Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday

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The latest:

Most coronavirus restrictions including mandatory face masks were lifted in England on Thursday, after Britain’s government said its vaccine booster rollout successfully reduced serious illness and COVID-19 hospitalizations.

From Thursday, face coverings are no longer required by law anywhere in England, and a legal requirement for COVID passes for entry into nightclubs and other large venues has been scrapped.

The government last week dropped its advice for people to work from home as well as guidance for face coverings in classrooms.

The so-called “Plan B” measures were introduced in early December to stop the rapid spread of the Omicron variant from overwhelming health services and to buy time for the population to get its booster vaccine shot.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government’s vaccine rollout, testing and development of antiviral treatments combine to make “some of the strongest defences in Europe,” allowing a “cautious return” to normality.

But he added that “as we learn to live with COVID, we need to be clear-eyed that this virus is not going away.” While infections continue to fall, health officials said that Omicron remained prevalent across the country, especially among children and the elderly.

Officials said that almost 84 per cent of people over 12 years old in the U.K. have had their second vaccine dose, and that of those eligible, 81 per cent have received their booster shot.

Hospital admissions and the number of people in intensive care units have stabilized or fallen, and daily cases have fallen from a peak of over 200,000 cases a day around New Year to under 100,000 in recent days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that the surge of Omicron infections “has now peaked nationally.”

As the government moved away from legal measures, some shops and public transport operators say they will continue to ask people to don their face masks. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said face coverings will still be required on the capital’s buses and subway trains.

People will still need to wear masks on public transit in London. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

The legal requirement for those infected to self-isolate for five full days remains, but Johnson said that measure will also end soon, to be replaced with advice and guidance for those infected to be cautious.

Health officials have said they are planning a longer-term, post-pandemic strategy that treats COVID-19 more like the flu.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which make their own public health rules, have local timelines for easing COVID-19 restrictions.

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | School districts switch from tracking COVID-19 to absences: 

School districts switch from tracking COVID-19 to absences

Some school districts have stopped tracking COVID-19 cases and are instead reporting overall absences, which isn’t ideal for some parents, but experts say is still a useful public health tool. 1:53

With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.

For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.

You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.

In Atlantic Canada, officials in Prince Edward Island confirmed that students will be heading back to class on Monday after a period of remote learning. The province, which has been under tight restrictions in recent weeks, will also ease up some rules around gatherings, dining rooms and facilities like gyms.

The province said Wednesday the number of people in hospital for COVID-19 treatment had risen to 14, including two people in intensive care units. The province also reported 255 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In New Brunswick, students are also expected to return to classrooms on Monday. The province, which has been feeling the strain of pandemic-high hospitalization levels, on Wednesday reported a total 137 people in hospital with COVID-19, including eight people in intensive care units. Health officials also reported six additional deaths and 520 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Nova Scotia on Wednesday said 91 people were receiving specialized care in a designated COVID-19 unit in hospital, including 15 people in intensive care. An additional 221 people were in hospital related to COVID-19, including 121 people who contracted the virus in the hospital, a release from the province said. The province also reported three additional deaths and 346 lab-confirmed cases.

Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday said 20 people were in hospital with COVID-19, with seven people in intensive care. The province also reported three additional deaths and 304 lab-confirmed cases.

In Central Canada, Quebec health officials reported 3,270 hospitalizations, with 252 people in the province’s intensive care units — a decrease of 11 from a day earlier. The province’s daily COVID-19 situation report showed 73 additional deaths, along with 4,150 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In Ontario, health officials on Wednesday reported a total of 4,016 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 608 people in the province’s ICUs — down by 18 from a day earlier. The province’s COVID-19 dashboard also showed 5,368 additional lab-confirmed cases and 89 deaths. A spokesperson for the ministry of health said the deaths reported Wednesday had occurred over a period of three weeks.

In the North, the Northwest Territories on Wednesday reported 175 additional lab-confirmed cases, while Nunavut saw 48 additional cases. In Yukon, health officials reported 25 additional cases. 

In the Northwest Territories, Health Minister Julie Green said Wednesday that the government plans to end the public health emergency in the spring. But she noted that the end of that phase of public health orders doesn’t mean an end to outbreaks.

In the Prairie region, health officials in Manitoba said Wednesday that total COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 720, including 49 people in intensive care units — steady from a day earlier. The province also reported three additional deaths and 637 new lab-confirmed cases.

Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the province might be nearing its peak of the current wave with intensive care admissions stabilizing and hospitalizations dropping slightly. But Roussin noted that wastewater samples used to track COVID-19 spread continue to fluctuate.

In Saskatchewan, health officials said Wednesday that total COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 315, with 33 people in the province’s ICUs — steady from a day earlier. The province also reported six additional deaths and 1,194 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Alberta said Wednesday that total COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 1,418, with 111 people in the province’s intensive care units. The province also reported 22 additional deaths and 3,483 lab-confirmed cases. 

In British Columbia, health officials reported 949 COVID-19 hospitalizations, a downward shift from a day earlier, including 136 people in the province’s ICUs. The province also reported 21 additional deaths and 2,086 additional lab-confirmed cases.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

A man is seen wearing protective face gear in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Wednesday. (Moises Castillo/The Associated Press)

As of early Thursday morning, more than 362.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tally posted on Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.6 million.

In the Americas, new cases of COVID-19 in the past week have been the highest since the pandemic began, and the fast-spreading Omicron variant has clearly become the predominant version of the virus, the Pan American Health Organization said.

In Europe, German lawmakers agonized over whether to impose compulsory COVID-19 shots, as new record daily infections and the country’s stuttering vaccination campaign forced them into an ethical and constitutional dilemma.

The German Hospitals Federation had warned earlier this week that three-quarters of hospitals were reporting higher than usual numbers of staff out on sick leave.

Meanwhile, Russia’s daily COVID-19 cases surged to 88,816 on Thursday, a new record high for the seventh consecutive day as the Omicron variant was identified in new regions, officials said.

The number of new infections was a significant jump from the 74,692 reported on Wednesday. Officials also said that 665 people had died in the last 24 hours.

An employee wearing a hazmat suit prepares to do COVID-19 tests on new arrivals at Beijing Capital International Airport ahead of the 2022 Olympic Games. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing has limited the movement of people in more parts of the Chinese capital, even as it reported fewer COVID-19 cases on Thursday, in a bid to lower virus risk less than 10 days before its hosting of the Winter Olympics Games. Twenty-three new cases of COVID-19 were detected among Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Games-related personnel on Jan. 26, organizers said.

Australia reported fewer COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, a day after recording a pandemic high, while hospital cases remained steady, raising hopes the country’s worst outbreak may have peaked.

LISTEN | What can Canada learn from South Africa’s experience with the Omicron variant? 

The Current19:49What can Canada learn from South Africa’s bout with Omicron?

South Africa’s bout with Omicron is slowing down — offering other countries a glimpse of what might be coming next in the pandemic. Matt Galloway discusses what Canada might learn, with Dr. Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand; and Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba. 19:49

In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Wednesday reported 4,515 new cases of COVID-19 and 94 additional deaths.

In the Middle East, Israel on Wednesday broadened eligibility for a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to include adults under 60 with underlying medical conditions, their caretakers and others over 18 at significant risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

An official statement said the Health Ministry’s director-general had approved the measures. Earlier this month, as the Omicron variant swept the country, Israel began offering a fourth dose, meaning a second booster, of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people over 60.

-From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET



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