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

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The latest:

The British government may need to introduce tougher restrictions to slow the growth of the omicron variant and prevent a new surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, British scientists said Saturday.

U.K. health officials say omicron is spreading much more quickly than the delta strain and is likely to replace it and become the dominant variant in Britain within days. The U.K. recorded 58,194 coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest number since January, though what portion were the omicron variant is unclear.

Concerns about the new variant led Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government to reintroduce restrictions that were lifted almost six months ago. Masks must be worn in most indoor settings, vaccine certificates must be shown to enter nightclubs and people are being urged to work from home if possible.

Many scientists say that’s unlikely to be enough.

Modelling released Saturday by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested omicron is likely to cause a large wave of infections by January — and could cause between 25,000 and 75,000 deaths in England in the next five months if no other measures are taken.

Mask-wearing shoppers walk past a coronavirus-related warning sign in London on Saturday. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

The most pessimistic scenario foresees half a million people hospitalized with the virus by the end of April and says daily hospital admissions could be double the previous peak in January 2021. The study by the scientists, who help advise the British government, has not been peer reviewed.

The number of infections will depend on how much the variant escapes protection from vaccines and how effective booster shots are at bolstering immunity, both of which remain unclear.

— CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 9:35 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Caution for Canadians travelling abroad for the holidays:

Caution for Canadians travelling abroad for the holidays

21 hours ago

Duration 1:58

Federal officials are warning Canadians that travelling abroad is both “risky and unstable” given the emergence of the omicron variant. Travellers can expect to face changing rules abroad and at home as the pandemic situation shifts. 1:58

— From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 3:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

Two people wear face masks as they stroll past an inflatable snowman decoration in Dharmsala, India, on Saturday. (Ashwini Bhatia/The Associated Press)

As of Saturday afternoon, more than 269.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool. The reported death toll surpassed 5.3 million.

In Asia, Taiwan has recorded its first case of the omicron variant in a passenger who recently travelled to the southern African country of Eswatini, health officials said Saturday.

The passenger, a Taiwanese woman in her 30s who returned on Wednesday, is now in quarantine in hospital, officials said. Taiwan reported 10 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, all of which were identified in travellers entering from abroad.

In Europe, tens of thousands of people rallied in Vienna on Saturday to protest against restrictions introduced to halt the spread of the coronavirus in Austria, including mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and home confinement orders for the unvaccinated.

Demonstrators hold flags and placards on Saturday as they protest against pandemic restrictions and a vaccine mandate in front of Hofburg Palace in Vienna. (Lisi Niesner/Reuters)

In neighbouring Italy, La Scala has postponed its ballet season premiere after a coronavirus outbreak in its ranks, just days after the famed Milan theatre staged its high-profile opera season opener with a full-capacity audience.

At least one of the four ballerinas who tested positive for COVID-19 also appeared in Tuesday’s premiere of the opera Macbeth. Ten other people linked to the outbreak tested positive for the virus, all of them theatre support personnel, including someone who worked in the hairdressing department.

In France, authorities want to accelerate vaccinations against the coronavirus before Christmas as infections surge and more people with COVID-19 seek medical attention.

People wearing protective masks walk next to an Iron Man model in Paris on Friday. France on Monday closed nightclubs until Jan. 6 and tightened physical distancing measures in closed spaces and outdoors. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

“People can celebrate Christmas normally, but we must respect the rules … and get vaccinated,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex told public radio outlet France Blue during an interview in the Alsace region late Friday.

France has registered a daily average of more than 44,000 new cases over the last week, a 36 per cent increase from the previous week, according to the latest government figures. Weekly hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 went up 1,120, a 41 per cent rise.

In the Middle East, the first six cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus have been detected in Turkey, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca was reported as saying on Saturday by state broadcaster TRT Haber.

In the Americas, a Brazilian Supreme Court justice ruled on Saturday that all travellers arriving in Brazil must present a vaccine passport documenting they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The decision from Luis Roberto Barroso challenges a more lenient rule announced by the government. Barroso’s ruling must be reviewed by all 11 judges of the Supreme Court next week.

In Africa, South African officials announced plans on Friday to roll out vaccine boosters as daily infections approached an all-time high. Meanwhile, scientists there said there was no sign that the omicron variant was causing more severe illness.

Hospital data shows that COVID-19 admissions were rising sharply in more than half of the country’s nine provinces, but deaths were not rising as dramatically and the median length of hospital stay was more manageable.

In the past few days, a countrywide outbreak has been infecting about 20,000 people a day, with 19,018 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday but only 20 new deaths, according to data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. About 38 per cent of adults in South Africa are fully vaccinated, more than in many other African countries.

— From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 5:05 p.m. ET

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Health Canada expected to approve Pfizer's COVID-19 therapeutic today: sources – CBC News

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Health Canada is expected to approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 therapeutic today for use in this country, sources told CBC News and Radio-Canada.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, the health regulator’s chief medical adviser, will speak to the media at 11 a.m. ET. CBCNews.ca will carry her remarks live.

Pfizer’s Paxlovid, which is an antiviral prescribed by a doctor and administered in pill form, is designed to help the body fight off the SARS-CoV-2 virus, reduce symptoms from an infection and shorten the period of illness.

The product has been hailed as a pandemic “game changer” by some doctors because it could reduce hospitalizations and deaths among COVID-19 patients. An effective pill that’s easy to self-administer at home could relieve some of the pressure on the health-care system and change the trajectory of the pandemic, experts say.

After months-long clinical trials, Pfizer reported in November that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by an impressive 89 per cent compared to a placebo in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with COVID-19.

Canada has placed an order for an initial quantity of one million treatment courses. Some of that supply will start to arrive after Health Canada’s expected approval.

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N.Korea fires two ballistic missiles from Pyongyang airport, S.Korea says

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North Korea fired two suspected short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) on Monday from an airport in its capital city of Pyongyang, South Korea’s military reported, the fourth test https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-korea-used-railway-born-missile-fridays-test-kcna-2022-01-14 this month to demonstrate its expanding missile arsenal.

Japan also reported the launch, with chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno condemning it as a threat to peace and security.

In less than two weeks, nuclear-armed North Korea has conducted three other missile tests, an unusually rapid series of launches. It said two of them involved single “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speed and manoeuvring after launch, while a test on Friday involved a pair of short-range ballistic missiles fired from train cars.

Monday’s launch appeared to involve two SRBMs fired east from Sunan Airfield in Pyongyang, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

North Korea used the airport to test fire the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) in 2017, with leader Kim Jong Un in attendance.

The missiles fired on Monday travelled about 380 km (236 miles) to a maximum altitude of 42 km (26 miles), the JCS said in a statement.

Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said the missiles appeared to have landed in the ocean near North Korea’s east coast.

“It is self-evident that the aim of North Korea’s frequent missile launches is to improve their missile technology,” he told reporters.

“The repeated launching of North Korea’s ballistic missiles is a grave problem for the international community, including Japan,” Kishi added, noting that the launches were a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from all ballistic missile development.

The U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command said it assessed that the launch did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies, but “these missile launches highlight the destabilising impact of (North Korea’s ) illicit weapons programme”.

The pace of testing and the different launch sites suggests that North Korea has enough missiles to feel comfortable expending them on tests, training, and demonstrations, and helps reinforce its deterrent credibility by emphasizing the volume of its missile force, said Mason Richey, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.

North Korea has not tested its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or nuclear weapons since 2017, but after denuclearisation talks stalled in 2019, it began unveiling and testing a range of new SRBM designs.

Many of the latest SRBMs, including the hypersonic missiles, appear designed to evade missile defences. North Korea has also vowed to pursue tactical nuclear weapons, which could allow it to deploy nuclear warheads on SRBMs.

“Every tactical missile launch flaunts how little sanctions have constrained the Kim regime, and how the U.S. … has failed to make North Korea pay a sufficient cost for short-range missile programme development,” Richey said.

‘ISOLATING AND STIFLING’

The latest launches have drawn both condemnation and an appeal for dialogue from a U.S. administration that has imposed new sanctions over North Korean missile launches and is pushing for more.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration imposed its first new sanctions on Pyongyang on Wednesday, and called on the U.N. Security Council to blacklist several North Korean individuals and entities. It also repeated calls for North Korea to return to talks aimed at reducing tension and persuading it to surrender its arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

North Korea has defended the missile tests as its sovereign right to self-defence and accused the United States of intentionally intensifying confrontation with new sanctions.

In a statement before Friday’s missile tests, the North Korean foreign ministry said that although the United States might talk of diplomacy and dialogue, its actions showed it was still engrossed in its policy of “isolating and stifling” North Korea.

South Korea’s national security council held an emergency meeting after Monday’s test, with members stressing that “above all else, it is essential to start dialogue as soon as possible in order for the situation on the Korean Peninsula to not become more strained and to restore stability”, the presidential Blue House said in a statement.

The launches came as North Korea, more isolated than ever under self-imposed border closures aimed at preventing a COVID-19 pandemic, appeared to be preparing to open at least some trade across its land border with China.

Chinese brokers said they expect the resumption of regular trade with North Korea soon after a North Korean train pulled into a Chinese border town on Sunday in the first such crossing since anti-coronavirus lockdowns began in 2020.

Zhao Tong, a Beijing-based nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said North Korea had few reasons to hold back its missile development.

Leader Kim appeared to have little hope of a breakthrough with the United States, and China’s sympathy for North Korea and antipathy towards the United States could encourage North Korea to think that China was unlikely to support any effort by the international community to censure it for the tests, he added.

“North Korea may think this is a safe time to advance its missile development,” Zhao said.

Last week, China criticised the new U.S. sanctions but also called on all sides to act prudently and engage in dialogue to reduce tensions.

China says it enforces existing international sanctions on North Korea, but has joined with Russia to urge https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/china-russia-revive-push-lift-un-sanctions-north-korea-2021-11-01 the U.N. Security Council to ease the measures, saying they hurt the civilian population.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Elaine Lies and Sakura Murakami in Tokyo; and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Neil Fullick and Gerry Doyle)

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Winter storm slams U.S. East Coast, Canada, thousands of flights canceled

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A major winter storm slammed much of the eastern United States with snow, ice and high winds on Sunday, causing widespread travel disruptions and power outages on a holiday weekend.

Winter weather alerts stretched more than 1,000 miles (1,609 km) from Alabama to Maine, with the governors of Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina all declaring emergencies due to the storm.

More than 200,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia reported power outages, according to PowerOutage.US, a website tracking power outages.

In North Carolina, where some regions saw record snowfalls, two people died Sunday when they lost control of their car in Raleigh.

The highest snowfall totals were expected along the spine of the Appalachians as well as across the lower Great Lakes.

The storm made its way through the Mid-Atlantic region toward New England on Sunday night, bringing snow that is expected to change to ice, sleet and eventually rain, the National Weather Service said.

In Canada, the storm is forecast to dump between 20-40cm (8-16 inches) of snow through Monday morning over parts of southern and eastern Ontario, the Canadian province that shares part of its border with New York state, the government weather agency, Environment Canada, said.

The inclement weather hits just as Ontario schools were set to reopen for in-person classes on Monday after the winter break was extended because of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

More than 3,000 flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled on Sunday, and over 8,000 flights were delayed, according to FlightAware data.

American Airlines Group Inc saw more than 660 flight cancellations. More than 90% of the flights into and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, an American Airlines hub, were canceled, the FlightAware website https://flightaware.com/live/cancelled showed.

American Airlines said it is allowing customers affected by the weather to rebook flights without a fee.

Toronto, home of Canada’s busiest airport, is set to see accumulations of 15 to 20cm of snow.

This was a long weekend for most people in the United States as Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said on Sunday people should avoid non-essential travel in areas impacted by the storm.

“If you’re able tonight and tomorrow morning, stay home and off the roads,” Kemp said on https://twitter.com/GovKemp/status/1482828779005353984Twitter. “It’s going to be treacherous in a lot of parts of our state.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Kieran Murray and Karishma Singh)

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