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Ontario halts visits, social trips for long-term care residents amid Omicron spread

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People wait in line for a walk in PCR COVID-19 test site in Toronto on Wednesday December 22, 2021. Many had been in the queue for over two hours, as Ontario's Chief Medical Officer stated yesterday that the province may soon have to put some limitations on PCR testing to respond to outbreaks and protect long-term care facilities.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Here are the latest COVID-19 and Omicron variant updates from Canada and around the world:

8:00 p.m. ET

Jason Kenney asks Albertans to reconsider New Year’s plans, not ‘look for loopholes’

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney asked asked people to keep gatherings small and not congregate with more than nine other adults, and get vaccinated as the province recorded more than 8,000 COVID-19 cases over a five-day period.

Chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said at a press conference Tuesday that the province’s new COVID-19 cases ranged between 2,500 on Christmas Day and 750 on Boxing Day.

She says hospitalizations remain “relatively stable” but notes it’s still too soon to know if Omicron will stress the health system.

4:25 p.m. ET

Nova Scotia extends public school holiday break

At a press conference Tuesday, Nova Scotian officials said the holiday break for students will extend to Monday Jan. 10, while teachers and other school staff will return Jan. 4.

Children were originally scheduled to return on Jan. 4, but that date was extended to Jan. 6 earlier this month. This latest extension to Jan. 10 comes as Nova Scotia announced 561 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday.

Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, acknowledged the ongoing debate among families, educators and doctors about a return to school.

“Our approach to returning to schools is about balance,” Dr. Strang said at a news conference. “One of our key priorities has always been to keep children in school whenever possible.

“The concerns about controlling the spread of what is generally a relatively mild disease in children need to be weighed against the clear harms and risks associated with children not being in school and learning at home.”

Quebec has also delayed the return of in-person school to Jan. 10 for its primary and high-school students.

- Caroline Alphonso

3:03 p.m. ET

Public Safety minister urges Twitter Canada to crack down on abuse of health care workers

In a four-page letter to Twitter Canada Tuesday, Canada’s Public Safety minister Marco Mendicino urged the social media platform to remove an “abusive” tweet directed at the president of the Canadian Medical Association and to “stand united” against the abuse and harassment of health care workers.

The letter’s primary focus is on a Dec. 22 tweet by an anonymous account posted in reply to CMA president Katharine Smart saying: “Are you scared you are next @KatharineSmart? A group of us who can’t stand you have been seeing you and your family for weeks.”

The minister’s letter notes that Parliament recently adopted Bill C-3, which includes new Criminal Code offences for intimidating health professionals.

– Bill Curry

2:37 p.m. ET

Ontario Hockey League postpones seven more games due to COVID-19

Seven upcoming Ontario Hockey League games have been postponed due to COVID-19.

The league says the Barrie Colts and Peterborough Petes have been placed in health and safety protocols.

Barrie has suspended team activities, resulting in the postponement of five games while Peterborough will have three upcoming games rescheduled.

An update on the new dates will be released by the OHL once they are confirmed.

– The Canadian Press

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United States' Mackie Samoskevich (11) celebrates his goal against Slovakia with his teammates during first period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship action in Red Deer, Alberta on Sunday, December 26, 2021.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

1:29 p.m. ET

American team placed in quarantine at world juniors because of COVID-19 outbreak

The United States has been placed into quarantine at the world junior hockey championship.

A mandated team quarantine began on Tuesday after two players tested positive for COVID-19.

As a result, the U.S. had to forfeit its game against Switzerland scheduled for Tuesday in Red Deer, Alta.

The game will be recorded as a 1-0 win for Switzerland by forfeit in accordance with the International Ice Hockey Federation’s rules.

A statement from the IIHF says that the American team’s quarantine status will be evaluated later to determine whether it will be able to compete in its next preliminary round game.

The U.S. is scheduled to play Sweden on Wednesday.

– The Canadian Press

1:08 p.m. ET

Ontario halts visits, social trips for long-term care residents amid Omicron spread

Ontario long-term care homes won’t accept general visitors or allow residents to leave for social reasons starting later this week.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips says the policy change is being made to protect residents from the highly contagious Omicron variant.

He says COVID-19 is spreading in the community, and allowing general visitors would risk exposing vulnerable residents to the virus.

Two designated caregivers will still be allowed to visit each resident after the changes take effect Thursday at 12:01 a.m.

Phillips says 41 long-term care homes are currently experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, up from 37 on Monday.

He says 84 per cent of eligible residents and 43 per cent of eligible workers had received COVID-19 vaccine booster doses as of last week.

– The Canadian Press


Coronavirus tracker: How many COVID-19 cases are there in Canada and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

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12:54 p.m. ET

Nova Scotia reports 561 new COVID-19 cases, six cases in cluster at Halifax hospital

Health officials in Nova Scotia reported 561 new cases of COVID-19.

Officials say in a news release on Tuesday that most of the cases are in the central zone of the province, which includes Halifax, with 430 new infections.

They also say 54 cases were identified in the eastern zone, 39 in the northern zone and 38 in the western zone.

Health experts say COVID-19 infections are likely to be much higher than reported as a number of hospitals and centres have reached their testing limits.

Officials are also reporting one new case in an outbreak at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

There are now six patients at the hospital’s Halifax Infirmary site who tested positive for the disease.

– The Canadian Press

11:52 a.m. ET

Quebec reports a record 12,833 new COVID-19 cases as hospitalizations surge

Quebec has shattered its previous pandemic record with 12,833 new cases of COVID-19, as well as an 88-person jump in the number of people who are hospitalized with the novel coronavirus.

The province is also reporting 15 more deaths linked to the pandemic.

Health officials say 702 people are now hospitalized with the virus, with 152 people admitted or transferred to non-intensive care units and 70 dismissed in the past 24 hours.

The number of people in intensive care rose by six to 155 after 15 people were admitted or transferred in and nine left.

Quebec carried out 40,550 tests, for a positivity rate of 26.8 per cent.

The province’s health minister and public health director have scheduled a news conference later this afternoon to discuss the situation in the province.

– The Canadian Press

11:44 a.m. ET

Ontario chief medical officer to share new guidance on COVID-19 testing, tracing

Ontario’s top doctor is expected to share new guidance on COVID-19 testing and case management as the province logged another high daily infection tally driven by the Omicron variant.

Dr. Kieran Moore is scheduled to hold a virtual news conference on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

Moore had promised new guidance after local public health units reported strain on testing and contact tracing resources, in some cases telling residents who test positive to notify their own contacts.

Ontarians have also reported issues accessing timely tests amid the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant that’s now dominant in the province.

Moore’s news conference is set to come after Ontario reported 8,825 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a slight decline from previous days.

– The Canadian Press

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A woman takes a COVID-19 test at a pop-up testing site in New York City on December 27, 2021.JEENAH MOON/Reuters

10:37 a.m. ET

Omicron accounts for 59 per cent of new cases in U.S.

U.S. government figures show that the Omicron variant continues to account for a growing proportion of new coronavirus infections in the country.

Omicron accounted for 59 per cent of new cases in the U.S. for the week ending Dec. 25, according to updated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 23 per cent the previous week.

The CDC had said last week that Omicron already accounted for a majority of new cases in the country. But the agency said Tuesday it significantly lowered that previous estimate based on additional data it collected.

Still, it noted that Omicron is accounting for a growing proportion of cases.

– The Associated Press

8:05 a.m. ET

Video: U.S. CDC cuts isolation time for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases to five days

Dec. 28, 7:00 a.m. ET

Health care workers, politicians face new wave of harassment as tensions over COVID-19 restrictions rise

Karrie Porter felt demoralized, staring at vulgar insults clumsily spray-painted on the side of her St. Catharine’s home a few days ago.

The night before, Ms. Porter, a part-time city councillor, had spoken out on social media against an antivaccination protest in front of the home of Mustafa Hirji, the region’s acting medical officer of health.

When Ms. Porter woke up the morning after her tweet, a text message from the next-door neighbour alerted her that she, too, had been targeted at home.

“She was quite upset and disturbed,” Ms. Porter said of the neighbour. “And so are the rest of my neighbours, to be honest. What people need to understand is I don’t live alone – I have two children and a husband. This is my private home, and this is unacceptable.”

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise to record numbers across the country as a result of the Omicron variant, provincial governments and local public-health units have reintroduced restrictions on local businesses and social gatherings – which have in turn galvanized anti-vaccine groups. Protests were also held outside the homes of Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott.

And on social media, health care workers have been the targets of harassment campaigns, including a recent post by the publisher of a far-right media website, in which he announced a $5,000 “bounty” for videos of certain outspoken doctors and politicians breaking lockdown rules.

– Molly Hayes

Dec. 27, 9:41 p.m. ET

Provinces introduce new COVID-19 policies as hospitals brace for Omicron’s spread

Health care officials and governments across the country are closely watching for how frequently Omicron infections turn into severe cases. Because the variant is so transmissible, health care systems could be strained if only a small percentage of people with COVID-19 need to be admitted to hospital.

Admissions are growing in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, three provinces that reported skyrocketing new daily case counts over the holidays. Canada on Boxing Day surpassed two million cases of COVID-19, a significant milestone for a country with a relatively small population.

Now, as Omicron continues to escalate, a patchwork of policies around testing, tracing and isolating is emerging across the country. British Columbia, Alberta and some other provinces have restricted the general population from accessing sensitive lab tests.

– Carrie Tait and Marieke Walsh

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