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Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Dec. 3

The latest:

WATCH | Answers about holiday visits with the unvaccinated: 

Dr. Brian Conway of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre says it is still too risky to mix vaccinated with unvaccinated family at holiday gatherings.

Dr. Brian Conway, infectious disease specialist and medical director for the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, answers a CBC audience member’s question on whether to invite an unvaccinated person to a holiday gathering. 0:51

While the new coronavirus variant omicron appeared to be very transmissible, the right response was to be prepared, cautious and not panic, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said Friday.

WHO has urged countries to boost health-care capacity and vaccinate their people to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant, saying travel curbs could buy time, but were not the only answer.

“How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago,” Swaminathan said.

While the emergence of the new variant was unwelcome, she said the world was much better prepared than it was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, given the development of vaccines.

Much remains unknown about omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been spotted in at least two dozen countries. Parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the delta variant before omicron emerged.

“We need to wait, let’s hope it’s milder … but it’s too early to conclude about the variant as a whole,” Swaminathan said of the new variant.

“Delta accounts for 99 per cent of infections around the world. This variant would have to be more transmissible to out-compete and become dominant worldwide. It is possible, but it’s not possible to predict.”

WHO’s top scientist said the omicron variant seemed to be causing three times more infections than experienced previously in South Africa, meaning “it does seem to be able to overcome some of the natural immunity from previous infection.”

Vaccines did appear to be having some effect.

“The fact that they’re not getting sick … that means the vaccines are still providing protection and we would hope that they would continue to provide protection,” Swaminathan said.

She said the health organization is “preparing for all scenarios,” which could include an additional booster dose, particularly among some age groups or vulnerable sections of the population, or a modified vaccine.

WATCH | The ‘roller coaster’ of omicron information: 

WHO warns ‘bit of a roller coaster’ coming on information about omicron

The World Health Organization’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan, says the transparency around rapidly emerging data on the coronavirus variant omicron is empowering but recognizes how unsettling it is to be hearing bits of information in real time. 1:49

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergency program, said later Friday that information about the variant will soon be flowing in as scientists learn more. He urged people to “stay centred” and not “go to the extremes of any analysis.”

“There was a time when scientists would look at all this data and nobody in the public would know, and eventually, a month later … there would be a result,” he said during a question and answer session about omicron. “That’s not how the world works anymore — everything is happening in real time.”

Ryan said that shift offers some real benefits around transparency and community empowerment, but it can also be “unsettling” to people because firm answers aren’t available right away.

“We’ve got to get used to living in that world where getting the real evidence and answers is slightly behind getting all the data and all this kind of unlinked information,” he said. 

“We all live with that uncertainty.”

From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 6:02 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

An Ontario infectious disease specialist says there is evidence that testing all travellers before and after they arrive in Canada will identify most cases of COVID-19 coming into the country.

McMaster University physician Dr. Zain Chagla is highly critical of Canada’s plan to try to slow the spread of the new omicron variant by only banning travellers from 10 African nations, and said testing, not travel bans, is a less harmful and more effective mitigation strategy.

Friday afternoon, York Region in Ontario reported one positive case of the omicron variant, bringing the total to 13 cases nationally: seven in Ontario, four in Alberta, one in Quebec and one in B.C.

WATCH | Varying eligibility for booster shots: 

Eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots varies across Canada

2 days ago

Ontario will lower the eligibility age for COVID-19 booster shots to 50 and up by mid-December, adding to a shifting map of booster shot eligibility in Canada. There are calls for provinces and territories to be more cohesive with each other on who gets a booster shot. 2:03


What’s happening around the world

WATCH | South African official questions travel ban: 

‘Why is it only Africa?’: South Africa’s High Commissioner questions scientific basis of Canada’s travel ban

2 days ago

“South Africa displayed the highest level of transparency and integrity, but we are now being chastised for doing the right thing,” South Africa’s High Commissioner Sibongiseni Dlamini-Mntambo told Power & Politics Thursday. 11:18

As of Friday evening, more than 264.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.

In Ireland, the government on Friday announced strict new limits on the hospitality sector and home visits after officials warned the new omicron variant was likely to add to pressure on the health service.

In Africa, the health ministry in South Africa on Friday reported 16,055 new cases and 25 deaths, up from 11,535 new cases of COVID-19 and 44  deaths a day earlier. The country, which raised the alarm about the new variant now named omicron, has seen a surge in cases.

WATCH | South Africa sees spike in COVID-19 cases: 

South Africa sees spike in COVID-19 cases as omicron variant spreads

22 hours ago

The omicron variant is driving a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases across South Africa. Scientists believe the variant is more transmissible, and may even bypass acquired immunity in some people who have recovered from COVID-19. 2:02

In Europe, more regions of Russia have made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for those 60 and over as the country tries to control infections and keep the omicron variant at bay.

Authorities in the northern region of Komi said Friday people in that age group are required to get fully vaccinated by Feb. 1. The Omsk region in Siberia introduced a more stringent timeline Thursday that obligates those 60 and older to get their first dose by Dec. 24 and their second by Jan. 15.

Russia has struggled to get cases down amid low vaccination rates and poor compliance with public health measures. Only about 40 per cent of Russia’s population have been fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England rose to around one in 60 people in the week ending Nov. 27, Britain’s Office for National Statistics said Friday, noting the increase was attributed to the dominant delta variant rather than newly identified omicron. The prevalence was up from 1 in 65 reported the previous week, the ONS said.

WATCH | Test requirements when flying to the U.S.

Canadians will need to take COVID-19 test a day before flying to the U.S.

2 days ago

The U.S. is planning to require all travellers who arrive by air take a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of their departure, a move officials say is needed to slow the spread of the omicron variant. 2:15

In the Americas, the Biden administration announced more measures meant to curb the spread of the new variant. Starting Monday, international air travellers arriving in the United States must provide a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel.

“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” said President Joe Biden. Around 60 per cent of the U.S. population have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy nations.

In the Middle East, OPEC and its allies agreed to stick to their existing policy of monthly oil output increases despite fears that a U.S. release from crude reserves and the new omicron coronavirus variant would lead to a fresh oil price rout.

In the Asia-Pacific region, India reported its first omicron cases but the government said it had no immediate plan to authorize booster vaccine shots despite demands from legislators.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:20 p.m. ET

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