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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is ramping up delivery of COVID-19 rapid tests to provinces and territories as tests run scarce across the country

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says 140 million tests will be distributed across Canada in January on a per-capita basis.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

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

7:21 p.m. ET

B.C. reports nearly 30,000 active cases of COVID-19 as Omicron variant spreads

The number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 has risen to 317 in B.C., with 83 people in intensive care units according to latest COVID-19 data from the province.

There are 21 long-term care, health-care or seniors living facilities with ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks, as the province adds 3,798 new COVID-19 cases today for a total of 29,967 active cases.

7:15 p.m. ET

Ontario hospitals urge pregnant people to get vaccine, cite infant COVID-19 admissions

Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, McMaster Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and Kingston Health Sciences Centre made a joint statement urging pregnant people to get vaccinated on Wednesday.

“No one wants their little one to be sick in hospital, let alone for COVID-19,” the statement said. “For this reason, as well as for the health of the pregnant individual, we are encouraging anyone who is pregnant and eligible for vaccination – as well as all eligible members in their household – to get vaccinated.”

The group said its seeing an increase babies younger than 12 months being admitted to Hamilton and Ottawa facilities because of COVID-19. All infants admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa had unvaccinated mothers, the statement said.

6:54 p.m. ET

Saskatchewan monitoring COVID-19 measures needed to keep essential workers healthy

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, says any further public health orders will be based on keeping essential services going as Saskatchewan prepares for its biggest spike in COVID-19 infections yet.

Dr. Shahab said the Omicron variant is behaving more like a respiratory virus in a pandemic, which is more transmission but with a lower potential ability to produce disease. Saskatchewan will look across the country to see what measures are successful in keeping front-line and essential staff working.

5:40 p.m. ET

Pfizer expects latest COVID-19 vaccine data for kids under five by April

A Pfizer Inc scientist said on Wednesday that the company should have data by late March or early April for children under the age of five from its ongoing clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with Germany’s BioNTech SE.

Speaking at a meeting of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Pfizer scientist Alejandra Gurtman said that the study had been amended to give a third dose of the vaccine to the children at least eight weeks after the second dose.

- Reuters

5:30 p.m. ET

CDC advisory panel in favour of Pfizer vaccine booster for kids aged 12 to 15

A panel of outside experts advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday voted to recommend booster shots of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine be made available to 12- to 15-year-olds.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted 13 to 1 to recommend that the U.S. health agency support booster shots for those aged 12 to 15 at least five months after their second dose.

The panel also said the CDC should strengthen its recommendation for boosters ages 16 and 17. The agency had previously made the shots available to those teenagers, but had stopped short of suggesting that all of them should receive the additional jab.

- Reuters

5:27 p.m. ET

Yukon shortening COVID-19 isolation period for the vaccinated

Yukon is following some other provinces in cutting the isolation period for people diagnosed with COVID-19 to seven days for those who have been vaccinated and have no symptoms.

The territory’s acting top doctor, Dr. Catherine Elliott, advised residents that if they have symptoms of COVID-19, they should assume they have the virus without getting tested.

Elliot said Wednesday just under 5,000 rapid tests are currently available and those are needed for people who are considered high risk or have chronic health conditions.

Premier Sandy Silver said Yukon will be getting about 100,000 of the 140 million rapid tests the federal government plans to ship to provinces and territories this month.

Elliott said more information will be released in the next few days on how people can access the test kits.

- The Canadian Press

4:50 p.m. ET

Novak Djokovic denied entry to Australia after initially receiving vaccine exemption

Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 tennis star in the world, was denied entry into Australia on Thursday after initially being granted a medical exemption for the country’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements so that he could play in the Australian Open.

The tennis star, left stranded at Melbourne’s Tullamanrien airport overnight, was issued a letter by the Australian government saying his visa had been denied and he would be deported, a source close to the tournament told Reuters.

The tennis star was filing an injunction to prevent his deportation, the source said.

- Reuters

4:40 p.m. ET

Grammy Awards postponed due to Omicron COVID-19 variant risks

The Grammy Awards were postponed Wednesday weeks before the planned Los Angeles ceremony over what organizers called “too many risks” from the Omicron variant, signalling what could be the start of another year of pandemic upheaval for awards season.

The attempt at a back-to-normal show had been scheduled for Jan. 31 at the newly renamed Arena with a live audience and performances, but no new date is on the books. The Recording Academy said it made the decision to postpone the ceremony “after careful consideration and analysis with city and state officials, health and safety experts, the artist community and our many partners.

Last year, like most major awards shows in early 2021, the Grammys were postponed due to coronavirus concerns. The show was moved from late January to mid-March and held with a spare audience made up of mostly nominees and their guests in and around the Los Angeles Convention Center, next door to its usual home, the arena then known as Staples Center.

- AP

4:15 p.m. ET

New Brunswick reports 779 new COVID-19 cases

Health officials in New Brunswick have reported 779 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and three more coronavirus-related deaths.

There were 59 people in hospital with the disease, including 16 in intensive care.

Starting Saturday, the provincial government will stop releasing the number of daily cases confirmed by PCR testing in its news releases. The numbers will continue to be available on the government’s online dashboard.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell says the number of daily PCR-confirmed cases is not a true reflection of the severity of the situation in the province.

- The Canadian Press

3:40 p.m. ET

City of Toronto fires 461 employees for not being vaccinated against COVID-19

The City of Toronto says it has terminated 461 employees for failing to comply with its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.

The city says in a release that the employees either failed to receive any doses of vaccine or failed to report their vaccination status by the deadline of January 2nd.

It says the terminations will not affect current staffing levels because the employees had been suspended without pay and not scheduled to work.

It adds that ensuring all employees are fully vaccinated is more important than ever due to the rise of the highly transmissible Omicron variant and 98.6 per cent of its active work force has received two doses.

- The Canadian Press

3:22 p.m. ET

IOC assures teams Winter Olympics in Beijing will go ahead

A day after Switzerland’s team leader asked for talks about possibly postponing the Beijing Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic, the IOC promised officials worldwide on Wednesday the Winter Games will go ahead as planned.

The Swiss Olympic committee said the IOC gave assurances about staging next month’s event during a video conference call with teams.

The International Olympic Committee also promised case-by-case assessments of athletes who recover after testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of travelling to China, the Swiss team said in a statement.

The International Olympic Committee is hoping to avoid a second straight delay. The Tokyo Games, originally scheduled to be held in 2020, were postponed by one year. That decision was made four months before the scheduled opening ceremony.

- AP

2:40 p.m. ET

Nunavut’s top doctor says COVID-19 outbreak ‘testing the limits’ of capacity

Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across Nunavut, with confirmed or presumptive cases in 14 of the territory’s 25 communities. There are 231 active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, mostly in Iqaluit, Arviat and Rankin Inlet.

This is the territory’s most widespread outbreak to date, with COVID-19 cases rising in many of its small communities.

Nunavut has been in lockdown since Dec. 24 and Nunavut’s chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says the outbreak is testing the territory’s health-care limits.

“Managing this many simultaneous outbreaks is testing the limits of our capacity. It’s vital all Nunavummiut remain calm, kind, patient and committed to the public health measures in place,” Patterson said in a news release.

- The Canadian Press

1:50 p.m. ET

Air Transat to deny boarding to passengers from Sunwing party flight to Mexico

Air Transat says passengers who were partying maskless on a recent Sunwing flight from Montreal to Mexico will not be allowed on its planes as they attempt to return to Canada.

The airline said on Twitter today the “disruptive passengers” from the Sunwing flight are trying to return home on Air Transat flights, but they will be denied boarding based on the company’s obligation to ensure passenger and crew safety.

Sunwing cancelled the group’s return flight from Cancun scheduled for today, saying the unruly behaviour had contravened several Canadian Aviation Regulations as well as public health rules.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday called the passengers’ conduct irresponsible and a “slap in the face” to everyone who has been following public health restrictions.

Transport Canada said Tuesday it was launching an investigation into the matter, with passengers who violated the department’s regulations facing fines of up to $5,000 per offence.

- The Canadian Press

1:20 p.m. ET

Ontario’s GO Transit to reduce train, bus service due to staffing shortages

GO Transit says staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have prompted cancellations over the holidays, with additional service reductions planned in the coming days.

The regional transit agency serving the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton region says a temporary reduction in train and bus service is set to begin within days, and new schedules will be made available at that time.

It says cancellations will be spread across its seven train corridors and bus routes, but notes cancelled trains will not be replaced by buses.

- The Canadian Press

1:05 p.m. ET

Nova Scotia opens new booster vaccination clinics as Omicron wave hits province

Nova Scotia is announcing a series of booster vaccination clinics as health officials deal with the largest wave of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Officials say new community clinics will begin administering booster doses tomorrow and that some testing centres will start offering booster doses on Monday. The new clinics are in Halifax, Dartmouth, Wolfville and Truro.

Nova Scotia reported 1,020 cases of COVID-19 yesterday and an estimated 6,439 active infections.

- The Canadian Press

12:21 p.m. ET

Oilers captain Connor McDavid enters NHL’s COVID-19 protocol ahead of game with Maple Leafs

The Oilers announced that captain Connor McDavid, forward Derek Ryan and defenceman Tyson Barrie have entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol hours before Edmonton was scheduled to face the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

McDavid and Ryan were held out of practice Tuesday after returning positive tests as the team awaited results of further testing to determine their status for Wednesday’s game.

McDavid had tested negative on Monday before playing in Edmonton’s 4-1 loss against the Rangers in New York.

Meanwhile, Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews told reporters he planned on playing in Wednesday’s game after participating in practice. Matthews had been held out of Toronto’s previous two practices for precautionary reasons after testing positive for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test on Monday, then negative on a PCR test Tuesday.

- The Canadian Press

12:16 p.m. ET

Additional 140 million COVID-19 rapid tests to be delivered to provinces and territories this month, Duclos says

An additional 140 million rapid tests will be delivered to provinces and territories this month, says Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

While speaking at a news conference in Ottawa along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mr. Duclos said the tests will be allocated to the provinces and territories on a per-capita basis as requested by those levels of government. He also said that deliveries are already under way.

“Rapid tests are proving an important tool in helping Canadians reduce the spread of Omicron,” he said.

Rapid tests are becoming increasingly popular in Canada as a tool to detect COVID-19, particularly as access to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests become more difficult as cases numbers rise. The federal government has procured the tests and the provinces and territories are responsible for their distribution.

Mr. Duclos said that before December 2021 that the federal government delivered 85 million tests to provinces and territories. Last month alone, he said that an additional 35 million tests were delivered.

- Kristy Kirkup and Michelle Carbert

12:15 p.m. ET

Flight attendants call for better COVID-19 protections following maskless Sunwing party flight

In the wake of a party on a Sunwing Airlines flight from Montreal to Cancun, Mexico, flight attendants are demanding stronger action from government and carriers to ensure health and safety on board amid the Omicron surge.

Videos of the Dec. 30 flight shared on social media appear to show passengers not wearing masks as they gather in close proximity, singing and dancing in the aisle and on seats.

- The Canadian Press

12:03 p.m. ET

OHL commits to finishing 2021-22 season as new COVID-19 restrictions begin in Ontario

The Ontario Hockey League says it is committed to finishing its 2021-22 season as new COVID-19 measures begin in the province, including a complete restriction on fans at indoor sports venues.

The OHL said in a release that the league’s board of governors met Wednesday morning to address its next steps in progressing with the season despite no fans being allowed at games based in Ontario for at least the next three weeks.

The league said it is in conversation with government and public health officials and will have updates at a later time.

- The Canadian Press

11:55 a.m. ET

Quebec reports 39 more COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations rise to 1,750

Quebec is reporting 39 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus today and a rise of 158 COVID-19-related hospitalizations.

The Health Department says data from the last 24 hours indicates 1,750 people were in hospital with COVID-19, after 321 patients were admitted and 163 were discharged. It says 191 people were in intensive care, a rise of six from the day before.

Officials are reporting 14,486 new COVID-19 cases today and say about 28 per cent of tests came back positive — the same test-positivity rate as the prior day. The government is no longer offering PCR testing to the general public and is instead prioritizing those tests for higher-risk groups.

Still, in-person learning at Quebec schools will resume on Jan. 17 as planned, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said Wednesday, despite the continuing spread of COVID-19 in the province.

- The Canadian Press

11:28 a.m. ET

Ontario reports 2,081 hospitalized with COVID-19, 288 in intensive care

Ontario is reporting 2,081 people in the hospital with COVID-19 and 288 patients in intensive care.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says 202 people in intensive care are not vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 86 people are fully vaccinated.

The province reported 14 new deaths from the virus.

There were 11,582 new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday but Public Health Ontario notes that the true number is likely higher due to policy changes making testing less accessible.

The numbers come as a new round of public health restrictions takes effect in the province.

Students are learning remotely starting today, businesses like restaurants and gyms must close to indoor service and hospitals are pausing non-urgent surgeries.

- The Canadian Press

11:05 a.m. ET

Calls grow for more resources in Labrador as region reports rise in COVID-19 cases

Two of Labrador’s Indigenous governments are reporting more cases of COVID-19 in their communities as calls grow for more resources in the region.

Labrador’s Inuit Nunatsiavut government says there are 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the fly-in community of Nain as well as three presumptive cases.

Nain is Labrador’s northernmost community and had not reported cases of COVID-19 before the Omicron wave.

The Nunatsiavut government says there are no confirmed cases in the four other Inuit communities along the north coast.

Meanwhile, the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation said during a local briefing today there are almost 30 active cases in the central Labrador community, with many other people awaiting test results.

- The Canadian Press

10:50 a.m. ET

U.K. authorities ease COVID-19 testing requirements amid Omicron surge

Health authorities eased COVID-19 testing requirements across the United Kingdom on Wednesday, a move that could ease staffing shortages that are hitting public services from hospitals and ambulances to trains and garbage collection amid an omicron-fueled infection surge.

The U.K. Health Security Agency said that from Jan. 11 people in England who test positive using a rapid lateral flow test will no longer need to confirm the result with a PCR test if they are asymptomatic.

The temporary move, which also was used by the government early last year, will cut the time people who record a positive lateral flow test but don’t have COVID-19 symptoms need to self-isolate. They will no longer need to wait for the result of a PCR test and then begin another seven days of isolation.

- The Associated Press

10:43 a.m. ET

Canadian Alphonso Davies is latest Bayern Munich player to test positive for COVID-19

Bayern Munich says Canadian star Alphonso Davies has joined the list of players to test positive for COVID-19.

The Bundesliga club says the 21-year-old fullback from Edmonton is well and self-isolating at home.

Other players to have tested positive include Leroy Sane, Dayot Upamecano, Lucas Hernandez, Tanguy Nianzou, Manuel Neuer, Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso and Omar Richards. Assistant coach Dino Toppmoeller is also self-isolating after a positive test.

Training was to have resumed Sunday but was pushed back a day due to the pandemic, with all players, coaches and staff undergoing PCR tests Monday.

- The Canadian Press

9:59 a.m. ET

Boos, cheers greet France’s Macron pledge to ‘piss off’ unvaccinated

The French government on Wednesday defended President Emmanuel Macron’s use of a coarse insult in a stepped-up campaign against France’s unvaccinated, after the phrase drew condemnation from the opposition and mixed reactions from voters.

Parliament suspended debate on a COVID-19 bill as opposition lawmakers demanded explanations from Macron, who earlier said he wanted to “piss off” unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would end up getting jabbed.

France has historically had more vaccine skeptics than many of its neighbours, and pandemic restrictions have triggered many street protests, but nearly 90% of those aged 12 have now been inoculated, one of the continent’s highest COVID-19 vaccination rates.

In the Le Parisien interview, Macron, who has consistently called on everyone in France to get vaccinated, also called unvaccinated people irresponsible and – in another remark criticized by some voters and the opposition, that “irresponsible people are no longer citizens”.

- Reuters

9:03 a.m. ET

English League Cup match between Liverpool, Arsenal postponed due to rising COVID-19 cases

A coronavirus outbreak among Liverpool’s players and staff led to the team’s match against Arsenal in the English League Cup semi-finals being postponed Wednesday, adding to the backlog in English soccer caused by the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The English Football League, which runs the cup competition, approved a request from Liverpool for the game to be called off because of a slew of positive tests at the club that has led to the closure of its training ground.

The first leg that was scheduled to take place at Arsenal on Thursday will now be staged at Anfield on Jan. 13. The second leg will take place at Emirates Stadium on Jan. 20.

- The Associated Press

7:55 a.m. ET

Poland’s president tests positive for COVID-19 for 2nd time

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for COVID-19 but has no serious symptoms, an aide said Wednesday.

The aide, Pawel Szrot, said on Twitter that Duda was under medical observation but feels well.

Duda, 49, has been vaccinated against the coronavirus and received a booster shot last month, Szrot said. The president got tested this week because of cases among employees in his office.

Duda previously tested positive in October, 2020, and was reported at the time not to have experienced significant illness.

- The Associated Press

7:54 a.m. ET

Toronto Zoo says it’s closing temporarily to protect animals, ensure staffing

The Toronto Zoo is closing temporarily starting today as stricter public health measures meant to curb the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 take effect in Ontario.

While its outdoor portion could remain open under the new rules, the zoo says it is choosing to close to protect the health of staff, patrons and animals — particularly those vulnerable to COVID-19.

The organization says it wants to ensure critical staffing levels for animal care and infrastructure maintenance.

It says the temporary closure will allow it to redeploy and train employees for these key roles should COVID-19 cause staffing shortages.

Zoo staff will remain on site throughout the closure to care for the animals.

The zoo says the closure will last until at least Jan. 27, and those who have already purchased tickets can use them afterwards or request a refund.

- The Canadian Press

7:49 a.m. ET

Federal transport minister calls for probe into reported maskless party on recent Sunwing flight to Cancun

Canada’s minister of transport on Tuesday called for an investigation into reports of maskless revelers on a recent Sunwing Airlines flight to Cancun, as the country battles soaring cases of COVID-19.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said on Twitter he had asked regulator Transport Canada to investigate media reports of passengers snapping selfies, drinking alcohol and congregating close together on the Dec. 30 flight from Montreal.

“I am aware of the reports of unacceptable behaviour on a Sunwing flight,” Alghabra said.

“Transport Canada has been in contact with the airline concerning this flight,” the regulator said in a statement late on Tuesday, adding that the passengers could be fined up to $5,000 per offence if Transport Canada determines they were not complying with regulations.

- The Canadian Press

6:41 a.m. ET

Hong Kong bans flights, imposes other COVID-19 restrictions

Hong Kong authorities announced a two-week ban on flights from the United States, Canada and six other countries and held 2,500 passengers on a cruise ship for coronavirus testing Wednesday as the city attempted to stem an emerging omicron outbreak.

The two-week ban on passenger flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States will take effect Sunday and continue until Jan. 21.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam also announced that restaurant dining will be forbidden after 6 p.m. for two weeks starting Friday. Game arcades, bars and beauty salons must also close during that period.

- The Associated Press

6:00 a.m. ET

Opinion: We have the tools to beat Omicron. Use them

Over the coming weeks and months, nearly every one of us is going to come into contact with Omicron. And millions of Canadians are going to become infected.

Many of the infected will have no symptoms, and most of the rest will have only mild symptoms – excellent news. But a small percentage will become seriously ill, and need to be hospitalized.

On Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that figure was around 1 per cent. That may be a low risk for each individual, but for the country as a whole, the math will generate a tsunami. If, say, two million Canadians become infected over the course of a week, and 1 per cent are seriously ill, our hospitals will be swamped.

The grim equation is already starting to play out. On Tuesday, Ontario had 1,302 people in hospital – more than double the tally of a week earlier – and 266 in the ICU, up 42 per cent.

But there’s also good news – about Omicron’s severity, the effectiveness of public-health measures, and the power of vaccines.

- The Globe Editorial

5:00 a.m. ET

Businesses brace for staff shortages as Omicron keeps employees away from work

Canadian businesses in a variety of sectors say they are starting to feel the staffing pinch from the highly contagious Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, putting further pressure on employers that were already short of workers.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Canada hit 35,618 on Tuesday, about 10 times what it was a month earlier. Even though hospitalizations have not risen as dramatically as in previous waves, people who catch the virus are expected to isolate themselves at home to limit spread.

The rising number of cases has led to staffing shortages in many industries, including essential retail. Gary Sands, vice-president of government relations at the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, said his members reported a 20-per-cent shortage in employee hours over the holiday period, and he expects that number is increasing.

For stores that were already facing record job vacancies, the surge has made it challenging to stay open and maintain regular operating hours, especially in some communities that may rely on a single grocery store as their only source of food.

“We could face situations where a store has to shut down for operational reasons, and then you have a food security issue,” he said.

- Chris Hannay, Emma Graney and Susan Krashinsky Robertson

12:50 a.m. ET

Thousands held on Hong Kong cruise ship for COVID-19 testing

Thousands of passengers were being held Wednesday on a cruise ship in Hong Kong for coronavirus testing after health authorities said nine passengers were linked to a recent omicron cluster and ordered the ship to turn back.

Authorities forced the Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas ship, which began sailing on Sunday on a “cruise to nowhere,” to return a day early on Wednesday, according to a government statement.

The ship was ordered to return after nine passengers were identified as close contacts of an infected patient who was linked to a new omicron cluster.

The ship returned to Hong Kong on Wednesday morning and passengers were being held onboard while they awaited testing.

Royal Caribbean said in a statement that the nine guests were immediately isolated and had all tested negative, and that the company was working closely with authorities to comply with epidemic prevention policies and regulations.

- The Associated Press

January 4, 9:52 p.m. ET

B.C. schools must plan for the likelihood of massive staffing shortages due to COVID-19, province’s top doctor says

School administrators in British Columbia have been asked by provincial health officials to create contingency and safety plans if up to one third of staff are off sick at any given time.

B.C.’s top doctor, Bonnie Henry, says that the fast spreading of the Omicron variant is forcing schools, businesses and the health-care sector to adapt given the high rate of transmission, the short incubation period and the increasing number of people who are getting ill.

“We need to anticipate that as many as a third of your work force at any one time may become ill with COVID-19, and they may not be able to come to work. We need to adapt businesses so we can operate at these reduced numbers,” she said at a briefing Tuesday afternoon.

“Whether you’re a private company, a school, a front-line business or a health-care site, now is the time that we have to prepare.”

- Xiao Xu

January 4, 9:50 p.m. ET

Hospitalizations rising countrywide as Omicron threatens to overrun the health system

The Omicron variant is driving a rapid rise in hospitalizations in much of Canada, prompting provinces to find ways to maintain staffing levels in health care systems already pushed to the brink.

In Ontario, William Osler Health System, a hospital network in Peel Region, initiated a “Code Orange (Stage 2)” alert this week as it redeploys staff and prioritizes the most urgent cases to deal with a surge in patients and a shortage of personnel. British Columbia and Quebec have developed protocols that would allow asymptomatic health care workers to remain on the job should the public-health situations continue to deteriorate. Scheduled surgeries are again being postponed across the country to free up resources for COVID-19 patients.

- Jeff Gray, Andrea Woo, Eric Andrew-Gee

January 4, 9:21 p.m. ET

COVID-19 outbreak at Bearskin Lake First Nation has local officials looking for help

A remote community in Northwestern Ontario is calling for military assistance after a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected close to half its residents, including vulnerable elders and children, while a region-wide lockdown restricting non-essential travel is now in effect.

Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin from Bearskin Lake First Nation said 186 cases have been confirmed so far in the community of more than 400 people, affecting approximately 55 households, including his own. He has been isolating since Monday when his adult son tested positive. His daughter previously tested positive and was sent to isolate at the community centre, which is now at capacity. Mr. Kamenawatamin’s tests have been negative so far.

Mr. Kamenawatamin said the community’s resources are close to breaking point as the already limited essential staff are among those getting infected. He declared a state of emergency on Dec. 28.

- Willow Fiddler and Ntawnis Piapot

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