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Today’s coronavirus news: Trudeau wraps up cabinet retreat aimed at plotting course through pandemic; Statistics Canada to unveil August inflation figure; Madrid to impose lockdowns

KEY FACTS

  • 6:31 a.m.: Statistics Canada to unveil August inflation figure

  • 5:45 a.m.: Trump denies downplaying virus, casts doubt on mask usage

  • 12 a.m.: Australian PGA tournament postponed to February

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

10:35 a.m. After consulting with public health officials, Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott will move to limit the size of social gatherings in Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases.

10:24 a.m. (will be updated) Ontario is reporting 315 new cases of COVID-19 and two new deaths. Toronto is reporting 77 new cases with 61 in Ottawa, 54 in Peel and 37 in York. Durham is reporting 24 new cases. Locally, 25 public health units are reporting five or fewer cases with 12 reporting no new cases. Almost 29,000 tests were processed, said Health Minister Christine Elliott in a tweet. Sixty-four per cent of Wednesday’s cases are in people under the age of 40.

10 a.m. An elementary and middle school in Winnipeg is switching some of its grades to remote learning after the discovery of more COVID-19 cases.

John Pritchard School has reported four new COVID-19 cases, in addition to one reported Sunday.

Students in Grades 6, 7 and 8, as well as a split Grade 4 and 5 class, will move entirely to remote learning for an estimated two weeks.

A spokesperson for the River East Transcona school division says public health investigations are ongoing, and all other students are continuing with in-class learning.

Manitoba students returned to class last week and schools were aiming to have full-time in-class learning for children up to Grade 8.

The province reported 17 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, for a total active case count of 269.

9:54 a.m. Canada’s main stock index edged higher in early trading, while U.S. stock markets also gained ground.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 19.34 points at 16,450.61.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 34.24 points at 28,029.84. The S&P 500 index was up 7.72 points at 3,408.92, while the Nasdaq composite was up 32.54 points at 11,222.86.

The Canadian dollar traded for 75.87 cents US compared with 75.90 cents (U.S.) on Tuesday.

9:27 a.m. Statistics Canada says the consumer price index in August was up 0.1 per cent compared with a year ago.

The annual inflation rate was unchanged from the year-over-year increase of 0.1 per cent in July.

The average economist estimate had been for a year-over-year increase of 0.4 per cent for August, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

Gasoline prices were down 11.1 per cent compared with August 2019, following a 14.9 per cent decline recorded in July.

Excluding gasoline from the inflation calculations, the consumer price index rose by 0.6 per cent in August.

Prices were up in other categories such as personal care services like haircuts, which had a year-over-year increase of 7.2 per cent.

The average of Canada’s three measures for core inflation, which are considered better gauges of underlying price pressures and closely tracked by the Bank of Canada, was 1.7 per cent.

The Bank of Canada intends to keep its key policy interest rate at 0.25 per cent, which is as low as it will go, until inflation is back at the central bank’s two per cent target.

The hope is that by keeping its rate low, the central bank can drive down rates on mortgages and loans to make it easier for people to borrow and spend to aid the economy as it recuperates from the COVID-19 crisis.

Experts suggest the Bank of Canada’s key rate could stay where it is until late 2022 or even into 2023, although the pace of a recovery is largely dependent on the path of the pandemic, which has affected large swaths of the Canadian economy.

9:06 a.m. The U.S. federal government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans, even as polls show a strong undercurrent of skepticism rippling across the land.

In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defence Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or possibly later this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon is involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving shots.

The campaign is “much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses,” said the playbook for states from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

8:45 a.m. Americans kept spending in August, but the pace of that growth is slowing as millions of people who lost jobs have now lost a $600 a week boost in their unemployment checks.

Retail sales rose 0.6 per cent last month, the fourth consecutive month of growth, the U.S. Commerce Department said Wednesday. In July, the number rose 0.9 per cent.

Retail sales have been recovering after they plunged in April and March as clothing stores and malls closed due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Some stores won’t make it out of the pandemic. Bargain chain Century 21 said last week it’s shutting down all of its 13 stores for good after nearly six decades in business. Lord & Taylor, which has been around for nearly 200 years, is also going out of business. Several others major retailers have sought bankruptcy protection, including J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers and J.Crew.

Others retailers are thriving. Target and Walmart stayed open during the pandemic and became a lifeline for Americans stocking up on toilet paper and groceries. And Amazon’s sales soared as more people shopped online.

8:31 a.m. The British government plans to ration coronavirus testing, giving priority to health workers and care home staff after widespread reports that people around the country were unable to schedule tests.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday will face questions about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the House of Commons and before a key committee amid the outcry over the shortage of testing.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the government is in the process of drawing up a new priority list for testing, suggesting that students and their families could be next in line after the National Health Service and social care.

“I think what we need to do is have a cascading system where we know where our priority should be, and for me priority should be for children in school and their parents in order to ensure their lives are safe and also importantly they are not disrupted in the way we are seeing,” Buckland told Sky News.

The squeeze on tests comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the U.K. that has pushed daily new infections to levels not seen since late May and has forced the Conservative government to impose limits on public gatherings.

8:10 a.m. A McDonald’s restaurant in Richmond Hill has shut down after two of its employees are reported to have COVID-19.

The restaurant located at 420 Highway 7, east of Valleymeade Drive has been closed for “thorough cleaning and sanitization” conducted by a third party. Employees who have been in close contact with those presumed to be infected have been asked to self quarantine until further notice.

Customers who visited the location between Sept. 9 and 11 are encouraged to follow public health protocols, and monitor for any symptoms.

6:31 a.m.: Statistics Canada will reveal today how the country’s official measure of inflation fared in August, with expectations for another month of near-zero readings.

In July, the annual pace of inflation stayed largely grounded at 0.1 per cent as gasoline prices stayed low and air travel prices tumbled for the first time in five years.

August isn’t expected to be much different with the average economist estimate predicting a year-over-year increase in the consumer price index of 0.4 per cent, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

The Bank of Canada intends to keep its key policy interest rate at 0.25 per cent, which is as low as it will go, until inflation is back at the central bank’s two per cent target.

5:45 a.m.: Fielding compelling questions about voters’ real-world problems, President Donald Trump denied during a televised town hall that he had played down the threat of the coronavirus earlier this year, although there is an audio recording of him stating he did just that.

Trump, in what could well be a preview of his performance in the presidential debates less than two weeks away, cast doubt on the widely accepted scientific conclusions of his own administration strongly urging the use of face coverings and seemed to bat away the suggestion that the nation has racial inequities.

“Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” Trump said Tuesday when asked about his campaign rhetoric seeming to ignore the historical injustices carried out against Black Americans.

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Face-to-face with everyday voters for the first time in months, Trump was defensive but resisted agitation as he was pressed on his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and why he doesn’t more aggressively promote the use of masks to reduce the spread of the disease.

“There are people that don’t think masks are good,” Trump said, though his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly urges their use.

Trump sought to counter his admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he was deliberately “playing it down” when discussing the threat of COVID-19 to Americans earlier this year. Despite audio of his comments being released, Trump said: “Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action.”

“My action was very strong,” Trump added. “I’m not looking to be dishonest. I don’t want people to panic.”

5:37 a.m.: The new president of the U.N. General Assembly is warning that unilateralism will only strengthen the COVID-19 pandemic and is calling for a new commitment to global co-operation including on the fair and equitable distribution of vaccines.

Turkish diplomat and politician Volkan Bozkir, who took over the reins of the 193-member world body on Tuesday, announced that the General Assembly will hold a high-level special session on the COVID-19 pandemic in early November, though diplomats said the date may slip.

Bozkir takes over from outgoing General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, who presided over a unique year-old session that he said was “defined by a pandemic” and included virtual meetings and new voting procedures.

5:28 a.m.: The British government plans to ration coronavirus testing, giving priority to health workers and care home staff after widespread reports that people throughout the country were unable to schedule tests.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday will face questions about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the House of Commons and before a key committee amid the outcry over the shortage of testing.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland says the government is in the process of drawing up a new priority list for testing, suggesting that students and their families could be next in line after the National Health Service and social care.

5:18 a.m.: The Spanish capital will introduce selective lockdowns in urban areas where the coronavirus is spreading faster.

Deputy regional health chief Antonio Zapatero said Wednesday that the measures will most likely affect southern, working-class neighbourhoods of Madrid where infection rates have been steadily soaring since August.

Zapatero said that Madrid wants to “flatten the curve before the arrival of autumn and the complications that cold weather could bring,” adding that the measures to be taken will be decided by this weekend.

Madrid and its surrounding region of 6.6 million people have accounted for nearly one third of Spain’s new cases, which have averaged 8,200 per day for the past week.

5:15 a.m.: South Korea’s daily coronavirus tally has stayed below 200 for two weeks, but the government is urging people not to lower their guard. Authorities said Wednesday that the 113 cases added in the last 24 hours took the country’s total to 22,504, including 367 deaths. Eighty-one of them were in the Seoul metropolitan area, the heart of a recent viral resurgence in South Korea.

5:11 a.m.: Vietnam will resume international commercial flights connecting the country to several Asian destinations starting Friday, after a months-long shutdown to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

According to a report posted on the government website, flights connecting Vietnam’s two largest cities — Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City — to destinations in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan will operate on a weekly basis. Flights connecting the cities with Cambodia and Laos will resume next week.

The flights, however, are reserved for Vietnamese nationals, diplomats, experts, managers, skilled workers, investors and their families. They are not yet available for tourists.

To board a flight, passengers must hold a certificate showing they have tested negative for the coronavirus no more than five days before the departure date. Upon arrival, they will be tested and placed under quarantine, the report said.

4:05 a.m.: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to wrap up two and a half days of cabinet meetings today aimed at plotting a course through the COVID-19 health crisis.

Bold talk of an audacious plan to rebuild the shattered economy gave way during the meetings to the more immediate challenge of confronting the potential for a second deadly wave of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise across the country for the past several weeks.

Consequently, ministers have been focused almost exclusively on how to protect the health of Canadians and avert the potential for another economy-ravaging, nation-wide shutdown like the one that threw millions of Canadians out of work last spring.

The pandemic has already upended the government’s plans to deliver on platform commitments upon which the Liberals won re-election just last fall, when the climate change crisis was at the top of their agenda.

4 a.m.: Some prospective jurors will be summoned to a downtown Toronto convention centre as the province resumes jury selection following a six-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a notice issued Tuesday to those in the legal field, the Ministry of the Attorney General says the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is “prepared to host jury events” on its targeted date of Sept. 16.

The ministry says the centre will be used as a backup location for the Superior Court of Justice and the Civil Superior Court of Justice.

The Ontario Superior Court temporarily halted in-person operations in mid-March due to concerns over the novel coronavirus, with all criminal and civil matters suspended or adjourned until June.

Dozens of courthouses reopened in July, with more doing so this week.

12 a.m.: The Australian PGA tournament has been postponed to February because of uncertainties over coronavirus-enforced restrictions.

The PGA of Australia on Wednesday said the European Tour co-sanctioned golf tournament, scheduled for early December at Royal Queensland in Brisbane, is now tentatively scheduled for Feb. 18-21, but the status of the event will be reviewed again in December.

It follows the postponement of November’s Australian Open at Melbourne’s Kingston Heath to sometime next year. Victoria state is experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths, and the city of Melbourne is in lockdown with nightly curfews.

Tuesday 11:57 p.m.: India’ coronavirus confirmed cases crossed 5 million on Wednesday, still soaring and testing the country’s feeble health care system in tens of thousands of impoverished towns and villages.

The Health Ministry reported 90,123 new cases in the past 24 hours, raising the nation’s confirmed total to 5,020,359, about 0.35% of its nearly 1.4 billion population. It said 1,290 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 82,066.

India’s total coronavirus caseload is closing in on the United States’ highest tally of more than 6.6 million cases and expected to surpass it within weeks.

Click here for more of Tuesday’s COVID-19 coverage.

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