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



The latest:

The Omicron variant continued to cause record-breaking COVID-19 numbers of cases in several provinces, but a new study out of Ontario suggested those infected with the variant are significantly less likely to face hospitalization or death compared to those with Delta.

In the study, Public Health Ontario compared Omicron cases with symptoms that emerged between Nov. 22 and Dec. 17 with Delta cases and found that, after adjusting for vaccination status and region, the risk of hospitalization or death was 54 per cent lower with Omicron.

The agency said Omicron appears to be the first dominant variant to show a decline in severity but warned that, due to its higher transmissibility, “the absolute number of hospitalizations and impact on the health-care system is likely to be significant, despite possible reduced severity.”

Provinces across the country have seen surging case counts as a result of Omicron, prompting some to amend or extend health restrictions.

Ontario and Quebec both recorded new highs for new infections Thursday. Ontario reported 13,807 new COVID-19 cases and Quebec had 14,188.  

The research institute that reports to the Quebec government said its modelling predicts “significant growth in new hospitalizations and the consequent occupancy of regular and intensive care beds over the next three weeks.”

It said its models show there could be between 1,600 and 2,100 COVID-19 patients outside intensive care units (ICUs) over the next three weeks. The institute said that could include between 300 and 375 ICU patients during that period. The most dire scenarios — 2,100 regular COVID-19 patients and 375 ICU patients — would surpass anything recorded during previous waves of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Quebec announced it is tightening restrictions in the province, bringing back a curfew and banning private indoor gatherings. It also delayed the return to school again until Jan. 17. 

Earlier in the day, Ontario announced changes to testing and isolation requirements, but only delayed the return to school by two days. 

British Columbia said it will bring back students in January in a phased approach, with staff and students whose parents are health workers, as well as those who need extra support, returning to class on Jan. 3 or 4. All other students will go back to school on Jan. 10.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6 p.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

For more details on the situation in your province and territory — including the latest on hospitalizations and ICU capacity, as well as struggles with testing capacity — click through to the local coverage below.

People are seen lining up for free COVID-19 rapid tests in Toronto on Tuesday. (Paul Smith/CBC)

In Central Canada, Ontario on Thursday reported 13,807 new cases of COVID-19, a new high, and eight additional deaths. Despite the high numbers, Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, also announced the province is changing its policies around testing and isolation. 

As of Dec. 31, PCR tests will only be available to high-risk individuals who have symptoms and/or are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 — including for the purposes of confirming a COVID-19 diagnosis to begin treatment — as well as workers and residents in the highest risk settings and vulnerable populations.

Moore said Ontario is also changing the required isolation period. Individuals with COVID-19 who are vaccinated, along with children under 12, will now be required to isolate for only five days following the onset of symptoms. Their household contacts are also required to isolate with them. Unvaccinated individuals must isolate for 10 days. 

Quebec also saw a fresh high on Thursday, with 14,188 new COVID-19 cases, and nine additional deaths. Premier François Legault announced that, beginning Friday, indoor restaurant dining will be paused and private indoor gatherings will be banned. He also said that the province would bring back a curfew from between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except for essential workers, along with fines of up to $6,000.

Indoor sports will be banned and people will continue to be encouraged to work from home. Schools, CEGEPs and universities will now reopen on Jan. 17, instead of as planned on Jan. 10.   

WATCH | Premier Legault outlines Quebec’s new measures: 

Quebec announces strict new measures amid rising Omicron infections

2 hours ago

Duration 2:40

Quebec Premier François Legault on Thursday announced a series of new measures, saying they are necessary to prevent overwhelming the health-care system. The province is reintroducing a curfew, limiting bubbles to one household, closing restaurant dining rooms and places of worship, and delaying school returns to Jan. 17. 2:40

In Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King outlined assistance measures for people impacted by COVID-19 on Thursday. The premier noted that cases have been rising on the island, but he noted that thus far most cases have been mild.

The update came as the province, which has not yet seen any COVID-19 deaths, reported 169 additional cases.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there were 349 new cases reported Thursday, another record high. Nova Scotia reported 522 new cases and is expanding booster eligibility to anyone 30 and up, beginning Monday, if they are six months out from their second dose. 

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston appealed during a Thursday afternoon briefing to retired health-care officials in the province to volunteer to help at vaccination clinics. 

“We do need your skills. And the more people we can get, the quicker we can do this,” he said.  

New Brunswick saw another new daily high number of cases Thursday, with 572 reported. There were two additional deaths. 

Across the North, Nunavut reported 20 new cases on Thursday. 

In the Northwest Territories, officials announced a delay in the return to school until Jan. 10, citing a surge in cases over the holidays. They are also asking that students who received a rapid self-test kit prior to the holidays do the test the day before school starts. 

Health officials there said 68 new COVID-19 cases had been reported since Christmas Eve, while Yukon health officials reported 27 new COVID-19 cases in the same period.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported another new high Thursday with 1,123 new cases and three additional deaths, while in Saskatchewan, health officials reported 589 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths.

WATCH | Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe explains why the province is shortening isolation times: 

Saskatchewan shortens COVID-19 isolation time to 5 days

6 hours ago

Duration 2:05

Saskatchewan is changing its guidance on COVID-19 testing and isolation times, relying heavily on rapid tests as it monitors the current falling hospitalization rate. 2:05

Alberta saw another huge jump in case numbers, with 4,000 cases reported Thursday after a previously record-setting 2,775 new cases were reported Wednesday.

In British Columbia, health officials reported five additional deaths on Wednesday and 2,944 new cases of COVID-19 — a new high for the province.

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

What’s happening around the world

A woman gets tested for COVID-19 in La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday. (Claudia Morales/Reuters)

As of Thursday afternoon roughly 285 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus database, which tracks cases from around the world. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.4 million.

In the Americas, Bolivia’s main cities cancelled any public activities for New Year’s Eve after the country reached a record 4,939 new cases of COVID-19, the highest number for one day in all the pandemic in the South American country.

The Omicron-fuelled surge that is sending COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in the U.S. is putting children in the hospital in close to record numbers, and experts lament that most are not vaccinated.

“It’s just so heartbreaking,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious-disease expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It was hard enough last year, but now you know that you have a way to prevent all this.”

During the week of Dec. 21-27, an average of 334 children 17 and under were admitted per day to hospitals with the coronavirus, a 58 per cent increase from the week before, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC)

In the Asia-Pacific region, India is going ahead with a legislative election in its most populous state despite daily COVID-19 infections more than doubling nationwide within a week. India reported 13,154 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a jump from 6,000 daily cases on Dec. 24.

The Chinese city of Xi’an reported on Thursday another 155 local cases, taking the total number to the highest seen in any Chinese city this year, as infections keep spreading eight days into a lockdown.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa reported 9,020 new cases of COVID-19 and 81 additional deaths.

In Europe, the U.K. reported a sharp increase in coronavirus-related deaths Thursday — 332 — as the National Health Service announced it was building temporary structures at hospitals in England to prepare for a possible surge of patients infected with the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The number of people hospitalized in the U.K. with COVID-19 jumped to 11,898, up 44 per cent from a week earlier.

Residents and tourists in Paris will be required to wear masks outdoors starting Friday as France sees a surge of COVID-19 infections fuelled by the Omicron variant. Masks already are mandatory in shops, public facilities and office buildings and on public transportation in France

People wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 as they ice skate at a funfair in Paris on Wednesday. (Thibault Camus/The Associated Press)

The Paris police prefecture said the mask rule will apply to people 12 and over, although individuals will be exempt while riding bicycles or motorcycles, travelling in vehicles and doing exercise.Those who do not comply face a fine.

France reported 206,243 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday reported 2,234 new cases of COVID-19, with no additional deaths.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 2:45 p.m. ET

Have a question or something to say? CBC News is live in the comments now.  

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Canada, echoing U.S., says it fears armed conflict could erupt in Ukraine



Canada fears armed conflict could break out in Ukraine and is working with allies to make clear to Russia that any more aggression towards Kiev is unacceptable, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at “very short notice”. Moscow, which has stationed military equipment and tens of thousands of troops near the border, denies it is planning an invasion and blames the West for rising tensions.

“We do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine. We’re very worried about the position of the Russian government … and the fact that they’re sending soldiers to the Ukrainian border,” Trudeau told a news conference.

Canada, with a sizeable and politically influential population of Ukrainian descent, has taken a strong line with Russia since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

“We’re working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression and further incursion into Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable,” Trudeau said.

“We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full press on the international stage.”

Canadian troops are in Latvia as part of a NATO mission and Trudeau said they would “continue the important work that NATO is doing to protect its eastern front”.

Canada has had a 200-strong training mission in western Ukraine since 2015.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly on Tuesday said Ottawa would make a decision at the appropriate time on supplying military hardware to Ukraine.

Trudeau side-stepped a question about sending defensive weapons, saying any decision would “be based on what is best for the people of Ukraine”.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren;Editing by Will Dunham and Philippa Fletcher)

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Canada's inflation rate rises to new 30-year high of 4.8% – CBC News



The Consumer Price Index increased at an annual pace of 4.8 per cent in December, as sharply higher prices for food led to the cost of living going up at its fastest rate since 1991.

Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that grocery prices increased by 5.7 per cent, the biggest annual gain since 2011.

The price of fresh produce is being walloped by two things, the data agency said: “Unfavourable weather conditions in growing regions, as well as supply chain disruptions.”

The price of apples has increased by 6.7 per cent in the past year, and oranges by almost as much — 6.6 per cent. 

The U.S. is the major supplier of oranges to Canada, and because of bad weather and a plant disease called citrus greening, the major growing region of Florida is on track to produce the smallest number of oranges since 1945. 

That’s causing the price of frozen concentrated orange juice to skyrocket on commodities markets.

“If you’re an orange juice drinker, it means your prices are going to be going up at the store,” analyst Phil Flynn, with Chicago-based commodity trading firm Price Group, told CBC News. “The cost of orange juice has almost doubled here in the last few months, and that’s going to be passed down to the consumers.”

Other types of food are going up quickly, too. The price of frozen beef has gone up by almost 12 per cent in the past year, while ham and bacon are up by about 15 per cent.

Kendra Sozinho, a manager at the Fiesta Farms grocery store in Toronto, says costs from suppliers are going up faster than she’s ever seen “We’re seeing almost every single supplier increasing their pricing whech then increases our pricing,” she told CBC News in an interview. “I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve never seen a jump like this.”

WATCH | Grocery store manager explains why prices are going up:

Grocery costs going up

53 minutes ago

Duration 0:38

Kendra Sozinho at Fiesta Farms in Toronto says consumers are seeing higher prices because grocers are dealing with sharply higher prices themselves. 0:38

Economist Tu Nguyen with consultancy RSM says food price increases could be set to get even worse in the coming weeks and months because of new rules forbidding unvaccinated truckers from entering the country.

“The current bout of inflation is driven by supply chain disruptions, pent-up demand and inflation expectations,” she said. “While pent-up demand is expected to ease as pandemic spending winds down, supply chain and inflation expectations remain paramount challenges.”

Prices for oranges and orange juice are set to rise because of bad weather and a citrus disease in Florida, which supplies most of Canada’s oranges. (Bruna Prado/Getty Images)

Expect a rate hike soon  

Food is far from the only thing becoming more expensive.

Shelter costs have risen by 5.4 per cent in the past year, faster than the overall inflation rate. And unlike the global forces at play pushing up food prices, the factors driving up shelter costs are all Canadian-made, TD Bank economist James Marple said.

“The one exception to the global nature of the current inflationary environment, is housing inflation, which is both domestically driven and, outside of increased incidents of extreme weather driving up insurance prices, directly related to the Bank of Canada’s policy stance,” he said.

Politicians weigh in

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre placed the blame for high inflation squarely at the foot of the federal government, noting that as a country with abundant energy and food resources, Canada should have a built-in advantage when it comes to keeping a lid on prices.

“The biggest increases for consumer products have been those that we source right here at home, not those that depend on foreign supply chains,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

“Home price inflation is a home-grown problem,” he went on, arguing that record government spending under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to blame for inflation. “The more he spends, the more things cost,” Poilievre said.

The Prime Minister, for his part, rejected that claim and said his government has a plan in place to face the inflationary challenges that many countries are facing.

WATCH | Trudeau talks about record high inflation:

Trudeau says inflation is a ‘global challenge’

2 hours ago

Duration 1:34

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says inflation is a challenge facing many countries and his government has a fiscal plan in place to get past it. 1:34

Lending rates were slashed to record lows in the early days of the pandemic to stimulate the economy. But two years of rock bottom mortgage rates have proven to be jet fuel for Canada’s housing market, causing many policy makers to suggest the time has come for the Bank of Canada to hike its rate to cool things down.

After Wednesday’s inflation report, investors think there’s about a 75 per cent chance of a rate hike as soon as next week, when the bank is set to meet. 

“Inflation is likely to come down over the next year, but getting it there will require tighter financial conditions and rate hikes by the Bank of Canada,” Marple said. 

Semiconductor shortage persists

And an ongoing lack of semiconductor microchips continues to drive up the price of just about anything with a microchip in it.

That includes durable goods like washing machines and other household appliances, the price of which have gone up by 5.7 per cent in the past 12 months. New car prices are up by even more — 7.2 per cent. 

If there was one area of relief for consumers, it was gas prices, where the price to fill up at the pump fell by 4.1 per cent during the month. That’s the biggest monthly drop since April 2020. But compared to a year ago, gas prices are still 33 per cent higher than they were in December 2020.

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



The latest:

New Brunswick’s health minister is asking the public for assistance as the province struggles with a growing wave of COVID-19 that has sparked concern over the strained health-care system.

“We need your help,” Dorothy Shephard, the province’s health minister, said in a statement. “Whether you are retired, non-practising or unlicensed — if you have experience that can help, please reach out to us.”

The health minister said the Omicron variant is causing both increased hospitalizations and staff absences, which is “putting pressure on all aspects of our health-care system.”

Health officials in New Brunswick on Tuesday said three more people who had COVID-19 had died, bringing the number of recorded deaths in the province to 192. The province also said a total of 113 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 15 in intensive care. The province, which is one of many jurisdictions in Canada that now restrict access to PCR testing, also reported an additional 330 lab-confirmed cases.

The province said it was looking for people to fill both paid and unpaid roles, noting in the statement that training and personal protective equipment would be provided.

New Brunswick’s call for help came as Prince Edward Island announced tight new restrictions — including closing gyms and restaurant dining rooms — and extended remote learning until the end of January as officials try to slow the spread of COVID-19.  

As of Tuesday, the island had eight people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including four in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 407 lab-confirmed cases.

Nova Scotia on Tuesday reported one additional COVID-19-related death. Health officials said in a statement there were 73 people in hospital “who were admitted due to COVID-19 and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit.” That figure includes 15 people being cared for in intensive care units, the province said.

The update came as the province reported an additional 415 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

“Now is the time to buckle down,” Premier Tim Houston said in a statement. “I ask all Nova Scotians to do everything you can to keep COVID-19 out of our health-care system, long-term care facilities and our communities.”

In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials on Tuesday reported two additional deaths and said COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province stood at 14, with three people in critical care. The province also reported an additional 295 lab-confirmed cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

-From CBC News, last updated at 7:20 a.m. ET

What’s happening elsewhere in Canada

A man has a paper checked by an SAQ employee at an outlet in Montreal on Tuesday. In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, vaccine passports will be mandatory to enter liquor and cannabis stores. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

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 health officials reported an additional 60 deaths on Wednesday, as the province’s health minister held a COVID-19 briefing alongside the province’s top doctor.

Health Minister Christine Elliott reported a total of 4,132 hospitalizations, with 589 in ICU. A total of 5,744 additional lab-confirmed cases were reported in Ontario on Wednesday, which was the first day back in classrooms for many students after a winter storm delayed the shift to in-person education.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday that for the first time in weeks, the number of people in the province’s hospitals and intensive care units is “increasing at a slower pace.”

Elliott said she sees a glimmer of hope, but cautioned that February will pose a challenge — especially for hospitals.

Quebec’s COVID-19 update on Wednesday showed 88 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 3,425, with 285 people in intensive care units. The province also reported an additional 6,123 lab-confirmed cases.

“In all likelihood, the number of cases has already peaked,” Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s interim public health director, told reporters on Tuesday. “We’re starting to see the rise in hospitalizations slowing down, which is a very good sign, even if the situation in hospitals remains very fragile.” 

In the North, the chief public health officer in the Northwest Territories on Tuesday said restrictions on gatherings were being extended until the end of the month. A statement from Dr. Kami Kandola said additional recommendations are being made for Inuvik and Fort Smith, including a call for work-from-home where possible, because of community transmission.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba on Tuesday reported three additional deaths in its COVID-19 update. The total hospitalizations stood at 620, with 48 in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 847 lab-confirmed cases.

In Saskatchewan, there were no additional COVID-19-related deaths reported on Tuesday. According to the province, the total number of hospitalizations increased to 189, with 18 people in intensive care units. The province also reported an additional 1,089 lab-confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said COVID-19 hospitalization rates are rising to levels not seen in the province since mid-October when the health-care system was grappling with the fourth wave. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the surging number of cases driven by the highly infectious Omicron coronavirus variant are starting to be reflected in hospital admissions.

As of Tuesday, the province’s COVID-19 updates showed a total of 1,089 hospitalizations, with 104 people in intensive care units. The province also recorded nine additional deaths and 3,279 additional lab-confirmed cases.

“It is important to recognize that any COVID-positive admission has an impact on our acute-care capacity,” Hinshaw said, as she outlined changes to how the province will report data on COVID-19 patients. “The bottom line is that our acute-care system remains under serious pressure and COVID-19 continues to pose a risk of severe outcomes to many Albertans.” 

Gyms and other exercise facilities are being allowed to gradually reopen in British Columbia, a move the province’s top doctor describes as a “cautious step” in lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Dr. Bonnie Henry said proof of vaccination will be required to use gyms, which will operate under capacity limits.

Henry said other restrictions that went into effect in December will remain in place because of the high rates of transmission and the number of people needing hospital care. Bars and nightclubs will stay closed and capacity limits for restaurants, theatres and stadiums will remain in place until Feb. 16.

The province on Tuesday reported a total of 854 COVID-19 hospitalizations, including 112 in intensive care. The province also reported nine additional deaths and 2,032 lab-confirmed cases.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 11:15 a.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

WATCH | China’s COVID-19 testing threshold could keep some athletes from Olympics: 

China’s COVID-19 testing threshold could keep some athletes from Olympics

14 hours ago

Duration 2:54

With just days before hundreds of athletes, coaches and staff depart for the Beijing Winter Olympics, CBC News has learned that China’s COVID-19 testing threshold is so high, it may prevent some athletes from competing — even if they’ve been previously cleared of the virus. 2:54

As of early Wednesday morning, roughly 334.4 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 5.5 million.

In Europe, France has registered 464,769 new COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours, official data showed on Tuesday, the highest-ever recorded tally since the start of the pandemic.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the United Nations is preparing for distanced relief operations in Tonga to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak in the Pacific island nation that is reeling from the impact of a volcanic eruption and tsunami, an official said.

In Africa, Namibia’s pandemic-ravaged tourism sector launched a campaign to encourage its employees to get inoculated as vaccine hesitancy threatens to derail the sector’s revival.

Meanwhile, South Africa reported 3,658 additional cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 100 additional deaths, though officials noted 30 of the deaths occurred in the previous 24 to 48 hours.

In the Americas, the U.S. government’s new website, set up for American households to order four free COVID-19 tests amid the Omicron variant surge, is up and running ahead of its official launch on Wednesday, the White House said.

In the Middle East, Iran on Tuesday reported 19 additional deaths and 4,060 new cases of COVID-19.

-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 7:25 a.m  ET

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