Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 2,759 new COVID-19 cases and 31 deaths; province extends stay-at-home order until June

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

7:03 p.m. Alberta has moved to close loopholes people might use as a way to avoid wearing masks in public indoor places, The Canadian Press reports.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said Thursday that effective immediately, anyone not wearing a mask where required will need to have a medical exception letter, according to CP.

Wearing masks remains a “critical public health measure” to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus and there are a “limited number of health issues” for which a mask exception is possible, she said.

Those include sensory-processing disorders, developmental delay or cognitive impairment, mental illness disorders, facial trauma or recent oral or jaw surgery, contact dermatitis or allergic reactions to masks.

“In order to verify that someone has a medical condition that makes them unable to wear a mask, Albertans with these conditions will require a medical exception letter from a health professional,” Hinshaw said at a COVID-19 update.

“This letter is important to have, especially if requested by enforcement officials (of people) for not complying with the legal requirement to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.”

Hinshaw said the letters must come from a nurse practitioner, doctor or psychologist.

She said the change comes from talks with Alberta Health Services staff and from publicly reported instances where people have refused to wear a mask.

“There have been some incidents reported in the media where individuals who are not following public health rules are perhaps seeking loopholes or areas in the rules where it’s not clear. That’s sometimes challenging our local law enforcement teams,” Hinshaw said.

“(Masks) are not optional; they are mandatory.”

Alberta reported another 1,558 infections Thursday and nine more deaths. There were 722 people in hospital and 177 in intensive care.

Hinshaw said Alberta has now administered more than two million COVID-19 vaccine doses and there are another 328,000 appointments for a shot in the next seven days. If vaccine supply remains constant, the province is likely to start offering second doses in June, she said.

6:43 p.m. COVID-19 immunization programs are making a difference in British Columbia and health officials say a gradual loosening of restrictions is being considered as case numbers decline, The Canadian Press reports.

Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says government data is showing reduced community transmissions as more people receive their first doses of vaccine, according to CP.

But she says any relaxing of current health restrictions on large gatherings and other events won’t be under consideration until after the May holiday weekend and likely not until at least Canada Day.

Health Minister, Adrian Dix, says more than 50 per cent of eligible people in B.C. have received their first vaccine dose, but current daily COVID-19 case counts of 500 to 600 people are still too high.

Henry reports 587 new infections today and five deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 1,632 people.

Henry also confirms a second person in B.C., a man in his 40s, in the Fraser Health region, suffered the rare blood-clotting disorder after he received a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. He’s listed in stable condition in hospital.

5:55 p.m. Alberta health officials are reporting 1,558 new COVID-19 cases and nine new deaths, The Canadian Press reports.

Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, a total of 2,132 people have died from the virus, according to CP.

The province says 24,586 cases are active.

There are 722 people in hospital in the province, with 177 in intensive care.

5:15 p.m. B.C.’s top doctor says health officials are monitoring the province’s second case of vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, also known as VITT, The Canadian Press reports.

Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says the man in his 40s is now in stable condition, according to CP.

B.C. has diagnosed 587 new cases of COVID-19 in the last day as the infection rate continues to trend downward, with 5,691 active cases on Thursday.

Five more people have died, pushing B.C.’s death toll to 1,632.

More than 2.3 million doses of vaccine have been administered so far and more than half of all eligible adults in B.C. have received at least one dose.

4:35 p.m. Ontario aims to have all willing adults in the province fully immunized against COVID-19 by Sept. 22, The Canadian Press reports.

The province extended a stay-at-home order to June 2 today to help bring the number of infections down and offer some relief to hospitals, according to CP.

4:20 p.m. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin says he and his team are working on advice to cabinet on whether Canada should continue to receive additional doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, The Canadian Press reports.

He would not divulge what that advice will be, according to CP.

He says there is still time to use some of the doses that will expire next, but that there is also the ability for provinces who have doses that might expire, to ask for help redeploying those doses to other provinces that can and want to use them.

He says the COVAX doses that arrived Thursday don’t expire until the end of August.

4:15 p.m. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin says the 655,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, from the COVAX global vaccine-sharing alliance, arrived in Canada this morning, but will not be distributed to provinces immediately, The Canadian Press reports.

Fortin says the doses will be held at the Innomar Strategies facility, near Toronto, awaiting specific orders for the doses from provincial governments, according to CP.

Until now, vaccine shipments have been repackaged and shipped to provinces on a per-capita basis, but Fortin says provinces are in the midst of determining how they intend to use AstraZeneca going forward, so discussions are happening to decide how best to handle the new arrivals.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo says advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization on second doses of AstraZeneca is expected shortly, but that they need to make an evidence-based recommendation, and can’t do that without the results of the United Kingdom study on mixing and matching vaccines.

4:15 p.m. A spokeswoman for Doug Ford told The Canadian Press that the province aims to have all willing adults in Ontario fully immunized against COVID-19 by Sept. 22.

“So long as we receive sufficient supply from the federal government, we will work to get everyone who wants to be vaccinated fully vaccinated this summer,” Ivana Yelich said in an email to CP.

The province’s top doctor said he would like to see the number of daily infections drop “well below” 1,000 before Ontario lifts the stay-at-home order.

“We want to open and stay open,” Dr. David Williams said. “We do not want a fourth wave at all.”

3:40 p.m. Deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, says Canada has confirmed 18 cases of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) after getting the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and another 10 cases are under investigation, The Canadian Press reports.

More than two million people have received the vaccine so far, and chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the Public Health Agency of Canada has estimated the current rate of VITT as one case in 83,000 doses administered, but that could rise as high as one in 55,000 depending on the results of investigations, according to CP.

The vast majority of people received the vaccine prior to May 1, but the syndrome can appear four to 28 days after vaccination. This means many people are still in the risk period post-vaccination and more cases could still be discovered.

Most provinces are no longer using Oxford-AstraZeneca for first doses at the moment, due to a limited supply of the vaccine and also out of “an abundance of caution,” due to an extremely small risk of blood clots.

Njoo says for now, people who received a first dose should wait 12 weeks to get a second dose, and the current advice is to get AstraZeneca again for the second dose.

A United Kingdom study looking at giving a different second dose is still underway.

3:40 p.m. Saskatchewan is reporting 223 new cases of COVID-19, The Canadian Press reports.

The province says there have also been five additional deaths linked to the virus, according to CP.

There are 161 people in hospital due to the illness, and 35 of them are in intensive care.

Officials say 53 per cent of adults in the province have received a first dose of vaccine.

2:59 p.m. New Brunswick is reporting two more cases of a rare blood-clotting event in people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, The Canadian Press reports.

Chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said today the two people in their 50s received their shots in mid-April, according to CP.

Russell says one became ill 11 days later and the second became ill 19 days later.

One person has recovered, while the second person is in hospital.

New Brunswick has reported a total of four cases of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia, including one death.

The province is reporting 16 new cases of COVID-19 today and 10 people in hospital with the disease, including three in intensive care.

2:35 p.m. Nova Scotia is reporting 110 new cases of COVID-19 and 155 recoveries.

Officials have identified 83 new cases in the Halifax area, along with 12 in the province’s eastern zone, nine in the western zone and six in Northern region.

The province has 1,572 known active cases of COVID-19 with 85 people in hospital, including 15 in intensive care.

Officials say eight patients in a non-COVID unit at the Halifax Infirmary site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax have been identified as positive for novel coronavirus and have been transferred to a COVID-19 unit.

2:20 p.m. In a striking move to send the country back toward pre-pandemic life, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday moved to ease indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to safely stop wearing masks inside in most places.

The new guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues — even removing the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.

The CDC will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds. The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, announced the new guidance on Thursday afternoon at a White House briefing, saying the long-awaited change is thanks to millions of people getting vaccinated — and based on the latest science about how well those shots are working.

2 p.m. New Brunswick is reporting two more cases of a rare blood-clotting event in people who have received the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell says both people who were diagnosed with vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) received their vaccines in mid-April; one has recovered and the other is in hospital.

New Brunswick has reported a total of four VITT cases, including one death.

The province is reporting 16 new cases of COVID-19 today and 10 people in hospital with the disease, including three in intensive care.

1:45 p.m. Manitoba is reporting 560 new COVID-19 cases, a record for a single-day increase.

The previous high was 546 during the pandemic’s second wave in November.

The province is also reporting three deaths — one in Winnipeg and two in the Prairie Mountain health region.

1:20 p.m. Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting seven new cases of COVID-19.

Public health says all seven cases have been linked to travel or to previously known infections.

Officials say there are now 82 active reported cases across the province, and nobody is in hospital due to the disease.

People in the province aged 40 and older are now able to book an appointment for a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

1:18 p.m. Nova Scotia is announcing a milestone in its COVID-19 vaccination program after administering a 400,000th dose of vaccine today.

Health officials said in a news release the province has doubled the number of shots administered in less than a month, after the 200,000th dose was given April 16.

Officials say 37.5 per cent of the population had received one or more doses of COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday.

They add that more than 80 per cent of people 60 and over have received at least one dose and all residents of long-term care facilities have been fully vaccinated.

1:07 p.m. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday will ease indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to safely stop wearing masks inside in most places, according to a person briefed on the announcement.

The new guidance will still call for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but could ease restrictions for reopening workplaces and schools.

It will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds. The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.

The eased guidance comes two weeks after the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in all settings and outdoors in large crowds.

12:35 p.m. Pfizer vaccine will be available to kids aged 12 to 17 starting May 31. Province has confirmed booking for COVID-19 vaccines for youth will open at the end of the month.

(Updated) 12:22 p.m. Premier Doug Ford makes it official: stay-at-home order extended to at least June 2. He insists measures necessary to “save the summer.” says it’s not yet safe to lift the emergency order, which was due to expire a week from today.

The province’s top doctor has said he would like to see “well below” 1,000 daily cases before it’s lifted.

11:15 a.m. Quebec says it will no longer administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as a first dose because of concerns it is tied to rare cases of blood clots.

Health officials say people who have already received one dose of that vaccine will have the choice to get a second or to receive another available vaccine.

Quebec is reporting 781 new cases of COVID-19 today and five more deaths attributed to the virus.

Hospitalizations have dropped by 10, to 520, and 121 people are in intensive care, a drop of five.

10:15 a.m. Nunavut is announcing 12 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the territory’s active total to 74.

All the cases are in Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital city of about 8,000 people.

Iqaluit remains under a strict lockdown, with schools, non-essential businesses and workplaces closed.

Four people have been also been hospitalized in Ottawa, with one person in the intensive care unit, as Iqaluit’s hospital, the only in the territory, does not have an ICU.

There have been 137 recoveries since the city’s first case was declared on April 14.

10:01 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 2,759 COVID-19 cases with 31 deaths. The seven-day average is down to 2,731 cases per day or 131 weekly per 100,000, and up to 27.4 deaths per day. Labs report 47,638 completed tests and 5.7 per cent positivity, the lowest since Apr. 3.

Locally, there are 774 new cases in Toronto, 602 in Peel, 258 in York Region, 147 in Durham and 133 in Hamilton.

8:30 a.m. Premier Doug Ford is escalating his calls to Ottawa for tighter border controls to limit the spread of COVID-19.

After three unsuccessful requests for action from his cabinet ministers to their federal counterparts, Ford has written Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directly.

“I want to thank you again for your collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Progressive Conservative premier, who has worked closely with the Liberal prime minister throughout the 14-month crisis, wrote Wednesday.

His letter was released to the public Thursday.

“Ontarians, and all Canadians, expect their governments to work together, and that is why I am once again asking for your help to address the issues at our borders,” wrote Ford, adding he is “disappointed” the province’s recommendations have not been heeded.

On April 22, Ford’s government asked for a reduction in “incoming international flights to lessen the mobility of COVID-19 variants and roll out further protective actions at the Canada-U.S. land border.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie

7:52 a.m. There are 775 patients with COVID-related critical illness now in adult and pediatric ICUs; 37 new admissions as of May 13.

7:20 a.m. An Ontario physicians’ group is recommending outdoor recreational activities like golf be reopened, with appropriate safety guidelines in place.

The Ontario Medical Association, which represents more than 43,000 physicians, medical students and retired doctors, released a statement Wednesday saying it is too soon for the province’s stay-at-home order to be lifted, but some outdoor recreation should resume, with proper safety measures in place.

The OMA underlined the importance of reopening outdoor recreational facilities such as golf courses, basketball and tennis courts in improving “people’s physical and mental health.”

“This needs to be done safely and with clear guidelines around when to wear masks and how many people can gather to avoid large COVID-spreading events on the May 24 long weekend,” the association said in the statement.

Read the full story from the Star’s Akrit Michael

7:15 a.m. Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Dr. David Williams will make a noon announcement Thursday. It’s expected they’ll extend emergency stay-at-home order to June 2.

7:10 a.m. It was pandemonium at the St. John the Evangelist Catholic School pop-up vaccination clinic in Weston Friday.

A reporter on the scene said traffic around the school was backed up completely. People took off sprinting from the backs of Ubers and taxis, stalled blocks away, to join a massive line on the sidewalk. The school wasn’t even visible from the back of the queue.

Scenes like this have become common in this stage of the vaccine rollout. Quiet places in the margins of the city now attract more people than some downtown concert venues pre-pandemic.

Although the efforts of pop-up clinics to vaccinate people have been successful, leading to tens of thousands of inoculations, experts say some concerns over communication and accessibility linger.

Read the full story from the Star’s Ben Cohen

7 a.m. A hotly anticipated British study has released early data showing no safety concerns for people who “mixed and matched” their COVID-19 vaccines, despite experiencing more minor side effects — preliminary findings that could inform Canadian regulators’ decisions on whether to approve vaccine mixing.

The data, published Wednesday in a peer-reviewed letter in the Lancet, comes from a University of Oxford study called Com-COV, which is investigating the safety and efficacy of combining different COVID-19 vaccines. The study’s results are being anxiously awaited by drug regulators around the world, amid growing concerns over rare but serious blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca and related Covishield vaccine.

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This first batch of data shows no safety concerns in the seven days after people were given a second dose of Pfizer after first receiving AstraZeneca — a vaccine schedule many would like to see in Canada, where some people who have received AstraZeneca are now anxious for different options for their second dose.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jennifer Yang

6:50 a.m. Seychelles, which has vaccinated a greater proportion of its population against COVID-19 than any other nation, said a surge in cases of the disease is easing.

While the number of active cases has risen to 2,739, from 2,486 on May 10, the seven-day rolling average of infections has fallen to 178 from 322 about a week ago, the country’s health ministry said in slides presented at a press conference on Thursday.

Of the current active cases 855 are Seychellois and the rest are foreigners, the ministry said. A third of those infected had taken two doses of either Sinopharm or AstraZeneca Plc vaccines. It didn;t give further detail other than to say most cases are mild or asymptomatic.

Seychelles has fully vaccinated over 62 per cent of its population of about 98,000.

6:45 a.m. A senior member of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative caucus is calling on him to resign, saying he no longer has confidence in Kenney’s leadership.

Todd Loewen, in an open letter earlier posted earlier on his Facebook page, says he is also resigning as chair of Kenney’s United Conservative caucus in order to freely speak his mind.

Loewen says unity within the party is falling apart, adding Kenney needs to step down in order to repair the break and allow the province to move forward.

The member for Central Peace-Notley accuses Kenney of not listening to caucus members, of being weak in his dealings with the federal government, and of failing on large issues such as going to war with doctors over pay and work conditions.

And he says Kenney’s government is sending out confusing, contradictory, and needlessly inflammatory messaging, causing people to lose trust.

Loewen is one of 18 United Conservative backbench members to recently break with Kenney’s government over health-care restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

5:35 a.m. Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr in a subdued mood for a second year Thursday as the COVID-19 pandemic again forced mosque closings and family separations on the holiday marking the end of Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan.

Worshippers wearing masks joined communal prayers in the streets of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. The world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation allowed mosque prayers in low-risk areas, but mosques in areas where there was more risk of the virus spreading closed their doors, including Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia.

Indonesians and Malaysians were banned for a second year from traveling to visit relatives in the traditional Eid homecoming.

“I understand that we all miss our relatives at times like this, especially in the momentum of Eid,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in televised remarks. “But let’s prioritize safety together by not going back to our hometowns.”

Despite the similar ban a year ago, the number of daily cases in Indonesia had picked up by 37% three weeks after the holiday. Similar patterns followed other holidays in the country that has counted 1.7 million infections and more than 47,600 fatalities from COVID-19.

The Jakarta governor also ordered malls, restaurants and leisure destinations usually packed during the holiday period to shut.

With no congregational prayers at mosques, no family reunions, no relatives bearing gifts and cookies for children, “Eid is not a grand event anymore,” Jakarta resident Maysa Andriana said. “The pandemic has changed everything… this is too sad!” she said.

While police set up highway checkpoints and domestic flights and other modes of transportation were suspended, anxiety lingers that people will defy the prohibition. Television reports showed city dwellers hiding on disguised trucks or fishing boats and officers at roadblocks being overwhelmed by desperate motorists.

“We followed the government decision that banned us visiting my parents for Eid last year, it’s enough! Nothing can stop me now,” said factory worker Askari Anam, who used alleys and shortcuts to avoid being stopped from visiting his hometown.

“Of course I’m worried,” he said when asked about possibly contracting the virus. “But I leave it to God.”

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin expressed concern of a virus spike and feared people would travel despite the ban.

5:34 a.m. Rodrigo Cokting hadn’t been to the grocery store in more than eight months.

The 34-year-old digital marketer lives in a Mississauga postal code that is a hot spot for COVID-19. Cokting, whose chronic asthma and weight put him at higher risk, knows his chance of surviving the virus is relatively poor.

Since March of last year, he’s lived most of his daily life in fear, weighing the risk of every little choice, wondering if it could lead to illness and death. The second wave of the virus left him even more isolated.

But May 4 was a turning point: Cokting received his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The fear that clouded his life dissipated.

Cokting now goes grocery shopping, taking the time in the fruit aisle to choose perfectly ripe honeycrisps.

“If you asked me a year ago, would I be this excited about picking my own apples? No,” he said. “But that’s how your perception changes after going through something like this.”

While one dose is only the first step toward full protection against COVID-19, it has nonetheless been an important step for many. Those who have received the first jab said they’ve felt relief, euphoria and a renewed sense of hope for the first time in months. This, despite case counts still high and safety protocols like mask-wearing and distancing remaining necessary. Full protection from a second dose for the majority of Ontarians is also months away.

Read the full story from the Star’s Nadine Yousif

5:32 a.m. Provinces became more punitive in their approach to COVID-19 infractions during the second wave of the pandemic, says the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in a report that suggests Quebec and Manitoba were particularly forceful in handing out tickets.

The association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight the pandemic by focusing on proven public-health policy interventions including paid sick leave and education rather than punitive enforcement measures.

“A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,” says the report released Thursday.

“Punishing people with charges and fines misses the target – the virus itself – often in ways that exacerbate pre-pandemic inequality.”

The organization’s director of criminal justice Abby Deshman said the group was able to obtain data documenting the number of tickets issued for alleged violations of COVID-19 restrictions in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

The report examines the policing of COVID-19 orders in these jurisdictions between roughly September 2020 to March 2021, with the exact dates depending on provincial data available. It also compares first-wave ticketing to that of the second wave.

Deshman said the number of tickets in four out of the five provinces increased from the first wave and some of the jumps were “quite substantial.” Several provinces introduced laws that allowed for more enforcement and higher fines, she noted.

“The provinces have now reached over $24 million in fines issued since the outset of the pandemic, which is really an astounding amount of money,” Deshman said.

5:30 a.m. Political turmoil has returned to Nepal, which has had eight different governments in a decade and is experiencing its worst COVID-19 surge with acute shortages of health facilities and oxygen for patients.

Their hopes for stability lost, the people are angry at the government and the politicians they elected.

“The leaders have failed us again while people are dying in their homes, street and hospital parking lots while the politicians are fighting on who gets to be the prime minister,” said Hari Sah, a plumber who was trying to buy rice and lentils for his family in the two hours people are allowed to shop during an ongoing virus lockdown.

“These politicians are monsters who come to us for votes but when we really need their help they are busy hatching plans to grab power and indifferent to our sufferings,” said Narayan Magar, a driver who has been without work for months.

Khadga Prasad Oli became prime minister in 2018 with strong support from two-thirds of Parliament, but two splits in his ruling party this year helped push him out of office Monday. No political party now has a majority, and they’re unlikely to agree to a coalition government anytime soon.

It is likely to be weeks before a new government is formed while the country struggles to cope with the pandemic.

The Himalayan nation has seen its highest new cases and deaths for the past few days, on Tuesday recording 9,483 new cases and 225 deaths, a near-30-fold increase in infections in one month.

Several hospitals in Kathmandu have stopped taking in new patients, declaring they have run out of beds and oxygen for patients.

Grande Hospital posted a notice that it wouldn’t accept new COVID-19 patients because the 100 oxygen cylinders per day the government provided was barely enough.

Government hospitals are treating patients on corridor floors, in beds on verandas and in waiting rooms while relatives line up to get oxygen.

Yet the caretaker government isn’t in a position to make major decisions to bring the country through the crisis.

“At the moment, all the political forces should have been working together putting aside all past differences to work to end the coronavirus crisis, but it is unfortunate for the nation and the people that they are focused entirely on who gets to be in power,” said Bhojraj Pokharel, former chief of the election commission in Nepal.

Nepal has had eight governments in 10 years, 11 in 13 years and 25 governments in the past 30 years. Oli’s Nepal Communist Party winning two-third of Parliament seats in the 2017 elections was a relief for the nation’s people, who finally got what appeared to be a stable government that would complete a full term and work for development of the country.

That did not last, as a party faction began to press Oli for its own leader to succeed him. The party finally split earlier this year. Another faction within the remaining party did not support Oli during the confidence motion in parliament Monday.

Oli has been criticized since the coronavirus pandemic began last year because he spent more time on his party’s squabbles.

5:28 a.m. Hundreds of thousands of Torontonians aged 40 to 49 become eligible to get Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at city-run clinics starting at 8 a.m. Thursday.

The expansion of who can make vaccine appointments at the nine clinics across the city in the provincial booking system adds more than 300,000 residents to a list that was, after a series of adjustments, open citywide to those aged 50 and older.

Torontonians can book via the city website by clicking the blue button at or by calling the provincial vaccine booking line 1-833-943-3900.

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider

Thursday 5:25 a.m. An expert on gangs says the very public nature of a recent series of shootings in Metro Vancouver may be attributed to COVID-19 restrictions, with rivals striking at the first chance they get.

Martin Bouchard, a professor in Simon Fraser University’s school of criminology, says the pandemic has changed people’s routines and they aren’t getting out of their homes often, which could play a role in the brazen nature of shootings.

He says gang violence follows its own course regardless of what the initial motive was for the conflict.

The comments come as police leaders meet today with Solicitor General Mike Farnworth about the shootings that have left gang members dead or injured on streets, in mall parking lots and at Vancouver’s airport.

Farnworth says he expects to get an assessment of the situation from police leaders and determine what additional steps, if any, are required.

Supt. Dave Chauhan, officer in charge of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, says there could be many reasons for the conflict, including personal vendettas or drugs and territorial disputes.

He says the police are seeing more young people forming gangs and that there are splinter groups from those leading to multiple gangs.

Premier John Horgan said this week the government wants to make sure that they’re “focused like a laser” on addressing criminality.

“The first order of business of course is to stop the flow of young people into the gang lifestyle,” he saidTuesday.

“But clearly the brazen nature of the violence we’ve seen over the past two weeks requires law enforcement intervention.”

Bouchard says he’s confident police have a good handle on the situation.

Wednesday 11:23 p.m.: Following nearly a year of calls to save them from drastic losses, the federal government is at long last opening the door to around $740 million in capital investments for airports across Canada over the next six years.

But the Winnipeg Airports Authority — which has only revealed grim financial outlooks since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — isn’t sure how much of those dollars will be coming its way.

And neither does the local airport or other industry leaders believe it’s enough support to pull back on the massive turbulence caused since last year, due to travel restrictions and lockdowns which affected their primary source of income: passenger volumes.

“As Canada works towards recovery and travel restart post-pandemic, we’re hoping this funding will help allow our airports to remain viable and continue to provide Canadians with safe, reliable and efficient travel options, while creating and maintaining good paying jobs in the airport sector,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, providing some new details of the funding at a Tuesday virtual news conference.

Alghabra did not have many specifics about how exactly the program funding will be doled out, repeating to reporters multiple times that they should “stay tuned.”

Wednesday 11:22 p.m.: Manitoba workers might soon be getting a three-hour paid leave when they receive COVID-19 vaccinations, owing to proposed changes to employment codes.

However, should those workers fall ill to the coronavirus before or after an appointment, their only hope for provincial paid leave is a volunteer program that could provide up to $600 for five days — if their bosses choose to allow that for them.

At a press conference late Tuesday afternoon, Finance Minister Scott Fielding “proudly” announced the “elimination of barriers so that Manitobans can confidently book a vaccine appointment during work hours without fear of losing out on their regular wages.”

The proposed amendments to Manitoba employment standards by the Tories would make it mandatory for employers to allow workers paid leave each time they require a dose of the vaccine. When they go get the shot, their paid wages would be fixed at regular rates; or in the case of people whose wages vary (such as those working on commission), they will receive the average earnings they’d have gotten while still at work.

Fielding said the Manitoba government looked at what other provincial jurisdictions were doing about this before putting forward its own proposals for paid leave.

Wednesday 10 p.m. The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 7:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

There are 1,305,770 confirmed cases in Canada: 1,305,770 confirmed cases (76,676 active, 1,204,328 resolved, 24,766 deaths). *The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 6,189 new cases Wednesday. The rate of active cases is 201.75 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 48,431 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 6,919.

There were 53 new reported deaths Wednesday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 316 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 45. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.12 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 65.16 per 100,000 people.

There have been 33,001,128 tests completed.

Read Wednesday’s rolling file