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



The latest:

New Brunswick is moving to the more restrictive Level 3 on Friday at 11:59 p.m., as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the province.

Premier Blaine Higgs, who himself tested positive on New Year’s Eve, made the announcement Thursday.

Under Level 3, social gatherings will be limited to single household bubbles; no public gatherings will be permitted; restaurants will be takeout only; non-essential retail will be reduced to contactless pickup or delivery only; gyms, salons and entertainment centres will be closed; and faith services will only be allowed outdoors or virtually.

WATCH | New Brunswick’s new restrictions: 

New Brunswick lays out new restrictions to combat Omicron variant

3 hours ago

Duration 2:27

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs announced Thursday that the province is set to move to ‘Level 3,’ the most restrictive level of its COVID-19 winter plan, for 16 days beginning Friday at midnight. 2:27

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says he has also tested positive for COVID-19. Moe posted his test result on Twitter Thursday morning.

The premier’s press secretary, Julie Leggott, said in an email to CBC News that Moe has been routinely using rapid antigen testing to monitor for COVID-19. She said he isn’t experiencing any symptoms. 

Moe appeared in person at a news conference on Wednesday and took his mask off while answering questions.

Leggott’s email went on to advise that anyone who was present at the news conference “should self-monitor and rapid test,” and that all Moe’s close contacts from the past 48 hours have been notified in accordance with public health guidance.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe tested positive on a rapid antigen test following an in-person news conference Wednesday. (CBC)

Some provinces are pushing back the start of in-school learning again. Prince Edward Island announced students will not be back in class until at least Jan. 24 as provincial COVID-19 cases have been increasing steadily over the past week.

“Despite our best efforts and preparations, there will be cases of COVID-19 in the schools,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison. “Our aim will be to minimize disruption in learning for students and for P.E.I. families in general.”

Newfoundland and Labrador is also aiming to get students back in class Jan. 24. They will continue with online learning for the next week.

Prior to returning to class, all students, teachers and school staff across the province will be required to take two rapid COVID-19 tests at home, about 72 hours apart. For example, if classes resume on Jan. 24, tests would be taken on Jan. 21 and the morning of Jan. 24.

Quebec, however, is sending kids back to school on Monday, and is removing the curfew that has been in effect since Dec. 31. Premier François Legault says he believes case numbers in the province are beginning to stabilize. 

In a briefing Thursday, Legault also said vaccination will now be mandatory for big box stores, with the exclusion of grocery stores and pharmacies. 

The 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew drew criticism as Legault provided little evidence that curfews are effective at slowing transmission of the virus. Legault said Thursday that he hopes the province will return to where it was before Christmas soon — with everything from movie theatres to gyms and restaurants fully reopened. 

WATCH | Quebec on the right track, says premier: 

Quebec premier says pandemic projections improving enough to end curfew and reopen schools

2 hours ago

Duration 1:57

François Legault says COVID-19 hospitalizations could begin to drop next week, news that has led to a decision to end the curfew and reopen of schools on Monday. 1:57

Manitoba students will also return to in-school learning Monday, but with the news that schools will no longer notify close contacts of individual cases and will instead provide reports on absenteeism through their regular channels.

-From CBC News, and The Canadian Press last updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Proposed unvaccinated tax raises many concerns: 

Quebec’s proposed unvaccinated tax raises legal, ethical, political concerns

21 hours ago

Duration 2:43

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among the chorus of voices saying they need more details before they can support Quebec’s plan to implement a tax on residents unvaccinated against COVID-19. 2:43

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, health officials in Quebec on Thursday said COVID-19 hospitalizations had risen to 2,994, an increase of 117. The number of people in intensive care, the province’s health ministry said, stood at 272.

The province also reported 45 additional deaths, as well as 8,793 new lab-confirmed cases.

Health officials in Ontario on Thursday reported 35 additional deaths linked to COVID-19. Total hospitalizations stood at 3,630 — an increase of 182 — with 500 people in intensive care units, according to data from the province’s public health dashboard. The province, which has limited access to PCR testing, reported an additional 9,909 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

In a briefing Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said he anticipates the spread of Omicron could peak in the next few weeks. That peak is likely to be followed by subsequent increases in hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

“It will be a difficult January, but the sacrifices you are making now means a better February and a better March for all of us,” Moore said.

Moore stressed Ontarians need to continue getting their booster shots to keep hospitalization numbers at bay.

Individuals in Ontario who are immunocompromised are eligible for a fourth dose of vaccine as of Friday, providing they are 84 days out from their third dose. 

In Atlantic Canada, officials in Prince Edward Island on Thursday announced that students will be learning remotely for at least another week.

Newfoundland and Labrador will keep kids learning from home until at least Jan. 24

“While I know it’s not perfect, it has allowed us to minimize learning loss during these difficult times,” Education Minister Tom Osborne said in a news release.

The province, which did not report any additional deaths on Thursday, has eight people in hospital with COVID-19, including three in the ICU. There were 520 new lab-confirmed cases.

In New Brunswick, hospitalizations increased by six to 94, health officials said Wednesday, with 10 people in intensive care units. The province also saw one additional death and 359 additional lab-confirmed cases. 

“The rate of people hospitalized and in ICU continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated,” a statement from the province said. 

Nova Scotia health officials on Wednesday reported one additional death and cautioned that the health system in the province is facing extreme strain.

“There are 60 people in hospital who were admitted due to COVID-19 and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit,” a statement from the province said. “That includes five people in ICU.”

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, cautioned that the situation in Nova Scotia is as serious as it’s ever been.

“If I sound concerned, it’s because I am, deeply,” he said.

Across the North, Nunavut‘s top public health doctor said in a statement Thursday that the territory will lift some COVID-19 restrictions as of next Monday.

“The strict public health restrictions since the end of December have been effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, as the territory reported 12 additional cases.

Health officials in Yukon reported that there are still two patients in hospital, with 56 new confirmed cases. 

The Northwest Territories had not yet provided updated information for the day.

In the Prairie provinces, hospitalizations in Manitoba hit another pandemic high Thursday, with 499 COVID-19-related cases in hospital — up 45 in one day. The number of people in ICU rose to 47, and there were nine additional deaths. The province also reported 1,228 additional lab-confirmed cases. 

In Saskatchewan, health officials on Thursday said hospitalizations rose slightly for a total of 123, with 11 people in ICU. The province, which had no additional deaths to report, saw 945 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Alberta on Wednesday said COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 40 to reach 748, with 82 people in the province’s intensive care units. The province, which reported 15 additional deaths from Jan. 7 to Jan. 12, also recorded 6,789 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In British Columbia, health officials on Wednesday reported six COVID-19 deaths. The province also said there were 500 people in hospital — an increase of 31 — including 102 in intensive care. The province reported an additional 2,859 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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

What’s happening around the world

An Ivory Coast fan wearing a protective mask reacts as he watches the Africa Cup of Nations soccer match between Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast on a big screen in Abidjan on Wednesday. (Luc Gnago/Reuters)

As of early Thursday afternoon, roughly 319 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking database. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.

In Africa, the continent’s top public health body said it was in talks with Pfizer about securing supplies of its antiviral COVID-19 pills for the continent, the latest to join the race for a drug seen as a potential game changer.

“We are in really close discussions with Pfizer to see what can be done to make the drugs available on the continent and accessible on the continent, that is, the Paxlovid drugs,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the Asia-Pacific region, new infections in Indian cities could peak next week after rising rapidly, experts said, as the country reported the highest number of daily cases since late May and Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India had adequate stocks of vaccines across states.

Meanwhile, Tokyo recorded a new four-month high in infections, and experts forecast the spread of the Omicron variant would cause the daily count to triple by month’s end.

A woman walks in front of a public awareness notice about the Omicron variant Jan. 13, 2022, in Tokyo. The words read: the Omicron variant, on the right, and previous variants, on the left. (Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press)

South Korea will begin treating coronavirus patients with Pfizer’s antiviral pills on Friday, health officials said, as concern mounts over the spread of Omicron. At least 21,000 of the pills arrived on Thursday to be distributed to some 280 pharmacies and 90 residential treatment centres, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.

In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said he was deploying more military health workers to hospitals in six U.S. states, and would give Americans free masks and more free tests to tackle Omicron around the country.

In Europe, French teachers walked off the job on Thursday over what they say is the government’s failure to adopt a coherent policy for schools to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and protect pupils and staff against infection.

Teachers and school personnel take part in a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on Thursday during a strike to protest against the government’s change in policy on COVID-19 in schools. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany’s vaccine committee recommended on Thursday that all children between the ages of 12 and 17 receive a COVID-19 booster as the country reported a new daily record of more than 81,000 coronavirus infections.

Meanwhile, British officials said Thursday the self-isolation period for people in England who test positive for COVID-19 will be reduced from next week to five full days, instead of seven.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said that early signs indicate that the rate of hospitalization from the coronavirus in the country is starting to slow. Currently, those infected can be released from self-isolation after seven days if they test negative on both days six and seven.

Javid urged people to continue to self-test for the virus, so that “we can restore the freedoms to this country while we’re keeping everyone safe.”

The U.K. saw record numbers of daily confirmed infections over Christmas and into the new year, topping 200,000 cases on some days, as the Omicron variant spread rapidly. Industries from retail to education, and infrastructure like public transport and postal services, have been severely disrupted because scores of workers had to isolate and could not go to work.

Javid told lawmakers that although hospitals will “remain under significant pressure” over the coming weeks — with almost 17,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in England — the current wave of the pandemic has not seen an increase in intensive care patients. Official data showed “encouraging signs” that cases were falling in London and eastern England, he said, but infections were rising elsewhere in the country.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday reported two additional deaths and 5,362 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 10:50 a.m. ET

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Exclusive-Google aims to improve spotty enforcement of children’s ads policy



Alphabet Inc’s Google said this week it would immediately improve enforcement of an age-sensitive ad policy after Reuters found ads for sex toys, liquor and high-risk investments in its search engine that should have been blocked under its efforts to comply with UK regulations.

Britain started enforcing regulations last September aimed at protecting children from being tracked online. Google in response began modifying settings across its services in Europe and elsewhere for users younger than 18 years. Among the measures it had touted in August was “expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens.”

Specifically, the search giant began using automated tools to stop ads related to categories such as alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs from being shown to people who are not logged in to a Google account or confirmed to be at least 18.

Tech companies face a growing challenge with policing their sprawling services, and, according to posts on online advertising forums and two advertisers, Google’s enforcement has been spotty.

The advertisers, who sought anonymity out of fear of retribution from the tech company, said they have been frustrated about significant lost sales due to Google’s search engine correctly blocking their ads from signed-out users while erroneously allowing their competitors’ ads.

Ads were shown in the UK to signed-out users last week for leveraged trading, cholesterol medication, adult toy retailers and a major grocer promoting a vodka product, Reuters found.

“We have policies in place that limit where we show certain age-sensitive ad categories,” Google said. “The ads in question were mislabeled and in this instance should have been restricted from serving. We are taking immediate steps to address this issue.”

It declined to elaborate on the adjustments.

Google advertising rivals such as Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Microsoft Corp either ban many categories of age-sensitive ads altogether or have put the onus on advertisers to target their ads in ways that limit exposure to minors. Microsoft declined to comment, and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

The UK Children’s Code requires online services to meet 15 design and privacy standards to protect children, such as limiting collection of their location and other personal information. Google said its filtering of age-sensitive ads is core to its compliance with the code.

Advocacy group 5Rights Foundation, which campaigned for the regulation and reviewed the findings by Reuters, said tech companies should regularly publish internal research on how well they are living up to the code and their own policies.

“We must be wary of ‘safety washing,'” 5Rights said. “Tech companies need to back up their claims with action, and demonstrate how they are complying with regulations, particularly in the early stages of implementation.”

Google did not respond to the comments. The company declined to share detailed information with Reuters about how often it had failed to block age-sensitive ads.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said in November it had reached out to Google, Apple Inc and other companies in social media, streaming and gaming to review their conformance to the code. The review is ongoing, the privacy regulator told Reuters.


(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Kenneth Li, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Matthew Lewis)

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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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