Coronavirus news and updates for Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

8:30 p.m.: When Premier François Legault announced Tuesday that Quebec will require a “health-care contribution” from those who have not had at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, he charted a path that some provinces may be tempted to follow, writes Star columnist Althia Raj.

Quebec has led the way on heavy-handed measures before. Its revived curfew, which again bans residents from circulating outside between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., may not have been replicated elsewhere, but this fine — not a user fee — may be too attractive to ignore.

Legault is betting sticks work best as an incentive to vaccine holdouts. Last week, the province made vaccination mandatory for anyone shopping for booze or pot at the province’s liquor and cannabis shops. Appointment bookings for first doses jumped from an average of 1,500 a day to 6,000 the day after the announcement.

Those sticks are a lot cheaper than the carrots Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney offered his unvaccinated residents. The 152,000 Albertans who got jabbed last fall in return for a $100 debit card cost taxpayers there more than $15 million.

Legault’s goal is twofold: to help boost vaccination levels, and to show solidarity with Quebecers who’ve done all the right things and are getting increasingly exasperated that their lives can’t return to normal because they feel they’re being held hostage by the unvaccinated.

Read the full column here from Althia Raj.

8:06 p.m.: 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 said Tuesday 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 said.

“It creates a lot of distress for our health-care workers to be caring for young people and seeing them in so much distress when it can be prevented,” she said.

Henry called on everyone to maintain their social connections, outside and virtually, if necessary, to protect their mental well-being as many people are feeling powerless and exhausted from the continued need for vigilance to protect themselves from COVID-19.

“We’re all feeling like we’re getting battered by wave after wave of the storm,” she said.

She anticipated a number of additional treatment options would be available later this month to keep people who are at risk of serious illness out of hospital.

7:57 p.m.: 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.

They say it’s a difficult call but necessary to prevent the rapidly spreading variant from flooding hospitals and overwhelming an exhausted, depleted staff of front-line health workers.

But a spokesman for Premier Jason Kenney says the United Conservative government is following and acting on the scientific data for the Omicron wave and that a lockdown is not being considered.

Alberta Health reports 708 people are in hospital with COVID-19 — a rise of 73 from a day earlier — with 80 of them in intensive care.

There are now well over 58,000 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta but Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, has said the case numbers are low and the actual infections are likely 10 times higher.

The unions made the call for a lockdown in an open letter Tuesday.

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.

7:26 p.m.: 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.

No one from the school was immediately available to comment.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside says local school administration officials, including principals, make decisions about closing in-person classes and moving to temporary online teaching.

7:14 p.m.: Internationally-educated nurses will now be able to put on their scrubs and start working in the field right here in Ontario.

But, even with Tuesday’s announcement that the province is turning to this group for help amid Omicron’s crushing blow on the health-care sector, some nurses like Karla Ducusin still won’t be able to practise.

Ducusin worked as a nurse in the Philippines for over three years before moving to Canada in 2018. The 32-year-old has completed all of the licensing requirements that this program would fast-track, but the one holdup is immigration status.

She said she applied for permanent residency in October 2020 and has been calling weekly to see how it’s progressed, but she’s trapped in immigration backlog. Until it’s finally approved, she’ll have to keep working as a live-in caregiver for one client.

Ducusin co-founded a Facebook group of about 300 internationally-educated nurses (commonly called IENs) who have also had to work as caregivers in Canada due to these hurdles. Like her, many will still have to wait.

“This is still a good day,” Ducusin said in an interview with the Star. “Internationally-educated nurses are now being recognized, that we exist, and that we can help with this pandemic.”

Read the full story here form Angelyn Francis.

6:53 p.m.: 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.

Signed last year, the contracts are to bring up to 65 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and 35 million doses of Moderna to Canada this year, and then 60 million Pfizer and 35 million Moderna in each of the next two years.

With a population of 38 million people, that is more than two doses per person, per year, for a country where 77 per cent of the population already has the two doses required, and 27 per cent have now received a third dose.

6:37 p.m.: We’ve just spent weeks consoling ourselves that Omicron is a milder form of COVID-19 and most of us will just have a few symptoms and move on, writes Heather Scoffield.

The scientific basis for that belief is dubious enough, as the death count rises quickly in Canadian hospitals. And when it comes to the economy, it’s certainly a hollow consolation.

They may not be dying, but millions of people in Canada are calling in sick or self-isolating because of exposure to the virus. That’s severely curtailing the ability of hospitals and health-care services to run at full capacity when we most need them. And it’s also cutting into productivity and the smooth operations of companies in many sectors.

The economic fallout of Omicron is anything but mild. But we have yet to put our minds around how to effectively contain the damage.

Read the full column here from Heather Scoffield: Omicron’s effects are anything but mild for Canada’s economy

6:20 p.m.: The province has distributed 9.1 million N95 masks for teachers and education staff in preparation for schools reopening next week, and there are plans to “regularly send new shipments over the coming weeks and months.”

“We have been preparing for the return of in-class learning on Monday, Jan. 17 by doing as much as we can to improve ventilation, provide high quality PPE and expand access to vaccinations,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a written statement Tuesday, adding the province has also already shipped more than 4 million three-ply masks for students.

Lecce and Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, will hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss kids returning to schools.

“We have accelerated access to booster shots for education and child care staff by standing up over 10 more clinics in the past several days alone, in addition to providing access through mass-vaccination sites, pharmacies and other dedicated clinics. We are deploying an additional 3,000 stand-alone HEPA filter units to schools boards on top of the existing 70,000 HEPA filter units and other ventilation devices already in schools.,” Lecce also said.

Read the full story here: Ontario ships 9.1 million N95 masks to schools to prepare for Monday’s reopening

5:50 p.m.: Ontario is throwing hundreds of internationally trained nurses into the fight against COVID-19 as thousands of hospital staff call in sick or isolate daily and an Omicron wave of hospitalizations is expected to peak in early February.

About 300 nurses are being deployed to 50 high-need hospitals “immediately” to care for patients under supervision and work toward getting their licences in the province, Ontario Health chief executive Matthew Anderson said Tuesday.

They will be among the 6,000 extra health-care workers — including nursing students, medical students and other students from health-care programs — to join the COVID-19 effort by March 31, Health Minister Christine Elliott told a news conference as Ontario reported 80 new admissions to intensive care units, the highest daily increase of the pandemic.

“Every nurse matters. Every person that we can get to that front line of care makes a difference,” said Anderson, whose agency co-ordinates the many parts of Ontario’s health-care system.

Read the full story here: Ontario adds hundreds of foreign-trained nurses to pandemic-battered hospitals

5:40 p.m.: Prince Edward Island is reporting a series of outbreaks across the province as officials announced the second day of more than 300 new COVID-19 cases.

Chief medical officer Dr. Heather Morrison says nine early learning child-care centres across the province have reported outbreaks of the disease, seven of which were closed Tuesday.

Morrison also says clusters of cases have been found in a long-term care facility and within the population that regularly accesses shelters in the Charlottetown area.

She also reported 304 new cases of the disease, bringing the active case count in the province to 1,694.

Over the last seven days, P.E.I. has seen an average daily case count of 190.

There are now six people in hospital, including one in intensive care.

5:20 p.m.: With the Omicron variant raging throughout the province, the government has decided to hold firm and reopen schools on Jan. 17. The decision has split many parents. Some are happy schools are going to reopen quickly, while others are concerned they may not be safe. The government says it is taking measures to ensure safety for kids, but outbreaks and staff shortages are likely with the Omicron variant’s increased transmissibility. Are open schools better than the homebound alternative? That’s the question every parent of school age children in the province is wrestling with.

Listen to this episode of This Matters here: Today’s lesson: Why Ontario decided to reopen schools

4:45 p.m.: The Black Health Alliance says Quebec’s proposal to bring in a financial penalty for unvaccinated residents risks further entrenching inequities in Canada’s pandemic response and eroding trust in the government.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced Tuesday the province is working on a health-care “contribution” that would be charged to all adults who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Provinces do not keep socioeconomic or race-based data about who has or hasn’t received a full slate of shots, but several health equity experts say there is evidence some have fallen through the cracks.

Black Health Alliance executive director Paul Bailey says the tax could punish people who have been hesitant to receive vaccines because of historic and present-day injustices, or face systemic barriers to accessing the vaccine.

He suggests instead doubling down on proven measures of combating vaccine hesitancy by engaging with people in a culturally responsive way.

He says a tax would only set those efforts backwards.

4:15 p.m.: 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 told a news conference in Fredericton today 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.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell says New Brunswickers can help flatten the curve by further limiting their contacts.

The Edmundston Regional Hospital and the Saint John Regional Hospital are closing units and reallocating staff in an effort to deal with outbreaks in the hospitals.

There are currently 377 health-care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are isolating, and officials say they expect the impact on front-line staff will increase in the coming weeks.

3:40 p.m.: Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S., at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically.

The reason: The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa.

“It’s going to come down as fast as it went up,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

At the same time, experts warn that much is still uncertain about how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold. The plateauing or ebbing in the two countries is not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same pace. And weeks or months of misery still lie ahead for patients and overwhelmed hospitals even if the drop-off comes to pass.

Read the full story here: Omicron may be headed for a rapid drop in US and Britain

3:30 p.m.: 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, told the legislature’s health committee today that 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, saying the number changes almost daily.

She says the Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care has assigned more than 19 short-term replacement nurses to help at various facilities.

Meanwhile, health officials reported one new death in the province as a result of novel coronavirus — a man in his 80s in the Halifax area.

They also reported 15 new hospital admissions and 16 discharges bringing the total number of people in hospital due to an infection to 58, with four patients in intensive care.

2:25 p.m. (Update): Quebec is looking at taxing residents who don’t get vaccinated.

Premier François Legault dropped that bombshell Tuesday during a news conference ostensibly arranged to address the resignation a day earlier of his top public health official, Dr. Horacio Arruda.

But after briefly thanking Arruda and naming his replacement, Dr. Luc Boileau, the premier turned his thoughts to the surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in his province and the number of Quebecers who remain unvaccinated.

“I’m announcing that we are currently working on a health-care contribution that will be charged to all adults in Quebec who refuse to get vaccinated,” said Legault.

“All people who are not vaccinated for non-medical reasons will have to pay a contribution,” Legault said.

He likened the contribution to the drug insurance coverage in Quebec, where, if a person’s employer doesn’t cover drug insurance, the person pays a contribution when they pay their taxes.

Legault said he would be working with his finance minister to sort out the logistics of such a contribution but that it would be a “significant amount.”

“Fifty dollars or $100, for me, is not significant,” said Legault. “But we haven’t yet set the amount.”

Read the full story here from Steve McKinley.

2:13 p.m.: Parents in Ontario are exhausted.

With schools closed yet again, working families everywhere have had to deal with the emotional roller-coaster of COVID-19 in schools. It’s been an education no one asked for.

The province has confirmed the province’s 2 million students will be back in classrooms next Monday. Ontario is distributing masks for teachers and students and working to improve filtration in classrooms, the education minister said on Tuesday.

New provincial guidance says that only students and teachers who show symptoms of COVID-19 while at school will have access to PCR tests once schools reopen to in-person learning.

The seven-page document from the Ministry of Health offers guidance on case, contact, and outbreak management for schools and child care settings, and includes new advice on PCR and rapid antigen testing (RAT).

So, what are some of the things parents want to know before kids head back to school in-person? Send us your questions here.

Check out the reader submission form here.

2 p.m.: Teachers’ unions are expressing safety concerns ahead of schools reopening in Ontario next week, as the government sharply limits access to PCR tests for students and teachers.

Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said while many teachers want to return to in-person learning and feel it is the “best way” to engage with students, some are still concerned about whether there will be enough safety measures in place by Monday to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Her union and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation are calling for more HEPA filters in schools, reduced class sizes to promote physical distancing, along with COVID-19 testing, tracing and monitoring to ensure a safe return to schools.

Brown said she thinks parents should brace themselves “for a lot of interruptions.”

“What they’ve announced so far is not enough,” Brown added.

“We’re almost two years into this pandemic. Why are we still asking for those things? And we need to have testing, we need the rapid antigen testing happening, and the contract tracing to occur.”

1:55 p.m. Quebec Premier François Legault says adult residents who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will be charged a financial penalty.

Legault made the announcement to reporters today in Montreal, adding that the levy will only apply to people who do not qualify for medical exemptions.

It is the first time a government in Canada has announced a financial penalty for people who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Legault says the amount of the penalty hasn’t been decided but will be “significant.”

More to come.

1:47 p.m. New Orleans will reinstitute an indoor mask mandate to fight the spread of COVID-19 while readying for an influx of visitors for the Mardi Gras season, the city health director said Tuesday.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno said the mandate takes effect Wednesday at 6 a.m. and will apply to participants in the annual Mardi Gras balls that take place in the city.

Avegno said Louisiana’s statewide coronavirus daily hospitalization numbers have grown in three weeks “by a factor of seven.” She said those cases have put a strain on hospitals, with emergency room waits as long as 12 hours in some facilities.

1:11 p.m. The province has distributed 1.9 million N95 masks for teachers and education staff in preparation for schools reopening next week, and there are plans to “regularly send new shipments over the coming weeks and months.”

“We have been preparing for the return of in-class learning on Monday, Jan. 17 by doing as much as we can to improve ventilation, provide high quality PPE and expand access to vaccinations,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a written statement Tuesday, adding the province has also already shipped more than 4 million three-ply masks for students.

Lecce and Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, will hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss kids returning to schools.

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie and Kristin Rushowy

12:50 p.m. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province is deploying internationally educated nurses, nursing students and other health care professionals into hospitals and long-term-care homes which need staffing support.

More than 1,200 applicants have expressed interest in participating in the program.

Elliott says 2,500 ICU beds are available and can add another 500.

Ontario Health’s Matt Anderson says there has been a reduced demand on the PCR testing network in recent days.

Elliott says there will be PCR tests available for staff and students who are symptomatic while in the school setting itself. Take home PCR tests will be limited.

12:10 p.m. Toronto Zoo will be holding a mass booster vaccination clinic. The initiative will add over 5,000 daily jabs to the province’s booster campaign.

Education and child care staff will be prioritized. Priority time slots will be made available to education and child care staff outside of school hours. A special booking link is available on fhvax.com for education and child care staff to access.

The clinic will start on Jan. 12 and run seven days a week. Appointments are required in advance and can be booked at fhvax.com

“Your Toronto Zoo plays a vital role in supporting our community, and one of the best ways we can do that right now is by offering our Zoo as a mass booster vaccination location” says Dolf DeJong, chief executive officer of the Toronto Zoo, in a release.

11:55 a.m. Quebec is reporting 62 more deaths attributed to coronavirus, pushing the total number of people killed by COVID-19 in the province to 12,028, the most in Canada.

The new data comes a day after the province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, submitted his resignation to Premier François Legault.

Legault is scheduled to hold a news conference in Montreal at 1 p.m. today, where he will be accompanied by Arruda’s temporary replacement, Dr. Luc Boileau, the head of a government health-care research institution called the Institut national d’excellence en santé et services sociaux.

The Health Department says COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by 188, to 2,742, after 433 people were admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours and 245 were discharged.

11:22 a.m. New school guidance from the Ontario government says that only certain students and teachers who show symptoms of COVID-19 will have access to PCR tests when schools reopen to in-person learning next week.

The Ministry of Health document says take-home PCR self-collection kits will only be provided to elementary and secondary students as well as education staff who become symptomatic while at school.

The test kits will only be given to students or staff who have fever or chills, a cough, shortness of breath or a loss of taste or smell, or two or more of the less common symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat or muscle aches.

The ministry says PCR kits will not be provided to entire cohorts or school populations.

The document says those waiting for the result of a COVID-19 test, or who cannot access a test, must isolate at home regardless of vaccination status, along with others in their household.

10:35 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 3,220 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and 477 people in intensive care.

There are 250 patients on ventilators due to COVID-19; 21 new virus-related deaths were reported.

The province reported 7,951 new cases, but Public Health Ontario says the real number is likely higher due to the current testing policy.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province will now distinguish between people admitted to the hospital due to a COVID-19 infection and people admitted for other reasons with COVID-19.

9:45 a.m. Justin Trudeau says Canada will have enough COVID-19 vaccines for all those eligible to receive a fourth dose if needed.

The prime minister spoke with provincial and territorial leaders yesterday, and a statement issued by his office says he assured them Canada has secured enough shots for a third and potential fourth round of vaccinations.

The statement says Ottawa will do all it can to help provinces and territories cope with the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as infections fuelled by the Omicron variant threaten to overwhelm health systems.

The federal government has said provinces and territories will receive a combined 140 million rapid tests this month, although the statement did not provide any new details on when the deliveries will be scheduled.

9:30 a.m. The Ontario government is expected to give an update Tuesday on the capacity of the province’s health-care system in the face of the fast-spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Health Minister Christine Elliott is set to speak on the issue at 12:30 p.m., alongside the Matthew Anderson, the CEO of Ontario Health.

The province’s health-care system has been under growing strain in recent weeks due to the highly transmissible variant, which has also caused staffing shortages across several sectors.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 has skyrocketed, and there has been an overall surge in infections, even as the government limited access to testing to groups deemed more at risk.

Earlier this month, Premier Doug Ford invoked the potential for a “tsunami” of cases as he announced a temporary return to online learning for students.

9:20 a.m. According to the Ontario Hospital Association, Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) is now reporting at least 465 adult ICU patients with COVID-19 at provincial hospitals.

80 adults are newly admitted to intensive care with COVID-related critical illness, a single-day pandemic record for Ontario.

More people are now in Ontario ICUs with COVID-related critical illness than at the peak of the province’s deadliest second wave, around this time last year.

9:15 a.m. Between the deep freeze and the deluge of new COVID-19 cases connected to the Omicron variant, Mike Brown and his family thought it best to hunker down over the holidays.

There was a sense of relief on Dec. 30 when he heard his daughter would have a little more time before returning to her Grade 3 classroom after the Alberta government delayed reopening until Jan. 10.

The relief didn’t last long. This week, his daughter is back in school.

“I was hoping that there’d be some kind of a change … Why was last week not OK for her to go back and this week is as if, in my view, nothing has changed?” said Brown, whose daughter attends King George School in Calgary.

Read the full story from the Star’s Omar Mosleh and Jeremy Nuttall

8:55 a.m. Poland has become the latest European nation to reach the sad milestone of 100,000 deaths related to the coronavirus.

Nearly a quarter of those deaths — some 24,000 — occurred in the most recent wave of infection that began in October, a period in which vaccines have been widely available in the European Union nation of 38 million people.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Tuesday that 493 more people with COVID-19 had died, pushing the overall pandemic death toll to 100,254 in the central European nation.

8:45 a.m. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a wave of public and political outrage on Tuesday over allegations that he and his staff flouted coronavirus lockdown rules by holding a garden party in 2020 while Britons were barred by law from mingling outside the home.

Opposition politicians called for a police investigation after broadcaster ITV published a leaked email invitation to “socially distanced drinks” in the garden of the prime minister’s Downing Street office and residence in May 2020. The email from the prime minister’s private secretary, Martin Reynolds, was sent to dozens of people and urged attendees to “bring your own booze.”

The event was scheduled for May 20, 2020 — the same day the government at a televised news conference reminded people they could only meet up with one person outside their household. London’s Metropolitan Police force also published reminders about the rules that day.

8:20 a.m. The urgent care centre at Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health and Wellness will be closed for at least three weeks, to direct staff and physicians to sites where demand is greatest.

William Osler Health System announced on Sunday, Jan. 9 the hospital would be closed until at least the end of day on Monday, Jan. 10. On Monday night, Osler announced Peel Memorial would be closed until at least Feb. 1.

Osler explained the decision was made as a result of “increasing volumes in Osler’s emergency departments and patients who require admission for care, further compounded by extreme capacity and staffing pressures.”

8:10 a.m. Novak Djokovic held a practice session on Tuesday, a day after he left immigration detention, focusing on defending his Australian Open title even while he still faces the prospect of deportation because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19.

The top-ranked tennis star hit the show courts of Melbourne Park, where the tournament is held, within hours of winning a legal battle that allowed him to stay in the country.

At issue is whether he has a valid exemption to rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19. A judge ruled Monday he could stay, but the immigration minister could still send him home.

There were also new questions raised Tuesday over an immigration form, on which he said he had not travelled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia. The Monte Carlo-based athlete was seen in Spain and Serbia in that two-week period.

7:20 a.m. As COVID-19 hospitalizations in Ontario hit pandemic highs, hospitals are racing to care for an influx of patients sick with a wider variety of symptoms and conditions, making this surge different from previous waves and placing additional stresses on a system already struggling to cope.

While patients are still being admitted with plummeting oxygen levels requiring breathing support — the typical COVID presentation seen in prior waves — a broader range of patients with the virus are also needing care.

Hospital leaders report COVID is now sickening greater numbers of elderly patients, people who are immunocompromised, those considered medically fragile and patients for whom the virus has exacerbated an underlying medical condition, such as heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or insulin-dependent diabetes.

Read the full story from the Star’s Megan Ogilvie

7:03 a.m. As Omicron sweeps through Ontario, it could take billions of dollars out of the province’s economy.

Economists say that’s the potential toll if 20 to 30 per cent of Ontario workers book off sick with the rapidly-spreading COVID-19 variant, as predicted by the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore.

“It’s certainly in the billions,” said David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

While Moore’s prediction was meant to be across all sectors, some will fare worse than others when it comes to the economic impact from Omicron-related worker absences, Macdonald argued.

Read the full story from the Star’s Josh Rubin

5:32 a.m.: Justin Trudeau says Ottawa will do all it can to help provinces and territories cope with the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as infections fuelled by the Omicron variant threaten to overwhelm health systems.

The prime minister spoke with provincial and territorial leaders yesterday, and a statement issued by his office says he assured them that there are enough vaccine doses available for all eligible Canadians to receive third booster shots.

The federal government has said provinces and territories will receive a combined 140 million rapid tests this month, although the statement did not provide any new details on when the deliveries will be scheduled.

The statement says Trudeau also emphasized the need to promote support programs, such as the federal wage subsidy, to help people and businesses survive the latest lockdowns and public health restrictions.

The call with the First Ministers came as COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continue to surge throughout Canada.

5:31 a.m.: A new poll suggests a slim majority of Canadians support the latest round of lockdowns and other government-imposed restrictions as the Omicron variant continue to fuel an explosion in new COVID-19 infections.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents in the poll conducted by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies agreed governments are making the right decisions to limit the spread of Omicron and keep the health system from being overrun.

Another 31 per cent said they did not believe Omicron poses a serious health risk to most of those who are infected, and that governments should leave things open and let Canadians live with the risk.

The remaining 14 per cent said they did not know.

The results suggest there is a growing level of fatigue among Canadians when it comes to lockdowns, including among those who have been fully vaccinated, said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

5:31 a.m.: As Quebec officials consider tightening the rules for the unvaccinated, health experts in the province say expanding the vaccine passport system is justified because of the high number of COVID-19 patients in hospital who have refused to be jabbed.

Others, however, say the people who are rejecting COVID-19 vaccines are doing so out of ideology and likely won’t be swayed by the government’s latest restrictions.

Last week, Health Minister Christian Dubé said proof of vaccination will be required to shop at Quebec’s cannabis and liquor monopolies starting Jan. 18 and that the passport could be expanded further to include businesses such as shopping malls and personal care salons. Quebec’s College of Physicians on Friday said the vaccine passport should be required for places such as large department stores, libraries and museums.

Dubé has repeatedly said that about 10 per cent of Quebec adults are unvaccinated but represent about 50 per cent of COVID-19-related hospitalizations. But data published by the Health Department on Monday indicated that 32 per cent of the 4,094 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past 28 days had either been unvaccinated or were fewer than 14 days removed from their first dose.

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at McGill University Health Centre, said he supported an expanded vaccine passport system because it could encourage more people to get vaccinated. Any reduction in the number of COVID-19 patients in Quebec’s hospitals would help, he added.

5:29 a.m.: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced more allegations that he and his staff flouted coronavirus lockdown rules, this time by holding a garden party in 2020 while Britons were barred by law from mingling outside the home.

Opposition politicians called for a police investigation after broadcaster ITV published a leaked email invitation to “socially distanced drinks” in the garden of the prime minister’s Downing Street office and residence in May 2020. The email from the prime minister’s private secretary, Martin Reynolds, was sent to dozens of people and urged attendees to “bring your own booze.”

The event was scheduled for May 20, 2020 — the same day the government at a televised news conference reminded people they could only meet up with one person outside their household. London’s Metropolitan Police force published reminders about the rules on the same day.

During Britain’s first lockdown, which began in March 2020, gatherings were banned with a few exceptions, including work and funerals.

Johnson’s Conservative government has repeatedly been accused of flouting the rules it imposed on others.

5:29 a.m.: The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije has tested positive for COVID-19, the church said on Tuesday, amid a surge in infections in the country and elsewhere in the Balkan region.

Porfirije has developed “very mild symptoms of the virus infection” and remains in home isolation, said the statement. It added that Porfirije is carrying out administrative duties entirely without problems.

The 60-year-old patriarch became the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church after the previous patriarch, Irinej, died in November 2020 after contracting the coronavirus.

Porfirije on Sunday attended a mass ceremony in Republika Srpska, the Serb-run part of neighbouring Bosnia, where few people wore face masks.

5:28 a.m.: Poland has become the latest European nation to reach the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths related to the coronavirus.

Nearly a quarter of those deaths — some 24,000 — occurred in the most recent wave of infection that began in October, a period in which vaccines have been widely available in the European Union nation.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said early Tuesday that 493 deaths of people with COVID-19 had been registered in the past day, pushing the death toll to over 100,000.

The vast majority of the deaths are among people who have not been vaccinated. The vaccination rate in Poland is 55.8%.

Poland now joins Italy, the U.K, France and Germany as those European nations that have recorded 100,000 deaths.

Tuesday 5:26 a.m.: A third Chinese city has locked down its residents because of a COVID-19 outbreak, raising the number confined to their homes in China to about 20 million people.

It wasn’t clear how long the lockdown of Anyang city, home to 5.5 million, would last as a notice said it was being done to facilitate mass testing but did not indicate if it would end when the testing is completed.

Another 13 million people are locked down in the city of Xi’an and 1.1 million in Yuzhou.

Read Monday’s coronavirus news.

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