A look at the latest COVID-19 developments in Canada

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Published December 15, 2021 at 4:00 pm

A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:

— The federal government is now warning Canadians against all non-essential international travel in the face of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the highly transmissible variant is now spreading in Canadian communities and just about everywhere else in the world. He said that people who leave the country risk spreading the virus, and getting stranded abroad. The new advisory takes a stronger stance than the one published shortly after the emergence of the Omicron variant, urging Canadians to be aware that travel to an area with Omicron could hamper their ability to return to Canada.

— Preparations for an accelerated COVID-19 booster shot rollout are underway in Ontario as the province braced for a growing wave of infections. Public Health Ontario has estimated that 80 per cent of new COVID-19 infections as of this week would be Omicron. Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s top doctor, said this week that Omicron is infecting between four and eight times more people than the Delta variant.

— Alberta is making changes to testing, booster shots and gathering restrictions as it braces for an increase in cases of the more transmissible Omicron variant. Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta’s vaccination rate means it is well positioned to handle the variant, allowing the province to loosen gathering restrictions. But he says it’s best to be cautious given Omicron’s rapid spread and other unknowns. Kenney says a rapid testing program will be expanded Friday, with free test kits available to Albertans at select health services sites and pharmacies. The booster shot program is being expanded immediately to anyone 50 years and older and to all health-care workers provided it’s six months after their second shots.

— Quebec Premier François Legault says his government may reconsider its decision to ease indoor gathering limits for the holidays because of the high numbers of new daily COVID-19 cases. Health officials reported 2,386 new infections Wednesday and a test positivity rate of 5.8 per cent. COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by 16 from the day before, to 309, after 37 people were admitted to hospital and 21 people were discharged. The number of patients in intensive care dropped by two, to 73.

— Manitoba’s chief public health officer is urging people to reconsider large holiday gatherings. Dr. Brent Roussin has released preliminary modelling that suggests the number of new daily COVID-19 cases could quadruple or more as the Omicron variant spreads in the coming weeks. Roussin says there are few cases of the variant in Manitoba right now, but it has proven very transmissible in Ontario and the United Kingdom.

— The Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has reached all four Atlantic provinces, after Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed its first case of the mutation believed to be more infectious than Delta. But unlike the other three provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador health officials did not make a link between its case of Omicron and the COVID-19 outbreak at a university in Nova Scotia. Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health, told reporters the source of the infection has been linked to travel within Canada.

— Some Ontario universities are delaying the start of in-person classes planned for January amid a rise in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant. York University president Rhonda Lento says in a letter to students that the winter term will start on Jan. 10, but the in-person delivery of courses and most on-campus activities will now start on Jan. 24. McMaster University in Hamilton also notified its students that the winter semester will start as planned on Jan. 10 but in-person classes won’t begin before Jan. 17. Meanwhile, the University of Waterloo says it is has cancelled all gatherings and meetings on campus during the holiday period and asked employees and students to cancel any planned off-campus events.

— Several school boards in Ontario are asking students to take home their personal belongings and electronic devices as they prepare for the possibility of a switch to remote learning in the new year. The Toronto District School Board told families it hasn’t received any indication from the Ministry of Education that schools will close, but it wants to make sure it can make a transition “smoothly and efficiently.” The Waterloo Region District School Board issued a similar memo, saying its staff have prepared schools to “ensure a smooth transition, if required.”

— Experts say pandemic fatigue is being widely felt in Canada and are urging people to keep their guard up as cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant rise. They suggest politicians and public health figures include positive elements in their messaging to keep residents engaged in the fight against the virus. David Dozois, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario, says some people have become “desensitized” to COVID-19, and as a result, are experiencing “caution fatigue.” He described caution fatigue in the face of the pandemic as demotivation to follow expert advice about COVID-19 and growing more tired of measures such as physical distancing, good hand washing and wearing masks.

— Seven players, three coaches and seven support staff with the Calgary Flames are the latest members of the organization to be added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. The team, which has already had three games postponed due to the outbreak, said head coach Darryl Sutter, associate coach Kirk Muller and assistant coach Ryan Huska were on the list. The Flames also said Rasmus Andersson, Byron Froese, Johnny Gaudreau, Erik Gudbranson, Trevor Lewis, Jacob Markstrom and Tyler Pitlick were players to be added. The additions brought the number of Calgary players in protocol to 16. Over 140 players have been on the protocol list this season. Ten NHL games have already been postponed, including five this week.

— Several NBA teams have had to use short-handed lineups of late with several players — including Canada’s RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks, and Toronto Raptors forward Precious Achiuwa — in health and safety protocols. The Brooklyn Nets had seven players in protocol in Tuesday’s 131-129 overtime win over the visiting Raptors.

— In the Ontario Hockey League, the Erie Otters suspended team activities Wednesday after 13 players tested positive for COVID-19. Affected players were currently asymptomatic or exhibiting mild symptoms, the league said in a release. In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a player from the Quebec Remparts was placed in isolation following a positive COVID-19 test result.

— The Halifax Mooseheads say they are sticking to their plan to advance one of their home games to avoid a new cap on gathering limits imposed by the province to slow the spread of COVID-19. Team spokesman Scott MacIntosh says the home game scheduled for Friday at the Scotiabank Centre will instead be played on Thursday, adding that the hockey club is complying with public health orders. Premier Tim Houston said Tuesday he was displeased with the decision of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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