Today’s coronavirus news: Merck applies for emergency approval of promising anti-COVID pill; Boston Marathon returns for the first time since the pandemic began

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

7:45 a.m: Drugmaker Merck asked U.S. regulators Monday to authorize its pill against COVID-19 in what would add an entirely new and easy-to-use weapon to the world’s arsenal against the pandemic.

If cleared by the Food and Drug Administration — a decision that could come in a matter of weeks — it would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19. All other FDA-backed treatments against the disease require an IV or injection.

An antiviral pill that people could take at home to reduce their symptoms and speed recovery could prove groundbreaking, easing the crushing caseload on U.S. hospitals and helping to curb outbreaks in poorer countries with weak health care systems. It would also bolster the two-pronged approach to the pandemic: treatment, by way of medication, and prevention, primarily through vaccinations.

The FDA will scrutinize company data on the safety and effectiveness of the drug, molnupiravir, before rendering a decision.

7:30 a.m.: Fast-moving, light rain and weather in the 50s greeted the runners gearing up for the Boston Marathon, which is happening Monday for the first time since the pandemic began.

It’s been 30 months since athletes raced 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) to Copley Square in Boston, the 125th edition of the Boston Marathon, which is the world’s oldest and most prestigious annual marathon.

Race Director Dave McGillivray sent a group of about 30 from the Massachusetts National Guard that walks the course annually out at 6 a.m., announcing the start of the event. McGillivray said after that he was relieved to finally be back.

“It’s a great feeling to be out on the road,” he said. “Everyone is excited. We’re looking forward to a good day.”

Last year’s race was postponed until September because of the pandemic, then called off for the first time in its history. Registered runners were encouraged to complete the distance by themselves as a virtual event. This year’s race was moved from Patriots’ Day in April in hopes that the pandemic would abate.

Everything is different. It’s the first fall edition of the marathon ever. Runners had to show proof that they’re vaccinated or they had to test negative for COVID-19. They’re being bused from Boston at staggered times for a rolling start. They’re not waiting and stretching in the traditional athletes’ village before lining up in corrals. They’re expected to walk to the start and go. Masks are required until they cross the start line.

7:15 a.m.: When COVID-19 vaccination clinics first opened in and around Brockville, volunteers phoned their neighbours to urge them to get a jab with the leftover doses at the end of the day, so none went to waste. At one site, someone out walking a dog nearby was called over to come on in.

Nurses at clinics would fill syringes with the vaccine, handing them over to paramedics who would then disperse to help the housebound, and clinics were set up in social housing complexes. In the summer, the unit followed the crowds and held a clinic at the Brockville Ontario Speedway during a racing event.

A local Giant Tiger opened up its warehouse so that employees and community members could be inoculated, and pharmacies in tiny towns — with populations of 3,000 or so — vaccinated many rural residents. Hockey rinks served as clinics before teams returned to the ice this season.

It took a community to vault this eastern Ontario public health unit to the top of the double-dose vaccination chart, exceeding its own 90 per cent goal on Sept. 27 — just a few weeks after school started.

Today, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit remains the leader in Ontario, with 92 per cent of eligible residents fully vaccinated, and 97 per cent having received one dose. The payoff? Just 23 active cases, according in the unit’s latest numbers, in a population of 170,000 people.

Read the full story by the Star’s Kristin Rushowy.

7 a.m.: For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nova Scotia legislature will sit Tuesday with a full complement of 55 members.

The fall session will open with a speech from the throne that will set the course for the province’s new Progressive Conservative government, which swept to power in the Aug. 17 election.

The Tories captured 31 seats after running a campaign almost exclusively on fixing the province’s ailing health-care system — a focus Premier Tim Houston said won’t change once the sitting is underway.

“I think Nova Scotians can expect to see a continuation of the stamp we put on the campaign,” Houston said following a cabinet meeting last week. “We have our mandate from Nova Scotians and that is to fix health care and that will remain our focus.”

The premier gave few details about pending health-care legislation, but said a number of other areas will also be addressed such as the lack of mental health services and the shortage of affordable housing.

6:05 a.m.: Sydney hairdressers, gyms, cafés and bars reopened to fully vaccinated customers on Monday for the first time in more than 100 days after Australia’s largest city achieved a vaccination benchmark.

Sydney planned to reopen on the Monday after 70% of the New South Wales state population aged 16 and older were fully vaccinated.

By Monday, 73.5% of the target population was fully vaccinated and more than 90% have received at least one dose.

Some businesses opened at midnight due to demand from people impatient to enjoy their freedom.

More pandemic restrictions will be removed at the 80% benchmark, and New South Wales residents will be free to travel overseas for the first time since March last year.

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