Update: Our live coverage of this story has ended. Read the latest COVID-19 news.
Here are the latest COVID-19 and Omicron variant updates from Canada and around the world:
- The National Hockey League will not send its players to compete in the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Olympics due to COVID-19 concerns, according to multiple reports.
- On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. President Joe Biden announced major changes to his COVID-19 winter plan – including 500 million free rapid tests for Americans, increased support for hospitals under strain and a redoubling of vaccination and boosting efforts.
- Alberta has expanded the eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to anyone 18 years or older starting immediately – provided the second one was more than five months ago. Saskatchewan won’t be tightening restrictions despite new predictions that warn of an increase in hospitalizations. British Columbia also announced it is closing bars and gyms, banning indoor gatherings such as weddings and Christmas parties as well as limiting all concerts, sports games and other events to half their full capacity starting Wednesday night.
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he would not be introducing new COVID-19 restrictions in England before Christmas. Meanwhile, Scotland has cancelled public New Year’s Eve celebrations, as well as restricting bars and restaurants to table service.
- How many COVID-19 cases are there in Canada and worldwide? Check The Globe’s coronavirus tracker for daily updates on how the numbers are trending across the country and around the world.
10:00 p.m. ET
Provinces restrict travel, gatherings as Omicron variant cases surge
Provinces and municipalities across the country are clamping down on travel and gatherings in an attempt to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, introducing rapidly changing restrictions that are leaving Canadians scrambling to adjust holiday plans.
British Columbia announced Tuesday it is closing bars and gyms, banning indoor gatherings such as weddings and Christmas parties as well as limiting all concerts, sports games and other events to half their full capacity starting Wednesday night. The province, which reported a record 1,308 new cases Tuesday, is also postponing surgeries beginning in January to ensure hospital space and staffing are in place as COVID-19 cases continue to spike, while bringing back mass immunization centres to ramp up the delivery of booster shots.
On Canada’s East Coast, travellers to Newfoundland and Labrador rushed to rebook flights ahead of a Tuesday afternoon deadline this week that required all new arrivals to self-isolate for five days.
Prince Edward Island also announced it was taking steps to control the flow of travellers onto the island for the holidays. Starting Wednesday at 8 a.m., all people entering the province are required to quarantine for four days, and may come out of isolation only after two negative rapid tests.
– Greg Mercer, Mike Hager and Carrie Tait
9:00 p.m. ET
Tory MP touts false information about COVID-19 vaccines as she casts herself as advocate for the unvaccinated
An Alberta Conservative MP posted false information about vaccines and their efficacy as she defended people who choose not to be vaccinated and said they’re being “demonized.”
Rachael Thomas, the member of Parliament for Lethbridge, made the comments in a video posted to Facebook on Dec. 16, which is still online. In the post she makes claims that are not backed by readily available information from public-health agencies.
Timothy Caulfield, who researches misinformation on health and science policy and is the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, said Ms. Thomas’s comments cause “great harm” and use misinformation to try to normalize or justify not getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
– Ian Bailey and Marieke Walsh
8:41 p.m. ET
Omicron symptoms mirror the flu and common cold. What should I do if I feel sick?
In Canada, the seven-day rolling average of confirmed COVID-19 cases is up 107 per cent from the previous period, as the Omicron variant surges through the country ahead of the Christmas holidays.
Preliminary data say that Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, and spreading fast wherever it goes. Less hindered by vaccines, COVID-19 cases of the Omicron variant can also spread more easily through a vaccinated population than other variants, as The Globe’s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk reports.
Its transmissibility, rising case counts, and varied or inconsistent access to testing help fuel the spread of COVID-19. Staying home unless you are confident you don’t have the virus offers the best way to protect others and limit its spread.
Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 symptoms and what to do if you feel sick.
– Samantha Edwards and Caora McKenna
6:27 p.m. ET
Ottawa eyes changes to business supports as Omicron wreaks havoc
The federal government is considering changes to its recently approved COVID-19 support programs to help small businesses that are struggling with the rising wave of Omicron and new provincial restrictions.
Coronavirus case counts have doubled in recent days in many parts of the country, fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. Provincial governments have responded by quickly announcing new restrictions on private gatherings and commercial businesses.
The measures were put in place as businesses were experiencing a holiday rush of parties and Christmas shopping that many were hoping would make up for revenue lost during past lockdowns. But unlike earlier in the pandemic, the main federal aid programs have ended for many businesses or decreased in the amount of support they provide.
Two of the main lobby groups for small businesses – the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and Restaurants Canada – issued an open letter to the premiers asking for them to urgently help.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office said the government is considering changes to the federal supports because of the threat of Omicron.
“In light of the public-health situation and new restrictions in a number of provinces, we are actively assessing if regulatory adjustments are needed to provide additional flexibility for the support measures contained in Bill C-2,” spokesperson Jessica Eritou said in an e-mail Tuesday.
– Chris Hannay and Bill Curry
5:09 p.m. ET
Omicron variant prompts additional COVID-19 measures in British Columbia
Starting at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres and dance studios in B.C. will have to close, and all seated events will be reduced to 50 per cent capacity. Indoor gatherings including weddings are also being cancelled.
The latest health orders announced Tuesday allow restaurants and cafes to stay open, but seating will be limited to a maximum of six people at a table, and physical distancing must be followed. The new measures will remain in effect until Jan. 18.
The government also announced an expansion of its vaccine booster program starting in January when large venues, such at the Vancouver Convention Centre, will become mass immunization sites.
Rapid COVID-19 testing will also be expanded next month with the expected arrival of 11 million tests from the federal government. The tests that are currently available will be distributed at long-term care facilities, among health-care workers and to rural, remote, Indigenous and vulnerable communities.
– The Canadian Press
4:10 p.m. ET
Saskatchewan forgoes tightening holiday COVID-19 restrictions despite dire projections
New COVID-19 projections suggest Omicron-driven cases and hospitalizations in Saskatchewan will increase dramatically by the end of the month without stronger public health measures, but the province is not expecting to tighten restrictions for the holidays.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, said Tuesday he will be watching the situation closely and the government’s response must be proportionate, fast and flexible. He encouraged people to be cautious, but did not require people to gather in smaller groups.
– The Canadian Press
4:05 p.m. ET
Ontario investigating rapid COVID test resales for possible fines
Ontario’s Government and Consumer Services Minister Ross Romano says reselling rapid antigen testing kits is considered a breach of government emergency orders that prohibit charging unfair prices for necessary goods. Romano says police have received 900 reports about rapid test resales, and that government is working to find and fine anyone who is breaking the rules.
Fines range from $750 to $100,000 for individuals, up to $500,000 for company directors and up to $10 million for corporations.
– The Canadian Press
3:54 p.m. ET
NHL decides against competing in Beijing Olympics due to COVID-19
The National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association have agreed not to participate in the coming Beijing Games, according to multiple reports.
Requests for comment from the league and the players’ union made by The Globe and Mail went unanswered Tuesday afternoon. It is expected that a joint announcement will be made once the International Olympic Committee has been properly notified.
The NHL agreed last September to pause its regular season so the world’s top players could compete in Beijing with the caveat it could withdraw if COVID-19 disruptions forced games to be rescheduled during the Olympics window.
That had begun looking increasingly likely in recent days with the NHL being forced to postpone a slew of games in Canada and the United States after a growing number of players entered COVID-19 protocols while Omicron tore through professional sports leagues with fully vaccinated players testing positive.
The NHL had until Jan. 10 to withdraw from the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Olympics without financial penalty.
– The Globe’s Marty Klinkenberg, The Canadian Press
3:21 p.m. ET
Biden tells unvaccinated Americans to be ‘concerned’ about Omicron
U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned unvaccinated Americans they are putting themselves and loved ones at risk amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus sweeping the nation.
“If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned,” Biden said in a White House speech where he unveiled new plans to buy 500 million rapid COVID-19 tests to be distributed for free to Americans who request them in January.
Biden noted vaccinated people who get COVID-19 may get ill but they are protected from severe illness and death and they should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as they had planned.
2:20 p.m. ET
Alberta expands eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots to those 18 and older
Alberta is broadening eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots starting immediately.
Premier Jason Kenney says anyone 18 and older can book a third shot provided the second one was more than five months ago.
Kenney says vaccines are the best protection against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
He says there’s still a lot to learn about the variant’s severity, but it’s clear there is an increased risk of transmission.
It’s the second time in less than a week that Kenney has expanded the eligibility list. It was expanded last Wednesday to those 50 and older and to all health-care workers.
– The Canadian Press
12:54 p.m. ET
P.E.I. joins Newfoundland and Labrador in setting isolation period for visitors
Prince Edward Island has joined Newfoundland and Labrador in announcing isolation requirements for all visitors in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.
Premier Dennis King told a news conference Tuesday that beginning on Wednesday at 8 a.m., anyone arriving on the Island from out of province will have to isolate for four days.
King said every traveller entering the province will be given two rapid tests and will be required to complete them on the second and fourth days of their isolation. The premier said all bars and restaurants in the province will have to stop serving customers at 11 p.m. each night.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic region, people visiting Newfoundland and Labrador will have to self-isolate for five days as of 3 p.m. Tuesday. Under the travel regime announced Sunday, travellers will also be required to take a COVID-19 rapid test on each of those five days, and family members are permitted to isolate with them.
– The Canadian Press
12:47 p.m. ET
Travel restricted to Nunavut hamlet after two COVID-19 cases identified
Travel is restricted to a hamlet in Nunavut after two cases of COVID-19 were identified late yesterday.
The Nunavut government says travel in or out of Pangnirtung, which is on Baffin Island, is limited to essential purposes only, effective immediately.
Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, says the threat of the Omicron variant led to the decision to tighten public health measures to limit potential spread to other communities.
It’s not yet known if the cases are the Omicron variant.
– The Canadian Press
12:26 p.m. ET
UK’s Boris Johnson rules out new COVID-19 curbs before Christmas
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that he would not be introducing new COVID-19 restrictions in England before Christmas, but the situation remained extremely difficult and the government might need to act afterwards.
Britain has reported record levels of COVID-19 cases over the past week as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads, and hospitalisations are also rising.
Johnson held a more than two-hour meeting with his cabinet to discuss the latest COVID-19 data on Monday. Media reported several ministers had pushed back against the prospect of new curbs before Christmas, despite warnings from some scientists.
“We don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas,” Johnson said in a video posted on social media.
Earlier on Tuesday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out plans for post-Christmas restrictions on large-scale events in Scotland, including the cancellation of public New Year’s Eve celebrations, as well as restricting bars and restaurants to table service.
12:21 p.m. ET
Toronto Raptors add four more players, including Fred VanVleet, to COVID-19 protocols
Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa were added to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols by the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, hours after teammates Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn were sidelined.
There are now seven Raptors in league protocols.
Gary Trent Jr. was added to Toronto’s list on Monday, joining Pascal Siakam and Dalano Banton.
Toronto was set to host Orlando on Monday night but that game was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the Magic.
Raptors players were limited to individual training sessions on Monday, with one player working with one coach at a time.
Toronto is scheduled to play in Chicago on Wednesday night.
– The Canadian Press
11:52 a.m. ET
Quebec COVID-19 testing centres overwhelmed by fifth wave
COVID-19 testing centres in Quebec are being overwhelmed by the pandemic’s fifth wave, with long lineups to get a test and delays in results as the Omicron variant pushes daily case counts to record levels.
The union representing 5,400 laboratory technicians in the province says the recent surge in demand for testing is pushing laboratories to their limits.
Meanwhile, Quebec is reporting 5,043 new cases of COVID-19 today and eight additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.
It’s the third day in a row that the province has reported a record number of new COVID-19 infections.
The Health Department says the number of hospitalizations rose by 18 from the day before, to 415, with 59 new admissions and 41 patients discharged. It says 88 people are in intensive care, an increase of six.
11:30 a.m. ET
QMJHL pauses season until Jan. 7 due to rising COVID-19 infection rates in Eastern Canada
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has paused all activities until Jan. 7.
The league says the pause is necessary because of surging COVID-19 infection rates in Eastern Canada.
Players will report back to their clubs on Jan. 3.
The QMJHL says it’s working on updated protocols which will include preventive testing prior to the arrival of players and staff within the team environment.
Postponed games will be rescheduled at a later date.
– The Canadian Press
10:48 a.m. ET
Ontario hospitals update visitor policies due to community spread amid Omicron wave
Several hospitals in Ontario are updating their visitor policies amid a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
As of today, Unity Health Toronto, a hospital network consisting of St. Joseph’s Health Centre, St. Michael’s Hospital and Providence Healthcare, says each inpatient who has a stay fewer than seven days will not be allowed a visitor.
An inpatient who is anticipated to have a hospital stay longer than seven days may identify two designated visitors, with one allowed to visit within a 24-hour period provided they show proof of vaccination and ID.
The University Health Network, another Toronto hospital network, is announcing similar changes, with no visitors allowed for patients in hospital for less than seven days.
Meanwhile, Ontario is reporting 3,453 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths from the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says 805 of the cases are in people who aren’t vaccinated and 148 people have an unknown vaccination status.
The new numbers are based on 49,285 completed tests.
The province says 81 per cent of the population aged five and older has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and 86 per cent has at least one shot.
– The Canadian Press
10:40 a.m. ET
Fast-moving Omicron variant prompts additional COVID-19 measures in B.C.: ministry
More health measures could be coming in British Columbia one day after restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 took effect.
Health Minister Adrian Dix, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry are set to provide another update this afternoon on COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health has reported 2,550 new cases between Friday and Sunday, pushing the total number of active infections to 5,435 — a leap of 2,486 cases in one week.
Restrictions that took effect yesterday limit the size of indoor personal gatherings, cap audience numbers in large venues and prohibit most New Year’s Eve parties amid growing concerns that patients with the Omicron variant could overwhelm hospitals.
Dix and Henry are also expected to announce changes to the province’s rapid testing policy.
– The Canadian Press
9:17 a.m. ET
EU sets binding nine-month validity of vaccinations for COVID-19 travel pass
The European Commission on Tuesday adopted rules that will make the European Union COVID-19 certificate valid for travel nine months after the completion of the primary vaccination schedule.
The proposal comes as several EU states introduce additional requirements on travellers in a bid to reduce the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told Reuters the EU Commission was against additional requirements, and was assessing the measures.
The new rules will be binding on the 27 EU states from Feb. 1. The rule can be blocked by a qualified majority of EU governments or a simple majority of European Parliament members, but officials have said there is sufficient support for it.
Once the rule is effective, EU states will be obliged to let fully vaccinated travellers with a valid pass access their territory. However, as an exception justified by a deteriorating situation, they could still impose further requirements, such as negative tests or quarantines, as long as they are proportionate.
9:13 a.m. ET
Small businesses again struggling as surging COVID-19 cases prompt capacity limits
Surging COVID-19 cases brought on by the spread of the Omicron variant have put a damper on the “most wonderful time of year” for small business owners, as multiple provinces reinstate tough public health restrictions.
Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that last month, the organization surveyed 4,514 small business owners and found 36 per cent were back to normal sales.
But now, with capacity limits in place, he says that “Any little glimmer of hope that many businesses saw at the end of this two-year tunnel are quickly being extinguished.”
– The Canadian Press
9:05 a.m. ET
Opinion: The best gift you can give this Christmas? Not infecting others with COVID-19
With COVID-19 cases soaring again, and new pandemic restrictions lurking, there is a strange sense of déjà vu in the air.
But Christmas 2021 has not been cancelled, nor should it be. Rather, we should downsize and embrace the mantra “small is beautiful.”
It’s all about risk mitigation at a personal and societal level.
We can eat, drink and be merry, but do it on a less grand (or grandiose) scale than in the past.
The goal should be to minimize contacts as much as possible. Keep your bubble small, to use oh-so-2020 language.
Go ahead and have a Christmas dinner, but keep it intimate. Having guests over? Then insist they be double- or triple-vaccinated.
– André Picard
9:05 a.m. ET
Thailand reinstates mandatory COVID-19 quarantine over Omicron variant concerns
Thailand will reinstate its mandatory COVID-19 quarantine for foreign visitors and scrap a quarantine waiver from Tuesday due to concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The decision to halt Thailand’s “Test and Go” waiver means visitors will have to undergo hotel quarantine, which ranges between 7 to 10 days.
Meanwhile, a so-called “sandbox” programme, which requires visitors to remain in a specific location but allows them free movement outside of their accommodation, will also be suspended in all places except for the tourist resort island of Phuket.
The announcement came a day after Thailand reported the first case of local transmission of the Omicron variant.
8:20 a.m. ET
Europe considers new curbs as Omicron COVID-19 variant sweeps world
Countries across Europe were considering new curbs on movement on Tuesday as the fast-moving Omicron variant swept the world days before Christmas, throwing travel plans into chaos and unnerving financial markets.
Omicron infections are multiplying rapidly across Europe, the United States and Asia, including in Japan, where a single cluster at a military base has grown to at least 180 cases.
Britain, Germany and Portugal were considering further measures. British finance minister Rishi Sunak will talk soon about his discussions with representatives of the hard-hit hospitality industry who are demanding more government support, a government minister said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he was looking at all kinds of measures to keep Omicron under control.
“We reserve the possibility of further action but it’s a question of looking at that data and weighing that against the other consequences of further restrictions,” Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay told BBC radio on Tuesday when asked if further measures could be introduced before Christmas.
8:00 a.m. ET
Opinion: As an immunocompromised person, I worry Omicron will cut me off from society once again
As an immunocompromised person, the COVID-19 vaccines aren’t as effective for me as most people. And now that I’ve experienced a summer and fall of patio and backyard hangouts that have felt almost like prepandemic times, it’s hard to imagine going back to a more isolated life. But with winter here, I am worried that looking out for my safety means being left behind.
– Jacob Scheier
8:00 a.m. ET
New play Viaticum blurs the line between theatre and memorial service for a victim of COVID-19
Sue Trerise Adamson was not able to have a funeral for her husband, Joe, who died of complications from COVID-19 when they were on vacation in Portugal in April, 2020. He was 69 years old.
Restrictions in the weeks and months after his passing made it impossible. And so her grief clung to her. But earlier this month, surrounded by friends and family in a small theatre in Hamilton, Ms. Trerise Adamson was finally able to say goodbye in an event that blurred the line between theatre and memorial service. When it ended, she wept.
Sitting in the dark along with approximately 70 people – friends from her swim team, Joe’s tennis buddies, members of his faculty from McMaster University where he was a professor of English and comparative literature – Ms. Trerise Adamson watched Viaticum, a play inspired by her and her husband’s relationship and Joe’s death from a virus that has so far killed more than 30,000 Canadians.
“My sister was sitting behind me and we were both sobbing,” says Ms. Trerise Adamson, who lives in Dundas, Ont.
How we say goodbye to loved ones who have died from COVID-19 has been painfully complicated by pandemic restrictions, and as a result so too has the ways in which we process the inestimable grief of our loss. The play was the perfect way to honour her husband, Ms. Trerise Adamson says.
– Dave McGinn
7:05 a.m. ET
Biden to pledge 500 million free rapid COVID-19 tests for Americans in bid to counter spreading Omicron variant
With the Omicron variant on the march, President Joe Biden plans to announce 500 million free rapid tests for Americans, increased support for hospitals under strain and a redoubling of vaccination and boosting efforts.
In a speech scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, Biden is announcing major changes to his COVID-19 winter plan, his hand forced by the arrival and rapid spread of the Omicron variant, whose properties are yet not fully understood by scientists.
– The Associated Press
4:00 a.m. ET
COVID-19 restrictions on capacity, gatherings come into force in Manitoba
Tighter public health restrictions on gatherings and capacity for both vaccinated and unvaccinated Manitobans have come into force.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon has said the rules are necessary to try to curb the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and prevent more pressure on overburdened hospitals.
Private indoor gatherings with vaccinated people are limited to household members plus 10 other people.
Gatherings that include anyone who is unvaccinated are limited to one household plus five guests.
Gyms, movie theatres and restaurants — where people have already been required to be vaccinated — are limited to half capacity.
Churches that require proof of vaccination will be limited to half capacity, while those that do not require vaccination status will be limited to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is less.
The new rules are to be in place for three weeks until Jan. 11.
Manitoba joins Quebec and other provinces across Canada that have announced tougher restrictions on gatherings and capacity in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, British Columbia plans to announce new COVID-19 restrictions later today.
– The Canadian Press
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