Ontario is lifting the directive that paused non-urgent procedures and surgeries, with the province citing a “steady decline in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and ICU admissions.”
The measure, called Directive 2, was put in place on Jan. 5 as the province worked to preserve capacity in the health-care system amid the growing Omicron wave. In early February, the directive was changed to allow some procedures to resume — including cancer screening and non-urgent procedures in pediatric hospitals.
The most recent shift, announced in a statement on Thursday, is meant to allow for the “gradual and cautious resumption of non-urgent and non-emergent surgeries and procedures across the province.”
The province on Friday reported 1,829 hospitalizations — down by 68 from a day earlier — with 435 people in the province’s intensive care units, according to the COVID-19 dashboard. The province also reported 52 additional deaths.
Premier Doug Ford on Friday said the restrictions put in place to deal with COVID-19 helped protect hospitals from collapse and saved lives.
The premier, who was speaking at a briefing about ongoing anti-mandate protests, said Ontario is “on track to very soon remove almost all restrictions for businesses as part of our reopening plan.”
Ford’s remarks came a day after chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, also announced that provincial officials are also re-examining reopening timelines.
“We will be reviewing the evidence … and the evidence is showing we’re making remarkable improvement in all the key metrics in Ontario,” Moore said at his weekly briefing.
Health leaders across the country have been scrambling to maintain access to services as they grapple with the Omicron wave and staffing shortages.
Saskatchewan doctors heard Thursday that the province’s hospitals are caring for 384 COVID-19 patients — more than at any other time during the pandemic. Physicians were told at a Saskatchewan Health Authority meeting that the non-ICU system is at capacity and staffing levels are critically short.
In New Brunswick — where a large health network recently announced it was resuming non-urgent procedures after a pause — about 45 people have been put to work after an urgent call for paid workers and volunteers to aid in the COVID-19 response, the province said.
The province put out the call in mid-January, as officials sought people for both paid and unpaid roles handling everything from logistics to clinical tasks, like testing. More than 4,000 people registered on a website for those seeking to assist, with 45 of those people “successfully onboarded” so far, according to a Department of Health spokesperson.
Hospitalizations in New Brunswick stood at 135 on Friday, down from a high of 165.
Canada’s strong vaccination coverage will help as the country makes transition plans and looks ahead to the long-term management of COVID-19, Canada’s chief public health officer said Friday. Dr. Theresa Tam said while public health indicators are improving, limiting the strain on health systems is still essential.
“Evidence shows that two doses of COVID-19 vaccines offer reasonably good protection against severe disease,” Tam said at a briefing Friday alongside federal officials. “Receiving an mRNA booster dose when eligible offers superior protection, keeping more people out of hospital and preventing more deaths.”
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:14 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.
For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.
You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba’s premier and chief public health officer announced an easing of restrictions on Friday, including an easing of gathering limits and an end to capacity limits at a range of businesses.
“Capacity limits will be eliminated in venues such as restaurants, licensed premises, entertainment venues, indoor and outdoor sporting events and casinos, as well as gatherings at private residences,” a statement from the province said.
The province’s hospitals were treating 656 COVID-19 patients on Friday, a decrease of five from the previous day. Forty-one of those patients are in ICUs.
Alberta had 1,566 COVID-19 patients in hospitals Friday, with 127 in ICUs. The number of hospitalizations Friday was 20 fewer than the day before. The province also recorded 23 more deaths and 1,400 cases of COVID-19 Friday.
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported the death of a child between the ages of five and 11 due to COVID-19. “It is with deep sadness that we must report COVID has taken the life of a child in our province,” said Premier Tim Houston in a press release Friday. “The loss of a child is something that no family should ever have to endure.
Nova Scotia also reported 389 new cases Friday, and said that there were 82 COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals with 11 in ICUs.
The number of people hospitalized in Newfoundland and Labrador dropped slightly on Friday to 22, down from 25 on Thursday, which was a record high. One additional patient was admitted to ICU between Thursday and Friday, for a total of nine COVID-19 patients in ICUs.
New Brunswick recorded 359 new cases of COVID-19 and four deaths Friday. The province had 135 COVID-19 patients in hospitals Friday, with 13 being treated in ICUs.
Prince Edward Island had 11 hospitalizations for COVID-19 Friday, including one patient in an ICU. The island also reported 204 new cases of COVID-19 Friday.
In Central Canada, Quebec opposition parties are accusing the government of taking too long to give up COVID-19 emergency powers and say the delay is helping Premier François Legault and his ministers avoid scrutiny.
Earlier this week, the government renewed the state of emergency for the 99th time since March 2020. Legault told reporters the emergency order would only be lifted once a bill is passed allowing the government to keep some powers, such as the ability to impose the vaccine passport system and mask mandates.
Opposition parties, however, say the government should end the state of emergency and have a debate in the legislature about what measures should remain.
The province had 2,214 patients with COVID-19 in hospitals Friday, down by 98 from the day before, with 164 in ICUs. Thirty-nine deaths were also reported Friday.
In the North, the chief public health officer in Nunavut is isolating after being exposed to COVID-19. Dr. Michael Patterson said he’s not tested positive, but will be working from home and “doing my part to protect the health of my community, colleagues and loved ones” by following isolation rules. Nunavut reported 20 new cases of COVID-19 Friday.
Yukon reported 16 new cases Friday. There are no COVID-19 patients in the territory’s hospitals.
In the Northwest Territories, 167 new cases of the coronavirus were reported Friday.
In British Columbia, health officials said there were another 1,245 cases of COVID-19 Friday and 17 more people had died. There were 846 patients with COVID-19 in the province’s hospitals Friday, 21 fewer than the day before, and 136 patients in ICUs.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:40 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Friday evening, more than 407.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the case-tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. The reported global death toll stood at well over 5.7 million.
The World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said on Friday that the world was not yet at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, as there would be more coronavirus variants.
“We have seen the virus evolve, mutate … so we know there will be more variants, more variants of concern, so we are not at the end of the pandemic,” Swaminathan told reporters in South Africa, where she was visiting vaccine-manufacturing facilities with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In the Americas, a U.S. decision on Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for infants and children from six months to four years of age has been postponed for at least two months after the Food and Drug Administration said it needed more data.
Jamaica’s prime minister says the government is looking to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the weeks ahead. Andrew Holness said his government “wants to move definitively and decisively toward returning the country to normalcy,” according to a report in the Jamaica Observer.
In Europe, Russia’s daily cases exceeded 200,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.
France will deploy thousands of police in and around Paris on Friday and over the weekend and set up checkpoints at toll stations on major roads leading into the capital to keep “Freedom Convoy” motorists out, the city’s police force said.
Despite an order not to enter Paris, motorists protesting against COVID-19 restrictions are converging on the French capital from multiple cities across France, inspired by the horn-blaring demonstrations taking place in Canada
Belgium, meanwhile, will ease a slew of COVID-19 measures from next week, with restaurants and bars allowed to open for full hours and children under 12 no longer forced to use face masks, as authorities anticipate a further decline in infections. The government announced Friday that the nation of 11 million will go from code red, the toughest for virus measures, to code orange as of Feb. 19.
“Never forget that the past months were extremely difficult” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “But we got through this.”
In Africa, Tunisia will lift the night curfew it imposed last month to curb the spread of COVID-19 from Thursday, a statement from the government said. A ban on gatherings and demonstrations has been extended for a further week, the statement added.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Australian residents will need to receive booster shots to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, although authorities said foreign travellers will continue to need only two shots to enter the country.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on Friday reported 2,523 additional cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths.
-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 7:37 p.m. ET
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