As COVID-19 infections soar across the country, restrictions are being reintroduced in a desperate effort to try to slow the rampant spread of the Omicron variant.
Ontario on Saturday reported 3,301 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. The update comes after the province again ramped up restrictions in a bid to deal with the latest variant of concern.
“The experts have been very clear: nothing will stop the spread of Omicron. It’s just too transmissible,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday at a media briefing. “What we can do, and what we’re doing, is slowing it as much as possible to allow more time for shots to get into arms.”
In Nova Scotia, which has been seeing COVID-19 cases trend upward, health officials on Saturday reported a single-day high of 426 new cases. The province provides partial information on weekends, with a full update of the province’s COVID-19 dashboard expected on Monday.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said Friday that he expects the next few weeks to be “bumpy” as officials work to “find the balance moving forward about keeping things under control enough to protect those who are more vulnerable for severe disease and protect our health-care system.”
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday that Omicron numbers have rapidly risen since last week, and she urged Canadians to adjust their holiday plans.
Tam also stressed that being fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot is likely to provide reasonable protection against infection and probably strong protection against severe illness.
In the face of the growing COVID threat, provincial governments are being forced to respond with measures reminiscent of those from last year’s troubled holiday season.
Tam said Friday that over the past seven days, an average of 5,000 new cases were reported daily across the country — 45 per cent higher than the previous seven-day period.
The chief public health officer said severe illness trends have started to worsen in the hardest-hit provinces, though she noted that “may be more associated with rising levels of Delta variant activity over the preceding weeks.”
According to Tam’s update, over the past week there were:
- An average of 1,450 people with COVID-19 being treated in hospitals, including 450 in intensive care units.
- 19 deaths reported daily.
The chief public health officer spoke alongside federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who advised against travelling outside the country and outlined new testing requirements.
On Tuesday, Canada will reimpose a requirement for everyone entering the country to have a pre-arrival negative molecular test result for COVID-19, even if travellers are returning after being away for under 72 hours.
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 10:35 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
In Atlantic Canada, health officials in Prince Edward Island reported 31 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday — a new single-day high — and ramped up restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison introduced a series of new restrictions that would go into effect Saturday.
In New Brunswick, health officials reported 163 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths.
Meanwhile, in Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials reported 46 new cases of COVID-19 and shifted the timeline for booster eligibility in the province. The update came as officials announced stepped up restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.
In Central Canada, Quebec and Ontario stepped up restrictions this week in the face of increasing COVID-19 case numbers. Quebec on Friday reported 3,768 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba on Friday reported 239 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death as health officials announced ramped up restrictions in the face of the Omicron variant. In neighbouring Saskatchewan, health officials reported 49 cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.
Meanwhile, in Alberta, health officials on Friday reported 553 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.
In British Columbia, health officials on Friday reported 789 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths. The update came as officials announced they were reducing the size of gatherings and events over the next six weeks in an effort to contain an expected rapid rise in cases due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
“This is, of course, not where we want to be,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at a news conference. “It is the reality of where we are.”
Across the North, there were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in the Northwest Territories or Nunavut on Friday. Health officials in Yukon, meanwhile, saw seven additional cases.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 10:20 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Saturday morning, more than 273.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries and is spreading rapidly even in places with high levels of population immunity, the World Health Organization said Saturday. The number of COVID-19 cases involving omicron is doubling every 1.5 to three days in countries where there is community transmission of the variant and not just people who were infected abroad, WHO said in a document reviewing what’s known about the variant.
Omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over the delta variant means it is likely to soon overtake delta as the dominant variant in those countries, the UN agency said.
It remains unclear if the rapid growth of omicron cases is because the variant evades existing immunity, is inherently more transmissible than previous variants, or a combination of both, WHO said.
Other major questions about omicron remain unanswered, including how effective each of the existing COVID-19 vaccines are against it. Conclusive data also does not exist yet on how ill omicron makes COVID-19 patients, the health agency said.WHO first labelled omicron a variant of concern on Nov. 26.
In the Americas, U.S.President Joe Biden’s administration resisted tightening any restrictions, but also sketched out dire scenarios for the unvaccinated in a plea for hesitant Americans to get the shot.
“For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death, for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm,” White House coronavirus response co-ordinator Jeff Zients said Friday, echoing the president’s own comments earlier this week.
In the Middle East, Qatar has registered its first four cases of the Omicron variant, state news agency QNA said.
In Africa, South Africa will donate just over two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to other African countries to boost the continent’s COVID-19 vaccine drive, the government announced Friday. The doses will be produced at the Aspen Pharmacare manufacturing facility in Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, and be distributed to various African countries over the next year, according to a statement.
“This donation embodies South Africa’s solidarity with our brothers and sisters on the continent with whom we are united in fighting an unprecedented threat to public health and economic prosperity,” President Cyril Ramaphosa, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, said in the statement.
Nations across Europe are moving to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the Omicron variant, triggering calls for protests from Paris to Barcelona.
As case numbers escalated, alarmed ministers in France and Austria tightened travel restrictions. Paris cancelled its New Year’s Eve fireworks. Denmark closed theatres, concert halls, amusement parks and museums.
Ireland imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events. Prime Minister Micheál Martin captured the sense of the continent in an address to the nation, saying the new restrictions were needed to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus.
“None of this is easy,” the Irish prime minister said Friday night. “We are all exhausted with COVID and the restrictions it requires. The twists and turns, the disappointments and the frustrations take a heavy toll on everyone. But it is the reality that we are dealing with.”
Other nations may go further still. Dutch government ministers are meeting Saturday to discuss advice from a panel of experts who are recommending a toughening of the partial lockdown that is already in place.
In the Asia-Pacific region, India has detected a total of 101 cases of the Omicron variant, a Health Ministry official said.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 10:10 a.m. ET