COVID-19 Update: 553 new cases, Omicron count hits 173 | More Flames games postponed | Long lineups for free tests – Calgary Herald

Watch this page throughout the day for updates on COVID-19 in Calgary
With news on COVID-19 happening rapidly, we’ve created this page to bring you our latest stories and information on the outbreak in and around Calgary.

An infant has died of COVID-19 at a Montreal hospital.
The Sainte-Justine children’s hospital says the baby, who was less than two months old, died of the disease on Thursday.
The hospital said today the infant was born healthy and was recently admitted to the intensive care unit to be treated for COVID-19.
According to Health Department data, the infant is the first child under 10 years old to die of COVID-19 in Quebec.
Read more.

Here are  updated COVID-19 numbers  released by Alberta Health Services this afternoon.

The NHL has announced it is postponing another three games for the Calgary Flames as the team contends with the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the league.
The Flames’ postponed games to date include: Dec. 13 at Chicago; Dec. 14 at Nashville; Dec. 16 vs. Toronto; Dec. 18 vs. Columbus; Dec. 21 vs. Anaheim; Dec. 23 vs. Seattle.
After the postponements, the next scheduled game for the Flames would be Dec. 27, at home against the Edmonton Oilers.
This morning the Flames reported that forward Mikael Backlund has been placed into COVID protocol — the 19th player to be sidelined. A staff member has also been added to the list. In all, the Flames have confirmed 32 positive cases of COVID-19 — three of them Omicron variants — since Saturday.
The Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers have also had games postponed through Christmas.
More to come…
#Flames GM Brad Treliving said “It was the only call to be made” re: cancelling games.
So far, there have been three confirmed cases of Omicron within the #Flames according to Dr. Auld.
#Flames Roster Update: Mikael Backlund and 1 member of the support staff have entered the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol.

Ontario is reintroducing capacity limits at restaurants, bars and retailers, and capping indoor social gatherings at 10 people in an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
The province is also limiting outdoor gatherings to 25, and prohibiting food and drink consumption at sports arenas, cinemas and other large venues.
The new rules come into effect first thing Sunday morning, and don’t apply to facilities hosting weddings, funerals or religious services.
Premier Doug Ford says reintroducing these restrictions is the best thing the province can do to prevent schools from being closed to in-person learning after the winter holidays.
Read more.

Alberta’s United Conservative Party caucus has been forbidden from travelling abroad this holiday season.
The directive comes just one week after provincial legislators were told international travel would be fine, and implores them to show leadership and stay within Canada.
“I am directing that Members of Government caucus will not be permitted to travel internationally at this time,” says the email from Whitney Issik, the chief government whip, which was sent to legislators and obtained by the National Post. “I understand that this directive may impact family members and holiday plans, but we must show leadership as we learn more about the Omicron variant.”
The directive comes a year after several UCP MLAs took vacations over the Christmas break, sparking outrage across Alberta in what became a significant scandal for Premier Jason Kenney’s government.
Update: One UCP MLA has already left the country, but is returning home. (No, I don’t know who it is or where they went.) https://t.co/Vd2j8QRqtq
Read more.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage has tested positive for COVID-19.
In a statement to Postmedia, the minister’s chief of staff Jerry Bellikka said she experienced “extremely mild” symptoms and is now feeling fine while isolating at home and following all Alberta Health COVID-19 protocols.
“She has not attended any public events in recent days,” Bellikka said. “One of her staff is listed as a ‘close contact’ and that person has tested negative.”
Bellikka said it’s not known whether Savage tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron variant because that is not information AHS provides when delivering results.
Read more.

The pandemic has worsened hunger, mental health and educational outcomes for children in Alberta who need better access to supports, states a provincial government report issued Friday.
Telephone, online and roundtable surveys that heard from 10,000 Albertans conducted from May to July this year found noticeable impacts on poverty due to loss of employment and that the response to COVID-19 had possibly long-last effects on the mental health of children and youth.“These professionals reported increased stress, anxiety, grief, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide and suicidal ideation, and substance misuse among children and youth,” states the Child and Youth Well-Being Review.
“Some suggested that the stresses of the pandemic have been responsible for mental health concerns in children and youth who had not previously struggled with their mental health.”
Read more.

Canada will lift a ban on travellers from 10 African nations that was imposed last month as part of a campaign to fight the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said on Friday.
Duclos also told reporters that Canada would once again require people returning home after foreign trips of less than 72 hours to produce a negative test. Tour operators say the measure is onerous and deters travel.
COVID-19 case numbers are rapidly increasing in Canada and the federal government has implored residents to avoid international trips.
Read more .

Omicron will likely usher in the worst wave of the pandemic yet, some scientists are warning. But have people grown frustrated, tired and even bored with the “doomsday” messaging?
The speed at which Omicron is spreading and the variant’s intimidating attack rate means people will need to cut their personal contacts by at least 50 per cent in order to buy time for more booster vaccines and “blunt” — and only blunt, and not “flatten” — the coming wave, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, head of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said Thursday.
“I believe we can do this without closing schools or shutting down businesses that have suffered during previous waves,” Brown said. “But it will take serious restrictions that reduce contacts.”
Read more.

The roll-out of Alberta’s rapid test kit program is off to a slow and rocky start as people across Calgary are reporting long waits and long lines at their local pharmacies.
Premier Jason Kenney announced earlier this week that the province would be making rapid test kits available for people to take home at select pharmacies and health centres beginning Friday morning. More than 500,000 kits of five tests designed to be taken every 72 hours by symptomatic individuals would be handed out to Albertans on a first-come, first-serve basis. The kits are also expected to be expanded to more schools and vulnerable populations.
Due to very high demand, AHS sites in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Pincher Creek and Coaldale have run out of free COVID-19 rapid test kits. More will be available next week. 1/2
However, a number of Calgarians lined up outside their local health centres early Friday morning to learn that test kits were either not delivered or tracking systems were not working properly.
Many on social media are reporting problems obtaining the kits. If you’re in line, we’d love to hear from you about your experience. Reach out by email at reply@calgaryherald.com, or tweet to the @calgaryherald Twitter account.

Brad Treliving was asked earlier this week if he believed the Calgary Flames’ COVID-19 outbreak, which was confirmed to have the presence of the Omicron variant on Thursday, reminded him of March 2020 all over again.
“I don’t think anything is going to feel like that,” the Flames general manager said, referring to the shock of the beginning of the pandemic nearly two years ago.
But on a larger scale — locally, provincially, across Canada, globally, and, of course, in the National Hockey League — his team’s current situation has become a microcosm of what could be in store with the new strain of the rapidly spreading virus.
The Flames have confirmed 30 positive cases of COVID-19 since Saturday, 18 of which are affecting players. The team received news the Omicron variant was present among some results on Thursday, contributing to the province’s 119 new cases — a figure that nearly doubled from the 60 reported on Wednesday. In the coming days, it is likely they’ll contribute more Omicron cases after lab results continue to arrive.
It’s the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the NHL and, given the speed of the transmission of the newest strain of the virus, it’s a prime example and future predictor of events playing out in real time.
And it should be a warning to the public.
Read more.

OTTAWA — The Senate gave quick approval Thursday to a new round of pandemic aid after Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made a pre-Christmas plea to rubber-stamp the help and promised that benefits would flow quickly to businesses and workers in need.
Bill C-2 would provide targeted aid to businesses that are ordered closed and to workers sent home, as part of a local lockdown, as well as wage and rent subsidies to those still recovering from previous pandemic restrictions.
Freeland told senators the government created the measures in case there was another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and argued they’re needed even more now with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
Read more.

An Alberta ICU doctor says the provincial government should expand booster shot eligibility as quickly as possible as the number of Omicron COVID-19 variant cases in the province nearly doubled on Thursday.
Provincial data show there have been 119 cases of the highly infectious Omicron variant found in Alberta, up from the 60 cases that had been identified as of Wednesday. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Twitter that the 59 new cases were from three days of samples: Dec. 12, Dec. 13 and Dec. 14.
“Our lab has shifted to a quicker testing process for the Omicron variant which means that today we are reporting a large number of Omicron cases coming from several days all at once,” tweeted Hinshaw.
Read more.

Here are  updated COVID-19 numbers  released by Alberta Health Services this afternoon.

Ontario must introduce stronger public health measures to blunt the impact of Omicron, which could soon cause 10,000 cases per day in “the hardest wave of the pandemic,” the province’s COVID-19 experts said Thursday.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s science table, said the highly contagious variant is already dominant in Ontario and an accelerated booster campaign doesn’t go far enough to keep the hospital system from becoming overwhelmed.
The province needs to implement “circuit breaker” measures that cut people’s contacts in half, Brown said.
“It’s not a lockdown, it’s not a stay-at-home order, but it does require a reduction in contacts,” he said today at a news conference.
Read more.

Some travellers heading out of Canada on Thursday said they’re worried about surging COVID-19 cases, but are forging ahead with their plans despite the federal government warning against non-essential international travel.
Sanjay Mahar said he is heading to India from Toronto to see his family for the first time in years, having booked the trip a few months ago when case counts were low and vaccination rates high.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to avoid international travel as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has caused cases to spike in recent days.
“It was upsetting to hear the prime minister say that, but I understand the concern,” he said at Toronto Pearson Airport.
Read more.

Quebec will introduce new measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, Premier Francois Legault said Thursday, as the province reported its most new COVID-19 cases in nearly a year.
“The situation is critical,” Legault wrote in a post on Twitter, adding that he will “announce significant measures due to the increase in COVID cases and the new Omicron variant.” Legault is scheduled to speak with reporters at 6 p.m.
Health officials in the province reported 2,736 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday — the highest number since Jan. 8 — and five additional deaths linked to the disease.
Read more.

The Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers will play in an empty Bell Centre on Thursday night.
The Canadiens announced about two hours before puck drop Quebec public health officials had requested that no fans attend the game due to the “spiralling rise of COVID-19 cases in the region.”
The team says in a statement it accepted the request “in order to help ensure the safety and security of our fans and fellow citizens.”
Read more.

Canada has recorded its 30,000th COVID-19 death since the pandemic began in early 2020, surpassing a grim milestone just as the country braces for the potential fallout of surging infections driven by the Omicron variant.
Ontario reported nine more COVID-19 deaths Thursday morning, pushing Canada’s total to just over 30,000 as Ottawa and some provinces tightened public health measures to stave off a more transmissible virus.
It took Canada nine months to reach 10,000 COVID-19 deaths last November, but the toll doubled to 20,000 just two months later in January 2021 — a leap that occurred before enough vaccines had been administered to have an impact. The country surpassed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths in May.
Read more .

OTTAWA – The return of the federal government’s advisory to avoid all non-essential travel may seem trivial to some at first, but it could have significant impacts on Canadians’ ability to travel insured and even get home.
On Wednesday, the Liberal government reinstated its formal warning not to travel abroad for non-essential reasons as the world grapples with the rise of the new and rapid spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
But what does that mean, tangibly, for travellers who already have tickets for a vacation in the sun or who have been considering it?
Read more .

The Calgary Flames were supposed to open a five-game homestand Thursday at the Saddledome.
Instead, the players, coaches and staff continue to isolate at home, their schedule paused due to the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the NHL this season.
The team announced three more cases Thursday, bringing the total to 30. The latest to be added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol are forward Dillon Dube, defenceman Oliver Kylington and one member of the support staff. A grand total of 18 players have tested positive, leaving just five on the active roster.
Flames officials have confirmed that at least some of the cases are the Omicron variant.
Read more.
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