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Ontario Premier Doug Ford steps out of a room at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Dec. 17, 2021.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government announced new capacity limits for stores and restaurants and a cap on indoor gatherings at 10 people on Friday, as the more transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 threatens to swamp the province’s hospitals in weeks.

British Columbia also announced new measures, including limiting residents to inviting 10 vaccinated people or one other vaccinated household into their homes. Unvaccinated people will be barred from inviting anyone over to their home during the holidays.

The restrictions, which follow the announcement of new capacity limits in hard-hit Quebec late Thursday, are among the latest moves by provincial governments struggling to counter the rapid rise of the more-contagious new variant of the virus. Ontario experts say it is doubling every two or three days in their province and warn that it could be as severe as the current version of COVID-19, known as Delta.

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Manitoba also announced a range of new pandemic measures on Friday, including capacity limits for restaurants and an order restricting indoor gatherings to 10 fully vaccinated guests.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford had just unveiled a plan to face the Omicron threat earlier this week, accelerating booster shots and imposing capacity limits on large venues including hockey rinks and theatres. But the province’s science advisers said it was not enough to stop new cases from shooting up as high as 10,000 a day and flooding the province’s intensive-care units.

On Friday, Mr. Ford said Omicron was moving at an unprecedented pace and that even more measures could be needed. He also told parents that no decision had been made about whether Ontario students would return to schools as scheduled after the winter break, which started Friday.

“The situation is evolving too quickly to be able to know where we’ll be in early January,” Mr. Ford said.

Ontario’s new 50-per-cent capacity limits will apply to many indoor businesses, including restaurants, bars, retailers, gyms and malls – but not wedding or funeral ceremonies. Food and drink will not be served at places such as sports arenas, cinemas, theatres or casinos, a clear response to complaints that masks weren’t being worn.

Dancing in nightclubs is forbidden. And restaurants and bars will be forced to close by 11 p.m., with a last call for alcohol at 10 p.m. (Takeout is still allowed at all hours.) Tables cannot seat more than 10 people. Outdoor gatherings are also limited to 25 people, down from 100.

Mr. Ford said the new measures, which take effect Sunday at 12:01 a.m., are meant to slow Omicron’s spread to allow more Ontarians to get the third booster shot they need to better block transmission of the variant. Experts say two doses still provide protection against severe disease or death.

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With Christmas dinners just a week away, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Kieran Moore, told reporters that even double-vaccinated adults should avoid meeting indoors with older vulnerable relatives, even those with their third shots, until they themselves also get a booster shot.

Ontario reported 3,124 new COVID-19 infections on Friday – the most since May – with 8.2 per cent of all tests conducted coming back positive. The province had 157 COVID-19 patients in its intensive-care units, down slightly from the day before.

B.C. has seen its confirmed cases of the Omicron variant more than triple this past week. The numbers have contributed to an uptick in overall infections that saw 789 new cases on Friday and a total of 4,313 people actively battling the virus. The latest official data, from Wednesday, show 3.7 per cent of samples tested coming back positive.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry announced further restrictions at a pandemic briefing on Friday, echoing Ontario’s move to limit sporting and entertainment venues with more than 1,000 seats to half their capacity.

But the new rules only come into effect Monday, after the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks play host to full crowds at two home games this weekend. Dr. Henry also announced that all organized events planned across the province for New Year’s Eve must be cancelled, including a Bryan Adams concert scheduled at the Canucks’ Rogers Arena that night.

Under amended provincial health orders coming into effect early Monday, people across the province will only be allowed to invite 10 vaccinated people or one other vaccinated household into their homes. Unvaccinated people will be barred from inviting anyone over to their home during the holidays.

All sports tournaments will be cancelled for at least the next month and half, after which the orders are set to expire. And Dr. Henry announced an end to standing up and mingling with strangers at different tables in bars and restaurants, where dancing has been outlawed for months.

“As we go into this holiday period, I’m asking people to rethink those situations, those parties, where you want to be together with groups of people you may not know – that is a risky thing right now and we need people to step back,” Dr. Henry told reporters.

Religious institutions can still hold sacred events to their full capacity if all congregants are fully vaccinated, Dr. Henry added, but they must limit these gatherings to 50 per cent if they want to welcome any unvaccinated people.

In Atlantic Canada, officials in all four provinces tightened restrictions on gatherings, closed schools and imposed temporary bans on sports tournaments as cases continued to climb. Nova Scotia reported another spike in coronavirus infections on Friday, with 394 new cases – the most since the start of pandemic. If adjusted for population, that would be similar to 5,800 new cases on a single day in Ontario.

The good news, according to Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, is that the symptoms of this latest wave of COVID-19 appear to be less severe than previous ones, with just seven people in hospital in his province, including two in intensive-care units.

Also Friday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Ottawa is lifting its widely criticized travel ban on 10 African countries and reimposing its requirement for Canadians taking trips of under 72 hours to get a negative COVID-19 test before returning to Canada.

Mr. Duclos has already advised Canadians not to travel as Omicron continues to spread inside and outside the country. He said the pre-entry testing requirement will take effect on Dec. 21 and travellers must take the test in a country other than Canada.

With reports from Marieke Walsh in Ottawa and The Canadian Press

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the rules in British Columbia

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