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



The latest:

Alberta is limiting PCR testing as the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant pushes the testing system “beyond its capaciity,” says the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“As many Albertans have found, just getting an appointment for a swab takes several days and the time to get results back is now close to 48 hours after the swab is taken,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news conference Monday.

As a result, PCR testing will now be limited to people with risk factors for severe outcomes and those who live or work in high-risk settings. This includes continuing care residents, health-care workers and staff in acute and continuing care settings, shelters and correctional facilities.

The province on Monday reported there are 635 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 131 more than Friday’s update, with 72 patients in ICU. Six new deaths have been reported since Friday, along with 17,577 new lab-confirmed cases.

WATCH | Alberta limits who can get a PCR test: 

Alberta to narrow eligibility for PCR testing

5 hours ago

Duration 3:11

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, announced a reduction in availability for PCR testing due to a rise in demand. PCR testing will be focused on specific categories of people in the province. 3:11

This comes the same day as students in Alberta and British Columbia returned to classrooms after an extended holiday break.

The question of when students should return to class, and under what conditions, has been a subject of debate across the country as provinces and territories shifted plans in the face of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Rapid tests and medical-grade masks will be distributed through Alberta schools, provincial officials have said, with all schools expected to have their initial shipment by the end of this week.

“Both rapid tests and masks will be shipped in phases,” read a statement issued by the province last week.

Edmonton Public Schools and the Alberta Teachers’ Association have expressed concern over the fact that the supplies won’t be on hand for everyone immediately, saying that could further exacerbate the lightning spread of Omicron cases.

Hinshaw has said returning to in-person learning is important for students’ mental wellness.

A student goes back to school on the first day returning to class at Eric Hamber Secondary School in Vancouver on Monday. The winter break was extended by a week for most students as much of the country contends with a surge in COVID-19 cases. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In British Columbia, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside has said safety measures will include virtual assemblies, visitor restrictions, staggered break times and access to three-layered masks as schools navigate this wave of COVID-19. School attendance will be monitored and an unusual dip will trigger a response from public health, which may include an investigation, the use of rapid tests or a temporary shift to how students learn, she said.

“To help with effective information-sharing, parents are encouraged to report rapid test results to public health and to ensure they contact the school if their child is staying home because of illness,” she said.

Teri Mooring, head of the BC Teachers’ Federation, has said she would like to see teachers prioritized for COVID-19 booster shots and N95 masks, which should be available for use in schools. Enhanced masking, using HEPA filters and ensuring teachers have their third shots will support schools in staying open, she said.

The province — which had allowed some children of essential workers and learners with some disabilities back into classrooms last week — has warned there may be functional closures due to staff illness and that COVID-19 exposure notices will no longer be sent unless there are significant dips in attendance.

B.C. on Monday reported that 431 people are now in hospital with COVID-19, including 95 in intensive care. It also reported seven more deaths and 6,966 new lab-confirmed cases since Friday.

Schools across Ontario will reopen for in-person learning on Jan. 17 sources with knowledge of the decision said Monday.

Premier Doug Ford switched schools to remote learning on Jan. 5.

Ontario reported 2,467 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, with 438 in intensive care units. The province, which reported 12 additional deaths, also recorded 9,706 lab-confirmed cases.

Manitoba has also confirmed that students will return to the classroom on Monday, Jan. 17, ending a brief period of remote learning after an extended holiday break.

Education Minister Cliff Cullen said the province has invested over $63 million to ensure classrooms are safe for students. 

The province on Monday reported a jump in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations over the weekend, up to 378 from 297 reported on Friday. The number of ICU patients also rose and is now at 39.

The province reported 2,383 new lab-confirmed cases and 19 new deaths over the last three days. The five-day test positivity rate now stands at 49 per cent, according to provincial data

— From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 9 p.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Ontario First Nation gets military help: 

Ontario First Nation receives military help after half of community gets COVID-19

1 day ago

Duration 1:59

The chief of Bearskin Lake First Nation in northern Ontario is calling for more support from the Canadian government amid a COVID-19 outbreak that has affected at least half of the residents. Four Canadian Rangers are working in the community, and four more have been promised. 1:59

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.

Quebec‘s Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda has offered to resign after nearly 12 years in the position.

The offer comes as hospitals across the province reach their highest alert, reducing services  in the face of overcrowding. 

Quebec health officials tracking COVID-19 reported 26 additional deaths and 2,554 hospitalizations on Monday, with 248 in intensive care units. The province reported 10,573 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday reported two additional deaths and said hospitalizations stood at four. The province recorded an additional 455 lab-confirmed cases.

The province also reported several hundred additional cases after test results came back from out of province. In a statement, the province said because of strain on the provincial laboratory, between Dec. 29 and Jan. 6, samples were sent out of province for testing. 

“An additional 680 cases are being reported today arising from these results,” said a statement released Monday.

Health Minister John Haggie held a COVID-19 briefing on Monday, his first public appearance since testing positive himself on Jan. 1.

“It’s one of those COVID experiences I could really have done without. It was really a miserable time, and I feel better,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prince Edward Island reported 320 new lab-confirmed cases over two days, with five people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. 

New Brunswick’s premier says the province may revisit mandatory COVID-19 vaccines.

“I think it’s something that will get further discussion in New Brunswick, and probably across the country,” said Premier Blaine Higgs.

The province reported 220 new lab-confirmed cases, with the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 rising to 86. As of Monday, all New Brunswickers 18 and older are now eligible to book an appointment for a booster, as long as five months have passed since their second dose.

Health officials in Nova Scotia reported 816 new lab-confirmed cases over two days, as well as three deaths and 59 people in hospital with COVID-19.

In the Prairies, the number of patients with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan hospitals rose to 119 on Sunday, with no additional deaths reported. The province, which as of Sunday was reporting 13 ICU cases, recorded 1,099 additional lab-confirmed cases.

WATCH | Changes to how Saskatchewan tracks hospitalizations: 

Sask. changes how hospitalizations are reported amid patient surge

1 day ago

Duration 2:01

As COVID-19 hospitalizations soar, Saskatchewan has started to track, and report, patients that were admitted for virus-related illness and those admitted for other reasons separately. 2:01

In the North, Nunavut reported 14 new lab-confirmed cases over two days, while Yukon reported 197 new lab-confirmed cases over three days, with two people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Officials in the Northwest Territories reported 220 cases over two days.

— From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 9 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

A group of young students wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 attend their first class after Christmas holidays at Luis Amigo school in Pamplona, Spain, on Monday. (Alvaro Barrientos/The Associated Press)

As of Monday evening, roughly 310 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkin University’s case tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at around 5.5 million.

In Europe, Italy targeted the unvaccinated with a host of new coronavirus restrictions on Monday, with proof of vaccination or recovery from a recent infection required to enter public transit, coffee shops, hotels, gyms and other everyday activities.

The new “super” health pass requirement, which eliminates the ability to show just a negative test to gain access to services, comes as many Italians return to work and school after the Christmas and New Year holidays. COVID-19 infections are soaring past 100,000 per day in Italy.

The government has responded to the Omicron-fuelled wave of infections by passing new restrictions aimed at encouraging vaccine holdouts to get the shots or be increasingly shut out of recreational and even essential activities, such as taking a bus or subway to work.

Italy, where the coronavirus outbreak first erupted in Europe in February 2020, has fully vaccinated more than 80 per cent of people over 18, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

A man shows his ‘Super Green Pass’ before getting on a train at Termini main train station in Rome. Italy brought in tougher rules for the unvaccinated Monday. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

But two million people out of Italy’s population of 60 million are currently positive, impacting essential services. School districts have complained they don’t have enough teachers to reopen, since so many are positive or in quarantine. Some train service has been curtailed because of labour shortages.

Doctors’ associations, meanwhile, have said the surge is hitting Italy’s hospitals hard. Some 16,000 COVID-19 patients are in the hospital and 1,600 are in intensive care, but that is well short of the 4,000 people in intensive care units during the height of the first wave. Officials say around two-thirds of those now hospitalized are unvaccinated.

In the Asia-Pacific region, India began administering vaccine boosters to front-line workers and vulnerable elderly people, as Omicron fuelled a rapid increase in cases.

The Chinese city of Tianjin tightened exit controls and is requiring residents to obtain approval from employers or community authorities before leaving town to block the spread of Omicron.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa — one of the first countries to raise the alarm about the Omicron variant — on Monday reported 77 deaths and 2,409 additional cases of COVID-19.

In the Americas, Mexico hit a record for daily infections over the weekend and its official death toll rose to 300,334 on Sunday, while Brazil’s climbed to 619,981.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Chicago school leaders cancelled class a fourth day in the nation’s third-largest district as negotiations with the teachers’ union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols failed to produce an agreement over the weekend.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said in a joint statement Sunday evening that there wasn’t “sufficient progress” in talks to resume in-person classes Monday, extending disruptions into a second school week. But they vowed negotiations would continue “through the night.”

Disputed issues included testing and metrics to close schools. The Chicago Teachers Union wants the option to revert to districtwide remote instruction, and most members have refused to teach in-person until there’s an agreement or the latest COVID-19 spike subsides. But Chicago leaders reject districtwide remote learning, saying it’s detrimental to students and schools are safe. Instead, Chicago opted to cancel classes as a whole, two days after students returned from winter break.

In the Middle East, health officials in Iran on Monday reported 37 additional deaths and 1,932 new cases.

— From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 8:30 p.m. ET

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Trudeau says Canada fears armed conflict in Ukraine as Russia ramps up aggression – CTV News



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is once again condemning mounting aggression from Russia against Ukraine, indicating that Canada fears the situation could dissolve into armed conflict.

Trudeau said Russia’s military buildup at various regions along the border is “absolutely unacceptable” and that Canada is ready to proceed with “serious consequences” should the situation further escalate.

“We do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine. We’re very worried about the position of the Russian government, what they’re saying and the fact that they’re sending soldiers to the Ukrainian border. This is a concern shared by our allies around the world,” he said, speaking in French.

Trudeau held a call with key ministers on the file on Tuesday evening, including Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly who is meeting with top officials in Ukraine this week.

He reiterated that Canada continues to support the Ukrainian armed forces and national guard in training exercises through Operation UNIFIER.

The mission is expected to expire in March 2022 and when asked if the government would announce an extension, Trudeau said only that the operation is a “continued commitment.”

The U.K. and the U.S. have begun sending defence weaponry to Ukraine in response to direct requests. The Canadian government has said they are very aware of needs and will make a decision about this level of support in a “timely manner.”

The prime minister instead doubled down on Canada’s diplomatic approach, working with allies to find a resolution.

“We’re working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression and further incursion into Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable. We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full press on the international stage to ensure that Russia respects the people of Ukraine, respects their choice to choose their governments and their direction,” he said.

“We will always be there for the people of Ukraine.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv on Wednesday to meet with Ukrainian officials about the situation.

There, Blinken said Russia had plans to boost its military presence of some 100,000 troops along the border and suggested that number could double soon. Blinken also said he would not be presenting a formal written response to Russia’s demands when he meets on Friday with Russia’s foreign minister.

Russia objects to Ukraine’s desire to join NATO and is calling on members to reject new treaty membership.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed claims that enhanced military presence at the Ukrainian border indicates an imminent full-scale attack.

Joly is set to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday.

A handful of Liberal MPs penned a letter to Government House Leader Mark Holland requesting an urgent debate on the Ukraine situation as it would provide an opportunity for “members of Parliament of all parties to discuss Canada’s and the international community’s response to this crisis.”

Holland responded saying he will prioritize the request when the House returns, which is scheduled for Jan. 31.

The Conservatives have criticized the Liberals for not taking a harder line with Russia, and have called on the government to send lethal weapons to Ukraine for defence purposes. Meanwhile, the NDP have endorsed a non-militarized approach.

With a file from The Associated Press

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Exclusive-Google aims to improve spotty enforcement of children’s ads policy



Alphabet Inc’s Google said this week it would immediately improve enforcement of an age-sensitive ad policy after Reuters found ads for sex toys, liquor and high-risk investments in its search engine that should have been blocked under its efforts to comply with UK regulations.

Britain started enforcing regulations last September aimed at protecting children from being tracked online. Google in response began modifying settings across its services in Europe and elsewhere for users younger than 18 years. Among the measures it had touted in August was “expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens.”

Specifically, the search giant began using automated tools to stop ads related to categories such as alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs from being shown to people who are not logged in to a Google account or confirmed to be at least 18.

Tech companies face a growing challenge with policing their sprawling services, and, according to posts on online advertising forums and two advertisers, Google’s enforcement has been spotty.

The advertisers, who sought anonymity out of fear of retribution from the tech company, said they have been frustrated about significant lost sales due to Google’s search engine correctly blocking their ads from signed-out users while erroneously allowing their competitors’ ads.

Ads were shown in the UK to signed-out users last week for leveraged trading, cholesterol medication, adult toy retailers and a major grocer promoting a vodka product, Reuters found.

“We have policies in place that limit where we show certain age-sensitive ad categories,” Google said. “The ads in question were mislabeled and in this instance should have been restricted from serving. We are taking immediate steps to address this issue.”

It declined to elaborate on the adjustments.

Google advertising rivals such as Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Microsoft Corp either ban many categories of age-sensitive ads altogether or have put the onus on advertisers to target their ads in ways that limit exposure to minors. Microsoft declined to comment, and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

The UK Children’s Code requires online services to meet 15 design and privacy standards to protect children, such as limiting collection of their location and other personal information. Google said its filtering of age-sensitive ads is core to its compliance with the code.

Advocacy group 5Rights Foundation, which campaigned for the regulation and reviewed the findings by Reuters, said tech companies should regularly publish internal research on how well they are living up to the code and their own policies.

“We must be wary of ‘safety washing,'” 5Rights said. “Tech companies need to back up their claims with action, and demonstrate how they are complying with regulations, particularly in the early stages of implementation.”

Google did not respond to the comments. The company declined to share detailed information with Reuters about how often it had failed to block age-sensitive ads.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said in November it had reached out to Google, Apple Inc and other companies in social media, streaming and gaming to review their conformance to the code. The review is ongoing, the privacy regulator told Reuters.


(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Kenneth Li, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Matthew Lewis)

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Canada, echoing U.S., says it fears armed conflict could erupt in Ukraine



Canada fears armed conflict could break out in Ukraine and is working with allies to make clear to Russia that any more aggression towards Kiev is unacceptable, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at “very short notice”. Moscow, which has stationed military equipment and tens of thousands of troops near the border, denies it is planning an invasion and blames the West for rising tensions.

“We do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine. We’re very worried about the position of the Russian government … and the fact that they’re sending soldiers to the Ukrainian border,” Trudeau told a news conference.

Canada, with a sizeable and politically influential population of Ukrainian descent, has taken a strong line with Russia since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

“We’re working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression and further incursion into Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable,” Trudeau said.

“We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full press on the international stage.”

Canadian troops are in Latvia as part of a NATO mission and Trudeau said they would “continue the important work that NATO is doing to protect its eastern front”.

Canada has had a 200-strong training mission in western Ukraine since 2015.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly on Tuesday said Ottawa would make a decision at the appropriate time on supplying military hardware to Ukraine.

Trudeau side-stepped a question about sending defensive weapons, saying any decision would “be based on what is best for the people of Ukraine”.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren;Editing by Will Dunham and Philippa Fletcher)

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