The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions on eight southern African countries imposed last month over concerns about the fast-spreading COVID-19 Omicron variant, the White House said Friday.
Foreign nationals who are barred from the United States because they have been in one of the eight countries within the prior 14 days will again be allowed on U.S.-bound flights leaving after 12:01 a.m. ET on Dec. 31, a senior official said, confirming a Reuters report.
The United States on Nov. 29 barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi in an “abundance of caution” over the variant detected in South Africa.
White House spokesman Kevin Munoz tweeted that Biden “will lift the temporary travel restrictions on Southern Africa countries” effective Dec. 31.
He said the decision was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp boosted,” Munoz tweeted.
Reuters reported earlier U.S. public health agencies had recommended lifting the travel restrictions because retaining them would have not a significant impact on U.S. cases given the widespread current U.S. transmission, confidence that an Omicron-specific vaccine would not be necessary and that existing vaccines and booster shots are highly effective.
“This travel pause has served its purpose. It bought time to understand the science, it gave time to analyze the variant,” the official, who did not want to be identified because the decision has not yet been made public, told Reuters.
“This was not meant to keep Omicron out. We knew we couldn’t do that. The point was to reduce the number of cases coming in – in those early days and weeks.”
The restrictions have not prevented flights or Americans from returning from southern Africa.
Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Monday that lifting the restrictions was likely “because we have enough infection in our own country… We’re letting in people from other countries that have as much or more infection than the southern African countries.”
The official emphasized the restrictions were meant to be temporary and lifting them after about a month “sends a pretty clear signal that there’s not going to be a significant penalty” for coming forward to disclose new variant information.
The United States had only lifted travel restrictions on South Africa on Nov. 8 put in place since late January to address COVID-19 concerns.
In the wake of Omicron, the United States tightened testing rules for international travelers and extended a requirement to wear masks on airplanes and at airports through March 18.
On Dec. 6, CDC toughened testing rules for international air travelers arriving in the United States, requiring them to obtain a negative COVID-19 test within one day of travel.
Under prior rules, vaccinated international air travelers could present a negative test result obtained within three days of their day of departure.
CDC last week started distributing free COVID-19 home test kits to international travelers at several airports. The CDC encourages – but does not mandate – international air travelers to get a new COVID-19 test three to five days after arriving in the United States.
The CDC last month ordered airlines to disclose passenger names and other information about those who have recently been in the eight southern African countries.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC News
Ireland is to scrap almost all its COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday after a major surge in infections did not lead to a significant increase in the numbers requiring intensive hospital care, a senior minister said.
Ireland had the second-highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in Europe just last week but also one of the continent’s highest uptake of booster vaccines, which has helped keep the number of seriously ill people well below the previous peak.
Following advice from public health officials, the government decided that bars and restaurants will no longer need to close at 8 p.m., a restriction put in place late last year when the Omicron wave struck, or to ask customers for proof of vaccination.
Capacity in indoor and outdoor venues is also set to return to full capacity, paving the way for full crowds for next month’s Six Nations rugby championship.
Some measures, such as the need to wear a mask on public transport and in shops, will remain in place for now.
“I am so pleased to be able to say that as of 6 a.m. tomorrow, the vast majority of restrictions that have been in place for almost two years now, on and off, will be lifted,” Justice Minister Helen McEntee said in a video posted on Instagram following a government meeting.
“I don’t think any of us thought we’d actually be getting to this point as quickly as we are now.”
Prime Minister Micheal Martin was due to make a televised address to announce the measures.
The changes would put Ireland back in line with Northern Ireland, which had less-severe restrictions over Christmas and agreed to scrap vaccine passes on Thursday and reopen nightclubs next week.
Ireland’s hospitality sector, which has been particularly hard hit by one of Europe’s toughest lockdown regimes, welcomed the decision.
Nightclubs opened their doors for the first time in 19 months in October only to be shut again six weeks later.
While the economy recovered rapidly last year, around a third of employers have chosen to defer tax payments and the wages of one in 12 workers are still being supported by a state subsidy scheme set to end in April.
-From Reuters, last update at 12:50 p.m. ET
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.
In British Columbia, health officials on Friday said they are shifting their approach to managing the spread of the novel coronavirus. At a midday press conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said health officials in the province must change their way of thinking in light of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
“Right now, with the level of transmission in our community, we have to assume we have been in contact with someone with COVID-19,” Henry said.
“We cannot eliminate all risk, and I think that’s something we need to understand and accept as this virus has changed and has become part of what we will be living with for years to come. But we can use all the layers of protection to keep our settings safe.”
Henry said contact tracing is no longer an effective way of managing COVID-19’s spread. She encouraged people to check themselves every day for symptoms and stay home as necessary. She urged anyone who has not been vaccinated to do so immediately.
In Central Canada, the provincial COVID-19 dashboard in Ontario on Friday showed 4,114 hospitalizations — up by 53 from a day earlier — and 590 people in intensive care units. The province also reported a total of 64 additional deaths and 7,165 additional lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The update comes after Premier Doug Ford announced plans on Thursday to begin a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions over a period of months, with the first step to begin at the end of January.
Quebec cannot begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions because the situation in the province’s hospitals remains too fragile, Premier François Legault said Thursday.
“The situation will continue to be difficult for the next few weeks. I understand that we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault said. “We are currently at the limit in our hospitals.”
The province on Friday reported 3,351 hospitalizations, down 60 from a day earlier. Quebec’s daily COVID-19 situation report showed 265 people in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 59 deaths and 5,995 new lab-confirmed cases.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday that the province has likely still not seen the peak of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“But our ability to manage the situation is improving, thanks to the dedication of multiple teams,” he said, noting that the province is seeing some positive signs, including a return of some health workers from isolation and a reduction in contacts.
The province, which is currently under tight COVID-19 restrictions, recently put out an urgent call for volunteers and workers to help with the pandemic response. The province saw a “huge” response, Higgs said, and work is underway to match offers to help to areas where assistance is needed.
New Brunswick health officials on Thursday said total hospitalizations had increased to 124, including 12 people in intensive care units. The province also reported an additional three deaths and 488 additional lab-confirmed cases.
Newfoundland and Labrador students will be back in classrooms next week, officials said Thursday at a COVID-19 briefing. Students will have to take two rapid tests before returning to school. One of the tests is to occur 72 hours before they return and the other on Tuesday morning, before classes begin.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, who reported two additional deaths and a total of 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations, said Thursday that at this time, “the benefits of being in school for children outweigh the risks of COVID-19.” The province also reported an additional 360 lab-confirmed cases.
In New Brunswick, officials reported two new deaths and 124 hospitalizations on Friday. Twelve of those patients are in intensive care units.
In Nova Scotia, health officials reported three additional deaths on Thursday. In an update posted online, the province said there were 85 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID-19 and receiving specialized care, including 12 people in ICU. The province also reported an additional 696 lab-confirmed cases.
In Prince Edward Island, health officials on Thursday said in a statement there were 10 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including two in intensive care. Three other people were in hospital who were positive for COVID-19.
The province, which has now seen a total of three recorded COVID-19 related deaths, also reported an additional 249 cases.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba health officials on Friday reported 827 new cases and said a total of 664 hospitals, with 50 people are in intensive care units. The province also reported seven additional deaths.
Saskatchewan on Thursday reported 215 hospitalizations, with 23 people in intensive care units. According to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard, there were no additional deaths and 1,158 additional lab-confirmed cases.
Six of Saskatchewan’s largest unions representing 113,000 front-line workers are demanding more safety measures to blunt the rise of hospitalizations.
In Alberta, health officials on Thursday said there were 1,131 people in hospital with COVID-19 — the highest level the province has seen during the pandemic — with 108 in intensive care units. The province also reported eight additional deaths and 3,527 additional lab-confirmed cases.
To prepare for a swell of hospitalizations, the government said it is building additional bed capacity, maximizing the workforce with nursing students and opening COVID-19 community clinics.
Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said the number of patients receiving care for COVID-19 has increased by about 40 per cent over the last week. Admissions to intensive care have jumped by about 18 per cent.
There are also more health-care staff having to isolate than in previous waves, she said. About five per cent of AHS staff are off sick at any given time and between 18 and 20 per cent of shifts are being missed daily due to challenges related to the pandemic.
“It has been a long two years, but now is not the time to let your guard down,” said Yiu.
Across the North, Nunavut on Friday reported 20 new additional lab-confirmed cases, with no additional deaths. Health officials in the Northwest Territories and Yukon had not yet provided updated information for the day.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 3:20 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Friday afternoon, more than 344.7 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, health ministers in the European Union will try to find a common line on Friday over a potential fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, amid a surge in cases sparked by the Omicron variant.
Meanwhile, daily new coronavirus infections in Russia reached an all-time high Friday and authorities blamed the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova on Friday noted “intensive spread of the Omicron variant” and said the authorities “expect it to become the dominating” variant driving the outbreak. The state coronavirus task force Golikova heads reported 49,513 new infections on Friday.
Record numbers of new cases were reported respectively in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. In light of the surge, health officials in St. Petersburg on Friday limited elective outpatient care.
Golikova on Friday urged Russians who received their vaccinations or recovered from the virus more than six months ago to “head to a vaccination point again in order to protect yourself from the virus” with a booster.
Also Friday, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered cabinet members to hold meetings online and have their staff work remotely “where possible.”
Just about half of Russia’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, despite the fact that Russia was among the first in the world to approve and roll out a COVID-19 vaccine. In Russia, everyone who received their primary vaccination more than six months ago has been eligible for a booster shot since July.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Bangladesh closed all schools and colleges for two weeks to counter an “alarming” rise in infections, just four months after ending a lengthy year school closure imposed due to coronavirus.
Japan acted to contain a record surge in cases with a return to curbs that have, however, shown diminishing results, while a laggard vaccine booster program leaves many people vulnerable to breakthrough infections.
Nepal’s capital shut schools, ordered citizens to carry vaccination cards in public, banned religious festivals and instructed hotel guests to be tested every three days as it battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak.
The chief government administrator of Kathmandu issued a notice on Friday saying all people must carry their vaccination cards when they are in public areas or stores.
Nepal, however, has only fully vaccinated just over 40 per cent of its population, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. The notice did not say how unvaccinated people will be able to do tasks such as shop for groceries.
The government says it has enough vaccines in stock, but a new wave of COVID-19 cases propelled by the Omicron variant has created long lines at vaccination centres, with many people unable to receive shots.
In Africa, the World Bank has approved a loan of $750 million US to South Africa linked to COVID-19, aiming to help protect the poor and support economic recovery from the pandemic. South Africa’s health ministry on Thursday reported 3,962 additional cases of COVID-19 and 139 additional deaths, though officials noted a data cleanup was contributing to the increased death figures.
In the Middle East, Israel will ditch mandatory quarantine for children exposed to COVID-19 carriers, the government said on Thursday, citing a need to relieve parents and schools as case numbers spiral due to the fast-spreading but low-morbidity Omicron variant.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that as of Jan. 27, children will instead be required to take twice-weekly home antigen tests for the virus and, if they prove positive or feel unwell, absent themselves from school until they recover. The home kits will be supplied free of charge, he said.
In the Americas, President Joe Biden will urge U.S. mayors to use more of their state and local COVID-19 aid funds to expand their workforces, a White House official said, an effort partly aimed at easing economic bottlenecks and inflation.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:45 p.m. ET
Canada rushes to crush more canola despite crop crunch
Soaring demand for Canadian canola oil used in food and fuel has resulted in plans for a massive increase in capacity to process canola seeds, including this week’s announcement https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/federated-co-op-agt-build-c360-mln-canadian-canola-crush-plant-2022-01-17 of a C$360 million ($289 million) crush plant project.
But while buyers are lining up, some analysts wonder if there is enough of the crop to go around and doubt all the projects will proceed.
Canola hit record high prices last year due to strong vegetable oil demand and a severe Canadian drought that shrunk crops in the world’s top producing country. Palm and soybeans are also in tight supply https://www.reuters.com/article/vegoils-world-output-insight-idTRNIKBN2G1019, helping drive up food inflation.
Federated Co-operative Limited (FCL) and partner AGT Food and Ingredients said on Monday they would build a Saskatchewan plant to crush 1.1 million tonnes of canola annually to supply oil for FCL’s renewable diesel facility.
Richardson International, Ceres Global Ag Corp, Cargill Inc and Viterra Inc announced similar plans last year, drawn by demand for canola oil in foods like margarine and salad dressing, or for production of low-emitting fuels.
Combined, the plans would increase Canada’s canola crush capacity by 6.8 million tonnes, or 62%.
That is a tall order to fill for Canadian farmers, whose canola production peaked in 2017, said Marlene Boersch, managing partner of Mercantile Consulting Venture. She is skeptical that all of the crush plants will materialize.
“We do have a (crop) production problem. I don’t think we’ll see these substantial investments for years to come.”
Output concerns go beyond last year’s drought. Canola acreage also hit a peak in 2017 and yields were flat from 2017-2020 before the drought.
Patrick Bergermann, FCL’s associate vice-president of energy roadmap, expects its plant to purchase some canola that would otherwise go for export, which usually accounts for about half the annual crop.
FCL’s plant, which may open in 2025, pending Ottawa finalizing its clean fuel regulation, will add value both from generating oil for fuel and from meal for use as a potential food protein source, he said.
“There’s still ample opportunity for the industry to add crush capacity,” he said.
For crushers to attract more canola seed away from export channels, they would have to bid aggressively for it, which would reduce margins, said Ken Ball, a commodity futures advisor with PI Financial. He expects project delays or cancellations.
Saskatchewan farmer Bernie McClean says the new crush plants will reduce farmers’ vulnerability to trade restrictions on Canadian exports, such as from China. Farmers may boost plantings if they can successfully grow canola in hotter, drier areas, he said.
McClean, who sows 40-50% of his fields with canola, does not intend to plant more in the future, however. Sowing canola too often on the same fields can spread crop disease.
“If we get too carried away, Mother Nature has a way of coming around to bite us in the butt,” McClean said.
The Canola Council of Canada industry group sees production rising to 26 million tonnes by 2025, a 33% increase from pre-drought output, based on higher yields per acre.
Canola Council Chief Executive Jim Everson expects productivity to increase as companies develop more robust seeds using gene-editing technology, but he could not identify any specific, promising seed products in development.
Demand, however, continues to rise, enticing the crushers.
A proposed rule is expected early this year from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approving canola for use in making renewable diesel or greener jet fuel, Everson said.
North American biofuels could consume some 6.5 million tonnes of canola annually by 2030, nearly four times the current volume, he said.
($1 = 1.2458 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Haiti’s allies need to help tackle spike in violence -Canada PM Trudeau
Haiti‘s allies must act immediately to help tackle a spike in violence that is worsening an already precarious humanitarian situation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday.
The international community also needs to address deep governance problems that are fueling a political and security crisis in the western hemisphere’s poorest country, he told a group of foreign ministers holding a day of talks to discuss the crisis. Canada is hosting the virtual meeting.
Gangs have extended their control of territory in Haiti since the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moise. One gang coalition in October created a nationwide fuel shortage by blocking access to storage terminals, and kidnappings are rife.
“In order to address Haiti’s humanitarian needs, we must also address the challenging security situation. The increase in violence is only worsening the already precarious humanitarian situation,” Trudeau said.
“This will require immediate action to mitigate violence … we must also address the deep governance problems that are fueling the current political and security crisis. That includes taking action against corruption.”
A jump in kidnappings, added to worsening economic conditions, has prompted a growing number of Haitians to seek better opportunities in other countries.
The number of asylum applications in Mexico nearly doubled in 2021 from two years earlier, with most applications being from Haitian and Honduran migrants. [L1N2TJ21W]
Ottawa says the meeting will also include representatives of the United Nations, the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC News
Change to shorter isolation period part of managing COVID 19 in B.C.: top doctor – Vancouver Sun
Opinion | Economic Trends Aren't What They Used to Be – The New York Times
Silver investment demand jumped 12% in 2019
Europe kicks off vaccination programs | All media content | DW | 27.12.2020 – Deutsche Welle
Iran anticipates renewed protests amid social media shutdown
Health22 hours ago
Ontario to start lifting COVID-related curbs, Quebec more cautious
News23 hours ago
U.S. charges man with human smuggling after 4 freeze to death near Canada border
News23 hours ago
Canada agency says Russian-backed actors targeting infrastructure
Health20 hours ago
BCCDC apologizes for creating confusion by repeatedly changing isolation advice – CBC.ca
Sports6 hours ago
Canadiens' Allen to miss eight weeks with lower-body injury – TSN
Health23 hours ago
Canadian vaccine mandate to lead to inflation, empty shelves, trucking executives say
Sports23 hours ago
Bombers extend Most Outstanding Defensive Player Bighill – TSN
Business22 hours ago
Gloomy Netflix forecast erases much of stock’s pandemic gains