A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:
— Ontario businesses are dealing with another round of pandemic-related closures and capacity restrictions , but details of financial support remain scant. Restaurants, gyms, cinemas and other indoor venues were forced to close while retail stores and personal care services were limited to half capacity in a government bid to rein in the rapidly spreading Omicron variant that's caused infections and hospitalizations to skyrocket. It's a familiar routine now almost two years into the pandemic, particularly in Ontario where restrictions have been reintroduced repeatedly during virus surges. But the the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the lack of immediate support this time around is "rage-inducing" for struggling business owners.
— GO Transit says staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant prompted cancellations over the holidays and additional service reductions are planned in the coming days. The regional transit agency serving the Greater Toronto and Hamilton regions says a temporary reduction in train and bus service is set to begin within days, and new schedules will be made available at that time. It says cancellations will be spread across its seven train corridors and bus routes and cancelled trains will not be replaced by buses.
— A Conservative MP is asking Canada's privacy commissioner to investigate federal reliance on data from mobile devices to understand travel patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien, Tory MP John Brassard accuses the Public Health Agency of Canada of secretly using the pandemic to violate the privacy of Canadians. The Public Health Agency says analysis of location data helps inform policy, public health messaging, evaluation of measures and other aspects of the government's response to the pandemic.
— The federal government is ramping up delivery of rapid tests to provinces as tests run scarce across the country and access to molecular tests is restricted. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says 140 million tests will be distributed in January on a per capita basis. That's four times the number delivered in December, Duclos says. That amount would allow every Canadian to have about one test per week for the month of January, he says.
— Students across Ontario logged on to virtual classrooms as a new school term began on Wednesday, triggering renewed frustration for some families who said their children have a tough time with remote learning. The Ontario government announced the shift to online schooling on Monday, mere days after saying in-person classes would resume. With an Omicron-driven wave of infections threatens the health system, the province says virtual learning will take place until at least Jan. 17.
— Supermarket executives are being asked to reinstate hazard pay for workers facing extra health and safety risks from the highly contagious Omicron variant. The federal NDP’s spokesman on economic development has written to the chiefs of Canada’s biggest supermarkets asking them to restore “pandemic pay” brought in after COVID-19 first struck. Brian Masse, the MP for Windsor West, says supermarket workers are doing risky work and deserve "hazard pay" for helping to keep stores open and shelves stocked. The MP says he wants to hold Sobeys chief Michael Medline to his promise before a Commons committee in July 2020 that he would reintroduce a wage premium if provinces reinstate restrictions.
— A hospital network in the Niagara region is shutting down one of its urgent care centres to redeploy doctors and nurses to emergency departments amid worsening staff shortages and rising COVID-19 admissions. Niagara Health, which runs multiple sites, says its Fort Erie, Ont., urgent care centre will temporarily close on Thursday. Niagara Health says 354 of its staff members are currently in self-isolation, and 146 have tested positive for COVID-19 since Dec. 21.
— In-person learning at Quebec schools will resume on Jan. 17 as planned, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge says, despite the continuing spread of COVID-19 in the province. Roberge told reporters in Montreal that the province will distribute five COVID-19 self-tests per month to all primary and secondary school students in January and February as part of its plan to control spread of the disease in schools. While Roberge says the province has taken steps to improve remote learning, Quebec's priority remains reopening schools.
— Several Quebec health authorities are being forced to cancel employee vacations as the province struggles with staff shortages and some workers fear this might be the final straw. After working overtime without much time off since the beginning of the pandemic, nurse Agathe Vézina says the latest measure feels like a slap to health-care employees. Vézina, who works as a mental health nurse in Rouyn-Noranda, about 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal, is currently on vacation and doesn't know yet whether she will be affected by the restrictions. But she is worried because she booked her time off based on the availability of child care for her 17-month-old son.
— The Manitoba government is changing its COVID-19 testing process amid rising case numbers and a backlog of tests. Health officials say most people going to provincial testing sites will now be given rapid antigen tests to take home instead of a lab test on-site. Dr. Jazz Atwal, the deputy chief public health officer, says the change will help cut a backlog of some 6,800 PCR tests awaiting completion.
— Saskatchewan is looking to other provinces to see what measures they are using to try to keep front-line and essential staff working as COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant surge. Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says his recommendations on any further public health orders will be based on keeping essential services going as the province prepares for its biggest spike in infections yet. The province has already shortened the self-isolation period for asymptomatic and vaccinated people to five days from 10 to allow workers to return to their jobs sooner.
— The Oilers have announced that captain Connor McDavid, forward Derek Ryan and defenceman Tyson Barrie have entered the NHL's COVID-19, The news came before Edmonton was scheduled to face the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
— The Ontario Hockey League says it is committed to finishing its 2021-22 season as new COVID-19 measures begin in the province, including a complete restriction on fans at indoor sports venues. The OHL says that the league's board of governors met Wednesday morning to address its next steps in progressing with the season. The league said it is in conversation with government and public health officials and will have updates at a later time.
— The group representing university athletics in Ontario says their student athletes not being counted among those allowed to play in indoor facilities is a "disservice" to their abilities and efforts. Ontario University Athletics says in a statement that the "elite nature" of their members has been consistently demonstrated, citing the fact that many current and former athletes competed in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and have gone on to launch professional careers. The Ontario government announced on Monday new COVID-19 restrictions, which included a ban on indoor sports activities until Jan. 27, with the exception of certain professional and "elite amateur" sports leagues.
— A respected local organizer in Labrador's northernmost town says her community has been thrown into crisis by an outbreak of COVID-19. The health clinic in Nain, N.L., was understaffed before the pandemic started, with three nurses on staff when there should be six, says Jenny Oliver. With one nurse isolating because of COVID-19, Oliver says there are two left scrambling to deal with a rise in demand for testing, a shortage of testing supplies, and a community of worried, confused and stressed residents — some of whom have tested positive for the disease.
— Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across Nunavut, with confirmed or presumptive cases in 14 of the territory's 25 communities. There are 231 active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, mostly in Iqaluit, Arviat and Rankin Inlet. Five Nunavut elders have also tested positive for COVID-19 at Embassy West Senior Living Facility in Ottawa.
— Yukon's top doctor says the isolation period for people diagnosed with COVID-19 has been reduced to seven days for vaccinated people who have no symptoms and are off all fever medications. Dr. Catherine Elliott says there are now at least 302 active COVID-19 cases in the territory, which is now reporting a 35 per cent test positivity rate. She says Omicron will cause a strain on the health-care system, citing an average new daily case count of 50 over the past seven days and 63 over the past three days.
— Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting 222 new cases of COVID-19. There are 1,378 active reported cases of COVID-19 on the Island. Three people are hospitalized with the disease, including one in intensive care. There are four other people in hospital for non-COVID-19 reasons who have tested positive for the disease.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2022.
The Canadian Press