Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 2,421 cases; Canada’s COVID death toll reaches 30,000; Quebec bars, restaurants to operate at half capacity – Toronto Star

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Everything you need to know about where to get a rapid COVID-19 test kit in Ontario
The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Thursday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
8:50 p.m. (Updated): COVID-19 vaccination is no longer enough to prevent Quebec’s health system from becoming overwhelmed, and Quebecers must reduce their contacts by half, Premier François Legault said Thursday.
Hours after new modelling indicated the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus could push hospitals to reach dedicated COVID-19 capacity within weeks, Legault announced a series of added COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s important to say that in this fight, vaccination is not sufficient,” Legault told reporters in Montreal. “The second thing is that we have to reduce contacts to be less often around other people.”
Starting Monday, all bars, restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues across the province will be required to operate at 50 per cent capacity. Churches and other faith venues will also be forced to operate at half capacity, and worshippers will be required to show proof of vaccination to enter. Work parties will be banned, as will dancing and singing karaoke inside bars, clubs and restaurants.
And for the second year in a row, Legault walked back from plans to relax COVID-19 restrictions ahead of the holidays, keeping the maximum at 10 people instead of raising it to 20 on Dec. 23.
8:48 p.m.: 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.
Just before Freeland’s appearance by video conference at the Senate, the House of Commons voted to fast-track the legislation to the upper chamber as one of its final acts before MPs agreed to leave the national capital for a winter break that will run until the end of January.
The government is hoping the Senate passes a second bill sent to senators late Thursday, C-3, before breaking Friday for the holidays.
8:30 p.m.: Canada has recorded its 30,000th COVID-19 death since the pandemic began in early 2020, passing the 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 just over 30,000 as Ottawa and some provinces tightened public health measures to stave threats posed by 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 affect.
The country surpassed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths in May.
8:15 p.m.: During the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days, it wasn’t crystal clear how well face masks were preventing coronavirus infections or severe disease among wearers. Now, a new study reveals an association between mask policies and reduced COVID-19 deaths long before vaccines were added to the picture.
Research on 44 countries in Asia and Europe including nearly one billion people shows nations that enacted face mask policies at the start of the pandemic had significantly lower COVID-19 deaths per million people than those that did not enforce any mask rules.
Mask policies in the U.S. and Canada were not included in the study because such actions were made at the state or province level, not at a national one, researchers said in their study published last month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Countries involved in the study included Greece, Germany, Korea, Italy, the U.K., Sweden and Hong Kong, among others.
There were more than 1.2 million confirmed COVID-19 deaths in countries without mask policies and nearly 914,000 in those with the policies between February and May 2020; average COVID-19 mortality rates per million people stood at 48 and 288, respectively.
Overall, increases in daily deaths were “significantly lower” in countries that enforced mask policies, suggesting face coverings did and do offer an additional layer of protection that “could prevent unnecessary COVID-19 deaths,” researchers said in a news release posted Dec. 15.
7:51 p.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be cautious over the holidays as the country’s two largest provinces started taking steps to slow surging cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, reports The Canadian Press.
“What choices we make as Canadians over the next week or two will determine how bad the rest of our winter is — how many people we lose, how overwhelmed our hospitals get, how much we’re going to take a hit in our economy,” Trudeau said Thursday during a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.
Trudeau’s warning came as Ontario’s science panel released dire predictions and Quebec brought back significant public health restrictions.
He added that Canadians know how to keep each other safe and there is increasing access to booster vaccine shots and rapid COVID-19 tests.
“We know what to do,” Trudeau said. “We’re all grumpy about having to do it again, but we’re going to get through this.”
Quebec Premier François Legault said vaccinations aren’t enough to stop the transmission of Omicron.
Starting Monday in the province, all bars, restaurants, retail stores and places of worship will be limited to 50 per cent capacity. Work parties will be banned, as will dancing and karaoke inside bars, clubs and restaurants.
Legault also reversed a decision to ease indoor gathering limits — keeping the maximum at 10 people over the holidays.
“If everyone does their part, we can get through this together,” he said. “I’m counting on you.”
Quebec reported 2,736 new daily cases, the highest number since Jan. 8. Legault said health officials on Friday are expected to announce 3,700 new infections.
New modelling indicated that, in a few weeks, Quebec hospitals would begin to fill rapidly and near capacity of dedicated COVID-19 beds.
Ontario’s science table, a group of experts advising the province on the pandemic, also released new data that shows public health measures must cut contacts in half if the province is to avoid having 10,000 daily cases before the holiday season.
Table co-chair Dr. Adalsteinn Brown warned that the Omicron variant is an incredible threat that could lead to “the worst wave of the pandemic yet.”
Brown said slowing the spread requires a quick and extensive response, including a “circuit breaker,” until people can get their booster.
“We do have a tremendous amount on which to base hope, not least of which are the vaccines,” said Brown.
“But it must be hope built on action. Anything we can do now, whether as an individual or a province, can help.”
Ontario reported 2,421 daily cases, its highest total since mid-May. It also had nine more COVID-19 deaths, pushing Canada past a grim milestone of more than 30,000 deaths since the pandemic began.
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, wrote in an annual report on the state of Canada’s public health that the pandemic has exposed long-standing cracks in the system.
“The public health system lacks the necessary resources and tools to carry out its critical work and is the subject of ‘boom and bust’ funding cycles that leave us ill-prepared in the face of new threats,” Tam wrote.
The report said it is too early to know how the new variant will affect Canada’s pandemic response.
Canada surpassed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths in May and vaccination efforts across the country slowed the deadly pace.
With the emergence of the Omicron variant, COVID-19 modelling shows infections could rapidly increase and health experts warned more hospitalizations and deaths could follow.
7:30 p.m.: “Serious restrictions” will help keep Ontario schools open despite the surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, says the co-chair of the province’s science table — news that comes as parents’ worries about the possibility of shutdowns continue to grow.
“I don’t think that we need to necessarily stop things full out,” Adalsteinn Brown said Thursday after releasing grim modelling numbers for the coming weeks, adding, “I believe we can do this without closing schools or shutting down businesses that have suffered during previous waves. But it will take serious restrictions that reduce contacts.”
Protocols such as masking and physical distancing, limiting gatherings and encouraging rapid testing and vaccinations, “they all help and they help make sure that we can keep schools open and keep sectors hard hit by the pandemic working,” Brown said.
Since the pandemic began, Ontario has shuttered schools and moved students to online learning more than any other province. With new COVID-19 concerns emerging, some jurisdictions in Canada and around the world have extended the holiday break. In Nova Scotia, two days were added, with students returning on Jan. 6, while in New Brunswick, primary schools were to end a week early. Quebec has just announced that high school will resume in person, on Jan. 10, after a week of online learning.
Read the full story here.
6:52 p.m. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made a pre-Christmas plea to senators to pass a new round of pandemic aid quickly, promising the help would flow just as quickly to businesses and workers in need, reports The Canadian Press.
Bill C-2 would provide targeted aid to businesses that have been ordered closed, and workers sent home, as part of a local lockdown, as well as wage and rent subsidies to those still recovering, according to CP.
Freeland says the government created the measures in case there was another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing they were needed even more with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
Just before Freeland’s appearance by video conference at the Senate, the House of Commons voted to fast-track the legislation to the upper chamber as one of its final acts before MPs agreed to leave the national capital for a winter break that will run until the end of January.
It isn’t unusual for the House of Commons to send bills to the Senate after it has gone on a break, and for the upper chamber to sit longer to deal with any lingering legislation.
But Sen. Scott Tannas says it has been happening too often for his liking and limits the Senate’s ability to review legislation as the chamber of sober second thought.
6:37 p.m. Quebec Premier François Legault has announced a series of COVID-19 restrictions to stop the spread of the Omicron variant, which, he says, risks overwhelming the province’s health system, reports The Canadian Press.
Legault told reporters in Montreal tonight that vaccination isn’t enough to stop the transmission of Omicron and that health experts have told him Quebecers need to cut their contacts in half, according to CP.
The premier said that starting Monday, all bars, restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues across the province will be required to operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Work parties will be banned, as will dancing and singing karaoke inside bars, clubs and restaurants.
The premier is also reversing a decision to ease indoor gathering limits ahead of the holidays, keeping the maximum at 10 people, not raising it to 20 on Dec. 23.
Earlier today, Quebec reported 2,736 new cases of COVID-19, the highest number since Jan. 8, and new modelling indicated hospitals would begin to fill rapidly and near capacity of dedicated COVID-19 beds in a few weeks time.
6:05 p.m.: Medicago, the Quebec maker of a plant-based COVID-19 vaccine, has submitted its final testing data to Health Canada — leaving the ball in the court of the federal regulator, as Canada moves one step closer to having a homegrown shot.
Earlier this month, the biopharmaceutical company announced its dose was 71 per cent effective against most variants of the virus, though its testing was completed before the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Now that all of its data on safety, efficacy and manufacturing has been given to Health Canada, federal experts will comb through it before making a decision about whether or not to approve the vaccine for use.
“If authorized, Medicago’s COVID-19 vaccine would be the world’s first ever plant-based vaccine approved for human use,” Takashi Nagao, Medicago CEO and president, said in a statement.
“It would also be the first Canadian vaccine approved in over 20 years, signalling a powerful step forward for Canada’s vaccine preparedness strategy.”
Read the full story here.
4:15 p.m. Canada has recorded its 30,000th COVID-19 death since the pandemic began in early 2020, passing the grim milestone just as the country braces for the potential fallout of surging infections driven by the Omicron variant, reports The Canadian Press.
Ontario reported nine more COVID-19 deaths Thursday morning, pushing Canada’s total just over 30,000 as Ottawa and some provinces tightened public health measures to stave threats posed by a more transmissible virus, according to CP.
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 effect. The country surpassed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths in May.
Ontarians took to malls and other pop-up sites Thursday in a scramble to secure free rapid antigen test kits after the provincial government launched its holiday testing blitz. The mad dash of people flocking to pop-up locations in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area was reminiscent of the early-pandemic hunt for toilet paper. This time, however, the search was on for the kits, which, until this week, were largely not accessible for free outside of some workplaces and schools.
4:15 p.m. Ontario must introduce stronger public health measures to blunt Omicron’s impact, which could soon cause 10,000 cases per day in “the hardest wave of the pandemic,” the province’s COVID-19 experts say, according to The Canadian Press reports.
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.
4:15 p.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged Canadians to avoid international travel as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has caused cases to spike in recent days, The Canadian Press reports.
4:15 p.m. Saskatchewan is opening up COVID-19 booster shots to more of its population as concerns over the transmissibility of the Omicron variant grows, The Canadian Press reports. Premier Scott Moe says all eligible residents over the age of 18 can get their third dose starting Monday. The province has also reduced the time between the second and third doses to three months from five months.
4:15 p.m. Quebec Premier François Legault says the province will introduce new measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the province reported its most new COVID-19 cases in nearly a year, The Canadian Press reports.
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, according to CP.
The announcement came the same day a Quebec government health care research institute said it expected more than 700 hospitalizations in the province, and more than 160 people in intensive care, within two to three weeks.
4:15 p.m. Business groups in Atlantic Canada are calling for a restart of provincial aid programs, as restaurants, retailers and other small operators lose Christmas sales due to the latest COVID-19 restrictions, The Canadian Press reports.
According to CP, Sue Uteck, executive director of the Halifax-based Spring Garden Area Business Association, whose group represents about 230 businesses, says general public anxiety generated by the Omicron variant is keeping Halifax shoppers and diners at home.
Louis-Philippe Gauthier, a regional spokesman for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says the provincial grants of about $5,000 offered to businesses in the region earlier in the pandemic won’t be enough this time to sustain losses during the holiday season.
2:30 p.m. Ontario health officials are changing a key recommendation on the use of hospital personal protective equipment (PPE) in response to the “potential” that the highly-transmissible Omicron variant can spread at a distance through the air.
Health-care workers providing care to a “suspected or confirmed” COVID-19 patient in hospitals, long-term-care homes, or in a home-care situation will now be required to also use a “fit-tested, seal-checked N95 respirator,” according to interim guidance issued by Public Health Ontario Wednesday.
Read the full story from the Star’s Ed Tubb and Kenyon Wallace.
1:25 p.m. Queen’s University announced Thursday that all courses will be taught remotely during the months of January and February.
“This is a proactive measure to support the health and safety of the Queen’s and Kingston communities and align with Ontario’s accelerated booster dose rollout for all individuals aged 18 and over,” according to a statement from the university.
“With some very limited exceptions, which are themselves subject to change should public health considerations require it, all courses will be taught remotely until Feb. 28, 2022. A decision on the format for classes on and after that date will be made in early February.”
12:40 p.m. Some travellers heading out of Canada say 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 says 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.
12:20 p.m. Quebec Premier François Legault says he will announce later today new measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the province reports its most new COVID-19 cases in nearly a year.
Quebec is reporting 2,736 new cases of COVID-19 today — the highest number since Jan. 8 — and five additional deaths linked to the disease.
Legault called the situation in the province “critical” in a post on Twitter and said he will announce significant measures in response to rising cases and the spread of the Omicron variant.
The Health Department says 305 people are in hospital, a decline of four from the day before, with 34 admissions and 38 discharges. It says 63 people are in intensive care, a drop of 10.
12 p.m. Ryerson University announced Thursday that its winter term will be virtual until Jan. 31, with President Mohamed Lachemi saying the upcoming weeks are critical in managing the spread of the Omicron variant.
“This move to a modified start of term will help ensure the continued health and safety of our community,” wrote Lachemi in a letter to the school community. “Beginning next week, the province is ramping up their booster program — we would strongly encourage all of our community members to receive a booster as soon as they are eligible to do so.”
He also said that wherever possible people will work remotely throughout January and research activity will continue as planned.
11:50 a.m. Business groups in Atlantic Canada are calling for a restart of provincial aid programs, as restaurants, retailers and other small operators lose Christmas sales due to the latest COVID-19 restrictions.
Sue Uteck, executive director of the Halifax-based Spring Garden Area Business Association, says the new restaurant restrictions requiring two metres of distance between tables led immediately to cancellations.
Meanwhile, Uteck — whose group represents about 230 businesses — says general public anxiety generated by the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus is keeping Halifax shoppers and diners at home.
Louis-Philippe Gauthier, a regional spokesman for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says the provincial grants of about $5,000 offered to businesses in the region earlier in the pandemic won’t be enough this time to sustain losses during the holiday season.
11:07 a.m. The science table advising Premier Doug Ford says more “circuit breaker” measures are needed in addition to ramped up COVID-19 booster shots to slow the speedy spread of the new Omicron variant in Ontario.
“Waiting to take action means waiting until it’s too late to take action,” Steini Brown, co-chair of the science table and dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said Thursday in presenting new modelling for a fraught festive season and beyond.
“Increasing vaccination is not enough to slow this wave,” he added, noting each person infected with Omicron is spreading it to six others. “Waiting for more information will eliminate the opportunity for action.”
Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson
11 a.m. 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 just over 30,000 as Ottawa and some provinces tightened public health measures to stave threats posed by 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.
10:30 a.m. People should limit their interactions to the most essential ones and brace for COVID-19 rates to continue to surge, according to England’s top medical officer.
There will probably be an “incredibly fast” upswing before new coronavirus cases start to plateau and recede, Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said at a parliamentary committee hearing Thursday.
Those comments follow his warning a day earlier that the “phenomenal pace” at which the new omicron variant is spreading across the U.K. will trigger a surge in hospital admissions over the holiday period. The stark assessment came as the U.K. reported a record number of new cases.
10:02 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting another 2,421 COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths, according to its latest report released Thursday morning.
Ontario has administered 137,803 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 24,849,505 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.
The provincial data now includes a cumulative number of people who have received booster doses. In Ontario, 1,441,100 people have received three doses of any Health Canada approved vaccine.
Read the full story from the Star’s Urbi Khan
9:40 a.m. Nearly 98 per cent of the active duty Army in the U.S. had gotten at least one dose of the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine as of this week’s deadline for the shots, but more than 3,800 soldiers flatly refused and could start being removed from the military next month, officials said Thursday.
The U.S. military’s largest service, however, reported the lowest number of service members seeking a religious exemption — a bit more than 1,700 soldiers — compared with the other three smaller services. In comparison, there are more than 4,700 in the Air Force, 3,000 in the Marine Corps and 2,700 in the Navy who are requesting religious exemptions, according to data released by the services in the past week. None has yet been approved.
The Pentagon announced earlier this year that the vaccine was mandatory for all service members, including the National Guard and Reserve. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said repeatedly that getting the vaccine is critical to maintaining a heathy, ready force that can be prepared to defend the nation. The Pentagon is also weighing making the COVID-19 vaccine booster shots mandatory for service members.
9:25 a.m. Poland’s health ministry on Thursday confirmed the country’s first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, detected in a visitor from Lesotho.
The ministry said in a tweet that the 30-year woman feels well but has been put in isolation. She visited Poland to take part in the U.N. Digital Summit in the southern city of Katowice last week, and tested positive as she was preparing to leave. Laboratory testing revealed that she had the Omicron variant.
The ministry said national health authorities have taken necessary steps. That usually means contacting, testing and quarantining contacts of the infected person.
Poland had not registered any cases of the omicron variant until now, although a Polish teenager who travelled to China this month tested positive for it on arrival there.
8:06 a.m. Ontario’s panel of COVID-19 expert advisers is expected to release new modelling Thursday morning on the state of the pandemic in the province.
The new projections come a day after the provincial government announced a series of new measures in response to the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Among them is an accelerated rollout of COVID-19 booster shots, which will be available starting Monday to residents over 18 whose second dose was at least three months ago.
The province also said it will cut capacity to 50 per cent at certain large venues, including sporting arenas and cinemas, starting Saturday.
Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday it appears Omicron may already have overtaken the Delta variant as the dominant strain in Ontario.
The province’s top doctor, Dr. Kieran Moore, has said Omicron is infecting between four and eight times more people than Delta.
7:50 a.m. Toronto Public Health has declared COVID-19 outbreaks at three schools after identifying two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases at each site.
In a tweet issued on Thursday morning, TPH said they have identified multiple COVID-19 cases at Winchester Junior and Senior Public School, Cedarbrook Public School and Lord Roberts Junior Public School. All three schools are in the Toronto District School Board.
TPH said it is investigating the cases, and working with the school communities to notify close contacts and ask them to isolate.
Read the full story from the Star’s Joshua Chong
7:30 a.m. The U.K. dangled the prospect of more assistance for hospitality businesses hit by a record surge in coronavirus.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak — currently in California on a long-planned business trip — will meet virtually later on Thursday with representatives of the hospitality industry, which has been clamouring for further measures to alleviate the wave of cancellations they’re suffering as a new Covid wave takes hold.
“We are in a very difficult and rapidly changing set of circumstances and it’s important that ministers act,” Treasury Minister John Glen told the House of Commons on Thursday. He said he and Sunak will meet the industry “to see what more needs to be done.”
7 a.m. Humber River Hospital is offering first, second and third doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to all eligible Toronto residents from Wednesday until Sunday. The pop-up clinic at 2625 Weston Rd. is drop-in only and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Everyone born in 2016 or earlier is eligible to receive their first or second vaccine dose. Individuals born in 1971 or earlier are eligible for their third dose if they received their second shot at least 168 days ago.
In a tweet on Wednesday night, the hospital said to expect long lines in the morning. Individuals with mobility issues will be prioritized.
6:30 a.m. The Israeli government says it is donating 1 million coronavirus vaccines to the U.N.-backed COVAX program.
The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the AstraZeneca vaccines would be transferred to African countries in the coming weeks. It says the decision is part of Israel’s strengthening ties with African countries.
COVAX is a global initiative that aims to provide coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations. Wealthier countries have acquired the most of the world’s vaccine supplies, causing vast inequality in access to jabs. Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate its population. Early this year, it came under criticism for not sharing enough of its supplies with the Palestinians.
6:20 a.m. With case counts of COVID-19 infections on the rise, employers are pushing back return-to-office plans.
Experts are not only applauding these decisions, but are calling on everyone to exercise caution as the holidays approach.
Patrick Saunders-Hastings, an epidemiologist and director of life sciences at Gevity Consulting Inc., is not surprised companies are delaying their plans. Between the new Omicron variant and upcoming holiday gatherings, he predicts cases will continue to rise into the new year and expects companies will further delay back-to-office plans.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns with regards to Omicron,” said Saunders-Hastings.
Read more from the Star’s Rosa Saba.
6:16 a.m. U.S. sports leagues are seeing rapidly increasing COVID-19 outbreaks with dozens of players in health and safety protocols, amid an ongoing surge by the Delta variant of the coronavirus and rising cases of the highly transmissible Omicron mutation.
Both the NBA and NHL have postponed games over the last month with so many players sidelined, and the men’s basketball teams at Tulane and the University of Washington have had cancellations.
But don’t expect the leagues to return to “bubble” play or shut down until things subside. Experts say managing outbreaks is easier with highly vaccinated rosters, and there’s too much at stake to cut back seasons.
6:10 a.m. A summit of European Union leaders is trying to co-ordinate action to tackle the surge of coronavirus infections across the continent and the emergence of the new Omicron variant while keeping borders open.
The bloc’s leaders want to avoid a confusing mixture of rules with the festive season looming. And they want to ensure all 27 member states are on the same page and that the COVID-19 certificates continues to guarantee unrestricted travel.
But alarming rises in infections have prompted many European governments to implement public health measures and new restrictions in recent weeks.
6:05 a.m. British restaurants and pubs demanded government help as the Omicron variant threatened businesses with closure at the height of the crucial and lucrative Christmas season.
U.K. hospitality appealed to the government for business rates relief and value-added tax discounts, warning that fears about the new variant have already had an impact on the sector, with sales already having plunged by a third in the last 10 days — reflecting 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) in lost trade.
Jonathan Neame, the chief executive of pub and brewery Shepherd Neame, said the government comments and concerns will throw his business back to the start of the pandemic.
6 a.m. Portugal’s prime minister says he intends to keep tighter COVID-19 border controls in place beyond their planned end on Jan. 9 because of the threat from the highly infectious new Omicron variant.
He says Portugal is also likely to provide another booster shot next year for already vaccinated vulnerable people who are receiving a booster after having the COVID-19 jab earlier this year.
Portugal requires a negative test for all passengers on arriving flights.
Prime Minister António Costa told reporters Thursday that border controls will continue beyond Jan. 9 and could even be tightened. He didn’t elaborate.
The government had previously announced a “contention week” from Jan. 2-9, when working from home is mandatory and schools will be closed.
5:35 a.m. Swedish authorities said Thursday that citizens from fellow Nordic countries will have to show a valid COVID-19 vaccination certificate when entering Sweden starting next week.
As of Dec. 21, people from Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland no long will have an exemption to the certificate requirement and must also show their passes to enter Sweden.
Swedish Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren also encouraged all travellers to be tested for the coronavirus upon entry due to a “deteriorating” public health situation.
Sweden has previously stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the coronavirus.
5:30 a.m. Ontarians ages 18 and older can get their COVID-19 booster shots starting Monday, Dec. 20. Here’s what you need to know.
Ontario premier Doug Ford announced the change in a Wednesday afternoon press conference in an effort to curb the growth of the rapidly expanding Omicron variant, he said. (Previously, boosters for those aged 18 to 49 weren’t to start until Jan. 4.)
Ford also announced the waiting period between receiving one’s second dose and getting the booster was being halved from 168 days to 84 days. Starting Wednesday, Dec. 15, people 50 and older can reschedule their booster appointment to reflect the new 84 day window, health minister Christine Elliott said.
Ford said the province is scaling up capacity to give 200,000 to 300,000 booster shots a day based on demand.
Read more from the Star’s Kevin Jiang: What you need to know as boosters expand next week.
5:25 a.m. One by one, people came down the escalator of the waterfront office tower with light green boxes sticking out of their jacket pockets.
Most had heard from a friend that free COVID rapid antigen tests were available at 10 Bay St. And sure enough, at the back of the food court, in front of a boarded-up commercial unit where a Starbucks used to teem with people, two women stood at a table spreading the word like mild-mannered carnival barkers: “Hello! Rapid COVID tests!”
A sign emblazoned with the Ontario government logo stood beside the table, but the women were employees of Switch Health, a private-sector COVID testing company that also offers paid tests at Pearson airport. The same company was also at Eglinton subway station Wednesday distributing the boxes, which include five tests.
Jordan Paquet, a vice-president of public affairs at Switch Health, said they were participating in the province’s “holiday testing blitz,” where two million rapid tests would be provided by the province at pop-up settings like malls, holiday markets and transit hubs in the GTA and other cities. Details can be found at www.ontario.ca/page/pop-up-holiday-schedule-rapid-antigen-tests.
Read more from the Star’s Katie Daubs.
5:05 a.m. Ontario is giving its COVID-19 booster program a shot in the arm, allowing everyone 18 and up to get a third vaccination as of Monday and slashing the time between doses.
“These vaccines will work and boosters are the best way to prevent the worst,” Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday at Queen’s Park as he announced new measures to blunt the fast-moving Omicron variant — many of which experts have been pushing for weeks.
“Roll up your sleeves one more time. We’re not done. Not yet,” he told a news conference on the same day the federal government advised Canadians to avoid non-essential international travel and Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city will expand its vaccination capacity.
Doses of vaccines will be shipped to large employers — including Bruce Power, Ontario’s largest nuclear power facility — to give more injections quickly as the new strain of COVID-19 takes off just over a week before Christmas.
Read more from the Star’s Rob Ferguson and Robert Benzie.
5 a.m. France is imposing tougher rules on people arriving from the U.K., including a requirement to self-isolate, to slow the spread of COVID-19’s Omicron variant. The measures are introduced after new daily cases in the U.K. rose to a record.
The rise in infections is hitting economic activity across the euro area. Restrictions in the services sector halted recovery in Germany, the region’s biggest economy.
New Zealand reported their first Omicron cases. Singapore eased some of its quarantine requirements to woo back travellers.
4:45 a.m. Sporting venues will soon be limited to half capacity, leaving fans wondering if they will be able to use their tickets to future Raptors and Leafs games.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday that any venue in the province with a capacity of 1,000 people or more will be capped at 50 per cent starting Saturday at 12:01 a.m. That includes facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities, concert venues, theatres and cinemas, racing venues, meeting and event spaces and more.
“With Omicron spreading so fast, at such an alarming rate, we need to target the largest crowds indoors, where people are often unmasked,” Ford said.
Read more from the Star’s Laura Armstrong.
4:20 a.m. Indonesia has detected its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a cleaning worker at a hospital in Jakarta, the country’s health minister said Thursday.
The patient has no symptoms and is being quarantined at the Athlete’s Village emergency hospital, where the patient worked. The government created the facility in March 2020 to treat COVID-19 patients and as a quarantine venue for Indonesians returning from abroad.
Indonesia’s Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the case was found on Wednesday, and he urged people to continue following recommended health protocols, including wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.
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