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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday –



The latest:

In Asia, South Korea again broke its daily records for coronavirus infections and deaths and confirmed three more cases of the new omicron variant as officials scramble to tighten social distancing and border controls.

The 5,352 new cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) on Saturday marked the third time this week the daily tally exceeded 5,000. The country’s death toll was at 3,809 after a record 70 virus patients died in the past 24 hours, while the 752 patients in serious or critical condition were also an all-time high.

As the delta-driven surge threatens to overwhelm hospital systems, there is also concern about the local spread of the omicron variant, which is seen as potentially more infectious than previous strains of the virus.

The country’s omicron caseload is now at nine after the KDCA confirmed three more cases. The new cases include the wife, mother-in-law and a friend of a man who caught omicron from a couple he drove home from the airport after they arrived from Nigeria on Nov. 24. The couple’s teenage child and two other women who also travelled to Nigeria have also been infected with omicron.

A woman walks near a banner that reads, ‘Mandatory mask wearing,’ at a park in Goyang, South Korea, on Saturday. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

Officials say the number of omicron cases could rise as some of the patients had attended a church gathering involving hundreds of people on Nov. 28.

While the emergence of omicron has triggered global alarm and pushed governments around the world to tighten their borders, scientists say it remains unclear whether the new variant is more contagious, more likely to evade the protection provided by vaccines or more likely to cause serious illnesses than previous versions of the virus.

Starting next week, private social gatherings of seven or more people will be banned in the densely populated capital Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas, which have been hit hardest by delta and are now running out of intensive care units.

To fend off omicron, South Korea has required all passengers arriving from abroad over the next two weeks to quarantine for at least 10 days, regardless of their nationality or vaccination status. The country has banned short-term foreign travelers arriving from nine African nations, including South Africa and Nigeria.

What’s happening across Canada

A 10-year-old girl is administered a COVID-19 vaccine shot as her eight-year-old sister reacts at a drive-thru clinic in Kingston, Ont., on Saturday. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

  • More than 1,000 public-sector workers placed on leave over N.S. vaccine mandate.

What’s happening around the world

As of Saturday, more than 265 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 5.2 million.

PHOTOS | Thousands protest restrictions in Dutch city:

In Europe, thousands of people marched peacefully through the Dutch city of Utrecht on Saturday to protest the government’s coronavirus lockdown measures. Meanwhile, Princess Beatrix, the country’s 83-year-old former queen, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the royal house announced Saturday.

In the Americas, Rio de Janeiro cancelled its famed New Year’s Eve party, becoming the latest Brazilian city — after Sao Paulo and Salvador — to halt holiday celebrations due to omicron fears.

In Africa, South Africa is being hit by a fourth wave of infections driven by the new variant that has been detected in seven of the country’s nine provinces, its health minister said.

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Crypto money laundering rises 30% in 2021 -Chainalysis



Cybercriminals laundered $8.6 billion in cryptocurrencies last year, up 30% from 2020, according to a report from blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis released on Wednesday.

Overall, cybercriminals have laundered more than $33 billion worth of crypto since 2017, Chainalysis estimated, with most of the total over time moving to centralized exchanges.

The firm said the sharp rise in money laundering activity in 2021 was not surprising, given the significant growth of both legitimate and illegal crypto activity last year.

Money laundering refers to that process of disguising the origin of illegally obtained money by transferring it to legitimate businesses.

About 17% of the $8.6 billion laundered went to decentralized finance applications, Chainalysis said, referring to the sector which facilitates crypto-denominated financial transactions outside of traditional banks.

That was up from 2% in 2020.

Mining pools, high-risk exchanges, and mixers also saw substantial increases in value received from illicit addresses, the report said. Mixers typically combine potentially identifiable or tainted cryptocurrency funds with others, so as to conceal the trail to the fund’s original source.

Wallet addresses associated with theft sent just under half of their stolen funds, or more than $750 million worth of crypto in total, to decentralized finance platforms, according to the Chainalysis report.

Chainalysis also clarified that the $8.6 billion laundered last year represents funds derived from crypto-native crime such as darknet market sales or ransomware attacks in which profits are in crypto instead of fiat currencies.

“It’s more difficult to measure how much fiat currency derived from off-line crime — traditional drug trafficking, for example — is converted into cryptocurrency to be laundered,” Chainalysis said in the report.

“However, we know anecdotally this is happening.”


(Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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Interest rate: Bank of Canada holds key rate – CTV News




The Bank of Canada is keeping its key interest rate target on hold at 0.25 per cent, but warning it won’t stay there for much longer.

The trendsetting rate has been at its rock-bottom level since March 2020 during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as the economy went into a downturn and three million jobs were lost.

The central bank said Wednesday the rebound since then and especially over the last few months has been stronger than it anticipated.

In a statement, the bank’s senior decision-makers said the economy is running at capacity, including a labour market that is by most standards back at pre-pandemic levels.

The rebound is why it now says it will no longer promise to keep its key policy rate at 0.25 per cent, adding that rates will need to rise to bring inflation back to the central bank’s two per cent target.

“Interest rates will need to increase to control inflation. Canadians should expect a rising path for interest rates,” Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem said in a statement.

He also pointed to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant as an economic “wild card” at home and abroad to explain why the bank held off on hiking rates Wednesday.

“Our approach to monetary policy throughout the pandemic has been deliberate, and we were mindful that the rapid spread of Omicron will dampen spending in the first quarter. So we decided to keep our policy rate unchanged today, remove our commitment to hold it at its floor, and signal that rates can be expected to increase going forward,” Macklem said.

CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld said he expects the Bank of Canada to raise rates in March if the country gets better news about the Omicron variant.

The central bank didn’t outline the timing or pace of increases in its statement, but the decision to hold off on a first hike will be controversial in financial markets at a time when headline inflation is at a 30-year high, says Stephen Tapp, chief economist at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The Bank of Canada warned in its updated economic outlook that inflation rates are likely to creep above five per cent for the first quarter before easing by the end of the year.

The pace of price growth is then expected to ease by the end of 2022, but inflation for the entire year is forecasted to clock in at 4.2 per cent, up from the 3.4 per cent the bank forecasted in October.

Surveys from the Bank of Canada suggest Canadians are now expecting inflation rates to remain higher for longer.

The longer inflation rates stay high, the more likely Canadians will believe they will stay elevated over the long-term, which the bank worries could lead to runaway price growth.

In the rate announcement, the bank said it will use its policy tools to ensure “near-term inflation expectations do not become embedded in ongoing inflation.”

The central bank estimates the economy grew by 4.6 per cent in 2021, down half a percentage point from its previous forecast in October, and now projects growth in real gross domestic product in 2022 at four per cent, down from 4.3 per cent.

The Bank of Canada said part of the downgrade this year is due to the impact of Omicron, hints from governments that spending is easing earlier than expected, and supply chain issues that will have “larger and more broad-based negative implications on economic activity” this year.

The bank said the possibility of more variants in the future renewing restrictions here and abroad also cloud the outlook.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022.

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



The latest:

Hospitals in New Brunswick are feeling the strain of the Omicron wave, with four hospitals at or near capacity.

“Our hospitals are caring for higher volumes of COVID-positive inpatients than at any other point in the pandemic,” a statement from the Horizon Health network said Tuesday.

The hospital network said that the number of people in hospital combined with staff shortages is having an impact on how it delivers care. The province shifted to emergency and urgent hospital care only at the end of 2021 as it faced a mounting Omicron wave. 

According to the provincial update on Tuesday, a total of 138 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 — a pandemic high in the province — including 11 in intensive care. The province also reported three additional deaths and 350 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said in a statement Tuesday that while hospitalizations are rising, they are trending below the province’s projections.

“The data indicates that New Brunswickers have reduced their contacts by about 30 per cent,” she said in a statement. “This has made a tremendous difference to our acute care system, which has been heavily impacted by employees who are absent due to Omicron and the increasing number of patients.”

Tight restrictions are still in place in the Atlantic province, and students are expected to continue with remote learning until Jan. 31.

In Nova Scotia, health officials on Tuesday said 92 people were in the province’s designated COVID-19 units, including 15 people in intensive care. The provincial update showed a total of 304 people in hospital with COVID-19, including cases where people contracted the virus while in hospital. The province also reported five additional deaths and 492 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday said COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 20, with five people in critical care. The province, which sent students back to in-person learning Tuesday, also reported an additional 296 lab-confirmed cases.

Prince Edward Island health officials on Tuesday reported a ninth COVID-19-related death and 275 additional lab-confirmed cases. Health officials in the province said there were 10 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19 — including two in ICU. There were two others in hospital with COVID-19 being treated for other illnesses, the province said. 

-From CBC News, last updated at 10:05 a.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Quebec premier talks about living with COVID-19 long-term and structural issues in the health-care system: 

Legault describes Quebec living with COVID-19 long-term

21 hours ago

Duration 1:22

Living with COVID-19 long-term means accepting hospitalizations and deaths, says Quebec Premier François Legault. 1:22

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 Central Canada, Ontario’s health minister on Wednesday reported a total of 4,016 hospitalizations, with 608 people in intensive care. The province, which saw 5,368 new lab-confirmed cases, also reported 89 additional deaths — though Christine Elliott’s office noted that the deaths occurred over the past 21 days.

Quebec on Wednesday reported 3,270 hospitalizations, with 252 people in intensive care. The province reported 73 additional deaths and 4,150 new lab-confirmed cases, according to the COVID-19 situation report posted daily by health officials.

The update comes a day after Premier François Legault said that the province will ease some COVID-19 restrictions in the weeks ahead. The initial shift, which is set for Jan. 31, will allow restaurants to open dining rooms with limited capacity. Some sports will return, with further easing expected in early February.

Quebec’s health system, however, is still feeling the strain, Legault said, noting that it will take time to build the capacity the province needs.

Across the North, Nunavut on Wednesday reported 48 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths, while Yukon reported 25 additional cases and no new deaths.

Health officials in the Northwest Territories had not yet provided updated information for the day.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba on Tuesday reported a total of 729 COVID-19 hospitalizations — another pandemic high. Of those, 49 people were receiving intensive care. Health officials also reported six additional deaths and 637 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In Saskatchewan, the total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 291, with 33 people in the province’s intensive care units. The province also reported two additional deaths and 1,049 lab-confirmed cases.

Alberta on Tuesday said hospitalizations stood at 1,377 — a pandemic high — with 111 people in intensive care. The province also reported 13 additional deaths and 2,772 additional cases.

“Our hospitals are under strain, especially in the larger urban centres,” said Jason Copping, the province’s health minister. “Staff are tired, not just from the current wave of cases, but from five waves over two years.”

Copping said there are signs Omicron transmission may be slowing, but he had cautious words about the weeks ahead, saying they will be the “toughest yet for many Albertans.”

In British Columbia, total COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 985, health officials said Tuesday, with 144 in intensive care units. The province also reported one additional death and 1,446 additional lab-confirmed cases. 

People in the province will need to bring their vaccine card with them through to the end of June if they want to access indoor spaces, restaurants or most events, says the provincial health officer. Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday the vaccine card is specifically designed to mitigate the risks of spreading COVID-19, allowing certain businesses and activities to remain open.

“As we move through this period, it will, I expect, no longer be necessary,” Henry told a news conference. “But right now, it is one of those important tools that we have.”

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 12:30 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

The Australian Navy’s HMAS Adelaide docked at Vuna Wharf in Tonga’s capital Nukualofa to deliver aid following the Jan. 15 eruption of the nearby Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano. (Mary Lyn Fonua/Matangi Tonga/AFP/Getty Images)

As of early Wednesday afternoon, more than 359.3 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 5.6 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Australian navy’s largest ship docked at disaster-stricken Tonga on Wednesday and was allowed to unload humanitarian supplies in the South Pacific nation despite crew members being infected with COVID-19, officials said.

Nearly two-dozen sailors aboard HMAS Adelaide were reported infected on Tuesday, raising fears the mission could bring the coronavirus to the small archipelago devastated by an undersea volcanic eruption and a tsunami on Jan. 15. Supplies were to be delivered without contact with the local population to avoid infections, the Australian government said in a statement.

Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19 and has avoided any outbreaks. It’s one of the few countries in the world currently completely virus free. About 61 per cent of Tongans are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

South Korea’s daily new cases exceeded 13,000 for the first time, as the government seeks to revise its anti-virus response scheme to focus on Omicron.

Shoppers look at plants at a flower market ahead of the Lunar New Year in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Current physical distancing rules will be extended to cover Lunar New Year as the semi-autonomous region continues to see a number of COVID-19 infections linked to imported cases. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

In Europe, Austria’s lockdown for people not fully vaccinated will end on Monday because the pressure on hospitals has eased, the government said.

Sweden will extend several restrictions for another two weeks, while neighbouring Denmark was expected to announce that it no longer considers COVID-19 as “a socially critical disease” as of next month and will remove most restrictions.

Sweden’s Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said the country was seeing “an extremely record-high spread of infection,” so the existing measures “need to remain in place for another two weeks.” It was not immediately clear what restrictions will end in Denmark. But a letter from the health minister to lawmakers said the “categorization of COVID-19 as a socially critical disease will be abolished as of Feb. 1.”

Russia, meanwhile, has expanded a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine for children aged 12-17 to include more regions, amid the country’s biggest infection surge yet due to the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

In Africa, Uganda wants to curb its borrowing and boost exports in sectors such as meat and dairy as the East African country lifts restrictions triggered by the pandemic, President Yoweri Museveni and government officials told Reuters.

In South Africa, health officials on Tuesday reported 3,197 new cases of COVID-19 and 132 additional deaths.

LISTEN | What can Canada learn from South Africa’s experience with the Omicron variant: 

The Current19:49What can Canada learn from South Africa’s bout with Omicron?

South Africa’s bout with Omicron is slowing down — offering other countries a glimpse of what might be coming next in the pandemic. Matt Galloway discusses what Canada might learn, with Dr. Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand; and Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba. 19:49

In the Middle East, Kuwait on Tuesday reported more than 5,742 additional cases and one additional death. 

In the Americas, the United States has shipped 400 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as part of its earlier pledge to donate about 1.2 billion doses to low-income countries, the White House said on Wednesday.

“Today, we will hit a major milestone in our global effort: 400 million vaccine doses shipped to 112 countries … for free, no strings attached,” White House COVID-19 co-ordinator Jeff Zients told reporters at a briefing.

President Joe Biden’s administration had previously said it would donate a second tranche of 500 million doses to the COVAX global vaccine sharing program, raising its total pledge to some 1.2 billion COVID vaccine doses, with the latest batch expected to start shipping this month.

Global health experts have said at least five billion to six billion doses are needed by poorer countries to help protect them against the coronavirus amid the ongoing pandemic.

Overall COVAX, backed by the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, has delivered more than a billion doses to 144 countries and aims to achieve 70 per cent COVID-19 immunization coverage by mid-2022.

-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 12:25 p.m. ET

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