It’s beginning to look a lot like … last year.
Festive feasts, gift exchanges and winter fun with loved ones are being cancelled or limited as COVID-19 rips through Canada for the second holiday season in a row, the highly-transmissible Omicron variant driving extra caution.
Still, some are moving forward with plans to celebrate, weighing the risk of contracting the disease or relying on vaccinations to provide safety.
“Literally, last Christmas, we kept all the blinds closed because we didn’t want anyone to see that we were eating dinner because we weren’t allowed,” Patricia MacDowell said on the phone from her Montreal home as she stuffed a turkey in preparation for Christmas Eve dinner.
MacDowell is not vaccinated against COVID-19. She said she is having over her mother, her nephew and his partner, who are all vaccinated.
With the Omicron variant spurring high case numbers across the country, MacDowell said she isn’t worried because she is in good health.
It’s just a matter of common sense, she said — people should stay home if they are sick and not give in to fear.
“At least now we’ll be able to leave the curtains open. While we eat, we won’t feel like we’re criminals.”
Toronto-based Dr. Naheed Dosani said it’s “part of his duty” as a front-line worker to forgo another year of in-person celebrating with extended family and friends to protect community health.
“As someone who has provided care for people who have dealt with COVID-19, been very sick with COVID-19 and died from COVID-19, this was a decision that was very natural for me,” said Dosani.
More than 30,000 Canadians have died from COVID-19, more than two-thirds of whom were residents of Quebec and Ontario. Close to two million people have contracted the virus since the pandemic began in early 2020.
“We have come so far and sacrificed so much that, at this time, a decision to put a hold on holiday get-together plans is the right thing to do,” said Dosani, warning that the Omicron variant could overwhelm health-care systems that are already resource-limited.
The doctor posted on social media that he was cancelling his holiday plans, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. But some voiced their opposition to missing another year of traditions, citing vaccinations or negative tests as precautions.
Dosani said the next few weeks are essential in pushing past the current wave of infections. If people follow public health advice, then Canadians will be able to “weather the storm.”
Warnings have been issued by top doctors across the country to ditch large gatherings for small bubbles over the holidays. Public health restrictions vary, depending on the province or territory.
“With Christmas Eve (today) and Kwanzaa beginning on Sunday, I want to repeat my encouragement to all Albertans to cut their in-person social contacts by at least half over the holidays,” said Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, on Thursday.
“Our family cancelled our in-person gathering even though it would have been in compliance with current rules. I believe the situation is that serious.”
Canada’s two largest provinces reported record-high COVID-19 case counts on Thursday. Quebec had 9,397 new cases and Ontario 5,790.
Quebec is allowing groups of 10 to gather for the Christmas, but come Boxing Day, gathering sizes will be reduced to six people or two family bubbles.
Ontario indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. And in Alberta, 10 adults can gather, with no limits on the number of children.
The federal government advised earlier this month against international travel.
Toronto publicist Tracy Lamourie said she had planned a girls’ trip with her mother to the Mediterranean island of Malta for January. They’re double vaccinated and she’s not worried about the virus, but said with the uncertainty of flights and changing restrictions around the world they will likely delay the holiday.
“We have not cancelled it quite yet though and are still hopeful that there will be good news,” she said in an email.
“It’s the possibility of flights being cancelled and air travel being grounded, getting us stranded away from home that is most frightening.
“It feels like we are right back in March 2020 … and that is hard to deal with.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2021.
Immigration: Canada border tragedy a sign of what's ahead – CTV News
PEMBINA, N.D. —
The discovery of four people who perished in the cold trying to cross the Canada-U.S. border could put a new twist on the immigration debate in the United States.
The group, which included an infant and a teen, were found Wednesday near Emerson, Man., just metres from the Canadian side.
U.S. officials allege they were part of a larger group of Indian migrants trying to cross into the U.S. from Canada.
Border expert Kathryn Bryk Friedman, a University at Buffalo law professor, calls it a troubling sign that the country’s immigration challenges are getting worse.
Friedman says the discovery is likely a “warning shot” that more people are willing to put their lives on the line to enter the U.S., even on foot in the dead of winter.
Florida resident Steve Shand is to appear in court Monday in Minneapolis to face human smuggling charges.
“I do think it’s a warning shot,” said Friedman, who remarked about the enduring appeal life in the U.S. seems to hold for people all around the world.
Indeed, the crush of South American migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border has become a defining characteristic of American politics in recent years, most notably during the tenure of former president Donald Trump.
Nor is Canada a stranger to the problem: thousands of asylum seekers crossed the border in Quebec each year while Trump was in office, though the numbers have dropped precipitously since then.
But an organized effort to sneak groups of people into the U.S. from Canada is a new one on Friedman.
“It just demonstrates the allure still — maybe the enduring allure — of trying to get to the United States. It’s really kind of fascinating,” she said.
But a single incident isn’t likely to prompt either country to seriously rethink the way they manage and defend their shared frontier, she added.
“This sounds terrible, but I think it’s going to take more than four people dying at the border to really galvanize action on the part of Canada and the United States.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2022.
Omicron's potential peak has experts cautiously optimistic – CTV News
Canada’s top doctor has said the latest wave of COVID-19 driven by the Omicron variant may have reached its peak.
But while the modelling appears encouraging, experts say the news should be interpreted with cautious optimism.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters on Friday that there are “early indications that infections may have peaked at the national level” based on daily case counts, test positivity, the reproduction number and wastewater data.
“I hope we’re at or nearing the peak, but the problem that I have is where we’ve got some uncertainty in the counting now since we don’t do as much PCR testing as we once did,” Dr. Ronald St. John, former director-general of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, told CTV News Channel on Saturday.
Due to the shortages in PCR testing capacity, many people who develop COVID-19, particularly if they’re not in a high-risk group and have mild or no symptoms, have been unable to get PCR tests.
“We can’t count people who are asymptomatic, so we have to look at other datasets (like) wastewater concentration, things like that, to try to get an understanding of where we are.” St. John said.
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, an infectious disease expert at the University of Manitoba, says the news shows “some optimism that things will slowly get back to normal, what they were like prior to Omicron.”
However, Tam said that hospitalizations and ICU admissions are still climbing across Canada and health systems remain under “intense strain.” Kindrachuk says it’s unclear how quickly we might start seeing hospitalizations and ICU admissions start to decrease.
“I think we’ve learned over and over again from the pandemic is that you know, cases rise and then hospitalizations lag behind … and that trend also stays in place when cases start to recede,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Saturday.
“You may be able to slow down that hospitalization rate over time, but you are still going to have pressure on a health-care system that that has been pushed to its limits.”
Dr. Christine Palmay, a Toronto-based family physician, says the hospitalization and ICU data also leave out a lot of patients dealing with debilitating symptoms. She and her colleagues have seen numerous patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are struggling with the virus at home.
“They’re not captured by ICU stats. They’re not necessarily accessing ER, but they’re not functioning,” she said.
PROVINCES BEGIN EASING RESTRICTIONS
Several provinces have also reported that Omicron may be peaking or close to peaking. In Ontario, Health Minister Christine Elliott said cases are expected to peak this month, followed by a peak in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. Quebec also reported that hospitalizations declined for the third straight day on Saturday.
Wastewater data in B.C. and Alberta have also shown signs that the virus may have peaked. However, health officials in Manitoba and Saskatchewan say it’s too early to tell.
When COVID-19 cases began to reach unprecedented highs throughout Canada last month, provinces and territories imposed numerous health measures affecting restaurants, movie theatres, gyms, in-person schooling and more. Now, some provincial and territorial governments have plans to life some of these restrictions.
Kindrachuk says these restrictions, on top of the rollout of booster shots, appear to have helped plateau cases. However, as these restrictions start to ease, he notes that cases have the potential to rise again.
“When you start to remove those safety breaks, you have the potential that things could start to build back in the opposite direction. So, we have to do it very methodically and certainly with a lot of oversight,” he said.
St. John says he’s also worried about health measures being lifted too quickly.
“We have to wait and stick to our public health measures as long as possible until we can be absolutely sure that we’re coming out of the woods, and I’m not sure that we are yet,” he said.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC News
Ontario reported a drop in COVID-19-related hospitalizations on Saturday, but the numbers remained high in the country’s most populous provinces, which have been hit hard by the pandemic’s Omicron-driven fifth wave.
Despite drops of 88 and 56 hospitalizations in Ontario and Quebec, respectively, there were still more than 7,300 virus-related hospitalizations between the two provinces.
There was also an uptick in patients requiring intensive care, with Ontario reporting 600 patients in ICUs while Quebec had 275 patients listed — in both cases a rise of 10 patients compared with the previous day.
During a briefing on Friday, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said despite signs of stability in patient numbers in some provinces, the toll on hospitals remains heavy, and many hospitals across Canada are under intense strain.
1/4 <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> key concerns 🇨🇦 : during the latest 7-days (Jan 14-20), an average 25,821 new cases were reported daily across Canada. While a 28% decrease over the week prior, infection rates are still high and increasing in some jurisdictions. <a href=”https://t.co/T8pCzvGXeO”>https://t.co/T8pCzvGXeO</a> <a href=”https://t.co/mZX1FPrwvp”>pic.twitter.com/mZX1FPrwvp</a>
More than 10,000 people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals across Canada each day in the past week, surpassing peak daily numbers in all previous waves of the pandemic.
Federal health officials said on Friday that daily case counts, positivity rates and wastewater surveillance show early indications that the pandemic’s Omicron-driven wave has peaked nationally, but the volume of cases is resulting in more hospitalizations and deaths.
Among the provinces reporting data on Saturday, Ontario recorded 47 deaths linked to COVID-19, while Quebec added 68 deaths.
Provinces reporting on Saturday encouraged people to get their booster shot. Tam acknowledged on Friday that might eventually mean a discussion with provinces and territories about what being fully vaccinated entails.
Federal officials have changed their own terminology, referring to a third dose as being “up-to-date” on vaccinations. Many provinces require full vaccination to access certain non-essential businesses, travel and other activities.
Tam noted that globally and across Canada, the numbers of those who’ve received a third dose vary.
For example, in Quebec, which recently opened up third-dose eligibility to all adults, about 39 per cent have received the added dose. The province’s health minister said it intends to expand its vaccine passport to require a third dose once more people have had a chance to get it.
In New Brunswick, about 61 per cent of those aged 50 and older have received a booster dose.
“We know that people who are fully vaccinated and have a booster dose have much better protection against serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said in a statement on Saturday.
While the more transmissible Omicron variant has made clear the necessity for the booster, Tam said it’s not time to have a discussion about changing the definition.
“But we will be re-examining those kind of policies going forward,” she said.
What’s happening across Canada
With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.
For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.
You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.
In British Columbia, due to record-high hospitalizations, COVID-positive patients in hospitals are being placed in the same room with double-vaccinated people who do not have the virus, provincial health officials said.
In the Prairies, a northern First Nation in Manitoba is facing criticism for its lockdown measures after a group of mothers left to buy groceries on Thursday and an attempt was made to prevent them from returning to the community. In Saskatchewan, the chief medical health officer says COVID-19 hospital numbers could go up to as high as 300 to 500 or more in the next few weeks due to the high Omicron infection rate. And in Alberta, a group of Calgary moms is fundraising in an effort to supply 115,000 school staff members in the province with N95 masks.
In Ontario, the head of the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table is calling on the government to change the definition of the term “fully vaccinated” from two doses to three, even though Premier Doug Ford said this week his government wasn’t yet planning to do so.
In Quebec, hundreds of restaurant owners are considering reopening in defiance of public health measures.
In the Atlantic provinces, the test positivity rate in Newfoundland and Labrador dropped from 21.4 per cent on Friday to 15.8 per cent on Saturday; Prince Edward Island registered its fifth COVID-19 death since the start of the pandemic, and New Brunswick recorded its sixth; and Nova Scotia says there are 82 people in designated COVID-19 hospital units, including 11 people in intensive care.
In the North, Northwest Territories health officials say that its modelling suggests the peak of the Omicron wave “may have already passed mid-January” in the territory, and Yukon has confirmed its 16th virus-related death.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday, more than 347.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.58 million.
In Europe, thousands of people gathered to protest vaccine passports and other requirements imposed by governments in hopes of ending the coronavirus pandemic. Demonstrations took place in Athens, Helsinki, London, Paris and Stockholm.
In the Americas, the world-famous Carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro will be held in late April rather than the final weekend of February, as the number of coronavirus cases in Brazil spikes and the Omicron variant spreads across the country.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the prime minister of Samoa has placed the small island nation into a 48-hour lockdown after 15 passengers on a flight from Australia tested positive for COVID-19.
In Africa, the World Bank has approved a loan of $750 million US to South Africa linked to COVID-19, aiming to help protect the poor and support economic recovery from the pandemic, the National Treasury said.
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