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South Africa, an early epicentre of Omicron, is considering itself past the peak of the variant’s spread

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Fireworks light up the sky over Sydney Harbour as the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1 2022, in Sydney.Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

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

  • Alberta and Manitoba announced that fully vaccinated residents who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to self-isolate for five days instead of 10.
  • In many places around the world, New Year’s Eve celebrations were muted or cancelled for the second straight year due to a surge of coronavirus infections. We’ve pulled together a detailed cross-Canada list of what’s happening for New Year’s Eve 2021, and what’s not.
  • Ontario and Quebec both faced more than 16,000 new diagnoses for the first time on Friday, while New Brunswick reported a record 682 cases as it changed its criteria for testing and cancelled non-urgent medical procedures.
  • Britain has approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill for adults who have mild to moderate infection and are at high risk of their illness worsening.
  • Thousands of flights around the world were delayed or cancelled on Friday due to adverse weather and rising cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Dec. 31, 10:55 p.m. ET

Australia starts 2022 with record COVID-19 cases

Australia started 2022 with a record number of new COVID-19 cases as an outbreak centred in the eastern states grew, and New South Wales eased its isolation rules for health care workers as the number of people hospitalized with the virus rose.

New South Wales, the most populous state, and Victoria both posted daily record case numbers of 22,577 and 7,442 respectively on Saturday, health department figures showed.

There were four deaths due to COVID in New South Wales and nine in Victoria, taking the national death toll from the pandemic to more than 2,250.

Including cases in Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, Saturday had already set a national record of 33,161 cases, topping Friday’s 32,946, even before numbers from South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory were released.

All Australian states, except for Western Australia, have begun to live with the virus after higher vaccination levels, and the easing in restrictions has pushed cases higher.

- Reuters

Dec. 31, 9:32 p.m.

COVID-19 hospitalizations up 67 per cent in week as Omicron takes hold

The number of COVID-19 patients in Canadian hospitals climbed by 67 per cent over the past week, including a 9-per-cent increase in infected people in intensive care units, according to data compiled by The Globe and Mail.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 has swept across Canada in little over a month. Now, as daily infections break record after record, medical professionals are nervously watching as this new uptick in people with symptoms begins to affect the health care system.

Hospitals in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba recorded the most significant increases.

“The surge is definitely there,” said Amélie Boisclair, a critical care physician at Hôpital Pierre-Le Gardeur in Terrebonne, just outside Montreal. “Now we can only react.”

- Carrie Tait and Mahima Singh

Dec. 31, 9:25 p.m.

Alberta temporarily shuts labour, delivery services at hospital due to staff shortage

Women who were planning to give birth at a hospital in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., are being told to have their babies elsewhere.

Alberta Health Services says due to a staffing shortage the Fort Saskatchewan Community Hospital’s Women’s Health Program will temporarily suspend labour and delivery services.

The city of 27,000 people is about 25 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

The provincial health authority says in a release that pregnant patients will need to speak with their midwife or physician to change their birth plan to deliver at the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert instead.

- The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 8:02 p.m.

B.C. joins Alberta, Manitoba in cutting isolation period for vaccinated people

British Columbia has reduced the requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 to five days for fully vaccinated people without symptoms.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says a mask must be worn around others for an additional five days and anyone who still has symptoms must stay isolated.

People who haven’t been vaccinated are still required to self-isolate for 10 days.

Starting tomorrow, visits to long-term care and assisted living facilities will also be limited to essential visitors in response to recent outbreaks.

- The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 7:50 p.m.

Yukon imposes gathering limits as territory reports 15th COVID-19 death

Yukon’s acting chief medical officer is introducing more public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Catherine Elliott says indoor personal gatherings will be limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people if everyone is vaccinated.

Organized indoor gatherings, including entertainment venues, recreational sports and faith-based services, will be limited to 25 people or 50 per cent of a venue’s capacity, and proof of vaccination is required.

Restaurants, bars and nightclubs will limit service to six people per table with proof of vaccination, and all public saunas and steam rooms are to be closed.

The announcement comes as Yukon reported another COVID-19 death on Friday, bringing the death toll to 15 for the territory since the pandemic began.

It also recorded 26 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 106 active infections.

- The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 7:24 (updated)

Manitoba reduces isolation period as it breaks record for new COVID-19 cases

Manitoba announced changes to its self-isolation requirements Friday for fully vaccinated people as it broke its record for new COVID-19 cases for the fourth time this week.

The province reported another 1,494 cases, breaking the record of 1,123 set a day earlier.

Starting Saturday, all fully vaccinated Manitobans who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to self-isolate for five days instead of 10.

The new public order also requires all people who test positive to isolate, including those who completed a rapid antigen test.

“We need to ensure we take steps to protect our health-care system and other critical services during this surge of COVID-19 cases, many linked to the Omicron variant,” Health Minister Audrey Gordon said in a statement.

“These changes will help ensure everyone who should self-isolate does, regardless of how they tested, and will reduce the strain on the health-system workforce, as well as other key sectors as more workers report they have contracted COVID-19.”

The government said the first day of isolation should begin when symptoms first appear or the date a test was done, whichever day is later.

- The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 3:58 p.m.

More federal prisons report COVID-19 outbreaks, dozens of new cases among staff

More federal prisons are reporting COVID-19 outbreaks, with the surge in new infections affecting not only inmates but also a large number of correctional officers and staff.

New outbreaks were reported Friday at three Correctional Services Canada facilities: the Atlantic Institution in New Brunswick; Drumheller in Alberta; and Stony Mountain in Manitoba. Those follow outbreaks earlier this week at three other federal institutions.

While the new outbreaks have led to dozens of inmates having become infected with COVID-19, the number of cases among prison staff has been much higher.

Correctional Services spokeswoman Marie Pier Lecuyer said Friday a total of 248 staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, compared with 107 inmates. The previous day, the agency had reported infections in 160 staff members and 88 inmates.

Drumheller alone accounted for 41 of the new staff infections reported Friday, along with 13 inmates.

– The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 3:01 p.m.

Nova Scotia reports 618 new COVID-19 cases, estimates more than 5,000 active infections

Nova Scotia health officials reported 618 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and said there was a significant outbreak of the disease at a provincial jail.

Officials said 31 inmates at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, N.S., have tested positive for COVID-19 and that several staff at the facility have also tested positive and are isolating. No one involved in the outbreak is in hospital, they said.

Correctional Services said it was working with Public Health to maintain a safe environment at the jail and that it has taken steps to minimize the spread of the virus. Officials said the jail remains closed to all visitors.

Correctional Services said that as of Wednesday, there were 233 adults in custody at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility and that no positive cases have been identified in the jail’s female unit.

– The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 2:52 p.m.

Newfoundland and Labrador reports 431 new COVID cases and one death, walks back COVID Alert app comments

Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister was mistaken when he told reporters this week that Ottawa “gave up” on the COVID Alert app, the provincial government says.

Health Minister John Haggie “had not been provided the most recent information” on the use of the COVID Alert app when he made those comments, the provincial Health department tweeted Thursday.

“While the provincial government continues to promote vaccinations as our best defence against the virus, the use of the COVID Alert app … remains one of the tools in the toolbox,” the statement said. The COVID Alert app is active in the province, though officials do not always use it, the statement added.

Meanwhile, officials are battling record-shattering caseloads as the Omicron variant rips through the province. Public health reported 431 new cases Friday as well as the province’s 19th death from the disease. The new cases reported Friday surpass the previous record of 349 cases set a day prior.

– The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 2:21 p.m.

Ontario, Quebec report record COVID cases

Several provinces reported record COVID-19 cases yet again on New Year’s Eve as they scrambled to adjust their public health strategies to account for the Omicron-driven surge in diagnoses.

Ontario and Quebec both faced more than 16,000 new diagnoses for the first time, while New Brunswick reported a record 682 cases as it changed its criteria for testing and cancelled non-urgent medical procedures.

“The Omicron variant is already worsening existing staffing shortages in the health system. We expect the situation will become even more challenging as we live through this latest wave of COVID-19,” New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard told a news conference Friday.

– The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 2:10 p.m.

Wave of canceled flights from Omicron variant closes out 2021

More canceled flights frustrated air travelers on the final day of 2021 and appeared all but certain to inconvenience hundreds of thousands more over the New Year’s holiday weekend.

Airlines blamed many of the cancellations on crew shortages related to the spike in COVID-19 infections, along with wintry weather in parts of the United States.

By early afternoon Friday on the East Coast, airlines had scrubbed more than 1,400 U.S. flights — about 6 per cent of all scheduled flights — and roughly 2,900 worldwide, according to tracking service FlightAware.

That pushed the total U.S. cancellations since Christmas Eve above 9,000, with the peak of 1,520 on Dec. 26.

– The Associated Press

Dec. 31, 2:06 p.m.

Alberta shortens isolation period to five days from 10 for vaccinated people

Alberta is shortening its COVID-19 isolation period for people who are vaccinated against the virus.

Health Minister Jason Copping said effective Monday, people with at least two doses of vaccine who test positive will only need to isolate for five days from 10.

Copping said symptoms must be fully resolved by the end of the five-day period, otherwise people must continue to isolate. For five days after isolation, those individuals will be required to wear a mask around others at all times when in public.

The decision was based on evidence that fully immunized people have shorter infectious periods, said Copping.

“We’re making these changes to help prevent disruptions in Alberta’s workforce, especially for those who deliver the services Albertans count on,” he said at a news conference Friday. “We believe this step will help balance the need for continuity in the workforce, the well-being of Albertans and our need to continue to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant.”

– The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 2:00 p.m.

Nunavut reports 40 new cases of COVID-19

Nunavut’s chief public health officer is reporting 40 new cases of COVID-19 as health workers try to confirm the virus has entered two more communities.

Dr. Michael Patterson says one case is being confirmed in Pond Inlet and another in Cambridge Bay, bringing the total number of communities hit by the virus to 11 in the territory. Patterson says he is announcing the two presumptive cases so the territory can be proactive in its response.

There are now 127 confirmed cases of the virus in Nunavut, including 39 in Iqaluit, 23 in Arviat, 14 in Pangnirtung and 30 in Rankin Inlet. Nunavut is under lockdown until Jan. 17 and non-essential travel is restricted.

– The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 1:50 p.m.

Quebec reports 16,461 COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths

Quebec reported 16,461 new COVID-19 infections on Friday and 13 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, hours before a curfew is set to begin across the province to reduce transmission and prevent a health system breakdown.

The Health Department said the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by 124 compared to the prior day, to 1,063, after 261 patients entered hospital and 137 people were discharged. It said 151 people were in intensive care, a rise of 13. Officials said 55,446 COVID-19 tests were conducted on Thursday and that 31.7 per cent of them came back positive.

Meanwhile, the health authority in Quebec’s Estrie region said it would shorten the isolation period for some health-care workers who test positive for COVID-19. The health authority said Thursday that all hospital beds in the region, east of Montreal, were occupied and that more than 800 employees were unable to work after testing positive for COVID-19.

As a result, it said it would implement a provincial government directive allowing health authorities to shorten the isolation period for workers to seven days from 10 days.

“These absences, combined with the epidemiological situation and the sharp increase in hospitalizations linked to COVID-19, doesn’t give the management team any other choice,” Yann Belzile with the health board said in a new release. Belzile said the health board will also continue to postpone some medical procedures.

– The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 1:45 p.m.

COVID-19 outbreaks declared in 40 long-term care homes across Ontario in span of one day

COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared in 40 long-term care homes across Ontario in the past day as positive cases continue to break daily records.

There are now 98 homes in outbreak across the province, provincial data show. There are no residents with COVID-19 in 38 of those nursing homes. The province deems it an outbreak if a home has at least one lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in either a resident or staff.

The data show there are 249 residents with COVID-19, up from 186 the day before, and 520 long-term care staff with the virus, up more than 200 cases from Thursday.

Ontario officials announced Thursday it has made fourth doses of an mRNA vaccine available immediately to residents of nursing homes, retirement homes, elder care lodges and other congregate care settings if at least three months, or 84 days, have passed since their third dose.

– The Canadian Press

Dec. 31, 7:09 a.m.

South Africa says data showed country passed Omicron peak without a major spike in deaths

The South African government said Thursday that data from its health department suggested that the country had passed its Omicron peak without a major spike in deaths, offering cautious hope to other countries grappling with the variant.

“The speed with which the Omicron-driven fourth wave rose, peaked and then declined has been staggering,” said Fareed Abdullah of the South African Medical Research Council. “Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two. This Omicron wave is over in the city of Tshwane. It was a flash flood more than a wave.” The rise in deaths over the period was small, and in the last week, officials said, “marginal.”

Some scientists were quick to forecast the same pattern elsewhere.

“We’ll be in for a tough January, as cases will keep going up and peak, and then fall fast,” said Ali Mokdad, a University of Washington epidemiologist who is a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist. While cases will still overwhelm hospitals, he said, he expects that the proportion of hospitalized cases will be lower than in earlier waves.

– The New York Times

Dec. 30, 6:57 p.m. ET

What’s happening for New Year’s Eve 2021 (and what’s not) across Canada

Across the country, Canadians are shelving their New Year’s Eve plans amid record-breaking cases of COVID-19.

Provinces have continued to tighten restrictions as cases of the Omicron variant continue to surge amid the holiday season, affecting household gatherings, public events and more.

But the Governor-General says Canadians can still be hopeful as they ring in the new year. In her first New Year’s message since becoming Governor-General in July, Mary Simon said Canadians have shown resilience, compassion and adaptability despite a difficult year.

The Globe has rounded up the rules and regulations around private gatherings, fireworks, and restaurants, bars and nightclubs to help you plan your second pandemic New Year’s Eve.

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