New Brunswick announced tougher public health measures Thursday as COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to climb in several provinces and the Omicron variant fuelled more infections across Canada.
Meanwhile, Quebec announced it will remove its curfew next week as researchers said the province might be over the worst of the latest wave of the pandemic. Nunavut also said it was ready to lift its lockdown measures as case counts dropped in the territory.
Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said strict measures implemented just before Christmas have helped to control the spread of COVID-19 that fanned across the territory like never before.
On Monday, travel restrictions are to end in Nunavut and businesses will be allowed to reopen. Schools have also been given the green light to resume in-person learning on Jan. 24.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said new measures will come into effect there Friday. Residents will be limited to a single-household bubble and gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants must close.
Higgs said the lockdown measures are a last resort, but necessary to protect the health-care system.
Neighbouring Prince Edward Island also announced it is extending measures as its top doctor said the "worst of this wave" is yet to come.
Dr. Heather Morrison, chief medical health officer, told a news conference in Charlottetown that it will likely be another two weeks until cases peak in the province, but said it's unclear how bad it will get.
P.E.I.'s current measures include a limit on personal gatherings to 10 people and capacity restrictions on businesses, including gyms, retail and places of worship. Remote learning for schoolchildren will also continue.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, a final decision on whether to resume in-person learning is yet to be made. Officials said a safe return date will be announced next Wednesday.
Quebec’s public health institute said Montreal may have reached its peak for this wave of COVID-19.
The Institut national de santé publique du Québec said in a report that half of its simulations showed new cases have come to a head and hospitalizations will peak by Monday. The other half suggest the climax could be reached in the coming days or weeks.
Premier François Legault announced Quebec’s provincewide curfew – the only one introduced in the country – will end on Monday.
The curfew has been criticized by social agencies as further marginalizing women facing violence, young people and low-income residents. The government said it was put in place to reduce COVID-19 transmission.
Quebec reported a rise of 117 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, bringing its total to nearly 3,000.
Ontario, too, recorded a jump in hospitalizations of 182 to an all-time high of 3,630. School boards have called on the province to reinstate COVID-19 reporting and tracking when schools reopen next week, to support families and children already dealing with lots of uncertainty.
The province also said it's trying to determine "true" mortality data from COVID-19 by telling hospitals to document whether deaths were caused by or associated with the virus.
On Thursday, Manitoba's chief public health officer said schools will no longer notify close contacts of individual infections when students there also return next week.
"Omicron is so highly infectious (and) has a shorter incubation period that by the time you do contact tracing, many of the contacts could already be symptomatic," said Dr. Brent Roussin.
A school board in Delta, B.C., is requiring its employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to protect staff and students. Staff who are not inoculated will have to undergo regular rapid testing or take an unpaid leave of absence.
In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe tested positive for the virus after taking a rapid antigen test. He was self-isolating and said he will work from home for the next five days.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said about two in five people there are testing positive for the virus. With limited testing available to the public, provincial data only shows a fraction of actual COVID-19 spread.
"Not having access to the same level of detail and data can feel disorienting. Not having access to testing for mild symptoms can be frustrating."
She added Albertans do "still have the power" to protect themselves and their communities by following public health measures and being cautious.
About 6,000 new cases were reported in Alberta, bringing its active case count to nearly 63,000.
In Ottawa, the federal government said a vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing into Canada from the United States would start Saturday as planned, despite an earlier statement from the Canada Border Services Agency that said Canadian truckers would be exempt.
Officials said the CBSA statement Wednesday night was "provided in error" and that Canadian truckers must be vaccinated if they want to avoid quarantine and a pre-arrival molecular test.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2022.
Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press