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Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Jan. 18

The latest:

British Columbia is gradually reopening gyms and fitness centres, but extending restrictions on organized gatherings and certain venues, as health officials say COVID-19 hospitalizations are at their highest point since the pandemic began.

“We are still in a pandemic, as much as we would like to be over it,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a news conference Tuesday announcing the updated measures.

She said she made the decision to extend gathering restrictions based on the current rate of transmission and hospitalizations. A ban on gatherings like wedding and funeral receptions will stay in place until Feb. 16. Bars, nightclubs and lounges must also stay closed.

However, gyms and fitness centres across the province will be allowed to start gradually reopening as of Jan. 20. 

They will be required to have COVID-19 safety plans in place; masks are still encouraged for people who are working out and required for trainers and instructors. Proof of vaccination will be required to use the facilities.

B.C. health officials reported 854 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday, including 112 in intensive care, as the province recorded two more deaths from the disease and 1,975 new lab-confirmed cases.

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Jan. 13. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Meanwhile, Prince Edward Island announced new restrictions will take effect at midnight, including strict limits to personal gatherings, the continued shutdown of schools and no inside dining at restaurants.

Gyms and all recreations facilities will be closed, and retail stores are limited to 50 per cent capacity with physical distancing.

At a press conference, Chief Public Health Officer Heather Morrison and Premier Dennis King offered condolences to the families of the two people who died last week from COVID-19, the province’s first deaths from the illness.

“Those losses on Friday should bring home why we’re doing what we’re doing,” King said.

The province reported eight COVID-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday, with the number of those in ICU rising to four. Island health officials also reported an additional 407 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, a pandemic high for the province.

— From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 8 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Omicron brings hope, with plenty of caveats: 

Omicron brings hopeful signs of pandemic’s end with plenty of caveats

1 day ago

Duration 5:01

There is some optimism the Omicron wave could signal the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, but experts also point out many caveats because it’s unclear how long immunity lasts and if it will protect against future variants. 5:01

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.

Alberta is making fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine available to people aged 18 and up who have specific immunocompromising conditions and received their third dose at least five months ago.

Giving these individuals a fourth dose “is equivalent to a third dose for others” given that immunocompromised people don’t develop the same levels of immunity after vaccination, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said at a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

The update came as the province reported a total of 1,089 people in hospital with COVID-19, 104 of them in the intensive care unit. The province also reported nine new COVID-related deaths and 3,279 new lab-confirmed cases.

In the rest of the Prairies provinces, Saskatchewan reported no new deaths on Tuesday, but COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 189, with 18 in ICU. There were 1,089 additional lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Health officials in Manitoba on Tuesday reported three new COVID-19-related deaths. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 620, with 48 in ICU. The province also reported 847 new lab-confirmed cases, as its five-day positivity rate dipped slightly to 34.2 per cent.

As Manitoba students returned to in-class learning yesterday, the Winnipeg School Division said it was still waiting for some of the promised pandemic prevention supplies. The province has promised more masks and rapid tests, and asked schools to create more space so students can stay distanced from each other.

Students Erika Lengsadach, right, and Taylor McGillis took part in a walkout at their school in Winnipeg, placing signs at the Manitoba Legislative Building on Monday. Some Manitoba students walked out of class to protest the return to school as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

In Ontario, some students were back in classrooms after a planned return Monday was delayed by a powerful winter storm. Schoolchildren had been learning remotely since the end of the holiday break amid high COVID-19 transmission.

However, some in the Toronto area continued remote education, while others had a snow day before an expected return on Wednesday.

The province reported 4,183 hospitalizations, with 580 people in intensive care. It also reported 37 additional deaths and 7,086 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In Quebec, many students also returned to classrooms following COVID- and storm-related delays. The province on Tuesday reported 3,417 COVID-19 hospitalizations — a pandemic high — with 289 people in intensive care units. It also reported 89 additional deaths and 5,143 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Officials say the province will begin receiving the sought-after antiviral drug Paxlovid, though Health Minister Christian Dubé said the treatment isn’t expected to affect the number of hospitalizations immediately and it is too soon to relax pandemic measures.

The briefing came as Quebec expanded its proof-of-vaccination system to liquor and cannabis stores.

A young boy in an elementary school in Montreal gets ready for class as Quebec students get back to school on Tuesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador health officials on Tuesday reported two additional COVID-19 deaths. The province also reported 14 hospitalizations, including three people receiving critical care. The update came as the province reported 295 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Health officials in Nova Scotia on Tuesday reported one additional death and 73 COVID-19 hospitalizations, including 15 in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 415 lab-confirmed cases.

In New Brunswick, three deaths were reported on Tuesday. The province, which is currently under tight restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19, reported a total of 113 hospitalizations — including 15 people receiving intensive care. The province also reported an additional 330 lab-confirmed cases.

WATCH | Pfizer’s antiviral pill approved in Canada: 

Pfizer’s antiviral pill approved in Canada for some COVID-19 patients

1 day ago

Duration 3:31

Health Canada has approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pill, Paxlovid, which can help the most vulnerable patients from getting worse and reduce the burden on hospitals. 3:31

In the North, Nunavut on Tuesday reported one additional COVID-19 death, along with 27 new lab-confirmed cases. The update came as Premier P.J. Akeeagok announced the federal government would be deploying three nurses and nine contact tracers to assist with the current COVID-19 wave. The contact tracers will work from outside the territory.

Yukon reported 27 new lab-confirmed cases, while the Northwest Territories added 367.

— From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

WATCH | Don’t give up on effective public health measures, WHO urges: 

Don’t abandon what works to curb COVID-19, pleads WHO

17 hours ago

Duration 1:51

COVID-19 cases have jumped dramatically in the last week, so now is not the time to give up on public health measures that work, says the WHO. 1:51

As of Tuesday evening, roughly 333.2 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 5.5 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong authorities said they will kill about 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, after several tested positive for the coronavirus at a pet store where an employee was also infected. They said the city will also stop the sale of hamsters and the import of small mammals.

The pet shop employee tested positive for the Delta variant on Monday, and several hamsters imported from the Netherlands at the store tested positive as well. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said animals do not appear to play a significant role in spreading the coronavirus. But Hong Kong authorities said they are not ruling out transmission between animals and humans.

A man wearing personal protective equipment sits inside a vehicle in front of a temporarily closed pet shop in Hong Kong after the government announced it will euthanize around 2,000 hamsters in the city. (Tryone Siu/Reuters)

Japan’s government is preparing restrictions in Tokyo and other regions as the Omicron variant infects more people. The order will be finalized this week and is likely to take effect Friday, a government spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Australia reported a record high of 74 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, and its second-largest state declared an emergency in hospitals to cope with surging patient admissions and a staffing shortage.

In the Middle East, Abu Dhabi is requiring people entering the city to show proof of booster shots as the United Arab Emirates faces a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases.

The government’s health app said earlier this week that people entering the capital must show a “green pass,” confirming their vaccination status. The app says that visitors are no longer considered fully vaccinated unless they have received a booster at least six months after their second dose.

Those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi also must have have tested negative for the virus within the last two weeks to maintain their “green” status.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Monday reported 1,691 new cases of COVID-19 and 87 additional deaths — though officials noted that the majority of those deaths had not occurred in the past 48 hours.

In the Americas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday advised against travel to 22 nations and territories because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases, including for Israel, Australia, Egypt, Albania, Argentina and Uruguay.

Those countries, along with Canada, are among the roughly 100 countries and territories at the CDC’s highest level of warning for COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, the White House said the U.S. government’s new COVIDTests.gov website, set up for American households to order four free COVID-19 tests amid the Omicron surge, is up and running ahead of its official launch on Wednesday.

In Europe, Russian authorities are shortening the required isolation period for people infected with COVID-19 from 14 to seven days as the country faces another surge of COVID-19 cases, this time driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who runs the country’s coronavirus task force, said Tuesday that health officials were “optimizing our approaches to quarantine and testing of our citizens, including shortening the quarantine period to seven days.”

Golikova added that other policy changes will be adopted in the coming days, without elaborating. She also didn’t explain the rationale for cutting the isolation period. Earlier rules required a two-week isolation period for those who test positive, with a mandatory follow-up test on day 11.

Russia already has by far Europe’s worst death toll in the pandemic at over 322,000 deaths by its official tally, a number that other statistics suggest is a significant undercount.

The daily number of coronavirus infections confirmed in Russia has doubled over the past week, going from over 15,000 on Jan. 10 to 31,252 on Tuesday. Officials say the surge could end up as the country’s biggest yet but so far haven’t announced any major restrictions to stem it.

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

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