A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:
— Adult Quebecers who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will be forced to pay a "significant" financial penalty, Premier François Legault said Tuesday, one day after the sudden resignation of the province's public health director. The penalty would be the first of its kind in Canada and would apply to unvaccinated residents who don't have a medical exemption, Legault told reporters in Montreal. The "health contribution" is necessary, he said, because about 10 per cent of adult Quebecers aren't vaccinated, but they represent about half of all patients in intensive care. The premier's big news came with few details, however. The amount of the penalty is yet to be determined, as is how and when it would be applied.
— Advocates working with Black and Indigenous communities say Quebec's proposal to make unvaccinated adults pay a financial penalty risks further entrenching inequities in Canada's pandemic response, and adding another burden to those who are marginalized. The penalty could be a problem for people who have been hesitant to receive the vaccine because of historic and present-day injustices, or face systemic barriers to accessing the vaccine, said Black Health Alliance executive director Paul Bailey.
— Federal COVID-19 vaccine contracts mean Canada should get enough doses to give two or three more mRNA shots to every Canadian, every year until at least 2024. But even as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is now suggesting some Canadians get in line for the fourth dose of vaccine, the World Health Organization is warning "repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition" are not a sustainable plan to end the pandemic. The contracts back up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's statements Monday that Canada will have enough doses for third and even fourth shots if they become necessary.
— Internationally educated nurses will be allowed to work in Ontario hospitals, long-term care homes and other health settings grappling with pandemic-related staffing challenges. Health Minister Christine Elliott says more than 1,200 applicants had expressed interest in the programs that would see the internationally trained professionals deployed where extra help is needed, under the supervision of another regulated health-care provider. The province will run the programs with Ontario Health, which oversees the health system, and the College of Nurses of Ontario.
— Students need to be at school in person for their mental and physical health, Ontario's health minister said, amid safety concerns about the planned return to classes next week while access to COVID-19 testing is severely limited. When asked, Christine Elliott did not name specific health indicators that have improved to support a return to classes next Monday — a date confirmed by the government without an official press release or rationale explaining the decision. However, Elliott says the government needed the temporary shift to remote learning to implement safety measures like sped-up booster vaccinations for teachers and sending N95 masks to school boards.
— A small number of children in an international study that included Canadian researchers experienced severe outcomes after visiting an emergency room and testing positive for COVID-19. Researchers found that about three per cent — or 107 infected kids — of 3,221 children had severe outcomes within 14 days of their ER visit, just under 23 per cent were hospitalized and four children died. Severe outcomes included cardiovascular complications, such as inflammation of the heart, as well as neurologic, respiratory or infectious problems. Researchers also discovered that young infants were not at a higher risk for severe outcomes.
— The leaders of Alberta's largest public and private sector unions are calling for drastic lockdown measures immediately to fight the spiralling COVID-19 Omicron variant. The leaders are calling for no in-person service at restaurants and bars, closing theatres and casinos, shuttering gyms, suspending recreational sports, and sending students home to learn online as a last resort. The unions made the call for a lockdown in an open letter. The letter is signed by the United Nurses of Alberta, the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which is the largest public sector union in the province.
— British Columbia's provincial health officer says the current wave of COVID-19 infections is expected to continue for several more weeks based on the experience of other jurisdictions, though she expects more treatment options to be approved soon. Dr. Bonnie Henry says that many people who have contracted the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are fully vaccinated but their illness has been relatively mild compared with those who are unvaccinated and at higher risk of being hospitalized. Three people in their 20s and another in their 30s are currently in intensive care in B.C., and all of them are unvaccinated, Henry says.
— Two schools have stopped in-person classes in British Columbia, less than two days after most students returned to classrooms following an extended holiday break due to the surging COVID-19 Omicron variant. The Education Ministry says schools in Hazelton and Surrey recently made the decision. Ginger Fuller, secretary treasurer of the Coast Mountain School District, says officials will meet Wednesday to decide when to reopen Hazelton Secondary School to regular classes after it was closed because of a staff shortage, which was the result of "illness." The ministry said the independent Bibleway Christian Academy in Surrey has also suspended in-person classes.
— Nunavut's education minister says students are to return to school remotely next week and start going back to classes on Jan. 24. Pamela Gross said Tuesday that the chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, will make a final call later this week based on COVID-19 case numbers. Schools are to open on a "case by case" basis, depending on the number of active cases in a community, Gross says. The territory of 40,000 people has been under lockdown since late December when COVID-19 infections spread rapidly across multiple communities as the Omicron variant took hold.
— New Brunswick's chief epidemiologist says if current trends continue, the province could see 5,500 people testing positive each day for COVID-19 by the end of the month. Mathieu Chalifoux says that could result in nearly 220 people in hospital. There are currently a record 88 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province, including 14 in intensive care and 11 on a ventilator.
— A Nova Scotia government official says 25 of the province's 133 nursing homes are currently not accepting new admissions because of staffing issues partly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Katelyn Randell, director of long-term care, says the “pause” on admissions is to allow facilities to address what she says are “staffing gaps.” Randell didn't say how many workers are missing because the number changes almost daily.
— Officials in Prince Edward Island say the province is now dealing with widespread transmission of COVID-19 as several outbreaks of the disease continue to develop. Premier Dennis King says some of the Island’s most vulnerable populations are being exposed to the disease as it spreads. Some of the newest outbreaks include child-care facilities, according to chief medical officer Dr. Heather Morrison.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2022.
The Canadian Press