A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada and restrictions being brought in to try to stem the spread of the Omicron variant:
— Quebec is reporting for a third day in a row a record number of cases of COVID-19 with the Omicron variant accounting for nearly 80 per cent of new cases. The province says there are 5,043 new infections and eight additional deaths. Hospitalizations also rose by 18 from the day before to 415. In Montreal, Mayor Valerie Plante reintroduced a state of emergency, which had been lifted in August. The city’s 8,033 active cases are the most of any region in Quebec. But the province’s public health institute says the Estrie region, east of Montreal, is the most affected on a per-capita basis.
— Testing centres for COVID-19 in Quebec are being overwhelmed, with long lineups to get a test and delays in results. The union representing 5,400 laboratory technicians in the province says the recent surge in demand for testing is pushing labs to their limits. Labs have been processing about 40,000 tests a day, and they hit a high of 46,830 tests on Dec. 15. Health Minister Christian Dubé has asked that only people with symptoms seek a test.
— Several hospitals in Ontario have introduced stricter visitor policies. Unity Health Toronto and the University Health Network say in-patients with stays shorter than seven days will not be allowed visitors. Some hospitals will allow two designated visitors if the stay is longer than seven days and they show proof of vaccination and identification. The province is reporting 3,453 new cases and 11 deaths linked to the disease.
— Ontario is investigating complaints of businesses or individuals reselling rapid antigen COVID-19 tests. Those caught may face fines. Consumer Services Minister Ross Romano says reselling kits is considered a breach of government emergency orders. Fines can range from $750 to $100,000 for individuals, up to $500,000 for company directors and up to $10 million for corporations.
— The Omicron variant is prompting British Columbia to tighten its public health restrictions. Starting at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres, and dance studios must close. All seated events will be reduced to half capacity. Indoor gatherings, including weddings, will have to cancel. Restaurants and cafés to stay open, but seating will be limited to six people at a table and physical distancing must be followed.
— Atlantic Canada’s four premiers are urging the public to exercise caution during the holiday season. They stress the importance of following public health guidance and say gatherings should be limited to a small circle of friends and family members. Prince Edward Island has also joined Newfoundland and Labrador in announcing isolation requirements for visitors. Premier Dennis King says beginning Wednesday anyone arriving in P.E.I. will have to isolate for four days and have two negative rapid tests to leave isolation.
— Nova Scotia is joining others in Atlantic Canada in tightening restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the Omicron variant. Starting Wednesday at 6 a.m., limits for indoor and outdoor informal gatherings will be reduced to 10 people from 20. In-person events, including festivals, sports games and tournaments, and arts and cultural performances will be prohibited. Retail businesses, malls, museums, and libraries to operate at half capacity. Restaurants and bars also to operate at half capacity, but table limits will be reduced to 10 from 20.
— Saskatchewan is not expecting to tighten public health measures for the holidays despite new projections. The projections released by the province suggest that Omicron-driven cases and hospitalizations will increase dramatically by the end of the month without stronger interventions. Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says he will be watching the situation closely and the government’s response must be proportionate, fast and flexible.
— Two of Canada’s largest business groups are calling on provinces to provide financial support for restaurants, retailers and small businesses grappling with renewed public health restrictions. Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business say in an open letter that new rules, coupled with widespread fears of the spiking Omicron variant, have prompted many Canadians to cancel holiday plans and shop online. However, many businesses still don’t qualify for federal government support as their operations aren’t fully locked down.
— Manitoba’s Opposition NDP is calling on the province to provide financial support to businesses that will be affected by the latest round of restrictions and additional resources to help them enforce public health orders. New restrictions limit capacity to 50 per cent for vaccinated people at gyms, movie theatres and restaurants.
— Travel in and out of the Nunavut hamlet of Pangnirtung is being limited to essential purposes only after two cases of COVID-19 were identified. The territory’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, says the threat of Omicron led to the decision to tighten public health measures to limit potential spread to other communities. It’s not yet known if the cases are the Omicron variant.
— Alberta is broadening eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. Premier Jason Kenney says anyone 18 and older can book a third shot, provided their second one was more than five months ago. Kenney says vaccines are the best protection against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
— Canada’s Olympic team doctor says he is confident Canadian athletes can participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics safely even as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads. Dr. Mike Wilkinson says much was learned at the Tokyo Summer Games and mitigating measures are in place to get athletes in and out safely. The International Olympic Committee has brought in tighter safetymeasuresfor Beijing, including mandatory surgical or N95 masks. There will be a mandatory three-week quarantine upon arrival in China for unvaccinated participants.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2021.
The Canadian Press