A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:
— Calls are growing for the Ontario government to make COVID-19 tests available to children attending the daycares, with parents saying the lack of access is stoking anxiety. Last week, the province said PCR testing for COVID-19 would be limited to high-risk groups amid soaring infections, and memos from Education Ministry officials outlined a decision to stop reporting cases in schools and childcare settings due to "changes to case and contact management." Schools across the province are moving classes online this week in response to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, but daycares – which care for many children too young to be vaccinated – are still open.
— Ontario's health system is preparing for widespread measures including patient and staff transfers to deal with a growing wave of COVID-19 that's infecting people at an unprecedented rate. There were 1,290 people in hospital with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and 266 patients in intensive care. The government announced a series of measures Monday including business and school closures to beat back the Omicron variant spread that's expected to infect more people. Hospitals across the province were preparing to pause all surgeries deemed non-urgent on Wednesday to free up bed space and hospital workers, and some had already declared themselves strapped for resources, requiring patient transfers and an early ramp-down of surgeries.
— The Quebec Health Department said members of the general public with COVID-19 symptoms will not be eligible for PCR testing and should consider themselves positive if they do not have access to self-tests. The province will reserve PCR tests for those considered "high risk," such as symptomatic hospital patients, people who live in congregate care and people being transferred between medical facilities, Dr. Marie-France Raynault, a senior strategic medical adviser to Quebec public health, told a technical briefing. Raynault said testing centres are overwhelmed and supply shortages are expected as demand for tests continues to rise elsewhere.
— British Columbia's provincial health officer is advising businesses to put contingency plans in place to continue operating as up to one-third of their staff could be off sick with the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Dr. Bonnie Henry says private companies, schools and health-care sites must all prepare for a wave of illness by reinforcing safety protocols like physical distancing to protect as many people as possible. She says businesses that require employees to come into a workplace should stagger shifts and break times, use Plexiglas barriers and limit the number of customers entering the premises.
— Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says a surging wave of COVID-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant has grown to more than 30,000 active cases with 436 people in hospital with the infection. That's an increase of more than 10,000 cases in the last four to five days and a record since the pandemic began. There were 371 people in hospital with the virus last week. Kenney says the actual case count is likely to be much higher given that the positivity rate is hovering around 30 per cent — another record high.
— Manitoba students will be out of class for an additional week while schools prepare more measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government announced Tuesday. The province had already pushed back the post-holiday return to Jan. 10 from Jan. 6. Premier Heather Stefanson says remote learning will start Jan. 10 and students will be back in class one week later. There are exceptions for children of essential workers and students with special needs who will continue to learn in the classroom.
— Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says she replaced a former cabinet minister because of his comments on COVID-19 vaccines. Ron Schuler was removed from cabinet last week, after serving as minister for infrastructure and emergency measures. Schuler had refused to discuss his vaccination status, and Stefanson said all her caucus members had met a requirement to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15. A day after the deadline, Schuler said he is not against vaccines, that people should listen to their doctor and that the decision comes down to individual rights.
— Saskatchewan is reporting 1,954 new cases of COVID-19 over a four-day period. The single-day case counts include 623 on Dec. 31, 607 on Jan. 1, 398 on Jan. 2 and 326 on Monday. The cases are an undercount as Saskatchewan is limiting the use of PCR COVID-19 tests for those severally ill or vulnerable.
— Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid has been held out of practice after testing positive for COVID-19, leaving his availability for the team's game Wednesday night in Toronto in doubt. The team says McDavid will undergo further testing before his status for Wednesday's game is known. Edmonton forward Derek Ryan has also tested positive. Oilers coach Dave Tippett said both forwards tested negative on Monday.
— The Raptors have announced that Yuta Watanabe and Svi Mykhailiuk have entered the NBA's health and safety protocols and would not be available for Toronto's game Tuesday night against visiting San Antonio. The Raptors have been dealing with a significant number of COVID-19 cases over the past weeks. They had 10 players in the NBA's protocol, including their entire starting lineup, when they suffered a Dec. 26 loss at Cleveland. The Raptors were forced to field an eight-man roster featuring four hardship signees.
— Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews has returned a negative result for COVID-19 on a PCR test one day after a rapid test came back positive. Head coach Sheldon Keefe says the team is awaiting further results, but Matthews has not been ruled out of Wednesday's game against the visiting Edmonton Oilers. The 24-year-old star missed a second straight practice from precautionary reasons Tuesday. He was held out of Monday's on-ice after his positive result on a rapid antigen test.
— The Western Hockey League has postponed five games after suspending team activities for the Edmonton Oil Kings, Moose Jaw Warriors and Red Deer Rebels. The league says that three teams have had multiple players and staff added to the WHL COVID-19 protocol list due to exhibiting symptoms or having tested positive for COVID-19.
— Recent positive COVID-19 tests could keep Vanessa James and Eric Radford out of Canadian figure skating's Olympic trials this week. The pair revealed on a conference call that they'd tested positive within three days of each other over the Christmas break. A positive test at the Canadian championships could keep an athlete from Beijing based on the time crunch around required pre-travel tests.
— Experts and advocates are calling for governments to release some inmates in provincial jails and federal prisons as outbreaks of COVID-19 driven by the infectious Omicron variant spread through the country's correctional facilities. People in tightly packed living facilities are already more vulnerable to outbreaks, and the methods used in corrections to mitigate those risks — such as bouts of prolonged lockdown or time in segregation — are inhumane, said Martha Paynter, a registered nurse and chair of Wellness Within, a group advocating for health equity in Nova Scotia. Staff also risk contracting the virus in these facilities and spreading it in the community, she said.
— The Nova Scotia Teachers Union is calling for temporary online learning as the province deals with its largest COVID-19 outbreak to date. Students in the province are scheduled to return to class on Jan. 10 after an extended holiday break, but the union says a shift to remote learning is needed to give the school system the time to properly prepare. Union president Paul Wozney says the province could face staff shortages and rolling school closures if students head back to class prematurely.
— The government of Prince Edward Island is extending public health measures, including online learning in schools, until at least Jan. 17. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Heather Morrison says the measures are needed to deal with the increase in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. There were 198 new cases of COVID-19 on the Island, increasing the number of active cases to 1,159.
— COVID-19 caseloads continue to pile up in Newfoundland and Labrador, though the province's hospitalization rate remains steady at one patient. Officials reported 493 new cases and a test positivity rate of 12 per cent. Nearly a quarter of those infections were in the Labrador-Grenfell Health Authority region, where some communities along Labrador's north coast are seeing cases of COVID-19 for the first time since the pandemic emerged. Though the region is home to about eight per cent of the province's population, it accounts for 624 — or about 20 per cent — of the province's 3,254 active reported cases.
— Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting 746 new cases of COVID-19 and three COVID-19-related deaths. The deaths involve a person in their 70s in the Moncton region and two people in their 80s in the Saint John area. There are currently 56 people hospitalized with COVID-19 including 16 in intensive care.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2022.
The Canadian Press