Planning a staycation? You can claim a tax credit if you travel in Ontario this year


The provincial government’s “staycation tax credit” is now in effect for Ontarians who plan getaways within the province this year.

Announced Nov. 4, the credit aims to boost local business by offering people who book overnight stays in Ontario for anytime in 2022 a return of 20 per cent on accommodation expenses of up to $1,000 per person or $2,000 per family.

Some businesses welcomed the incentive — which works out to a maximum return of $200 per person or $400 per family — saying they hope it can help those hit hardest during COVID-19 restrictions.  

“Everybody suffered,” said Renda Abdo, owner of the Lakeside Motel in Prince Edward County, about 200 kilometres northeast of Toronto. “People are still very unsure about travelling on planes and too far away from home, so I think it’s perfect timing.”

Geoffrey Wild (left), shown with his partner Dominique Wild at The Wild Tart in Elora, Ont., says he hopes the province’s new tax credit will boost business. (Submitted by Geoffrey Wild)

Geoffrey Wild, owner of The Wild Tart pastry shop in Elora, just northwest of Guelph, said the credit could help boost local tourism, which would help a variety of businesses.

“The recent [Omicron] variant, the virus, things like that remind us it’s nice we can travel locally, travel around our province,” he said

Too late for some

But for some, the credit comes too late.

“They should have introduced it way long ago,” said Barry Choi, creator of Moneywehave.com, a personal finance and budget travel blog.  “[Businesses] could have used those dollars in 2021 when things were really hurting.” 

Choi said he and his family have done their Ontario travelling already, having just returned home to Toronto from a trip to Ottawa. 

“I’m going to be looking to travel outside Canada,” he said. “And I can think of a lot of people who are in the same boat.” 

In October, Canada lifted a blanket advisory that had been in place since March 2020 against all non-essential travel outside the country.

More recently, to prevent travel-related infections amid mounting case counts and spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the federal government has been advising Canadians to avoid all non-essential international travel.

‘This province is the same size as many countries’

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says it supports Ontario’s 2022 travel tax credit.

“It makes sense to delay it to a time where Ontarians could comfortably and confidently take advantage of it,” said Ryan Mallough, senior director of provincial affairs for Ontario with the CFIB.

Wild said Ontario offers something new to see, even for those who have already done some exploring in the province.

“To everybody that says, ‘I spent my Ontario travel money,’ — my God, this province is the same size as many countries,” he said. “So you can’t tell me you’ve done all your travel yet.” 

Eligible expenses

On its website, the provincial government lays out the details around eligibility, including that Ontarians can claim the credit for accommodation expenses for “a leisure [not business-related] stay of less than a month,” at a short-term accommodation, such as a: hotel, motel, resort, lodge, bed-and-breakfast establishment, cottage or campground.

The stay must occur between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2022, the province says, “regardless of timing of payment.”



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Travel news: Ontario experiences by rail, a connections-made-easier booking platform, Montreal’s wintry outdoor dance floor


On the rails

Road tripping isn’t the only way to wheel around the province. This winter, the Regional Tourism Organization of South Eastern Ontario (RTO 9) has joined up with Via Rail and the new Toronto-based travel company Landsby to create a series of “Rail + Roam” packages (landsby.ca/rail-and-roam). The experiences cater to varying interests, from wining and dining to wellness, and cover destinations like Prince Edward County, Kingston and Gananoque.

Connecting the dots

Air Transat has launched a virtual interlining platform called Connectair by Air Transat, which enables travellers to combine a flight on the Canadian airline with one on a partner airline (such as easyJet or Avianca). The service effectively adds more than 135 new destination options across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America. Should one of your flights be delayed or cancelled, Dohop (the technology partner) will provide a replacement flight at no extra cost, or if there’s no alternative, will refund the unused part of the booking.

Parks and rec

In February, Parks Canada will open reservations for backcountry hiking on Fathom Five National Marine Park's Flowerpot Island.

It’s not too early to start plotting your summer camp plans: Parks Canada will begin taking reservations in January and February for visits between April 2022 and March 2023. Exact reservation dates vary by site, so check pc.gc.ca and take note in your calendar. Still looking for gifting ideas for your favourite outdoor enthusiast? You can get a Parks Canada Discovery Pass — which grants a year’s worth of unlimited admission to more than 80 places nationwide — in time for the holidays if ordered by Dec. 9.

Out in the cold

Igloofest will bring its popular outdoor party back to Montreal's Old Port this winter.

Promising the chilliest dance floor in the world, Igloofest will bring the outdoor party to Montreal’s Old Port over four weekends, from Jan. 13 to Feb. 5, 2022. It’s the 15th anniversary of the electronic music festival, which will draw artists from near and far, with Bonobo, Diplo, Fatboy Slim and Richie Hawtin among the headliners.

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Ontario sees 927 new COVID-19 cases as Ford calls for travel ban in response to new variant


Ontario reported 927 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday — the most on a single day in the province in nearly 10 weeks — while Premier Doug Ford called on the federal government to ban flights from countries where a new virus variant has been found.

In a statement, Ford said he was briefed this morning by Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, on a recently discovered variant that could potentially be resistant to existing vaccines and even more transmissible than the delta variant, which now accounts for nearly 100 per cent of all new cases in Ontario. 

A slew of nations have moved to stop air travel from southern Africa after cases of the new variant, known as B.1.1.529, were confirmed in South Africa and Botswana. Israel has also reported a single case in a person who had travelled there from Malawi.

The World Health Organization has cautioned against taking such actions until more information is known about the variant. Its experts are meeting Friday to assess the risks, which are largely unknown at this point.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also discouraged travel bans on countries that reported the new variant that was first detected in South Africa, arguing such bans have not had a “meaningful outcome” so far in the pandemic.

Ford said he contacted the federal government to his express his “extreme concern about the risks [the variant] poses and the need for immediate action today.”

Ford has asked that the federal government ban flights and passengers from countries of concern.

“Anyone arriving before the ban is implemented should be tested and quarantined, including the many passengers arriving today,” he said in the statement. 

“Out of an abundance of caution, we must also reintroduce point-of-arrival testing for all passengers arriving to Canada, regardless of where they’re coming from.”

Ford added that he has instructed to Moore to expand surveillance of new COVID cases in the province and update planning to “to ensure we are ready for any outcome.”

Public Health Ontario said in a statement that the new variant has not been detected in Ontario.

It said the province is tracking variants and monitoring for new ones, including B.1.1.529, and genomic sequencing is being done on 100 per cent of eligible virus samples.

17 schools closed due to COVID

Meanwhile, today’s case count is a roughly 17 per cent jump over the same time last week, when Ontario logged 793 infections.

The seven-day average of daily cases is up to 711.

Moore said on Thursday that he expects cases to continue rising into the new year, and that the province accounted for increases in its latest reopening plan.

The number of COVID patients requiring critical care has held relatively steady. As of yesterday evening, there were 140 people being treated for COVID-related illnesses in ICUs. That’s up from 128 last Thursday.

The Ministry of Health also reported the deaths of six more people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 9,991.

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the ministry’s daily provincial update:

New school-related cases: 141, including 132 students and eight staff. There are currently 17 schools closed due to COVID-19, up from nine last Friday — an 88 per cent increase. There are 178 concurrent outbreaks of COVID in schools, about 93 per cent of which are in elementary schools. 

Tests in the previous 24 hours: 33,901, with a three per cent positivity rate.

Active cases: 5,807, the most since Sept. 27.

Vaccinations: 19,820 doses were administered by public health units on Thursday. Of those, 12,228 were first doses, the most first shots on a single day since Oct. 9. The jump is due to the campaign to vaccinate children aged five to 11 beginning in earnest. 

Jason Berman and his daughter, Esther Shi Berman, 10, listen to a health-care provider at a Humber River Hospital-run COVID vaccination clinic, in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)



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Chasing Fall Colors in Ontario and Quebec


Connect with nature while soaking in local culture, arts, and cuisine in charming towns on a week-long fall road trip from Toronto to Montreal. Join National Geographic Travel writer and Ontario native Heather Greenwood Davis as she bypasses Canada’s busiest highway in favor of a more scenic route that allows time to enjoy the beauty of the season.

TOP FIVE REASONS TO GO

  1. Wade waist-deep in cranberries on a family-owned farm
  2. Paddle through a scene that feels like an iconic painting
  3. Sink your teeth into a unique “Muskoka Cloud” pastry
  4. Ride horseback along a colorful leaf-littered trail
  5. Sleep in a luxury prospector’s tent under the stars

DAY ONE: TORONTO TO MUSKOKA, ONTARIO

Immerse yourself in Canadian art

You’ll feel the buzz of the city dissipate as you head north from Toronto. Make your first stop in Kleinburg to visit the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, a world-renowned collection of Canadian art awaits, including one of the largest groups of Tom Thomson oil sketches in existence. Wander the galleries and peek at painted versions of the landscapes you’ll visit over the next few days. Set on 100 acres of forested land, the gallery showcases art that ranges from First Nations artists to Group of Seven originals.

Make your way to Muskoka

Muskoka referred to by locals as Cottage Country, is set in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest Region, which means its home to both deciduous (red maple, yellow birch) and coniferous (white pine, white cedar) trees and home to more than 1,600 lakes. They combine into a reflective kaleidoscope of color each fall. Families have made their way along this route for generations, settling into tents, cottages and palatial homes along the water’s edge. For fall travelers, the region offers a mix of quaint towns, iconic eats, and working farms.

Jump in a cranberry bog

Accept an invitation to don hip-waders and take the “Cranberry Plunge” by walking into a bog filled with floating red berries for a unique experience at Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery. You’ll develop a new appreciation for the tiny fruit. Then, head to Port Carling for a stroll. Look up at the historic mosaic mural and make sure to save time to watch local boaters come through the locks.

National Geographic Travel writer and Ontario native Heather Greenwood Davis plunges into a cranberry bog at Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery in Bala, Ontario.

National Geographic Travel writer and Ontario native Heather Greenwood Davis plunges into a cranberry bog at Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery in Bala, Ontario.

Photograph by Krista Rossow

INSIDE TIP: Take the winding roads through the trees to the shores of Gilleach Lake in Muskoka, and try sleeping in the rustic luxury of a canvas Glamping Tent that’ll forever change your idea of roughing it.

DAY TWO: ARROWHEAD AND ALGONQUIN PROVINCIAL PARKS, ONTARIO

Hike to a waterfall

Wake to the changing colors at your doorstep. You’ll begin to spot the telltale bright yellows in the trees as you start the drive out to Arrowhead Provincial Park. At the panoramic views from Big Bend Lookout, you’ll better understand that almost two-thirds of this province is forested. Take a coffee with you and savor it while out on the mile-long woodland hike to Stubb’s Falls. For a peaceful way to enjoy the park, try canoeing on the calm waters of Mayflower Lake amid an idyllic backdrop of lush landscape.

Stop for snacks

Aim to stop at the legendary Henrietta’s Pine Bakery in Dwight. Bite into a Muskoka Cloud tea biscuit while you chat with the owners who will happily share some of the history behind this 57-year old local institution. Then move to one of the red Muskoka Chairs out front to finish enjoying the warm, airy pastry that has cream cheese baked into the dough. Peppered with local cranberries and dusted with sugar, it’s a delicate delight. Pop back in to pick up extra treats for the road, including one of their famous sticky buns (and the extra napkins they’ll require).

Capture jaw-dropping vistas

Set out for Algonquin Park. There is natural beauty worth snapping over every hill. End today’s driving early to make the most of tonight’s cozy stay at Killarney Lodge. Each cabin comes with a canoe on its doorstep, and everything you need to paddle (SUP, canoe, or kayak) is on-site. Evening views (sunsets or stars) are best taken in while wrapped in a large blanket on an Adirondack chair at the lakes’ edge.

INSIDE TIP: Avoid the temptation to speed past the Western Gate ranger station. Rangers here have great tips on what to see and it’s where you’ll need to pick up your park pass.

DAY THREE: ALGONQUIN PROVINCIAL PARK, ONTARIO

Explore the forests from all angles

This morning, Algonquin Outfitters can provide everything you need (including a guide!) to explore from the water. Catch your breath at the reflection of the fall colors on the lake as you gently glide across the surface. Later, rent a bicycle at Lake of Two Rivers where you can grab a map and pedal like you’re a kid again on the Old Railway Bike Trail. Keep the driving to a minimum today. With many trails starting right from the parking lots, you can easily explore everything from Ragged Falls at the Oxtongue River to the gentle hike at Hardwood Lookout Trail.

DAY FOUR: ALGONQUIN PROVINCIAL PARK AND OTTAWA VALLEY, ONTARIO

Explore art in the making

Wake to the sound of loons calling to each other on the water. Today, you’ll slowly leave Algonquin Park behind, but not before popping up to the Algonquin Art Centre. Start your visit by wandering the outdoor exhibit dedicated to the artists that spent their time here. Inside, Canadian art and souvenir purchases support modern day creatives.

INSIDE TIP: Don’t skip the Algonquin Visitor Centre on the eastern end of the park on your way out. Stroll interactive exhibits that share the park’s natural (through wildlife dioramas) and human history (the Algonquin First Nations were inhabitants here for more than 8,000 years before Europeans arrived).

Slow down and meet the locals

The splendor of the season continues outside the park’s East Gate as the Ottawa Valley rises up to meet you. Filled with small-town charm, local coffee shops and quaint villages, there are plenty of opportunities to join a conversation. A late afternoon meal of poutine at the Chip Pit in Cobden is the iconic Canadian fall treat. Down the road at the White Water Brewing Co. & Lakeside Brew Pub you can sample the seasonal farm-to-table menu while watching the brewing process through large glass windows from your table. Continue the drive to Ottawa. From there it’ll be a quick drive across a short bridge into Quebec to catch an incredible view of Parliament Hill as the sun sets. Head to the town of Wakefield for overnight.

The menu at White Water Brewing Company’s lakeside brewpub in Cobden, Ontario regularly changes to incorporate seasonal produce grown in the local Ottawa Valley.

The menu at White Water Brewing Company’s lakeside brewpub in Cobden, Ontario regularly changes to incorporate seasonal produce grown in the local Ottawa Valley.

Photograph by Krista Rossow

INSIDE TIP: On route to Ottawa, head to the town of Eganville for an hour-long tour of its otherworldly Bonnechere Caves. Owner Chris Hinsperger has been there for decades and will take you through the tunnels, pointing out fossils and a few of the flying bats that call it home.

DAY FIVE: GATINEAU PARK, QUEBEC

Reinvigorate at the spa

Get up early and snap some photos as you wander Wakefield’s cute storefronts and landmark red-covered bridge. From there, it’s a short drive out to Nordik Spa-Nature. Take in the views of crimson leaves across the village below from the stunning collection of pools, saunas and heated outdoor hammocks.

Step into Canadian History

Make your way through the town of Chelsea to Gatineau Park for a 150-square mile provincial park that offers a glimpse into Canada’s past with both natural landmarks and historical structures. Stop in at Meech Lake. This is the spot where provincial leaders from across Canada once met in a failed bid to amend the Constitution. Not far away is the Mackenzie King Estate. There, informational billboards help tell the story of the simple cottage that grew over several decades into an estate that perfectly suited the eccentric Prime Minister. The park also offers plenty of places to admire the beauty of the area. A picnic table perched at the Étienne Brûlé Lookout offers a birds-eye view of the changing colors and is an optimal spot from which to enjoy the afternoon.

DAY SIX: MONT TREMBLANT, QUEBEC

Get close to the animals

Crisp fall air will demand an open window on the drive out to Kanatha-Aki Nature Center. Run by the Denis family, this unique spot has horses for you to ride on picturesque trails, rescued bison (including one that will let you scratch his beard) and dozens of dogs that help pull sleds in the winter and are good company in the fall.

Spark an adrenaline rush at Mont-Tremblant

This afternoon is all about boosting energy. Park your car and engage in an afternoon filled with activity at Mont-Tremblant. Zipline high above the colorful foliage, take your driving prowess to a mountain track in a luge cart or ride the gondola 2,871 feet to the summit for a panoramic Laurentian view.

Explore the forest after dark

After dinner, head for the mountains once again. The magical lights of Tonga Lumina transform the trees and rockfaces into a story that brings you closer to the Indigenous roots of this area. The slow walk through the forest is the perfect nightcap, and you’ll find yourself thinking about the heartwarming tale long after you leave.

INSIDE TIP: Make sure to work up an appetite for dinner at La Savoie restaurant. Imported French cheese melts at your table while you choose from a bounty of local produce and meats to enjoy it with.

DAY SEVEN: MONT-TREMBLANT TO MONTREAL, QUEBEC

Go slowly towards Montreal

The drive to Montreal brings new reasons to smile. Your trip will end here today, but not before you have the chance to sample all that the city has to offer. The colors are at their peak now, and the urge to stop to take in the views along the way shouldn’t be ignored. Fill this last day with incredible music, nightlife, food, and art. This evening, under the sparkle of the city lights, consider raising a glass to a fantastic trip and an incredible time of year.

HOW TO TAKE THIS TRIP:

Start your drive in Toronto and wind your way north and east through Ottawa and Montreal. The total trip is about 600 miles. Plan to leave your rental car in Montreal and fly out from there. Or if you prefer to drive back to Toronto, try the ride along Highway 7 for farmland scenery and small-town stops. While we suggest seven days for this trip, you can make it as short or as long as your vacation time allows. There is a lot to see and do in these two provinces.

WHERE TO STAY:

Start with a luxurious overnight stay at Hotel X in Toronto. For your first night on the road, you’ve got plenty of choices. Outdoorsy couples will like one of the three glamping tents at Cotton Co. Luxury Adventures. For an active family-friendly resort stay, try Deerhurst Resort. JW Marriott The Rousseau Muskoka Resort and Spa is another option with comfy beds and upscale dining. Spend the next two nights in Algonquin Park at one of the cabins at beautiful Killarney Lodge. Spend your first night in Quebec at Wakefield Mill, where the sound of the water that once powered the mill will lull you to sleep. The next night stay at the luxurious Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. Your final night will be at one of the many hotels on-site at Mont Tremblant, including Homewood Suites by Hilton and Le Westin Resort & Spa.

TRAVEL TIP:

Fall colors start to appear near the end of September, but they can be unpredictable. To make sure you’re timing your trip for the season, check the fall color reports for Ontario and Quebec.





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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 492 COVID-19 cases; Province plans to incrementally lift all COVID-19 restrictions by the end of March


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

2:12 p.m. (updated) Ontario plans to “incrementally” lift all COVID-19 safety measures — including vaccine passports and mask-wearing — by the end of March if all goes well, says Premier Doug Ford.

As previously reported by the Star, the changes begin Monday when customer capacity limits are lifted on restaurants, bars, gyms, casinos, bingo halls and indoor events spaces.

“This plan is built for the long term. It will guide us safely through the winter and out of this pandemic, while avoiding lockdowns and ensuring we don’t lose the hard-fought gains we’ve made,” Ford said.

And it will provide much-needed “predictability and certainty,” he added, calling the plan “cautious” and noting the province is “sticking with what has worked.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson

2:10 p.m. Ontario is “slowly and incrementally” lifting all COVID-19 restrictions in the next 6 months. Restaurants, bars, gyms will be full capacity as of Monday. Night clubs, bathhouses, sex clubs on Nov. 15. Vaccination pass rules will be loosened Jan. 17 if current trends continue. The mask mandate could end March 28.

2:05 p.m. Are you fully vaccinated and eager to start travelling? Starting Nov. 30, you will not be able to fly without a government-issued vaccine passport with a QR code.

As of Oct. 22, the new proof of vaccination can be downloaded to smartphones or printed in hard copy in five provinces, including Ontario, and the three territories. For the rest of the provinces, the document will be available by Nov. 30.

Along with the QR code, which will include your COVID-19 vaccination history, the document will also have the official logo of the province or territory and the official logo of the Government of Canada.

Before Nov. 30, Canadians who don’t yet have access to the QR-coded proof of vaccination, can use their proof of vaccination receipt when travelling, however it’s advised to bring a printout because the digital copy may not be readable outside of Canada.

Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan

1:55 p.m. The travel industry is welcoming news that the federal government has lifted a global advisory asking Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside the country.

Bruce Poon Tip, founder of Canadian-based tour operator G Adventures, says the move is long overdue. He says Canada has been slower than many other countries when it comes to lifting its blanket advisory against travel.

Poon Tip says travel demand has picked up significantly in the last couple of months, something he attributes to the rollout of vaccinations.

But he says the last 18 months have been devastating for his company. G Adventures has had to lay off about 1,000 people, more than half of its total number of employees worldwide.

The global travel advisory was put in place in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world.

1:45 p.m. Nova Scotia is reporting 23 new cases of COVID-19. Thirteen cases have been identified in the central zone, which includes Halifax, six cases are in the western zone, three cases have been found in the northern zone and one case is in the eastern zone.

Authorities say 26 recoveries have also been reported. The province now has 160 active infections with 15 people in hospital, four of whom are in intensive care.

Officials also reported that two schools received COVID-19 exposure notices Thursday, both of them in the Amherst area.

And officials continue to monitor an outbreak of the disease in a non-COVID unit at Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville where five cases of COVID-19 have been identified.

1:30 p.m. Canada must decide what to do with millions of unused COVID-19 vaccine doses now that officials have confirmed they won’t be needed to vaccinate children.

Roughly 6.6-million doses have been distributed to the provinces but not yet used, and there are an extra 13 million in Canada’s central vaccine inventory.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says provincial and federal governments are working to figure out how many doses will be needed in Canada so that everyone can be fully vaccinated, and get a booster if they need one.

At the same time, they are keeping tabs on when doses expire to make sure they do not go to waste.

Health Canada is also looking at the possibility of extending the shelf life of some vaccines based on new data from the manufacturers, so they can be kept in storage for a few extra months.

Arrangements have been made between the government, the manufacturers and COVAX, the global vaccine sharing initiative, to donate doses that can’t be used or stored.

1:10 p.m. Two eastern European countries struggling with low rates of vaccination against COVID-19 are seeing a sudden rush for jabs.

Previously skeptical populations in Ukraine and Romania are rapidly changing their minds as they endure the pandemic’s deadliest wave yet. The situation is indeed dire: new infections and deaths continue to break records and lockdowns are starting to return.

The worsening conditions prompted a record week of almost 1 million inoculations in Ukraine, which initially had difficulties in securing supplies of vaccines but later saw its citizens increasing wary about taking them.

That’s left the former Soviet republic with coverage that’s even less than Bulgaria, the European Union’s least-vaccinated member state. The realization is hitting home. The national railway operator denied boarding to 175 passengers on Friday as restrictions came into force requiring they produce inoculation certificates.

12:40 p.m. Quebec kids are being asked not to yell ‘trick-or-treat’ as they go door-to-door for candy and to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer handy this Halloween.

The province’s Health Department today published a list of guidelines to help celebrate the holiday safely amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Children are advised not to enter people’s houses, to refrain from singing and yelling, to wash and sanitize their hands and to try to keep one metre of distance from others whenever possible.

The province is asking adults to hand out candies in individual bags and to respect the 10-person gathering limit when it comes to parties.

12:20 p.m. Beginning Nov. 8, Canadians who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to enter the U.S. for non-essential travel by land and ferry ports of entry.

If you’re planning a trip, you may be struggling to find answers to your travel questions about children under 12, since they’re not yet eligible to be vaccinated in Canada. While that may change within weeks, there are guidelines for this specific age group.

From mixed vaccines to travelling with kids, we use the latest government information to answer your pressing #PandemicTravel questions.

Read the full story from the Star’s Manuela Vega

12:05 p.m. Canada’s vaccine advisory committee says it’s possible to safely give a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people who experienced severe allergic reactions to their first shot.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization says there have been cases of severe anaphylactic reactions to mRNA vaccines documented in Canada after their first dose.

Studies show the reaction often is not repeated with the second dose, however, and the second dose was tell tolerated with either no reactions or just mild ones.

The committee encourages people who had an allergic reaction to a mRNA vaccine — those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — to see an allergist before seeking the next dose.

The committee also released new advice about waiting longer for a second dose, suggesting that a longer gap between shots is more effective.

NACI now suggests waiting eight weeks between mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and at least eight weeks between shots of AstraZeneca.

11:50 a.m. Quebec is reporting 434 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and eight additional deaths linked to the coronavirus.

The Health Department says the number of hospitalizations declined by 14, to 260, and 68 people were in intensive care, a decline of four from the day before.

Authorities say 14,367 doses of vaccine were administered within the past 24 hours.

According to the province’s public health institute, 90.3 per cent of Quebec residents 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine and 87.4 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

The Health Department is reporting two COVID-19 outbreaks at provincial jails. As of Tuesday, the most recent day for which data is available, 55 detainees and 13 employees at the Rivière-des-Prairies detention centre in Montreal had active cases of COVID-19.

At the provincial jail in Sherbrooke, Que., east of Montreal, 33 inmates and one staff member had active cases of COVID-19.

11:40 a.m. (updated) A group of science experts advising the Ontario government says the province can control the spread of COVID-19 if public health measures stay in place.

New modelling from the Ontario science table was released today, hours before Premier Doug Ford is set to unveil his plan for lifting public health restrictions.

The experts say a combination of vaccination and public health measures has led to declining case counts and stable hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

But as cold weather approaches, driving more activities indoors where the risk of transmission is higher, the science table says continuing some public health measures is necessary to maintain control of the pandemic.

Modelling shows that if there is no change in policy or people’s behaviours, cases will continue to decline, while some increase in social contacts will keep cases stable. A “substantial” increase in contacts could lead to more than 600 daily cases by the end of November.

All of those scenarios assume public health measures such as masking, a proof-of-vaccination system, symptom screening and good ventilation and filtration continue.

11:20 p.m. Canadian retail sales rose 2.1 per cent to $57.2 billion in August, boosted by gains at food and beverage stores, gasoline stations and clothing and clothing accessories stores.

However, Statistics Canada said Friday its initial estimate for September suggests retail sales reversed course in September and fell 1.9 per cent, though it cautioned the figure will be revised.

The agency also said its early estimate for manufacturing sales in September point to a drop of 3.2 per cent for the month, due in large part to the transportation equipment industry.

CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes said retail sales roared back in August, but then took another breather in September.

“The ugly flash readings for retail sales and manufacturing will dent our previously heady GDP forecast for the month,” Mendes wrote in a note to clients.

“However, while goods sectors were plagued by supply chain challenges, according to the labour force survey data, activity across a range of services sectors was increasing.”

11 a.m. Several universities in Ontario are moving to bar unvaccinated students from campus as their mandatory vaccination policies take full effect.

The schools say the vast majority of their students have now provided proof of COVID-19 vaccination, but the few that have not will in most cases no longer be able to access university buildings or attend on-campus classes and activities.

At the University of Waterloo – where about 95 per cent of students have had a COVID-19 shot – a spokesman said those who aren’t fully immunized cannot take in-person classes and in many cases won’t be able to continue their education at the school.

“Those students can consider continuing to pursue their education by selecting from among the online courses that are scheduled, perhaps as a part-time student,” said Chris Wilson-Smith. “(They can consider) taking relevant courses at another university on a letter of permission, or delaying their learning at Waterloo indefinitely.”

McMaster University in Hamilton, where 96 per cent of students taking in-person classes have submitted proof of vaccination, said unvaccinated students without valid exemptions will be unenrolled from winter courses as there’s an expectation they’ll need to attend campus at some point next semester.

For the fall term, the school said those who didn’t provide proof of vaccination by an Oct. 17 deadline will likely be able to complete their courses remotely.

10:47 a.m. Thailand is accelerating plans to reopen the country to foreign tourists, slashing mandatory quarantines beginning Nov. 1 for fully-vaccinated visitors arriving by air from 46 countries and territories, officials announced Friday.

The Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration also announced a loosening of local restrictions, including cancellation of a curfew in some areas where risks have lessened and tourists can move freely.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had announced earlier this month that Thailand no longer planned to require visitors from at least 10 low-risk nations to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. He had said the list would be expanded on Dec. 1, and then made even more extensive on Jan. 1.

10:35 a.m. Germany’s state governors pressed Friday for a nationwide legal framework for coronavirus rules to be kept in place after the outgoing health minister suggested that the current legislation should be allowed to expire next month.

The call came as official figures over several days pointed to an acceleration in new COVID-19 infections. As of Friday, 95.1 cases per 100,000 residents had been reported over the last seven days, up from 68.7 a week ago. Over the past 24 hours, 19,572 new infections were reported.

The German parliament first passed legislation declaring an “epidemic situation of national scope” after the pandemic hit the country in March 2020, and it has been extended several times since. The law has served as a key legal basis for restrictions such as lockdowns.

10:12 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting another 492 COVID-19 cases and 12 more deaths. Of the 12, one of the deaths occurred more than one month ago and is being reported as part of the cumulative count due to a data cleanup, according to the province’s latest report released Friday morning.

Ontario has administered 25,770 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 22,338,662 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.

According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 11,438,633 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 87.8 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 77.0 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

The province says 10,900,029 people have completed their vaccinations, which means they’ve had both doses. That works out to approximately 83.6 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 73.3 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan

10:10 a.m. Ukraine’s coronavirus infections and deaths reached all-time highs for a second straight day Friday, in a growing challenge for the country with one of Europe’s lowest shares of vaccinated people.

Ukrainian health authorities reported 23,785 new confirmed infections and 614 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Authorities in the capital, Kyiv, shut schools for two weeks starting Friday, and similar measures were ordered in other areas with high contagion levels.

Authorities have blamed surging infections on a sluggish pace of vaccination in the nation of 41 million. Ukrainians can freely choose between Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, but only about 15 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, Europe’s lowest level after Armenia.

Overall, the country has registered over 2.7 million infections and about 63,000 deaths.

9:35 a.m. Amnesty International called Friday for an independent parliamentary inquiry into COVID-19 deaths in Italian nursing homes and reports of retaliation against nursing home staff who spoke out about unsafe conditions there.

Amnesty based its findings on interviews with 34 health care workers, as well as union leaders and lawyers. A third of the workers “raised concerns about a climate of fear and retaliation in their workplace,” the human rights watchdog said in a statement Friday.

Italy’s nursing homes, like those elsewhere in Europe, the U.S. and beyond, saw thousands of COVID-19 deaths, and prosecutors in dozens of jurisdictions have opened investigations into whether to lay any criminal blame.

Italy was the first country in the West to be severely hit by the outbreak and soon found itself critically short of protective equipment, face masks and hospital beds, particularly in the hardest-hit Lombardy region. During the first surge, many residents of elder care facilities in Lombardy weren’t even taken to the hospital because there was no room for them.

9:20 a.m. The federal government has lifted a global advisory asking Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside the country, but continues to advise against travel on cruise ships.

The global travel advisory was put in place in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world.

The government of Canada’s website now shows advisories for each destination country, as it did prior to the pandemic.

It also urges Canadians to ensure they are fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus before travelling abroad, and to stay informed of the COVID-19 situation at their destination.

Canada opened its borders last month to non-essential international travellers who have received both doses of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine, and to fully vaccinated travellers from the United States in August.

The U.S. government recently announced that its land borders will reopen to non-essential Canadian travellers on Nov. 8.

9:05 a.m. 83 per cent of Torontonians eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine (age 12 and up) are now fully vaccinated, according to a press release from the city.

8:20 a.m. Coronavirus infections and deaths in Russia climbed Friday to another pandemic record, putting a growing strain on the country’s health care system.

The government coronavirus task force reported 37,141 new infections and 1,064 deaths in the past 24 hours. That brought Russia’s death toll to 228,453, Europe’s highest by far.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded to the worsening situation by ordering Russians to stay off work from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, when the country is already observing an extended holiday.

Russian authorities expect the order to help limit the spread of the virus by keeping them out of offices and off public transportation, where mask mandates have been widely ignored. The government also urged local authorities to tighten their own restrictions during the period.

In some regions where the situation is even more threatening, Putin said the nonworking period could start as early as Saturday and be extended past Nov. 7.

Asked Friday if the Kremlin could extend the nonworking period nationwide or order a tighter lockdown, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would depend on the evolving situation.

8:02 a.m. Pfizer says kid-size doses of its COVID-19 vaccine are safe and nearly 91 per cent effective at preventing infections in elementary school children.

Details of the study were posted online Friday as U.S. regulators consider opening vaccinations to youngsters 5 to 11.

The shots could begin early next month — with the first children in line fully protected by Christmas — if regulators give the go-ahead.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to post its initial review of the company’s safety and effectiveness data later Friday. Next week, advisers to the FDA will publicly debate the evidence.

If the FDA then authorizes the low-dose shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make the final recommendations on who should receive them.

Full-strength Pfizer shots already are authorized for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem rising infections from the extra-contagious delta variant and help keep kids in school.

7:01 a.m.: Thailand is accelerating plans to reopen the country to foreign tourists, slashing mandatory quarantines beginning Nov. 1 for fully-vaccinated visitors arriving by air from 46 countries and territories, officials announced Friday.

The Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration also announced a loosening of local restrictions, including cancellation of a curfew in some areas where risks have lessened and tourists can move freely.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had announced earlier this month that Thailand no longer planned to require visitors from at least 10 low-risk nations to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. He had said the list would be expanded on Dec. 1, and then made even more extensive on Jan. 1.

Under the new rules, vaccinated travelers to Thailand from the approved 45 countries plus Hong Kong will be required to show negative results from RT-PCR tests before flying and upon their arrival. They will need to spend their first night in a government-approved hotel awaiting their test results, though the government is not calling that a quarantine. If the results are negative, the person can travel anywhere in Thailand.

6:35 a.m.: China’s capital Beijing has begun offering booster shots against COVID-19, four months before the city and surrounding regions are to host the Winter Olympics.

Anyone 18 or older who have received two-dose Chinese vaccines and belong to at-risk groups, including those participating, organizing or working on games facilities, would be eligible for the additional shot, state media reported Friday.

The booster has been rolling out in cities across the vast nation since late September, but Beijing authorities have been extra cautious in who receives the extra jab.

The games are set to begin on Feb. 4 with only residents of China allowed in the stands. Indoor events with sliding, skiing and jumping will be held in the suburb of Yanqing and the neighboring city of Zhangjiakou.

China has been largely successful in preventing local transmission through strict requirements on mask wearing, quarantining and contact tracing. Cases continue to pop up however, with 28 new ones reported Friday, including one in the Beijing suburb of Fengtai.

6:15 a.m: As she stood in the courtyard of the morgue holding the body of her grandmother who died of COVID-19, Ramilya Shigalturina had a message for anyone still resisting vaccinations.

“I’m begging all Russians: Please get vaccinated, because it’s really dreadful and dangerous,” said the resident of Nizhny Novgorod, the country’s fifth-largest city.

Shigalturina said her 83-year-old grandmother “died right away after catching it. She wasn’t vaccinated.”

When Russia last year became the first country to launch a coronavirus vaccine, called Sputnik V, it was hailed as a matter of national pride and a sign of its scientific know-how. But since the free immunization program began in December 2020, only about a third of the country’s 146 million people have gotten fully vaccinated.

The low vaccine acceptance is of increasing concern as Russia suffers a sharp rise in cases, setting records for infections and deaths nearly every day this month. On Thursday, the national coronavirus task force reported 1,036 deaths and more than 36,000 new infections over the past 24 hours.

6:10 a.m.: Millions more Americans can get a COVID-19 booster and choose a different company’s vaccine for that next shot, federal health officials said Thursday.

Certain people who received Pfizer vaccinations months ago already are eligible for a booster and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says specific Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients qualify, too. And in a bigger change, the agency is allowing the flexibility of “mixing and matching” that extra dose regardless of which type people received first.

The Food and Drug Administration had already authorized such an expansion of the nation’s booster campaign on Wednesday, and it was also endorsed Thursday by a CDC advisory panel. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky had the final word on who gets the extra doses.

6:05 a.m.: The Iranian capital Tehran has held its main public Friday prayer service for the first time in 20 months, after it was halted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers said beforehand that all health protocols would be followed to protect the expected hundreds of worshippers during the ceremony at Tehran University. Iran’s National Coronavirus Taskforce, which had ordered a halt to the prayers, authorized its resumption.

Public Friday prayers have been underway in other cities, especially in smaller towns across the country since the summer. Individual mosques have been free to hold normal services since early October.

The move comes as Tehran hosts over 400 Muslim scholars and religious leaders for a meeting known as the International Islamic Unity Conference.

Tehran’s communal Friday prayer was halted for 20 months over the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 124,700 people and left some 4,400 in critical conditions in hospitals since the February 2019. The statistics show Iran as having the worst COVID-19 fatality rate in the Middle East.

6 a.m.: Deadlines have passed for thousands of GTA hospital workers to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with some now being placed on unpaid leave or facing termination.

At the Hospital for Sick Children, 98 per cent of the hospital’s 8,258 staff members — including 100 per cent of its active physicians — are fully vaccinated.

But 145 staff have been placed on unpaid leaves of absence for not complying with the hospital’s mandatory vaccine policy or failing to provide proof of their status, though some are still in the process of submitting their required documentation, said Sick Kids in an email to the Star.

“We anticipate the number of staff on leaves of absence will decrease over the coming days,” said spokesperson Jessamine Luck in an emailed statement.

Read the full story from the Star’s Megan Ogilvie.

5:50 a.m.: Worried that the flu and COVID-19 could trigger a winter-time double-whammy of new infections and deaths, France is forging ahead with a nationwide vaccination and booster-shot program against both diseases, offering simultaneous jabs to millions of at-risk people.

The annual flu vaccination campaign kicked off Friday, four days earlier than initially planned, dovetailing with France’s COVID-19 vaccination program that as well as trying to reach those who remain unvaccinated is also providing booster shots to those in need.

French health authorities, in instructions issued this week, urged doctors, nurses, pharmacists and midwives to “systematically promote both vaccinations” to at-risk people eligible for COVID-19 booster and flu shots. The note said the jabs can be given the same day, one in each arm.

It added that the onset of the winter flu season with the pandemic ongoing “increases the risk of co-infection and the development of serious cases and deaths.”

5:40 a.m.: The federal government will spend $7.4 billion on a revamped suite of targeted pandemic supports in the months after several major relief programs expire on Saturday.

As the Star first reported late Wednesday, the Canada Response Benefit (CRB) — which replaced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit last year — will wind down for good on Oct. 23.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Thursday morning that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) will also officially expire on the same day.

“Our economy is rebounding, and we are winning the fight against COVID. However, it’s also true that the recovery is uneven, and that the health measures that are saving lives continue to restrict some economic activity,” Freeland told reporters alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outside a children’s hospital in Ottawa.

Read the full story from the Star’s Raisi Patel.

5:25 a.m.: Fully vaccinated Canadian travellers will be able to prove their status with provincially issued vaccine passports that sport machine-readable QR codes and the endorsement of the federal government — and starting Nov. 30, they won’t be able to fly without one.

Meanwhile, Ontario residents will need the newest version of the province’s vaccination credential to enter restaurants, gyms, concert halls and stadiums starting Oct. 22.

Ontario began issuing the newly standardized documents in the past week. The Ford government said Thursday that about four million Ontario residents had already downloaded the updated proof of vaccination.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tonda MacCharles.

5 a.m.: Finally, a reason to look forward to Monday.

Restaurants, bars and fitness centres can begin welcoming more customers starting Monday under a long-awaited easing of Ontario’s COVID-19 capacity limits, the Star has learned.

The moves are part of a “comprehensive” road map to be laid out Friday by Premier Doug Ford and chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore for the next phase of the province’s pandemic reopening plan, sources said.

Bolstered by the lack of a post-Thanksgiving spike in new cases, the liberalization follows a steady easing of restrictions in recent months and will be announced as a new system of smartphone QR codes for proof of vaccination at non-essential venues takes effect Friday.

Read the full story by the Star’s Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson.

4:30 a.m.: Taking their strongest stance yet on mandatory vaccination, Toronto police announced Thursday that officers who don’t have both doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of November will no longer be paid and can’t come into work, having “rendered themselves unable to perform their duties.”

As of Nov. 30, any Toronto police employee who is not fully vaccinated or has not disclosed this status will be placed on an “indefinite unpaid absence” — a move lauded by one physician as a “positive step” towards protecting the public, who often have no choice but to interact with officers. These employees will also not be permitted to enter Toronto police buildings or facilities.

And, effective immediately, unvaccinated officers — a category that includes anyone who has not disclosed their status to police — are ineligible for promotion to supervisory or management positions. In the statement, Toronto police chief James Ramer stressed that COVID-19 vaccination “protects the health and safety of each of our members, our workplaces and the public we serve.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Wendy Gillis.





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Police need help finding killer of Ontario man with Hell’s Angels ties


A man killed near Carleton Place, Ont., last fall had ties to outlaw biker gangs and was likely bludgeoned to death inside a former meat-packing plant he’d converted to a legal cannabis grow-op, provincial police say.

Ontario Provincial Police released new details Thursday in the killing of 39-year-old Greg Slewidge, whose badly beaten body was found just outside the eastern Ontario town on Sept. 24, 2020.

“I’m confident there’s people in the Ottawa area that have information that can help us identify the culprit or culprits responsible for Greg’s murder,” said Det. Insp. Chris Landry, from the OPP’s criminal investigation branch.

“I encourage them to come forward with that information.”

Slewidge was the son of Lyndon Slewidge, a retired OPP officer who sang the national anthem at Ottawa Senators’ games for more than two decades.

Shortly before Greg Slewidge was killed, a dark-coloured sedan was seen entering the facility at 1864 Scotch Corners Rd., Landry told reporters.

A member of the Hell’s Angels, Slewidge had rented the former meat-packing facility in 2017 and used it for a legal cannabis growing operation, Landry said.

There was no sign of forced entry, he added.

Ontario Provincial Police have also announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Slewidge’s killing. (OPP)

In the ensuing attack, Slewidge sustained “blunt force injuries consistent with some type of hard object,” Landry later told CBC in an interview, and the attack was carried out by one or several suspects who may have been wearing “construction-type work boots.”

“Maybe [people] know somebody that purchased boots like this in and around the time of Greg’s murder. Maybe they disposed of boots like this at around the time of Greg’s murder,” said Landry.

“I want to hear from them.”

Det. Insp. Chris Landry is from the OPP’s criminal investigations branch. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Tip line launched

In order to get more information, OPP unveiled a van Thursday adorned with a prominent photo of Slewidge and a tip line people can call if they have information.

The van will travel to different communities, the OPP said, while investigators will go door-to-door, sharing pamphlets about the homicide. The tip line is 1-844-478-5656.

“We are confident we can help Greg Slewidge’s family find resolution,” said Craig Abrams, superintendent of operations for OPP East Region.

“Our shared goal is to find out what happened to Greg, and discover why he met with foul play.”



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Travel news: ‘Bridgerton’ invites you to the ball, more outdoor foodie events in Ontario, where to find the fanciest jet-lag cure


“Bridgerton” soirées

Did binge-watching “Bridgerton” spark a desire to time-travel to Regency-era London? Coming in early 2022, “The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience” aims to take you there, at least in spirit. The event, co-produced by Netflix, Shondaland and Fever, will tour worldwide, with Montreal, Chicago and L.A. among the first cities. Expect a string quartet playing covers, acrobatic performances, actors in period costumes and a ball dancing show.

Foodie events

This year's Toronto Cider Festival (on until Oct. 11) will include two out-of-town picnic experiences.

This year’s Toronto Cider Festival (on until Oct. 11) will include two out-of-town experiences. Book tickets for a ciders-and-charcuterie picnic at Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in Caledon or Small Talk Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake; you’ll receive an itinerary of other spots to explore in the area, too.

Also kicking off soon is the “Feast On the Farm” event series by the Culinary Tourism Alliance. Indulge in food and drink at the New Farm in Creemore, Ont. (Sept. 26 to 27), Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ont. (Oct. 24 to 25) — and other to-be-announced locations next year.

Picture show

The late Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh, considered one of the greatest portraitists of the 20th century, is the subject of a new exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “The World of Yousuf Karsh” (Sept. 22 to Jan. 30) will feature images of VIPs including Albert Einstein, Ingrid Bergman, Ernest Hemingway, Nelson Mandela and many more — though the show represents a sliver of the artist’s prolific work, which spanned more than 15,300 sittings over his career.

Spa news

In a destination synonymous with beauty secrets, there’s a chi-chi newcomer on the scene: Dior Spa Cheval Blanc has just opened in Paris, with six treatment suites. If “budget” isn’t in your vocabulary, signature services include “Sensorial Choreography” (from €420, or about $630, for one hour), a fatigue-erasing face and body treatment done by two spa pros at once. Consider it the fanciest jet-lag remedy.

Sign up at thestar.com/newsletters to get our weekly Travel Headlines newsletter in your inbox. Travellers are reminded to check on public health restrictions that could affect their plans.





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Bridge linking Montreal to highway toward Ontario to be closed for safety concerns


MONTREAL — One of the main bridges motorists use to travel from Montreal to Ontario on the Trans-Canada Highway system has been closed for safety reasons.

MONTREAL — One of the main bridges motorists use to travel from Montreal to Ontario on the Trans-Canada Highway system has been closed for safety reasons.

Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel said Thursday on Twitter engineers decided to close the Île-aux-Tourtes bridge for the safety of its users.

A Transport Department news release said workers observed damage to reinforcing rods that could have weakened the structure of the aging bridge.

Shortly after 5 p.m., traffic cameras showed access to the bridge closed off, and the Transport Department said the closure is expected to have significant repercussions on traffic.

The Île-aux-Tourtes bridge links the western tip of the Island of Montreal with the town of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., and is used by 87,000 vehicles a day, 10 per cent of which are trucks.

The bridge was put into service in 1965, and the Quebec government says it is in the planning stages of rebuilding the structure.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press





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