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.
— The travel and hospitality sector was left reeling Wednesday after the federal government warned against non-essential trips abroad due to alarming numbers of COVID-19 cases. WestJet CEO Harry Taylor railed against the advisory, predicting it will create "unnecessary disruption and chaos" ahead of the holiday travel season. He also claimed the government's warning is "not based on science and data," adding that Canada's travel measures fall out of step with border policies in the European Union, United Kingdom and United States. He is calling on the government to publicly share the COVID-19 data that informed Wednesday's advisory.
— All eligible adults in Ontario can book COVID-19 booster shots starting Monday, part of an accelerated rollout of third doses the premier is touting as the centrepiece of the province's response to the highly infectious Omicron variant. Premier Doug Ford called on business owners to offer spaces for clinics and asked medical professionals to participate in the ramped-up booster efforts. He also asked that individuals book shots as soon as they're able in the face of the new variant. The government will also cut capacity to 50 per cent at certain large venues, including sporting arenas and cinemas, and is distributing free rapid tests to residents in certain high-traffic public settings.
— The new COVID-19 surge is impacting sports fans in Ontario. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors plus the Ottawa Senators will see their venue capacity reduced to 50 per cent at home games starting Saturday. Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled the new rules on Wednesday amid the rise of cases and the new Omicron variant. The rule, which also impacts other sports leagues such as the Ontario Hockey League, states that any venue with the capacity for 1,000 or more people, will see allowable limits capped at 50 per cent. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., which owns the Leafs and Raptors, said it is currently "working through the logistics of implementing this change" for ticket holders, and will have more details within 24 hours.
— Alberta is bracing for the Omicron COVID-19 wave by giving away test kits and boosting booster eligibility, but is also relaxing rules to allow both vaccinated and unvaccinated to mix at private gatherings. Premier Jason Kenney says high vaccination rates also allow for more households to get together. Albertans had been permitted to socialize privately at a home, but only two households could be present with a cap of 10 people ages 12 and older. No gatherings were allowed for the unvaccinated. The 10-person limit remains in place, but visitors can now be from multiple households, either vaccinated or unvaccinated. Anyone under 18 isn't part of the new cap.
— Montreal's public health director on Wednesday encouraged people to cancel parties at schools and at workplaces ahead of Christmas, as the city faced the double threat of rising COVID-19 infections led by the Delta and Omicron variants. The "rapid increase" in cases is being driven by outbreaks of the Delta variant across the city's schools and by community transmission of the Omicron mutation, Dr. Mylène Drouin told reporters. She reported 844 new infections Wednesday and said her department had so far detected 95 cases of Omicron in the city. Drouin said people should avoid in-person parties at work and at school over the next 10 days.
— 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."
— The Federal Court heard arguments Wednesday from four Canadian Armed Forces members facing disciplinary action for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre ordered all Armed Forces members to be vaccinated by the end of November or face remedial measures, including possible dismissal from the military. That deadline has since been extended to Dec. 18. In sworn affidavits, the four service members challenging the order say they are opposed to getting the vaccine for different reasons, including concerns about its long-term safety and on religious grounds.
— 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.
— Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says there is no magic formula to stop the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, but people can take measures to reduce its transmission. He says the government's current focus is doing whatever it can to limit Omicron's spread, but given the territory's connections to the rest of Canada, it will make its presence felt and test people. Silver told the media Wednesday there are no cases of Omicron currently in Yukon and the two people who had it earlier this month have recovered.
— 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