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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Jan. 5 – CBC News

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The latest:

Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island joined the list of provinces pushing back the return to in-class learning on Tuesday, with officials in the three provinces saying students will learn at home until at least Jan. 17.

When students do return to island classrooms, there will be masking requirements and additional testing, officials said.

“This was a challenging decision that was based on balancing safety and the overall health and well-being of children,” Dr. Heather Morrison, Prince Edward Island‘s chief public health officer, said in a statement.

The island, which has a high vaccination rate and no COVID-19 deaths to date, is seeing rising case numbers, with 222 new cases on Wednesday. Three people were in hospital being treated for COVID-19, with one person in the ICU.

“It’s not our intention to stay in this restriction situation for any longer than we need to,” Premier Dennis King said Tuesday, as the province was extending a slew of restrictions. “The ‘when’ will be determined by the science, the ‘how’ — that is what we’re working on.”

WATCH | Premier on what’s next for P.E.I.: 

Premier King says he’ll change COVID-19 measures if science supports it

2 days ago

Duration 7:33

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King joins CBC News: Compass to discuss the province’s decision to extend school closures and temporary COVID-19 measures to at least Jan. 17. 7:33

In Nova Scotia, the premier said it was a difficult decision to delay reopening to Jan. 17, but promised that staff and students will be safe when they go back to in-class learning.

Tim Houston said ventilation systems will be improved and that his hope is that every student will have access to a 3-ply mask, “possibly even sitting on their desks waiting for them.”

“There will be COVID in schools,” he said during a briefing. “Everyone should take precautions knowing there is lots of COVID around the province.” 

There are currently 45 people being treated in Nova Scotia hospitals with COVID-19. Houston said none of them are children. 

Students in Manitoba will also begin the new year with online education. The province had previously announced it would delay the return to school until Jan. 10. But on Tuesday, officials announced students would do one week of remote learning as well.

Some children will be able to learn in person, officials said, including students with special needs and children of some essential workers.

WATCH | Houston says schools offer more than academics: 

‘The best place for our children is in school,’ says N.S. premier

19 hours ago

Duration 1:22

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston apologizes for pushing back school reopening to Jan. 17, acknowledging that schools offer everything from food to warmth for many children in the province. 1:22

“We know that our youth learn best in a classroom setting. It is our goal to ensure they can return to the classroom as quickly as possible,” Premier Heather Stefanson said.

Alberta’s education minister confirmed Wednesday that kids in that province in kindergarten through Grade 12 will return to school, as planned, on Jan. 10. Adriana LaGrange said during a briefing that the situation today is very different from at other points during the pandemic, given the addition of vaccines. 

“Approximately 85 per cent of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 have received at least one vaccine dose and around 80 per cent have received two,” she said. LaGrange said while kids aged five to 11 have only been eligible for the shot since late November, 37 per cent already have at least one dose. 

WATCH | LaGrange explains Alberta’s return to school: 

Kids learn best in class, says Alberta education minister

15 hours ago

Duration 2:02

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says kids will return safely to school as planned on Jan. 10, and explains why the province made the decision. 2:02

In Ontario, meanwhile, many students returned to remote school on Wednesday, as school boards across the province launched online learning.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 3 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Trudeau makes appeal to the unvaccinated: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pleads with the unvaccinated to get the shot

19 hours ago

Duration 2:12

Trudeau said that the best way out of the pandemic is still for Canadians to get their vaccines as soon as possible 2:12

With testing capacity strained, 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 plan to 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 detail on what is happening in your community — including details on health systems, test positivity rates and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.

Across the North, COVID-19 is now present in half of Nunavut’s communities, the territory’s top doctor said Wednesday, as officials reported 231 active cases.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer in the Northwest Territories, said on Tuesday that Omicron is now the dominant variant in the territory.

“COVID-19 infections are now in multiple communities and for the first time, there are COVID-19 infections in every region of the territory,” she said, noting that the number of active cases in the territory has doubled since New Year’s Eve.

Officials in Yukon reported two patients in hospital and 66 new cases. The territory announced it is reducing the isolation period for the virus to seven days, providing certain conditions are met. 

In Central Canada, Quebec on Wednesday reported 39 additional deaths and 1,750 hospitalizations. Officials also reported 14,486 new COVID-19 cases today and say about 28 per cent of tests came back positive — the same test-positivity rate as the prior day.

The update comes a day after Quebec officials announced a plan to restrict access to PCR tests for COVID-19 as the province faces increasing strain on the health system. People who are considered “high risk” — including people in hospital, long-term care, shelter systems, correctional facilities and remote communities — will still be able to access the lab-based tests, officials said.

Ontario health officials on Wednesday reported 14 additional deaths and 2,081 hospitalizations. The province also reported 11,582 additional cases, with a test positivity rate of 28.1 per cent.

Meanwhile, the health system in the province is preparing for widespread measures, including patient and staff transfers, to deal with a growing wave of COVID-19 that’s infecting people at an unprecedented rate. The Ontario government announced a series of measures Monday including business and school closures to beat back the Omicron variant spread that’s expected to infect more people. 

In Atlantic Canada, COVID-19 caseloads continue to pile up in Newfoundland and Labrador with 479 new cases Wednesday, with three people in hospital, two more than yesterday. 

Prince Edward Island currently has three people in hospital with COVID-19, with one patient in the ICU. The province reported 222 new cases Wednesday. 

New Brunswick health officials on Wednesday reported 56 people in hospital with COVID-19, no change from Tuesday. There are 16 people in the ICU. A total of 779 new cases were reported, along with three additional deaths. 

The provincial education ministry confirmed that some kids with special needs will be able to return to in-class schooling next week. 

Meanwhile, in Nova Scotia, health officials reported that there are currently 45 people being treated in hospital with COVID-19, with eight in the ICU. There were 842 new cases reported. 

In the Prairie provinces, a spokesperson for Saskatchewan‘s Ministry of Education says more than 1.4 million rapid COVID-19 tests have been distributed through elementary schools, and an additional 250,000 tests were recently sent to schools. The province is encouraging students and staff to take rapid tests before attending class.

Saskatchewan, the only province in Canada not to extend the holiday break for students in the face of surging COVID-19 cases (along with the territory of Yukon), reported 105 COVID-19 patients in hospital on Wednesday, with 13 in the ICU. There were 537 new cases. 

Alberta, which has a daily positivity rate of 36.9 per cent, currently has 470 patients in hospital with COVID-19 and 72 in the ICU. There were 4,752 new cases reported Wednesday and 11 additional deaths. 

In Manitoba, 252 are currently being treated in hospital for COVID-19, with 30 in the ICU. There were 1,790 new cases reported Wednesday, with a daily positivity rate of 40.3 per cent. 

The province has changed its PCR testing eligibility. People who have symptoms will only get a PCR test if they fall into a certain high-risk category, which includes being in hospital, having a compromised immune system, or being a health care worker. 

In British Columbia, officials reported no new deaths Wednesday. There are 317 people being treated in hospital for the virus, with 83 in ICU. The province reported 3,798 new cases.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

WATCH | U.S. reports more than 1 million cases in single day: 

U.S. reports more than 1 million COVID-19 cases in a single day

1 day ago

Duration 2:04

Shattering records, the U.S. recorded more than one million cases of COVID-19 in a single day. Experts warn that testing backlogs mean the real number of Americans infected with COVID-19 is likely much higher. 2:04

As of Wednesday evening, roughly 297.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking system. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.4 million.

In the Americas, U.S. health officials said Wednesday they are not changing the qualifications for being “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19, but they are urging Americans to stay “up to date” on their protection against the virus by getting booster shots when eligible.

The move to keep the existing definition of fully vaccinated — either two doses of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — comes as health officials warned of waning protections from the initial doses. They are encouraging Americans to get additional doses to stave off serious illness and death from the Delta and Omicron variants.

Walmart will now provide up to one week of paid time-off if a worker contracts COVID-19, instead of its earlier policy for up to two weeks, according to a memo seen by Reuters.

Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States with 1.6 million workers, is among the first major retailers to reduce paid leave for COVID-19, and could serve as a bellwether for other major employers.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong authorities announced a two-week ban on flights from the United States and seven other countries and held 2,500 passengers on a cruise ship for coronavirus testing Wednesday as the city attempted to stem an emerging Omicron outbreak. The two-week ban on passenger flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States will take effect Sunday and continue until Jan. 21.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam also announced that restaurant dining will be forbidden after 6 p.m. for two weeks starting Friday. Game arcades, bars and beauty salons must also close during that period.

“We have to contain the pandemic to ensure that there will not be a major outbreak in the community again,” Lam said at a news conference, adding that the city is “on the verge” of another surge.

In the Middle East, coronavirus infections are surging across several Gulf Arab states, with the daily number of cases more than doubling in Saudi Arabia over two days to more than 2,500 and crossing the 1,000-level in Qatar and Kuwait.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Tuesday reported 8,078 new cases of COVID-19 and 139 additional deaths.

In Europe, Italy on Wednesday made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for people over the age of 50, one of very few European countries to take such a step, in an attempt to ease pressure on its health service and reduce fatalities.

Italy has registered more than 138,000 coronavirus deaths since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain.

People who test positive for COVID-19 on rapid lateral flow tests will not need to confirm their results with a follow-up PCR test if they are not showing symptoms, the U.K. Health Security Agency said on Wednesday.

Britain is reporting record daily case numbers, and the UKHSA said that the high prevalence meant the chance of a false positive from a lateral flow device (LFD) was low. Lateral flow tests are rapid tests that can be done at home, without the help of medical professionals.

The move could also reduce the burden on the testing system, and reduce confusion if the test results contradict each other. At current levels of prevalence, officials say a positive LFD result is likely to be accurate, even if a follow-up PCR were negative.

“While cases of COVID continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFDs can be used confidently to indicate COVID-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation,” said UKHSA chief executive Dr. Jenny Harries.

While the move comes into place on Jan. 11 in England, people who develop COVID-19 symptoms should continue to take a PCR test, UKHSA said.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 6 p.m. ET

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Two Canadians die in shooting at Mexican Caribbean resort

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Two Canadians died of gunshot wounds after an argument turned violent at a resort near Cancun on Mexico‘s Caribbean coast, authorities said on Friday.

Both guests at the upscale resort on the Riviera Maya of Quintana Roo state had criminal records, said Mexican officials, citing information from the Canadian police.

Mexican police are searching for another person thought to have fired the shots who had a “long” criminal record in Canada, said the attorney general’s office in Quintana Roo, home to a stretch of white-sand beach resorts and lush jungles.

Quintana Roo’s head of public security, Lucio Hernandez, said on Twitter a gun was fired amid “an argument among hotel guests” at the Hotel Xcaret.

Three people were injured and taken to hospital, Hernandez said. He posted photos of the alleged shooter, showing a man in a gray track suit and black face mask wielding a gun in front of green landscaping.

Xcaret said the incident appeared to be “targeted and isolated” and that the hotel was helping the affected people. “We deeply regret the events that occurred at Hotel Xcaret this afternoon,” it said in a statement.

The Canadian government said it was contacting Mexican authorities and could not provide more details due to privacy considerations.

 

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Lizbeth Diaz and Miguel Angel Gutierrez in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Denny Thomas in Toronto; Editing by William Mallard)

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Omicron wave has likely peaked in Canada: Tam – CTV News

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The latest COVID-19 wave driven by the Omicron variant may have reached its peak, with the average daily case count decreasing by 28 per cent compared to the previous week, says Canada’s top public health official. But hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, which lag behind infections, are still climbing.

“ICU numbers are still rising steeply,” said Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam on Friday.

“The January timeframe, the peak may occur, but the hospitalizations and the ICU admissions may continue to increase for some time. So that’s in February and I really hope that by the end of the next month, we’ll be in a better position.”

Hospitals are seeing very few cases of Delta or other variants, but the high volume of Omicron cases have resulted in an unprecedented number of new daily hospital admissions that exceeded historical maximums over the past week.

An average of more than 10,000 people with COVID-19 are being treated daily in hospitals while more than 1,100 people are in ICU.

“We still have some difficult weeks ahead and potential for more bumps along the way,” Tam said.

“Omicron can cause serious outcomes. We can not trivialize this virus. Many people, particularly those who are at higher risk, get very severely sick and indeed, many have died, and we need to do what we can to prevent those.”

The sheer volume of cases has also resulted in more reports of severe cases among children, but they are still “very rare in terms of rates,” said Tam, adding that the vast majority of severe illnesses still occur among those over the age of 60.

While there was a degree of underestimation due to changes in testing policies, the seven-day average for daily new cases was close to 27,000 as of Jan. 19, she said.

Tam reiterated the strong protective effects of the vaccine and encouraged the public to get their booster shots and vaccinate eligible children. More than 6.5 million eligible Canadians do not have their first or second dose yet and coverage for eligible children currently stands at 51 per cent with at least one dose, she added.

For administrative purposes, including international travel, entering certain public spaces, or doing certain tasks, Tam explained that the definition for “fully vaccinated” still consists of the primary series, or the first two doses for a two-dose vaccine and one dose of the Janssen vaccine.

“But we all know that it is very important to get the booster dose, particularly in the time of Omicron, so we began to switch terminologies now to the concept of being ‘up-to-date’” on all eligible doses, she said.

“Now is not the right time [to change the definition of fully vaccinated] because not everybody’s had the chance to get that additional dose or getting up to date – not in Canada and certainly not globally.”

With expectations that the virus will be here for a long time to come, Tam also addressed questions around the possibility of a fourth vaccine dose. She acknowledged that there are a number of unknowns, but the priority right now is to prevent serious outcomes, even as health officials look at a longer-term approach to tackling the virus.

“Influenza, for example, that’s now an annual vaccine people have that I’ve had for decades every year,” she said.

“There are very good examples of where vaccines can be given time and again over the course of our lives.” 

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC News

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The latest:

Ireland is to scrap almost all its COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday after a major surge in infections did not lead to a significant increase in the numbers requiring intensive hospital care, a senior minister said.

Ireland had the second-highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in Europe just last week but also one of the continent’s highest uptake of booster vaccines, which has helped keep the number of seriously ill people well below the previous peak.

Following advice from public health officials, the government decided that bars and restaurants will no longer need to close at 8 p.m., a restriction put in place late last year when the Omicron wave struck, or to ask customers for proof of vaccination.

Capacity in indoor and outdoor venues is also set to return to full capacity, paving the way for full crowds for next month’s Six Nations rugby championship.

Some measures, such as the need to wear a mask on public transport and in shops, will remain in place for now.

“I am so pleased to be able to say that as of 6 a.m. tomorrow, the vast majority of restrictions that have been in place for almost two years now, on and off, will be lifted,” Justice Minister Helen McEntee said in a video posted on Instagram following a government meeting.

“I don’t think any of us thought we’d actually be getting to this point as quickly as we are now.”

Prime Minister Micheal Martin was due to make a televised address to announce the measures.

The changes would put Ireland back in line with Northern Ireland, which had less-severe restrictions over Christmas and agreed to scrap vaccine passes on Thursday and reopen nightclubs next week.

Ireland’s hospitality sector, which has been particularly hard hit by one of Europe’s toughest lockdown regimes, welcomed the decision.

Nightclubs opened their doors for the first time in 19 months in October only to be shut again six weeks later.

While the economy recovered rapidly last year, around a third of employers have chosen to defer tax payments and the wages of one in 12 workers are still being supported by a state subsidy scheme set to end in April.

-From Reuters, last update at 12:50 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Ontario eyes gradual reopening as experts warn Omicron isn’t over yet: 

Ontario eyes gradual reopening as experts warn Omicron isn’t over yet

18 hours ago

Duration 2:00

Ontario is among the provinces eyeing steps toward reopening as COVID-19 hospitalizations level off, but health officials and experts are warning there is plenty of pandemic still to come. 2:00

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, health officials on Friday said they are shifting their approach to managing the spread of the novel coronavirus. At a midday press conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said health officials in the province must change their way of thinking in light of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

“Right now, with the level of transmission in our community, we have to assume we have been in contact with someone with COVID-19,” Henry said.

“We cannot eliminate all risk, and I think that’s something we need to understand and accept as this virus has changed and has become part of what we will be living with for years to come. But we can use all the layers of protection to keep our settings safe.”

Henry said contact tracing is no longer an effective way of managing COVID-19’s spread. She encouraged people to check themselves every day for symptoms and stay home as necessary. She urged anyone who has not been vaccinated to do so immediately.

In Central Canada, the provincial COVID-19 dashboard in Ontario on Friday showed 4,114 hospitalizations — up by 53 from a day earlier — and 590 people in intensive care units. The province also reported a total of 64 additional deaths and 7,165 additional lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The update comes after Premier Doug Ford announced plans on Thursday to begin a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions over a period of months, with the first step to begin at the end of January.

Quebec cannot begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions because the situation in the province’s hospitals remains too fragile, Premier François Legault said Thursday.

“The situation will continue to be difficult for the next few weeks. I understand that we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault said. “We are currently at the limit in our hospitals.”

The province on Friday reported 3,351 hospitalizations, down 60 from a day earlier. Quebec’s daily COVID-19 situation report showed 265 people in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 59 deaths and 5,995 new lab-confirmed cases.

WATCH | Montreal hospital launches virtual pilot project to treat COVID-19 patients at home: 

Montreal hospital launches virtual pilot project to treat COVID-19 patients at home

22 hours ago

Duration 5:11

Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, head of CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, discusses new pilot project which will offer COVID-19 patients virtual care at home. 5:11

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday that the province has likely still not seen the peak of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“But our ability to manage the situation is improving, thanks to the dedication of multiple teams,” he said, noting that the province is seeing some positive signs, including a return of some health workers from isolation and a reduction in contacts.

The province, which is currently under tight COVID-19 restrictions, recently put out an urgent call for volunteers and workers to help with the pandemic response. The province saw a “huge” response, Higgs said, and work is underway to match offers to help to areas where assistance is needed.

New Brunswick health officials on Thursday said total hospitalizations had increased to 124, including 12 people in intensive care units. The province also reported an additional three deaths and 488 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Newfoundland and Labrador students will be back in classrooms next week, officials said Thursday at a COVID-19 briefing. Students will have to take two rapid tests before returning to school. One of the tests is to occur 72 hours before they return and the other on Tuesday morning, before classes begin.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, who reported two additional deaths and a total of 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations, said Thursday that at this time, “the benefits of being in school for children outweigh the risks of COVID-19.” The province also reported an additional 360 lab-confirmed cases.

In New Brunswick, officials reported two new deaths and 124 hospitalizations on Friday. Twelve of those patients are in intensive care units.

In Nova Scotia, health officials reported three additional deaths on Thursday. In an update posted online, the province said there were 85 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID-19 and receiving specialized care, including 12 people in ICU. The province also reported an additional 696 lab-confirmed cases.

In Prince Edward Island, health officials on Thursday said in a statement there were 10 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including two in intensive care. Three other people were in hospital who were positive for COVID-19.

The province, which has now seen a total of three recorded COVID-19 related deaths, also reported an additional 249 cases.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba health officials on Friday reported 827 new cases and said a total of 664 hospitals, with 50 people are in intensive care units. The province also reported seven additional deaths.

Saskatchewan on Thursday reported 215 hospitalizations, with 23 people in intensive care units. According to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard, there were no additional deaths and 1,158 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Six of Saskatchewan’s largest unions representing 113,000 front-line workers are demanding more safety measures to blunt the rise of hospitalizations.

In Alberta, health officials on Thursday said there were 1,131 people in hospital with COVID-19 — the highest level the province has seen during the pandemic — with 108 in intensive care units. The province also reported eight additional deaths and 3,527 additional lab-confirmed cases.

To prepare for a swell of hospitalizations, the government said it is building additional bed capacity, maximizing the workforce with nursing students and opening COVID-19 community clinics.

Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said the number of patients receiving care for COVID-19 has increased by about 40 per cent over the last week. Admissions to intensive care have jumped by about 18 per cent.

There are also more health-care staff having to isolate than in previous waves, she said. About five per cent of AHS staff are off sick at any given time and between 18 and 20 per cent of shifts are being missed daily due to challenges related to the pandemic.

“It has been a long two years, but now is not the time to let your guard down,” said Yiu.

Across the North, Nunavut on Friday reported 20 new additional lab-confirmed cases, with no additional deaths. Health officials in the Northwest Territories and Yukon had not yet provided updated information for the day.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 3:20 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

WATCH | Europe loosening COVID-19 restrictions despite high case numbers: 

Europe loosening COVID-19 restrictions despite high case numbers

19 hours ago

Duration 2:02

European countries are starting to loosen their COVID-19 restrictions with Britain at the front of the pack despite the presence of some staggeringly high case numbers and concern from experts that it’s too soon. 2:02

As of Friday afternoon, more than 344.7 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 5.5 million.

In Europe, health ministers in the European Union will try to find a common line on Friday over a potential fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, amid a surge in cases sparked by the Omicron variant.

Meanwhile, daily new coronavirus infections in Russia reached an all-time high Friday and authorities blamed the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova on Friday noted “intensive spread of the Omicron variant” and said the authorities “expect it to become the dominating” variant driving the outbreak. The state coronavirus task force Golikova heads reported 49,513 new infections on Friday.

Record numbers of new cases were reported respectively in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. In light of the surge, health officials in St. Petersburg on Friday limited elective outpatient care.

Golikova on Friday urged Russians who received their vaccinations or recovered from the virus more than six months ago to “head to a vaccination point again in order to protect yourself from the virus” with a booster.

Also Friday, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered cabinet members to hold meetings online and have their staff work remotely “where possible.”

Just about half of Russia’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, despite the fact that Russia was among the first in the world to approve and roll out a COVID-19 vaccine. In Russia, everyone who received their primary vaccination more than six months ago has been eligible for a booster shot since July.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Bangladesh closed all schools and colleges for two weeks to counter an “alarming” rise in infections, just four months after ending a lengthy year school closure imposed due to coronavirus.

Japan acted to contain a record surge in cases with a return to curbs that have, however, shown diminishing results, while a laggard vaccine booster program leaves many people vulnerable to breakthrough infections.

A girl receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at her school in Kathmandu last week. Classrooms are being closed in the face of rising Omicron cases. (Niranjan Shrestha/The Associated Press)

Nepal’s capital shut schools, ordered citizens to carry vaccination cards in public, banned religious festivals and instructed hotel guests to be tested every three days as it battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak.

The chief government administrator of Kathmandu issued a notice on Friday saying all people must carry their vaccination cards when they are in public areas or stores.

Nepal, however, has only fully vaccinated just over 40 per cent of its population, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. The notice did not say how unvaccinated people will be able to do tasks such as shop for groceries.

The government says it has enough vaccines in stock, but a new wave of COVID-19 cases propelled by the Omicron variant has created long lines at vaccination centres, with many people unable to receive shots.

People walk through Shinjuku area on Friday in Tokyo, Japan. As Japan sees a surge in COVID-19 infections due to the more transmissible Omicron variant, the government has implemented measures such as reduced hours for bars eateries in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. (Yuichi Yamakazi/Getty Images)

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. South Africa’s health ministry on Thursday reported 3,962 additional cases of COVID-19 and 139 additional deaths, though officials noted a data cleanup was contributing to the increased death figures.

In the Middle East, Israel will ditch mandatory quarantine for children exposed to COVID-19 carriers, the government said on Thursday, citing a need to relieve parents and schools as case numbers spiral due to the fast-spreading but low-morbidity Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that as of Jan. 27, children will instead be required to take twice-weekly home antigen tests for the virus and, if they prove positive or feel unwell, absent themselves from school until they recover. The home kits will be supplied free of charge, he said.

In the Americas, President Joe Biden will urge U.S. mayors to use more of their state and local COVID-19 aid funds to expand their workforces, a White House official said, an effort partly aimed at easing economic bottlenecks and inflation.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:45 p.m. ET

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