- Liberals considering whether to extend expiring pandemic supports for businesses, individuals.
- Canadians will still need to take a COVID-19 test to return via land border, says Blair.
- Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email: Covid@cbc.ca
Melbourne, which has spent more time under COVID-19 lockdowns than any other city in the world, is set to lift its stay-at-home orders this week, officials said on Sunday.
By Friday, when some curbs will be lifted, the Australian city of five million people will have been under six lockdowns totalling 262 days, or nearly nine months, since March 2020.
Australian and other media say this is the longest in the world, exceeding a 234-day lockdown in Buenos Aires.
While coronavirus cases keep rising in Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital, the state’s double-vaccination rate is set to reach 70 per cent this week, allowing for the ease in restrictions.
“Today is a great day,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said as he announced the end of the lockdowns. “Today is a day when Victorians can be proud of what they have achieved.”
When hospitality venues and some businesses reopen, their capacity will remain heavily restricted. More easing, including the reopening of many retailers, will come once 80 per cent of eligible Victorians are fully vaccinated — estimated by Nov. 5 at the latest.
On Sunday, Victoria recorded 1,838 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Neighbouring New South Wales, which emerged last week from a 100-day lockdown, reported 301 cases and 10 deaths. Eighty per cent of the state’s people have been fully vaccinated.
Australia, once a champion of a COVID-zero strategy of managing the pandemic, has been moving toward living with the virus through extensive vaccinations, as the delta variant has proven too transmissible to suppress.
The new strategy makes lockdowns highly unlikely once 80 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. As of the weekend, about 68 per cent of eligible Australians have been fully inoculated.
Australia’s health officials said on Sunday that quarantine-free travel from New Zealand’s South Island, where there is no outbreak, will resume on Wednesday. The government is also in discussions with Singapore about reopening travel between the two countries for the fully vaccinated.
Despite the rise in cases in recent months, Australia’s coronavirus numbers are low compared with many other developed countries, with just over 143,000 cases and 1,530 deaths.
Neighbouring New Zealand, which is also learning to live with COVID-19 by accelerating inoculations, reported 51 new cases on Sunday, 47 of them in the largest city Auckland, which has been in a lockdown since mid-August. On Saturday, New Zealand vaccinated more than 2.5 per cent of its people as part of a government-led mass vaccination drive.
What’s happening in Canada
- Ont. needs to better track vaccines tied to breakthrough cases, expert says.
- N.B. sees 3 more deaths; rapid testing program to roll out provincewide on Monday.
- Staff, students exposed to case at N.W.T. elementary school, says principal.
- 2nd person linked to a class at Whitehorse Elementary School has tested positive.
What’s happening around the world
As of Sunday, more than 240.4 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 4.8 million.
In Africa, Zimbabwe will bar unvaccinated government workers from reporting for duty beginning Monday. Those barred from work will not get paid.
In Europe, Russia is reporting 34,303 new infections — its largest daily number — as the country faces a sustained rise in cases. It also recorded 999 deaths, barely lower than the record 1,002 deaths reported on Saturday.
In Asia, Sri Lankan authorities are allowing the reopening of cinemas and restaurants and also permitting wedding receptions as a part of the easing of restrictions.
In the Americas, Dr. Anthony Fauci — the leading infectious disease doctor in the U.S. — says it’s “really unfortunate” that Gov. Greg Abbott has moved to ban vaccine mandates in the state of Texas, adding the decision will damage public health.
Canadians, other foreigners will need COVID-19 test a day before flights to U.S. – CBC.ca
The United States is making it mandatory next week for Canadians and other foreign visitors who arrive by air to get a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of their departure, regardless of their vaccination status, as part of a pandemic battle plan for the winter months.
U.S. President Joe Biden announced his administration’s plan on Thursday during a visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
The new travel rule on obtaining a negative COVID-19 test will take effect on Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET, sources briefed on the matter said.
Currently, international air travellers are required to get a test within 72 hours of leaving for the U.S. A senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity told CBC News that the new protocol will not apply to those crossing the Canada-U.S. land border.
“We’re pulling out all the stops to get people maximum protection from this pandemic,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a briefing on Thursday in advance of Biden’s afternoon announcement.
“Our view and belief, and the belief of our medical team, is that we have the tools to keep people safe. We’re executing on a robust plan that builds off of all the actions we’ve taken to date — we are not starting from scratch here.”
Fully vaccinated travellers entering the U.S. by land from Canada currently do not need to present a negative COVID-19 test, as long as they show proof of vaccination or attest to their vaccination status upon request by a border agent. That rule has been in place since the land border reopened to non-essential travel on Nov. 8.
In Canada, all those entering the country must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test result, taken within 72 hours of arrival by land or air.
However, since Nov. 30, the rule has been adjusted for Canadians who depart and re-enter Canada within 72 hours, meaning those taking trips of that duration or shorter no longer need proof of a negative COVID-19 test to return home.
Under the U.S. plan to combat the spread of COVID-19 over the winter months, the Transportation Security Administration is extending its mask mandates on transit through March 18. Passengers on domestic flights, trains and public transportation will be required to continue wearing face masks.
Other components of the 10-point U.S. strategy include:
- A plan to expand access to booster shots, with a comprehensive outreach effort to convince nearly 100 million eligible Americans to get one.
- New family vaccination clinics to provide a one-stop vaccination stop for entire households.
- Accelerating the effort to safely vaccinate children under the age of five.
- Expanding the availability of at-home test kits.
- Rapid response teams to help with widespread omicron outbreaks.
- Another 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses donated internationally within the next 100 days.
Biden’s speech outlining the plan comes a day after the U.S. confirmed its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a traveller who arrived in San Francisco from South Africa on Nov. 22.
The new variant is “cause for concern but not panic,” Biden said.
More omicron cases reported
U.S. health officials confirmed a second case of the variant on Thursday in Minnesota. It involved a vaccinated man who had attended an anime convention just before Thanksgiving in New York City that drew an estimated 50,000 people. That would suggest the variant has begun to spread within the U.S.
In addition to the convention attendee, health officials in New York said tests showed five other people in the city recently infected with COVID-19 had the variant.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the geographic spread of the positive tests suggested the variant was undergoing “community spread” in the city and wasn’t linked to any one event.
Another U.S. case of the variant was reported Thursday in a Colorado woman who had recently travelled to southern Africa.
COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. have dropped by about half since the delta variant peak in August and September, but at about 86,000 new infections per day, the numbers are still worrisomely high — especially heading into the holidays, when people travel and gather with family.
U.S. to not reimburse private health insurers for covering at-home COVID test costs
The U.S. government will not reimburse private health insurance companies for covering the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests, a White House official said on Thursday.
“The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act require coverage of diagnostic testing for COVID-19 without any cost-sharing requirements during the public health emergency,” the White House official said.
“The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury will clarify that coverage of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests is generally subject to those provisions”, the official added.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason, writing by Kanishka Singh)
Oil up on OPEC+ plan to meet ahead of schedule if Omicron dents demand
Oil prices climbed on Friday, extending gains after OPEC+ said it would review supply additions ahead of its next scheduled meeting if the Omicron variant hits demand, but prices were still on course for a sixth week of declines.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 27 cents, or 0.4%, to $66.77 a barrel at 0122 GMT, adding to a 1.4% gain on Thursday.
Brent crude futures rose 12 cents, or 0.2%, to $69.79 a barrel, after climbing 1.2% in the previous session.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and allies, together called OPEC+, surprised the market on Thursday when it stuck to plans to add 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) supply in January.
However the producers left the door open to changing policy swiftly if demand suffered from measures to contain the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. They said they could meet again before their next scheduled meeting on Jan. 4, if needed.
That boosted prices with “traders reluctant to bet against the group eventually pausing its production increases,” ANZ Research analysts said in a note.
Wood Mackenzie analyst Ann-Louise Hittle said it made sense for OPEC+ to stick with their policy for now, given it was still unclear whether Omicron could resist existing vaccines.
“The group’s members are in regular contact and are monitoring the market situation closely,” Hittle said in emailed comments.
“As a result, they can react swiftly when we start to get a better sense of the scale of the impact the Omicron variant of COVID-19 could have on the global economy and demand.”
The market has been roiled all week by the emergence of Omicron and speculation that it could spark new lockdowns, dent fuel demand and spur OPEC+ to put its output increases on hold.
Brent was poised to end the week down about 4%, while WTI was on track for a 2% drop on the week, both down for a sixth straight week.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Richard Pullin)
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