Canadian provinces grapple with rising, record COVID-19 cases due to Omicron variant

·3 min read

Many Canadian provinces grappled with rising COVID-19 cases across the country Saturday, with the Omicron variant compelling many jurisdictions to reintroduce public health restrictions just a week before Christmas.

One day after setting a pandemic record for daily cases, Quebec reported 3,631 new infections, two deaths and a big jump in hospitalizations in its latest numbers.

With new public health measures set to begin Monday, Premier François Legault warned Quebecers again the province would be hit hard.

"The Omicron variant is advancing at breakneck speed," he wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday urging solidarity among the population. "It's hard to imagine."

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 3,301 new infections — the highest tally since early May — and four additional deaths.

A 50-per-cent capacity limit came back into effect at venues that hold more than 1,000 people in that province on Saturday, a day before yet more restrictions were due to resume. As of Sunday, restaurants and retailers will also see their capacity capped at 50 per cent and indoor social gatherings will go from a maximum of 25 people down to 10.

But downtown Toronto's Scotiabank Arena was due to sit empty on Saturday evening instead of half-full, as the NHL postponed a game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Maple Leafs as COVID-19 case counts spiked throughout the league.

Vancouver has six players undergoing the league's COVID-19 protocol, while Toronto has four.

The surge was being felt in other provinces as well, as Nova Scotia reported 426 new cases, a single-day record for that province since the beginning of the pandemic.

A slew of restrictions are being reintroduced next week by provincial governments while Ottawa will tighten border rules as of Tuesday, requiring a pre-arrival negative molecular test result for COVID-19, even for short trips of less than 72 hours.

In announcing the move Friday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos advised Canadians against travelling outside the country, warning that if they get sick abroad they could become stranded, with the government unable to do much to help them.

In the face of the growing COVID threat, provincial governments are being forced to respond with measures discouragingly reminiscent of last year's troubled holiday season.

On Monday, British Columbia will impose new restrictions limiting the capacity of large venues to 50 per cent, banning amateur sports tournaments over the holidays and cancelling New Year's Eve parties.

Manitoba will bring in similar restrictions on Tuesday.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Omicron numbers have rapidly risen since last week, and she urged Canadians to adjust their holiday plans.

Tam noted on social media that Omicron cases have been seen in vaccinated, unvaccinated and previously infected people. But she stressed that being fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot is likely to provide reasonable protection against infection and probably strong protection against severe illness.

In Atlantic Canada, several new measures came into effect in New Brunswick on Saturday, including limiting household contacts to a maximum of 20, distancing in restaurants along with proof of vaccination and capacity cut in half for entertainment venues including movie theatres, professional sports and casinos.

That province logged 133 new cases Saturday.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported 23 new infections while in Prince Edward Island, health officials shuttered a testing clinic early because of a high volume of people seeking a test.

On this Island, new measures went into effect Saturday reducing private gatherings to a maximum of 10 people and cutting indoor public gatherings to 50 per cent of capacity.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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