Long lines formed Monday at vaccination centres across England as people heeded the government’s call for all adults to get booster shots to protect themselves against the omicron variant, after the U.K. recorded its first death of a patient infected with omicron.
In a televised announcement late Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said everyone 18 and up would be offered a third vaccine dose by Dec. 31 — less than three weeks away, and a month earlier than the previous target.
“We are now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, omicron,” Johnson said. He said boosters would “reinforce our wall of vaccine protection” against an anticipated “tidal wave of omicron.”
Scientists in South Africa, where omicron was first identified, say they see signs the variant may cause less severe disease than delta, but cautioned it was too soon to be certain. Health authorities around the world are watching Britain closely to see what an omicron surge looks like in a country with an older, more highly vaccinated population than South Africa’s.
U.K. health authorities say omicron cases are doubling every two to three days in Britain, and it will replace delta as the dominant strain within days. But it’s unclear whether the expected wave of infections will inundate the country’s health system.
About 10 people are in U.K. hospitals with COVID-19 caused by omicron, and Johnson on Monday said the country’s first COVID-19 death involving the variant had been confirmed.
They are spread around the country and ages range between 18-85 years. The majority had received 2 doses of vaccination.<br>One individual diagnosed in hospital has sadly died. <br><br>UKHSA Chief Medical Adviser Susan Hopkins: <a href=”https://t.co/AHawcEneFm”>pic.twitter.com/AHawcEneFm</a>
“So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus … that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognize the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population,” Johnson said as he visited a vaccination centre in London. “So the best thing we can do is all get our boosters.”
More than 80 per cent of people age 12 and up in Britain have received two vaccine doses, and 40 per cent of adults have had three. Giving the rest boosters by the end of the month will be a huge challenge, requiring almost one million doses administered a day. Johnson acknowledged that many routine medical procedures would have to be postponed to meet the goal.
Teams of military planners and thousands of volunteer vaccinators will help give the jabs at doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies and pop-up vaccination centres.
While the online appointment booking system will not be open to under-30s until Wednesday, Johnson said any adult could show up at a walk-in centre to get a booster starting Monday.
Long lines, struggles with booking system
Lines built up at big London vaccination clinics on Monday morning. The line for shots at St. Thomas’s hospital, on the south bank of the River Thames in London, stretched across Westminster Bridge toward Parliament.
The government’s appointment-booking website struggled to keep up with demand. The National Health Service advised people to try accessing the site later in the day or on Tuesday, if they were having problems.
The government also ran out of rapid at-home virus test kits, which have been distributed free to households during the pandemic. The website where tests can be ordered said none were available on Monday. Starting Wednesday, people in England must show proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter nightclubs and other crowded venues.
Johnson’s Dec. 31 target applies to England. The other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are also expected to speed up their vaccination campaigns.
The British government raised the country’s official coronavirus threat level on Sunday, warning the rapid spread of omicron “adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and health care services” at a time when COVID-19 is already widespread.
Concerns about the new variant led Johnson’s Conservative government to bring in vaccine certificates for nightclubs and to reintroduce restrictions that were lifted almost six months ago. Masks must once again be worn in most indoor settings and as of Monday, people were urged to work from home, if possible.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 9:10 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of late Monday morning, more than 270.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.
In the Americas, three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine is the “optimal care” but two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or one of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine remains the U.S. government’s official definition of fully vaccinated, top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said.
In Africa, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office says that he has postponed getting a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine because he has tested positive for the disease and is recuperating from mild symptoms. The statement issued Monday said that Ramaphosa is receiving medical treatment for his symptoms and is self-isolating in Cape Town.
South Africa’s regulatory authority last week approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be used as a booster shot, opening the way for third doses to be administered to adults in order to battle the current surge driven by the omicron variant.
Thank you, fellow South Africans, for your good wishes following my COVID-19 positive result.<br><br>As I recover, my message of the week is: don’t let your guard down. Do everything you can and need to, to stay safe, beginning with vaccination.
The operator of Ghana’s main international airport will fine airlines $3,500 US for every passenger they bring in that is not vaccinated against COVID-19 or that tests positive for the coronavirus on arrival, it said on Monday. The rules, announced by Ghana Airports, follow others introduced last week by the health ministry that require all people entering Ghana to be vaccinated. They come into effect for the Kotoka International Airport in the capital, Accra, on Tuesday.
The requirements are some of the strictest in Africa, where vaccine uptake has been slow due to lack of supply and logistical challenges, and come as the new omicron variant raises concerns about quicker transmission of the virus.
In Europe, Norway will further tighten its coronavirus restrictions this week in order to limit the spread of the virus, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told news agency NTB on Monday.
“The situation is serious. The spread of infection is too high and we have to take action to limit this development,” he said.
Meanwhile, Russian authorities on Monday backed away from introducing some of the restrictions for the unvaccinated that were announced a month ago and elicited public outrage all across the vast country, where vaccine uptake remains low.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistan has confirmed its first case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, in the country’s most populous city of Karachi, the country’s National Institute of Health (NIH) said on Monday.
Meanwhile, coronavirus-free Queensland state opened its domestic borders to all vaccinated people for the first time in nearly five months, as Australians gear up for quarantine-free travel across most of the country during the busy Christmas period.
In the Middle East, Israel said it was adding Britain and Denmark to its “red” list of countries that Israelis are forbidden to visit.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 11:20 a.m. ET
Hundreds of thousands of Canadians are travelling abroad despite Omicron – CBC News
Despite growing concerns across the globe last fall over the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, Sandy Long and her husband departed on Nov. 28 for a 10-day vacation in Mexico.
Long said they felt comfortable travelling, because they planned to take strict safety precautions. Plus, the couple hadn’t gone abroad for two years due to the pandemic and were yearning to get away.
“Life is short,” said Long, 58, of Richmond, B.C. “We needed to feel some warmth [and] we really missed Mexico.”
It appears many Canadians have a similar attitude toward travel these days despite Omicron’s fast and furious spread, which prompted Canada to repost its advisory against non-essential international travel last month.
Statistics Canada tallied 742,417 Canadian air-passenger arrivals returning home from abroad in December.
When adjusted to account for recent changes in tracking air travel, that total is almost six times the number of arrivals for the same month in 2020, and more than half the total for pre-pandemic December 2019.
The increase in international travel is likely to continue: there were 216,752 Canadian air-passenger arrivals to Canada during the week of Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, according to the latest data posted by the Canada Border Services Agency.
Travel agency owner Lesley Keyter said that, since October, the number of clients booking trips has jumped by between 30 and 40 per cent compared to the same time last year.
She said popular destinations for her clients, most of whom are aged 50 or older, include Europe, Mexico and Costa Rica. When Omicron cases started to surge in December, Keyter said some clients cancelled their trip, but most kept their travel plans.
“People are saying, “Listen, we only have a limited time on this planet.… We’ve put off travel for two years now, I don’t want to put it off anymore,” said Keyter, owner of The Travel Lady Agency in Calgary.
She said travellers also feel confident with the added protection of their COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot. Because Omicron is so transmissible and more able to evade vaccines, even vaccinated people may get infected, however, they’re less likely to wind up in the hospital.
Risk of testing positive abroad
But even if infected travellers only experience mild symptoms, they’ll still face hurdles returning home.
To enter Canada, air passengers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure. If a traveller tests positive, they must wait at least 11 days before boarding a flight home.
Brennan Watson, 26, of Milverton, Ont., tested positive on Dec. 28 while travelling in Ireland.
He was set to fly home the following day, but instead had to find a place to self-isolate in Belfast. Due to Canada’s rules at the time — which have now changed — Watson had to wait 15 days before he could fly home.
“It was very stressful in the beginning,” he said. “It was a bit of a panic just to think that I’m stuck here.”
Brennan said the delay cost him: he missed 11 days of work as an electrician and spent $2,000 in added expenses, including another plane ticket home.
“There’s nothing you can really do about it,” he said. “It’s just something I didn’t even think would happen.”
WATCH | Canada once again advises against travel abroad:
Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said travellers can avoid such unexpected costs by purchasing trip-interruption insurance. He said most of his clients now opt for the coverage that will reimburse travellers for some or all of their costs if they test positive and must extend their trip.
“Trip interruption — which used to be a very rarely [purchased product] — is now being added to all the emergency medical plans, because clients worry terribly about testing positive,” said Firestone with Travel Secure.
“That’s the new world we live in right now with the pandemic.”
Another hurdle travellers may face is unexpected flight cancellations.
This month, Air Canada Vacations announced it will suspend some flights to sun destinations between Jan. 24 and April 30. After cutting 15 per cent of its January flights, WestJet announced on Tuesday it will cancel 20 per cent of its February flights.
Long said she and her husband enjoyed their trip to Mexico so much, they had planned to return again in the upcoming weeks. However, the couple recently nixed their plans due to concerns over flight cancellations.
“It’s the uncertainty right now,” said Long. “I don’t want to get down there and then be stranded.”
However, she’s still optimistic about a trip the couple has booked in May to Spain.
Despite testing positive while travelling, Brennan hopes to return to Ireland this summer — even if the pandemic hasn’t waned by then.
“I spent a year and a half of my life not seeing family, not seeing friends,” he said. “I’m not going to stop living my life.”
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.
49ers stun Packers with second-half comeback, advance to NFC Championship – Sportsnet.ca
Edmonton Oilers stop bleeding with monster comeback victory against Calgary Flames – Edmonton Sun
Shapovalov beats Zverev in straight sets, advances to Australian Open quarterfinals – TSN
Silver investment demand jumped 12% in 2019
Europe kicks off vaccination programs | All media content | DW | 27.12.2020 – Deutsche Welle
Iran anticipates renewed protests amid social media shutdown
Health11 hours ago
Nova Scotia reports 11 people in ICU Saturday, total of 287 people in hospital with COVID-19 – CTV News Atlantic
Business19 hours ago
Bitcoin value tumbles almost 50 per cent since record November – CTV News
Sports18 hours ago
Olympics-Ice hockey rivals take different approaches to same COVID opponent
Sports14 hours ago
LeBron James revisits Miami as Lakers take on Heat
Health15 hours ago
Vaccination, current widespread Omicron transmission in B.C. could make for a 'much more gentle summer' in 2022 – BC News – Castanet.net
Tech13 hours ago
Want to preorder the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra? Here's how to reserve your spot – Pocket-lint
Sports20 hours ago
Clark Gillies, Islanders legend and Hall of Famer, dies at age 67 – CBS Sports
Science15 hours ago
B.C. researchers uncover mechanism that keeps large whales from drowning while feeding on krill – CTV News Vancouver