Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Dec. 19

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The latest:

Large parts of Canada are starting to hunker down, with new restrictions and lockdowns coming into effect as another wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the Omicron variant saw thousands of new cases across the country over the weekend.

Quebec and Nova Scotia set new records for their daily case counts on Sunday while Ontario reported 4,177 additional infections, 800 more than the previous day.

Other parts of the country were also experiencing a surge in new cases unseen since before the summer as the Omicron variant, identified by the World Health Organization as a potential concern only last month, became increasingly entrenched in Canada.

And while hospitalizations have remained steady in Ontario and some other parts of the country, a recent spike in the number of severe cases in Quebec has added to concerns the rest of the country could soon follow.

A sign advising people of a mask requirement is seen in Montreal on Sunday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In response to the growing wave, several provinces have started to re-impose tighter public health restrictions only days before the start of the holiday season, many of which apply to both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

In Ontario, new limits on indoor gatherings came into effect Sunday as the provincial government struggled to get escalating case counts under control while similar restrictions were set to come down in British Columbia and Quebec on Monday.

Similar restrictions were set to come down in British Columbia and Quebec on Monday.

Quebec reported 3,846 new cases on Sunday, setting an all-time high for the province’s daily tally for the second time in three days, while the number of hospitalizations and people in intensive care because of COVID-19 continued to increase.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, head of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table, had warned Thursday that while hospitalizations in his province had remained fairly steady, he expected a spike in two to three weeks.

WATCH | Ontarians need to reduce contacts, says Brown: 

To blunt impact of Omicron, Ontarians need to reduce contacts: head of province’s COVID-19 science table

Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the advisory group, presented the group’s latest modelling Thursday. It suggests that without “circuit breaker” restrictions to reduce social contacts by about 50 per cent, booster shots alone will likely not be enough to stop daily cases reaching between 6,000 and more than 10,000 per day by the end of 2021. 1:22

“It does cause serious disease,” Brown said in discussing the science table’s latest modelling. “Hospital rates have risen in South Africa where it first took hold. It’s not just a case of the sniffles.”

A Quebec government health-care research institute also said Thursday that it expects more than 700 non-ICU hospitalizations in the province, and more than 160 people in intensive care, within two to three weeks.

However, the institute said it was less confident than usual in its projections because its data on the Omicron variant was based on a single study conducted in South Africa, which has a significantly lower vaccination rate than Quebec.

WATCH | Omicron spreading in nations with high immunity, WHO says: 

Omicron spreading in nations with high immunity, WHO says

The World Health Organization says the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has been reported in 89 countries — with COVID-19 cases doubling approximately every one to three days. 3:47

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia, which imposed new restrictions starting Friday, also reported a new daily record of new infections on Sunday with 476 cases while New Brunswick said it had 108 new cases and Newfoundland and Labrador reported 61 cases.

N.L.’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, said there were 127 active reported cases of COVID-19 in the province, though nobody is in hospital due to the virus.

Education Minister Tom Osborne nonetheless said schools would close for the holiday break beginning Tuesday rather than Thursday and students are to prepare for possible online learning when classes resume on Jan. 4.

N.L. Premier Andrew Furey said everyone has seen the spread of Omicron in other parts of the country and wants to avoid the same situation in his province.

“The spectre of a surge is on our doorstep and we need to address it now before we suffer the same fate. I know it couldn’t come at a worse time,” he said.

The sudden onset of a fifth wave of COVID-19 has pushed testing capacities in many parts of the country to the limit, with long waits for tests and public health officials warning people with symptoms to self-isolate even if they haven’t been tested.

Michelle Hoad, chief executive officer of the Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario, said a pre-existing shortage of technicians combined with the sudden explosion of new cases and tests due to Omicron has pushed already overtaxed labs to the limit.

“The sudden surge in testing now is showing all the cracks in our system,” Hoad said.

“And it is not just a problem in Ontario, it’s across the entire country. So this shortage of medical lab technologist is a problem in every single province and territory.”

WATCH | Canadians scramble to find rapid tests: 

Canadians scramble to find rapid COVID-19 tests

Rapid COVID-19 tests are becoming the hottest holiday item, with long lineups at various sites handing them out across the country. Many were left empty-handed because tests were either snapped up in mere hours due to limited supplies or some sites didn’t have any test kits at all. 2:00

The fifth wave has also sparked a rush for booster shots as the Omicron variant has caused a surge of infections among both vaccinated and unvaccinated Canadians.

Ontario’s science advisers have said two doses of COVID-19 vaccine are only 35 per cent effective against the variant three months after being administered, while a third dose bumps efficacy up to 75 per cent.

The province on Monday will open booster eligibility to all residents aged 18 or over who received their second dose at least three months ago. Other provinces are also expanding their booster campaigns to protect against Omicron.


What’s happening around the world

As of Sunday, more than 274.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.

In Europe, tens of thousands of Vienna residents turned out Sunday night to participate in a “sea of lights” commemoration for the more than 13,000 Austrians who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

PHOTOS | Austria commemorates COVID-19 victims with a ‘sea of lights’: 

In Asia, Sri Lanka will require the showing of a COVID-19 vaccination certificate compulsory for entry to public places starting from Jan. 1, in a renewed attempt to prevent another spike in infections.

In Africa, South Africa will donate just over two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to other African countries to boost the continent’s COVID-19 vaccine drive, the government said.

In the Americas, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro had a “direct and relevant” role in spreading disinformation about the country’s electoral process during live streams on social media, a federal police document reviewed by Reuters said.





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