A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:
— Rapid antigen COVID-19 tests won't be available to the general Ontario population for the next little while amid a supply crunch and an ongoing virus surge — but people with the means to access them can get out of virus-related isolation sooner. Officials said Thursday that people who develop symptoms can resume their regular activities sooner than the required five days — the new isolation period for fully vaccinated people and kids under 12 — if two rapid tests taken at least 24 hours apart come back negative, and if their symptoms improve for 24 hours. It's still recommended that people who are sick stay home until symptoms improve.
— Amid growing calls from teachers, child-care workers, parents and opposition politicians, the Ontario government announced Thursday that it would be accelerating booster shots for school and child-care staff to help protect them and the children they work with from COVID-19. In a news release, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said starting Friday, child-care and school staff in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area will have "planned access to vaccines" at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont. He noted the clinic will support priority booking for education staff, including educators, custodial staff, administrative staff, school bus drivers and child-care staff.
— Ontario long-term care homes are looking to recruit restaurant workers and family caregivers to help run daily operations as the Omicron variant drives up staff shortages and outbreak numbers. Some homes have reported staff absences as high as 20 to 30 per cent in areas hardest hit by COVID-19, the minister responsible for the sector said Thursday. Rod Phillips said outbreaks were reported in 186 homes — nearly 30 per cent of all those in province — across 30 of the province's 34 public health units as of Thursday. With the Omicron variant continuing to drive cases at record levels, Phillips said he expects the number of long-term care outbreaks to rise.
— Canadian airlines are slashing their flight schedules as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on air industry plans and profits. Transat A.T. is nixing nearly 30 per cent of its flights for the next two months. The tour operator says the ongoing impact of the Omicron variant and the federal government's "restrictive measures" last month have triggered a wave of trip cancellations by passengers. On Dec. 15, the Public Health Agency of Canada advised against non-essential travel abroad. Transat's slimmed-down flight schedule is in place Thursday through Feb. 25, though the Montreal-based company says more changes may be necessary.
— A First Nation in northern Ontario is waiting for military assistance a week after declaring an emergency over a COVID-19 outbreak that's now infected nearly half of its 400 residents. Members of Bearskin Lake First Nation say the situation – which has many in the community isolating, including the chief – means there are few essential workers available to provide basic services and distribute supplies to households, including food, water and wood. Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox said the community, of which he is a member, needs military personnel on the ground immediately to help. He said the federal government wasn't taking the situation seriously enough and hasn't provided all the help required.
— The pressure on Quebec hospitals is reaching a point where some heart and cancer-related surgeries risk being postponed to make room for COVID-19 patients, the head of the province's hospital network said Thursday. Should hospitals be forced to delay serious procedures for an extended period of time, there will be "side-effects" for patients, said assistant deputy health minister Dr. Lucie Opatrny. Meanwhile, the number of health-care workers who are off the job due to COVID-19 has reached 20,000, Health Minister Christian Dubé said, adding that another 30,000 workers are absent for other reasons, including burnout.
— Quebec will require people to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter liquor and cannabis stores starting Jan. 18, as a way to coerce unvaccinated people to get their first doses. Health Minister Christian Dubé says he only introduced new rules for liquor and pot stores because they are owned and operated by the provincial government, adding that he would soon announce more services and businesses for which the vaccine passport would apply, following consultations with various sectors. He is hinting at limiting access to shopping malls and personal care salons.
— Canadians unwilling to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should be accommodated through measures like rapid testing, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said Thursday as health experts warned the lightning-fast spread of the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals. Ontario is reporting an uptick in hospitalizations and days ago made the decision to keep school-aged kids learning from home for at least two weeks, which Doug Ford's government said was to take pressure off the health-care system. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said of the 319 patients in intensive care, 232 of them are not fully immunized against COVID-19 or have an unknown status, while 87 are double-vaccinated.
— More than half of the firefighters in Prince Rupert, B.C., who were off sickthis week are at the forefront of a wave of workers expected to fall ill because of COVID-19. Public sectors across the province facing staff shortages as it continues to face record-breaking COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations. Firefighters, police and teachers are among those putting together contingency plans in case a significant number of employees call in sick. B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry warned earlier this week that businesses, schools and health facilities could lose up to a third of their staff due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
— British Columbia's seniors advocate is asking the province to designate one person as an essential visitor for every long-term care resident as the facilities move to stem the spread of COVID-19. Isobel Mackenzie says in a news release that the need to limit visitors has left a majority of long-term care residents without visits from loved ones. The province announced last week that visits to long-term care and assisted living facilities would be limited to essential visitors in response to the fast-spreading Omicron variant and would be re-evaluated Jan. 18.
— The Montreal Canadiens are extending their pause on team activities as the club continues to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak. The Canadiens announced Thursday that both the NHL team and its American Hockey League affiliate, the Laval Rocket, will not return to the ice until practice resumes on Sunday. Twenty-two Habs players and two coaches are in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol.
— The union for federal correctional officers says four prisons in Quebec are "very close" to experiencing staff shortages, as more workers test positive for COVID-19. Mario Guilmette, Quebec region vice-president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, says Correctional Service Canada is working on a protocol to be used if the province's federal prisons. The protocol would mean workers who are considered close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 may be asked to come back to work after isolating for eight days instead of 10.
— Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer is asking the public to stop gatherings except for work and school. On Thursday, the province reported 913 new cases of COVID-19 — an all-time high — with a test positivity rate of 28 per cent. Dr. Saqib Shahab cautioned that number will go up in the next two to four weeks and said it's time to stop all unnecessary indoor gatherings.
— Nova Scotia health officials say the province is in talks with the federal government to secure help for the COVID-19 booster vaccine rollout. Health Department spokesperson Marla MacInnis confirmed in an email the province has sent a request to Ottawa for resources, but she didn't specify. MacInnis says details need to be finalized, but she says the province expects help from the Canadian Red Cross.
— Newfoundland and Labrador is extending online learning for schoolchildren until at least Jan. 14. Officials say they would update parents and children on the situation no later than next Thursday. The Education Department says it is co-ordinating with school districts to deliver COVID-19 rapid tests to schools.
— Nunavut will no longer offer lab-confirmed testing for communities with COVID-19 to free up health-care resources. Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says that means Nunavut's case counts will no longer reflect the total number of infections. Laboratory PCR tests will only be used to confirm COVID-19 in communities without previous cases and for people and staff in high-risk settings, including long-term care and front-line health workers.
— Prince Edward Island's chief medical officer of health is reducing the amount of time residents who test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate. Dr. Heather Morrison says that starting Friday, fully vaccinated people who test positive must isolate for seven days instead of 10, adding that unvaccinated people still need to isolate for 10 days. She told reporters isolation rules can be eased because the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has a shorter incubation period compared with other mutations.
— Increasing COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick and a rising number of health-care staff isolating at home because of the virus are challenging officials trying to maintain a level of care in the province's hospitals. A statement from the province's Health Department says "hundreds" of health-care workers were isolating at home because of the virus. On Tuesday, the number was 571 -- up from 530 just the day before. Health officials reported 672 new cases of COVID-19 in the province Thursday and another COVID-19-related death. There are 63 people hospitalized, including 19 in intensive care.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2022.
The Canadian Press