirus infections.

At a special session, parliament’s lower house also will discuss plans for vaccinations to be performed in future not just by doctors at vaccination centres and practices, but also by dentists or pharmacists. The aim is to pass the new regulations later this week and have parliament’s upper house, which represents Germany’s 16 state governments, approve them on Friday.

The new regulations also include measures for states to be able to tighten pandemic rules — such as restaurant closures — if needed.

Staff at hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ practices and rescue services will be required to provide proof of vaccination or recovery, or certification that they can’t be vaccinated, starting in mid-March.

At least 69.1% of Germans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, short of the government’s aim of a minimum 75% vaccination rate. The number of unvaccinated has been blamed as a key factor in a surge of new virus cases in recent weeks.

5:47 a.m.: Recent travel bans imposed on South Africa and neighbouring countries in response to the discovery of the omicron variant in southern Africa have hammered the country’s safari business, already hard hit by the pandemic.

South Africa’s tourism industry suffered a more than 70% drop in foreign tourists in 2020, with COVID-19 blamed for the drop from about 15 million visitors in 2019 to less than 5 million in 2020. Tourism employs about 4.7% of South Africa’s workforce.

Britain, the largest source of tourists to South Africa, lifted its “red list” travel restrictions on South Africa in October and safari operators were beginning to see an improved outlook for the holiday season and 2022. But then the news of omicron struck, bringing a new round of international restrictions on flights.

5:47 a.m.: Mixing other vaccines with those from AstraZeneca Plc or Pfizer Inc. offers at least as effective protection against COVID-19 as giving two doses of the same shots, a U.K. study found.

The University of Oxford study, published Monday in the Lancet medical journal, tested vaccine combinations on more than 1,000 volunteers over 50. Some were immunized with a second dose from Moderna Inc. or Novavax Inc. nine weeks after having received a first shot of AstraZeneca or Pfizer.

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Both Moderna and Novavax boosted immunity after the Astra vaccine, compared with a second Astra injection, while only Moderna increased antibodies after Pfizer, compared with the standard two-shot Pfizer schedule. Astra developed its vaccine with Oxford researchers, while Pfizer worked with BioNTech SE.

The study gives more evidence that vaccine combinations, already used by some governments, are safe and effective. Mixing two different shots would help low- and middle-income countries manage stockpiles and deal with vaccine shortages as the new omicron variant spreads.

5:45 a.m.: In the world’s oldest nation, less than one person a day is dying from COVID-19.

The six confirmed deaths in Japan over the past week is the lowest it’s been in the country since July 2020, before the second wave of pandemic fatalities. Compared to other developed nations, such as Germany or the U.S., it’s an even more remarkable result — no Group of 7 nation has had so few deaths since the pandemic started in earnest.

That slump parallels the collapse in reported cases, which are down from more than 25,000 a day in August to fewer than 200 a day every day for the past three weeks. The drop in cases and deaths is even more striking considering that Japan’s population is much larger than all the G-7 nations except the U.S., and is also older, increasing the risk of death from COVID-19.

It’s unclear exactly why the wave of cases and deaths Japan faced in late summer and early fall has receded so dramatically. A comprehensive vaccination campaign is at least partly responsible for the drop, with more than 77% of the nation’s 126 million residents fully inoculated as of Monday.

5:45 a.m.: Researchers in Hong Kong said they have developed the world’s first stainless steel that kills the COVID-19 virus within hours, adding to the arsenal of products being created globally to curb the pathogen that triggered the worst pandemic of the past century.

The newly-developed alloy can inactivate 99.75% of the SARS-CoV-2 virus within three hours and 99.99% within six hours, according to a study published Nov. 25 by a team of researchers at the University of Hong Kong.

The university researchers, led by Huang Mingxin at the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Leo Poon at the Centre for Immunity and Infection, are also liaising with industrial partners to test this material in creating steel products such as lift buttons, doorknobs and handrails that are among most-commonly touched surfaces in public areas.

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5:45 a.m.: Ontario’s science advisory table is set to release new modelling today, as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the province.

The province’s chief medical officer of health is also scheduled to provide an update about the COVID-19 situation in Ontario today, in addition to his regular Thursday briefing.

Dr. Kieran Moore will also likely face questions about the Omicron variant, with at least 13 cases detected so far in the province and the London, Ont., area health unit investigating a potential cluster of 30.

Ontario’s seven-day average of daily new cases is up to 940, a level not seen since the decline of the third wave in early June.

Officials have said a rise in cases this fall and winter was expected, as the weather gets colder and more activities move indoors.

The science advisory table’s last modelling, released Nov. 12, didn’t make daily case count projections, saying the immediate future was uncertain, though a rise in ICU occupancy since then has been in line with their predictions.

5:45 a.m.: Since the announced detection of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, a new poll suggests Canadians bracing for the worst.

More than four in five respondents to an online survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies said they support closing the Canadian border to travellers coming from specific countries where the variant is already present.

In response to the detection of Omicron, Canada quickly put in place travel measures, including banning visitors who have recently travelled through 10 African countries, to curb the spread.

The poll of 1,547 Canadians was conducted Dec. 3-5. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered truly random samples.

Based on respondents’ feedback on the potential impact of Omicron, Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque said people are expecting the new variant to be as bad if not worse than the Delta variant.

Forty-four per cent of respondents said Omicron would have a worse impact on case counts than Delta while 43 per cent said the impact would be the same.

“Expectations aren’t overly optimistic,” said Bourque.

Sixty-eight per cent said they would approve of reintroducing restrictions like social distancing and temporary lockdowns in Canada for certain public places and certain activities.

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