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Good evening, here are the COVID-19 updates you need to know tonight.

Top headlines:

  1. Ontario confirmed the first two known cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant in Ottawa on Sunday
  2. It’s not yet clear if the new Omicron COVID-19 variant is more transmissible or causes more severe disease than the other variants, says the World Health Organization
  3. Why the new COVID-19 variant Omicron has scientists on alert. And how Canada is responding to it

COVID-19 data is published Mondays through Fridays.

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International check-in counters stand empty as several airlines stopped flying out of South Africa, amidst the spread of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron, at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, today.SUMAYA HISHAM/Reuters

Coronavirus in Canada

  • Ontario is reporting 964 new COVID-19 cases today and one more death from the virus, marking the highest daily case count recorded in the province since May 30, the last time new infections topped 1,000.
  • Quebec is reporting 875 new COVID-19 cases today. COVID-related hospitalizations rose by 11 from the day before to 216.
  • In British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec, trained therapy dogs are visiting vaccine clinics to help distract nervous people from the needle.

Ontario confirmed the first two known cases of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron in Canada. Genomic monitoring and border surveillance identified the cases, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

  • According to a statement from Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore, the two cases are in Ottawa and linked to recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management, and the patients are in isolation.
  • On Friday, the federal government added multiple restrictions on travel from countries in southern Africa, banning all foreign nationals who travelled there in the past 14 days and requiring anyone who has done so and is already in Canada to immediately go into quarantine.

Canada’s response to Omicron: As the COVID-19 variant Omicron has scientists on high alert, a key question for Canada is whether strategies developed over the past year will be sufficient for guiding the public-health response.

Holiday office parties: While last year almost all holiday office parties were virtual, this year people have more interest in celebrating, prompting Canadian companies to get creative.

Coronavirus around the world

  • The new COVID-19 variant Omicron has now been detected in Canada, Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa, even as more countries have imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off.
  • South Africa says it’s being punished for its advanced ability to detect new COVID-19 variants early, as travel bans and restrictions imposed because of the new Omicron variant threaten to harm tourism and other sectors of the economy. Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday that authorities were considering making COVID-19 vaccines compulsory for certain places and activities, as a rise in infections linked to a new variant threatens to become a fourth wave.
  • Israel to play host to Miss Universe contest despite Omicron variant.

Coronavirus and business

Risks of a new COVID hit to economic activity are clobbering expectations for rate hikes next year from the world’s major central banks, a potential setback for the dollar and other currencies where wagers had been most aggressive.

  • “While central bank commentary has been focused on upside risks to inflation, this [new COVID variant] highlights that there are significant downside risks and we are in a significant phase of uncertainty for the economy,” said Chris Scicluna, head of economic research at Daiwa.

Also today: A senior Amazon executive said it remains too early to predict how the Omicron variant will affect consumer spending during the holiday season, but suggested shoppers will press ahead for now.

And: OPEC postpones technical meetings to evaluate impact of new COVID-19 variant.

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Sources: Canada data are compiled from government websites, Johns Hopkins University and COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group; international data are from Johns Hopkins.

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