A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:
— Quebec Premier François Legault says the number of daily COVID-19 cases in Quebec appears to have peaked, allowing him to lift the curfew on Monday that he imposed to protect hospitals from a record surge in infections. Health experts project that COVID-19-related hospitalizations, which were at an unprecedented 2,994 on Thursday, should peak in the coming days, Legault told reporters in Montreal. Legault introduced the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew on Dec. 31 — in time to ban people from the streets on New Year's Eve. He had imposed a curfew earlier in 2021 for almost five months, between January and May. Quebec is the only province to prohibit its citizens from leaving their homes at night as a way to control COVID-19 transmission.
— Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer says he's considering whether to revise the province's public health order on masks in light of Premier Scott Moe testing positive for COVID-19 after a news conference. Dr. Saqib Shahab says he has flagged the matter with the Ministry of Health. Moe took off his mask at a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday with Shahab, government officials, a sign language interpreter and reporters in the same room. On Thursday morning, he tested positive for the virus using a rapid-antigen test. The 14 people who were at the briefing were told to self-monitor for symptoms. Moe tweeted that he was feeling fine and would self-isolate at home for the next few days.
— New Brunswick will enter a new lockdown at midnight Friday to curb rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations — a decision Premier Blaine Higgs said was a last resort. Higgs said the move to Level 3 of the government's Winter Plan will extend until at least Jan. 30. The new restrictions include the closure of gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants. As well, residents will only be able to gather with their household bubbles, and indoor faith services will be prohibited. Retail businesses can remain open with up to 50 per cent capacity and physical distancing. That's a change from the original guidelines announced in December, which restricted non-essential businesses to pickup or delivery.
— The House of Commons ethics committee is calling on the federal health minister to explain the Public Health Agency of Canada’s collection of data from millions of mobile phones to understand travel patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic. During an emergency meeting, the committee of MPs passed a motion asking Jean-Yves Duclos and Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, to appear before it to answer questions on the practice. The House of Commons is still on its winter break, but opposition MPs on the committee asked for an emergency session after it emerged the Public Health Agency is seeking to extend the data-collection tactic.
— Health Canada's chief medical adviser says a decision on Pfizer's antiviral treatment for COVID-19 is expected in seven to 10 days. But Supriya Sharma says the department reached out to Pfizer asking for shipments of the drug before approval, using regulations that allow medications approved elsewhere to be used in Canada when there is an urgent health need. Sharma says the company said no because it didn't have any supply to send. Canada has a contract to buy one million doses of Paxlovid but Pfizer spokeswoman Christina Antoniou says information on shipments to Canada won't be provided until Health Canada approves the drug.
— Ontario is trying to ascertain "true" mortality data from COVID-19 by telling hospitals to document whether deaths were caused by or associated with the virus, the province's top doctor said Thursday. The province recently started reporting whether COVID-19 hospitalizations were people admitted "for" the virus or "with" the virus, and the chief medical officer of health said he wants to see that type of mortality data, too. "It may be that some of these deaths are incidentally correlated to COVID-19," Dr. Kieran Moore said. He has recently met with the chief coroner's office and will be sending memos to hospitals "to ensure that death is documented appropriately, if it's associated with or caused by COVID-19, to further clarify, for the public, the cause of death."
— School boards in Ontario are calling on the provincial government to reinstate COVID-19 reporting and tracking when schools reopen next week, with some saying they will release available data to families. The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board of Trustees sent a letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Wednesday expressing "grave concern, disappointment, and frustration" over recent changes to how COVID-19 will be managed in schools. The board said it was especially disappointed with the discontinuation of COVID-19 reporting as well as the dismissal of students and staff when a positive case has been identified in a classroom or cohort.
— The City of Toronto says it will open two emergency shelters and supply more than 300,000 N95 masks to the homeless as COVID-19 rips through the shelter system. The city says it will use two community centres for emergency shelter space to help those on the streets get out from the cold. It says 310,000 N95 masks will be sufficient to give everyone living in shelters masks for at least the next two weeks. City data show there are 345 homeless people with COVID-19 and 46 shelters with outbreaks as of Jan. 12.
— Ontario businesses are calling on the provincial government to announce if establishments shuttered under the latest pandemic restrictions will be allowed to reopen on Jan. 26. Ontario Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Rocco Rossi says in a statement that now that the province has said schools will return on Monday, it's time to provide clarity for businesses. "We implore the government to immediately clarify if Ontario will be moving out of Stage 2 of its road map to Reopen plan so employers, workers and families can plan accordingly," he said. "Businesses, particularly small businesses, have suffered greatly over the last two years and continue to face unprecedented challenges amid a prolonged crisis."
— Health officials in the Windsor, Ont., region have issued an order halting the arrival of temporary foreign workers for several weeks in light of COVID-19 outbreaks in the agricultural sector. In a notice issued earlier this week, the acting medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex instructed employers to cancel or postpone the arrival of temporary foreign workers until at least Feb. 2. Those who fail to comply with the order could face charges or fines, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai says in the notice.
— Brampton Transit is temporarily cancelling service on some 20 routes, citing COVID-19 related staffing shortages and reduced ridership. The city northwest of Toronto says its transit agency it will also reduce service on more than 20 other routes to ensure the system can continue to operate. The city says the changes will take effect on Jan. 17 and service will be restored as soon as possible.
— Indigenous federal inmates are infected with COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates. Correctional Service Canada says Wednesday that as of Jan. 10, there are 207 active COVID-19 cases among federal inmates. Of those cases, 39 are among inmates who identify as Indigenous, making up almost 19 per cent of the overall caseload. Despite making up about five per cent of Canada's population, Indigenous adults in federal custody make up just over one-third of the country's federal prison population as of 2020, according to the office of Canada's correctional investigator.
— The highly transmissible Omicron variant is forcing mathematicians to rework the models that have helped shaped Canada's understanding of COVID-19, as well as the country's response to the pandemic. Everything from who gets tested to who's most likely to contract the virus has changed with the latest wave of the pandemic, and that's posing distinct challenges for those who model its impact, says Caroline Colijn, an associate professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. In particular, Colijn said it will be difficult to understand the severity of the disease as it spreads through a mostly vaccinated public.
— The school board in Delta, B.C., is requiring all its employees to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19 and is giving them less than two months to disclose their status. Board chair Val Windsor says it is taking the step to reduce the risk of staff and students getting COVID-19. Starting Monday, the district says staff will be given a minimum of six weeks to disclose their vaccination status. Those who don't will need regular rapid testing to continue working, or they can take an unpaid leave of absence.
— Manitoba schools will no longer notify close contacts of individual COVID-19 infections when students return to class next week. Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, says the rapid transmission of the Omicron variant makes contact notification efforts for individual cases less effective. "Omicron is so highly infectious (and) has a shorter incubation period that by the time you do (the) contact tracing, many of the contacts could already be symptomatic," Roussin said. Schools are to now monitor staff and student absenteeism rates and self-reported COVID-19 cases.
— Winnipeg Jets centre Paul Stastny, defenceman Brenden Dillon, goalie Eric Comrie and assistant coach Wade Flaherty have been placed in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol. The trio join eight teammates and one other coach in isolation ahead of Thursday's game in Detroit against the Red Wings. The Jets recalled rookie forward Cole Perfetti from their taxi squad on an emergency basis in a corresponding move.
— Nunavut will lift its lockdown Monday as COVID-19 case counts continue to drop across the territory. The territory has been under a strict lockdown since Dec. 24, with travel restricted and all workplaces and schools closed. On Monday, travel restrictions will lift, residents will be allowed to have up to five guests in a household and offices will reopen.
— The government of Prince Edward Island says it would extend public health measures, including remote learning for schoolchildren, until at least Jan. 24, because the peak of the Omicron wave is likely still ahead. "We believe it will be another two weeks before we see the worst of this wave," chief medical officer of health Dr. Heather Morrison told a news conference in Charlottetown. She says it's unclear how bad it will get, however. Premier Dennis King says the government wants to avoid repeatedly opening and closing classes and to ensure that when learning resumes in person, it stays that way.
— The Newfoundland and Labrador government is hoping to have students back in school on Jan. 24, and widespread access to rapid COVID-19 tests forms the centrepiece of its back-to-school plan. Education Minister Tom Osborne says his department is trying to balance the health risks posed by the highly transmissible Omicron variant with the mental health risks of keeping kids cooped up at home, away from their teachers and friends. If schools reopen on Jan. 24, students, teachers and staff will have to take two rapid COVID-19 tests at home, approximately 72 hours apart, before they can return. If the tests are negative, they're free to go to school, Osborne says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2022.
The Canadian Press