Health officials in Atlantic Canada say hospitals are nearing or exceeding capacity as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow.
Nova Scotia reported 1,145 new lab-confirmed cases on Saturday. The province is issuing abbreviated updates over the weekend that do not include current hospitalization numbers.
Dr. Kirk Magee, who oversees emergency care at Halifax-area hospitals, said although the Omicron variant might not be sending more people to hospital, it has left the health system “stretched to its limits,” largely because of the hundreds of hospital staff who have been reallocated or sidelined due to COVID-19 infection or the need to isolate.
Nova Scotia Public Health says it is now limiting contact tracing to long-term care settings, health-care facilities, correctional facilities, shelters and other group environments.
“Omicron is having a significant impact on our health-care workforce,” Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, told a news conference on Wednesday, referring to the more contagious variant of coronavirus. “Our hospitals are over capacity, and for Nova Scotians that means waiting too long for care or having long-awaited tests or procedures cancelled.
“The reality is there’s very little flex in our health system right now.”
Meanwhile, in New Brunswick, the province updated figures on Saturday to indicate that it had 421 new confirmed cases and one new death.
The number of people in hospital rose from 69 to 80, with 17 of those in intensive care and 11 on ventilators.
Dorothy Shephard, New Brunswick’s health minister, said on Friday that she believes it’s likely the health system will soon be “tested like never before,” as close to 350 health workers in the province are off work due to the virus.
The Vitalité Health Network has stated that half of its hospitals have an occupancy rate of more than 100 per cent. The Miramichi Regional Hospital is also operating at over capacity, with other hospitals in the Horizon Health Network saying their capacity levels ranged from 90 to 97 per cent.
What’s happening across Canada
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.
The number of people hospitalized as a result of the virus now totals 2,419, down slightly from Saturday’s pandemic high of 2,594. However, that number is potentially lower than reality given that not all provincial hospitals report figures on weekends. The number of people in intensive care units as a result of COVID-19 is now 412, up from 385 on Saturday.
In Quebec, the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by 163 for a total of 2,296 on Saturday. Health officials reported 245 patients in intensive care, an increase of 16 from Friday.
The province also reported 44 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus on Saturday, the highest daily death toll in nearly a year.
In British Columbia, officials announced children will return to in-class learning on Monday under enhanced safety measures, despite a surge in transmission caused by Omicron.
In the Prairies, the Saskatchewan government is declining to limit gatherings despite a warning from the chief medical health officer; more than 900 health-care workers in Manitoba tested positive over the holidays, according to the provincial health organization; and projections from Alberta Health Services’ early warning system suggest the current wave could, within a couple of weeks, send more people to hospital than at any point in the pandemic.
In the Atlantic provinces, visitor restrictions have been expanded to in-patients and long-term care residents at several hospitals in Nova Scotia‘s northern zone. The new restrictions in the province come as Prince Edward Island announced an outbreak at a care facility in Miscouche that has so far affected three staff and eight residents. Meanwhile, labour groups in Newfoundland and Labrador are demanding 10 days of mandatory paid sick leave for workers as thousands across the province are sick with COVID-19 or self-isolating.
In the North, there’s a mixture of relief, resignation and disappointment from students, parents and teachers as schools across the Northwest Territories return to online learning this week.
What’s happening around the world
As of Sunday morning, more than 305.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.4 million.
In Asia, the major port of Tianjin may be facing China’s first outbreak of Omicron of any size, less than four weeks before the Winter Olympics open in nearby Beijing.
The city began mass testing of its 14 million residents on Sunday after a cluster of 20 children and adults tested positive for COVID-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant. Officials said the virus has been circulating, so the number of cases could grow.
China has stepped up its strict zero-tolerance strategy in the run-up to the Olympics, which open Feb. 4. The Chinese capital is 115 kilometres northwest of Tianjin, and many people regularly travel back and forth by car or on a high-speed rail link that takes less than one hour.
In Europe, British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday said that reducing the self-isolation period for people who test positive for COVID-19 from seven days to five would help British workforces that have been hit hard by absences.
As Omicron continues to spread in Britain, many businesses, schools and hospitals are struggling with staff shortages, fuelling calls for the rules on isolation after a positive test to be reduced further.
Italy, meanwhile, will tighten its COVID-19 restrictions for the unvaccinated on Monday. Anyone who wants to eat in a restaurant, take a public bus or go skiing will have to show proof of vaccination or that they’ve recently recovered from the illness.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Australian government claims it had not given tennis star Novak Djokovic an assurance that a medical exemption he said he had to enter Australia without a COVID-19 vaccination would be accepted, government lawyers said in a court filing on Sunday.
The filing ahead of a court hearing on Monday was in defence of the government’s decision to bar entry to the world No. 1 player over his COVID-19 vaccination status.
Djokovic is hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open, starting in Melbourne on Jan. 17. But instead of training, he has been confined to a hotel used for asylum seekers. He is challenging the decision to cancel his visa after being stopped on arrival at Melbourne Airport early on Thursday.
A vocal opponent of vaccine mandates, Djokovic had declined to reveal his vaccination status or reason for seeking a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccine rules. But his legal team said in a filing to the court on Saturday that the Serbian had been granted an exemption due to contracting and recovering from the virus in December.
U.S. charges man with human smuggling after 4 freeze to death near Canada border
U.S. authorities on Thursday charged a man with human smuggling of Indian nationals from Canada, the day after four people including a baby were found frozen to death in a remote part of Canada close to the Minnesota border.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota said 47-year-old Steve Shand had been arrested just south of the border on Wednesday while driving two undocumented Indian citizens.
U.S. border patrol agents soon came across five more Indians traveling on foot, one of whom was carrying a backpack belonging to a family of four who had become separated from the group as they all tried to cross the border.
They alerted Canadian police who found the victims – a man, a woman, a teenage boy and a baby – about 40 feet (12 meters) from the frontier with Minnesota. First indications are that they died from exposure to the cold.
“These victims faced not only the cold weather, but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told a televised news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Wind chill had driven down the temperature to minus 35 C (minus 31 F), she said.
The U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement that the four victims had tentatively been identified as the missing Indian family.
The five Indian nationals explained they had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone and estimated they had been walking around for over 11 hours.
Shand has been charged with one count of human smuggling. He is next due in court on Jan 24.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)
Canada agency says Russian-backed actors targeting infrastructure
Network operators of critical Canadian infrastructure should boost their defenses against Russian state-sponsored threats, Canada’s signals intelligence agency said on Thursday.
The warning from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is the latest in a series of bulletins from Canada’s two main spy agencies accusing Russian actors of trying to hack into sensitive computer systems.
“(CSE) encourages the Canadian cyber-security community —especially critical infrastructure network defenders — to bolster their awareness of and protection against Russian state-sponsored cyber threats,” it said in a statement.
Russian actors and others are targeting critical infrastructure network operators as well as their operational and information technology, it added.
Operators should be prepared to isolate components and services that “would be considered attractive to a hostile threat actor to disrupt” and boost vigilance, CSE said.
Canada has had poor relations with Russia since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Ottawa fears armed conflict could break out in Ukraine and is working with allies to make clear to Russia that any further aggression towards Kiev is unacceptable, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
Canada adds jobs for fifth month in December -ADP
Canada added 19,200 jobs in December, the fifth straight month of gains, led by hiring in the professional and business services and leisure and hospitality sectors, a report from payroll services provider ADP showed on Thursday.
The November data was revised to show 102,100 jobs were created rather than an increase of 231,800. The report, which is derived from ADP’s payrolls data, measures the change in total nonfarm payroll employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.
(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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