Coronavirus case figures continue to grow in Canada, with Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick and P.E.I. all reporting record-high numbers on Friday.
According to the open data portal in Quebec, slightly more than 10,000 new cases were added in the province on Friday, eclipsing the previous record of 9,397 new cases reported one day earlier. Details on COVID-19 related hospitalizations and vaccinations will be released next week.
“The Omicron variant is more contagious than anything seen since the start of the pandemic,” Premier François Legault wrote in a Christmas message posted to Facebook. “I count on your judgment to respect the instructions and to be careful.”
Quebec has also reportedly decided to order millions more rapid tests itself rather than wait for deliveries from the federal government.
Sources told Radio-Canada that the province has agreed to spend $86 million on the order, which could secure at least 12 million rapid tests. It is not known when Quebec will receive this order.
Ontario reported 9,571 cases, eclipsing the 5,790 the province posted on Thursday, along with six additional deaths.
Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted that 508 people are hospitalized with the virus — 355 not fully vaccinated or with an unknown vaccination status. On Thursday, 440 people were in hospital due to COVID-19.
The number of people in Ontario intensive-care units due to COVID-19 hit 164. Of those, 136 were not fully vaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status and 28 were fully vaccinated, Elliott tweeted. Friday’s total number of ICU cases is down by five from Thursday.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said earlier this week that record-high daily case counts were expected and will likely continue for several weeks.
British Columbia health officials announced 2,441 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the fourth straight day with record daily case numbers in the province. On Wednesday, B.C. shut down bars, nightclubs and gyms, and banned gatherings such as weddings.
Officials also said contact tracing and testing sites are at maximum capacity. They urged residents not to seek testing for travel purposes, as the screening needs to be available for those most at risk, as well as health-care workers who need negative tests in order to work.
“If you have any symptoms of COVID-19 … you must assume you have COVID and take measures to avoid passing it on,” B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at a Friday news conference. “Omicron is different…. In a sense, we’re in a different game.”
In Manitoba, an all-time daily record of nearly 742 new COVID-19 cases was reported Friday, along with one additional death. At a news conference earlier in the day, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the caseload is an underestimate because of a backlog in testing.
“We have to expect this will put significant strain on our health-care system if we continue these case numbers at this rate,” he said.
“Given that we’re still learning about Omicron, we cannot rely on some of the reports of Omicron being less severe.”
Anyone planning multiple Christmas gatherings in Manitoba is being urged to cut that back to one. Though current health orders allow for up to 10 visitors inside a home, not counting the people who live there, Roussin is pleading with people to scale that back.
In the Maritimes, New Brunswick reported a new daily high of 265 cases on Friday and one new death.
As in many other jurisdictions, the province’s chief medical officer of health is urging people to limit their contacts. People in New Brunswick are being asked to stick to a steady bubble of 20 and, after Dec. 27, to a smaller, steady bubble of 10.
Prince Edward Island reported its highest-ever new daily cases at 40, as the province’s new pandemic restrictions went into effect.
Wedding and funeral receptions, as well as wakes and visitations, will no longer be permitted. Organized gatherings such as worship services, wedding and funeral ceremonies, concerts and shows will be capped at 50 people, and schools won’t return to in-person learning until at least Jan. 10.
On Thursday, Canada reported more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time, a culmination of a record-shattering day that saw several provinces confirm new highs in infections.
What’s happening elsewhere in Canada
For more details on how COVID-19 is impacting your community — including hospital data and the latest on restrictions — check out the coverage from CBC newsrooms around the country.
Nova Scotia reported 611 new cases on Friday, down from the previous day’s high of 689. While the province originally encouraged people to use rapid tests as a precautionary measure, it is now asking that the test only be used when people have symptoms or are identified as close contacts, in order to conserve resources.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported 85 new cases on Friday. The province was back in COVID-19 Alert Level 3 as of Thursday morning, the change brought on by a rapid increase in cases, the emergence of the Omicron variant and outbreaks found across three of the province’s regional health authorities. At Level 3, people are asked to stay home as much as possible and to maintain a household bubble of up to 20 people.
Alberta reported 1,625 new cases on Thursday. The province’s chief medical officer of health said Albertans should use rapid tests to confirm whether they have COVID-19 if they show symptoms, rather than booking PCR tests. She noted that lab capacity has been strained in Quebec and Ontario, where Omicron is causing case counts to spike.
Saskatchewan reported 194 new cases and one additional death on Thursday.
Saskatchewan and Alberta are not expected to provide updates on COVID-19 numbers on Friday.
All Nunavut communities entered into a full lockdown on Friday as the territory reported four new cases, bringing the total number of active cases to eight. Dr. Michael Patterson, the chief public health officer, said the strict measures are to break transmission of the virus.
Yukon reported seven new cases on Friday.
The Northwest Territories has cancelled its travel bubble with Nunavut, citing concerns about COVID-19 community spread in the neighbouring territory. The cancellation took effect on Thursday at 5 p.m. local time.
“The updated [public health order] will now be treating all residents travelling from or through Nunavut as though they are travellers from outside of the N.W.T.,” said a new release from the N.W.T. Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:35 p.m. ET
Christmas again scaled back in Bethlehem
In the West Bank, musicians banging drums and playing bagpipes marched through the biblical town of Bethlehem on Friday to the delight of smaller-than-usual crowds — a mix of conviviality and restraint reflected in celebrations around the world on a Christmas Eve dampened once again by the coronavirus.
A ban on nearly all incoming air traffic by Israel — the main entry point for foreign visitors heading to the occupied West Bank — is keeping many international travellers away again this year. The ban is meant to help control the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.
Prior to the pandemic, thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world would visit the town at Christmas, providing some holiday spirit and an economic boost to the town.
The lack of foreign visitors has Bethlehem counting on the Holy Land’s small Christian community to lift spirits.
Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman said the town was optimistic this Christmas would be better than last year, when local residents stayed home due to lockdown restrictions.
“Last year, our festival was virtual, but this year it will be face to face with popular participation,” Salman said.
In Bethlehem’s Manger Square, hundreds of people gathered as a line of bagpipe- and drum-playing bands streamed through the area. Later, Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land, waved to well-wishers as his motorcade made its way through town.
“This year we see a lot of people, very crowded, and a lot of joy,” he said, before entering the Church of the Nativity to prepare for midnight mass. The church is built on the grotto where Christians believe Jesus was born.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 3:45 p.m. ET
What’s happening elsewhere around the world
As of 3:45 p.m. ET Friday, more than 278.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at almost 5.4 million.
The FlightAware website reported that global airline carriers have cancelled nearly 3,400 cancelled flights on Friday and Saturday. Some carriers said some flights were scrapped because of the impact on flight crews of illnesses largely tied to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
France reported another COVID-19 infection record on Friday with 94,124, while the number of people hospitalized for the disease reached a seven-month high at close to 16,200. The rising cases have prompted the government to convene a special meeting on the pandemic on Monday that could trigger new restrictions on movement.
In Australia, the federal government cut the wait time for people to get booster shots. Starting Jan. 4, the country will offer booster shots to everyone over 18 years old who had received their second vaccination shot four months earlier. The interval would be reduced again to three months by the end of the month, said federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. The move comes as Omicron cases in Australia hit 9,100 on Friday, up from the previous day’s record of 8,200.
In India, judges of the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most-populous state, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to suspend political rallies and election campaigns in regions due to hold elections early next year. Despite rising infection numbers due to the Omicron variant, political parties, including Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have been holding rallies and meetings where crowds continue to ignore pandemic protocols. The judges said, if possible, the elections that are expected to be held in February 2022 should be postponed by a couple of months.
In South Africa, people without COVID-19 symptoms won’t need to test or isolate if they have been in contact with a positive case, the government said Friday. The country’s Health Ministry said people will no longer need to isolate but should monitor for symptoms for five to seven days and avoid attending large gatherings. South Africa’s experience is being closely watched, as it was one of the first to identify the Omicron variant.
The United States will lift travel restrictions to eight southern African countries on New Year’s Eve, the White House announced. The restrictions, imposed on Nov. 29, were meant to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. The ban barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 3:45 p.m. ET
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