Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 8,825 new cases of COVID-19; Canada has recorded more than 2M cases

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.

12:29 p.m.: Quebec has shattered its previous pandemic record with 12,833 new cases of COVID-19, as well as an 88-person jump in the number of people who are hospitalized with the novel coronavirus.

The province is also reporting 15 more deaths linked to the pandemic.

Health officials say 702 people are now hospitalized with the virus, with 152 people admitted or transferred to non-intensive care units and 70 dismissed in the past 24 hours.

The number of people in intensive care rose by six to 155 after 15 people were admitted or transferred in and nine left.

Quebec carried out 40,550 tests, for a positivity rate of 26.8 per cent.

The province’s health minister and public health director have scheduled a news conference later this afternoon to discuss the situation in the province.

12:28 p.m.: New York City, home to the nation’s largest school system, will eliminate its current policy of quarantining entire classrooms exposed to COVID and will instead use a ramped-up testing program to allow asymptomatic students who test negative for the coronavirus to remain in school.

The new policy, which Mayor Bill de Blasio referred to as “Stay Safe, and Stay Open,” will take effect Jan. 3, when the nearly 1 million students who attend the city’s public schools are scheduled to return from holiday break.

De Blasio, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who takes office Sunday, appeared together at a news conference Tuesday to present a united front against school closures, despite an enormous surge in cases driven by the omicron variant that has only worsened in the days since city schools closed for winter break last week.

“Your children are safer in school; the numbers speak for themselves,” Adams said.

Instead of delaying the start of in-person school and pivoting to remote learning, as some other school districts across the state and country are doing, the city will aim to detect more infections while mitigating disruptions.

12:27 p.m.: The Omicron variant is causing an increasing share of coronavirus infections in the U.S., though its climb to dominance has been shallower than earlier estimates indicated, according to an updated federal model.

Omicron accounted for an estimated 58.6% of sequenced U.S. virus cases in the week ending Dec. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Nowcast model showed Tuesday, up from an estimated 22.5% a week earlier. The once-dominant delta variant accounted for 41.1% of cases in the most recent period, according to the CDC.

Nowcast estimates levels of variant prevalence based on genomic-sequencing data.

The week-earlier figure marks a substantial revision from a previous estimate, which said the omicron variant was responsible for 73% of sequenced infections. That reading suggested that omicron had rocketed to dominance practically overnight, leaping from just 3% of all cases in the preceding week.

A CDC spokesperson said that additional data that came in caused the agency to reduce the earlier proportion of omicron. The agency is still seeing a steady increase in the incidence of the variant, the spokesperson said.

10:15 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 8,825 new cases of COVID-19 with 491 hospitalizations and 187 in the ICU. The province administered more than 144,000 vaccine doses yesterday. 90.7 per cent of Ontarians 12+ have one dose and 88.0 per cent have two doses.

9:23 a.m.: Global virus cases hit a daily record 1.44 million infections on Monday, two years after the emergence of the virus that many hoped would be fleeting by now.

9 a.m.: The City of Mississauga is cancelling New Year’s Eve festivities, including the fireworks at Celebration Square near Square One, as the Omicron variant continues to circulate.

8:25 a.m.: According to the Ontario Hospital Association, Critical Care Services Ontario is reporting 184 adult patients with COVID-related critical illness in ICUs. There were 24 new adult admissions on Monday.

8:20 a.m.: Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore is set to make an announcement at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday on the province’s updated case count and testing guidance.

7:45 a.m.: The multibillion-dollar world’s fair in Dubai has warned that some venues on site may shut down as coronavirus cases rapidly rise in the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai’s Expo 2020 said that virus outbreaks among staff may force some parts of the fair to “close temporarily for deep cleaning and sanitization,” without elaborating on the scope or the location of the infections.

The UAE’s daily virus caseload has skyrocketed by a multiple of 37 in just the last three weeks after the arrival of the omicron variant.

The vague statement from Dubai’s government-run media office on Monday underscores the daunting challenges of hosting among the world’s first major in-person events amid a still-raging pandemic. The fair opened in October after a year’s delay as the UAE bet that its rapid vaccine rollout would allow its economy to avoid the closures that have paralyzed much of the West.

Expo tries to enforce various virus precautions, with face masks mandatory on the fairgrounds and a vaccination certificate or recent negative virus test needed for entry. But the highly transmissible omicron variant, which is thought to evade immunity from vaccination, poses a new test.

There have been no visible social distancing requirements at Expo’s massive concerts in recent weeks where revelers have rammed up against each other, waving their hands to the music.

With Dubai’s peak winter tourism season in full swing, the world’s fair has vaulted into the spotlight. Millions of tourists from around the world are flocking to the sprawling site packed with scores of national pavilions, restaurants, shops and performance stages. Christmas parades drew crowds last week and Expo is now gearing up for big concerts to attract party-goers on New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve bashes last year in Dubai helped drive a drastic surge in virus cases in the Emirates as tourists escaped lockdowns at home. Infections now hover below those heights but are climbing fast. The daily infection toll exceeded 1,840 on Tuesday, the highest in six months.

6:50 a.m.: The City of Toronto says that more than 30 per cent of eligible residents have now had their third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The city has been operating a mass clinic during the holidays.

6:12 a.m.: Every branch of medicine has its challenges. In palliative care, it’s the burden of bad news that weighs heavy on physicians.

“We’re often at the table when people are told the most devastating news that they’ll ever hear in their lives,” says Dr. Warren Lewin, site lead for palliative care at Toronto Western Hospital in the University Health Network.

Other medical specialties have the happy balance of confirming a pregnancy or announcing that a disease is in remission. Palliative care physicians deal with people in their final, most vulnerable moments.

Helping practitioners in the field develop resilience against burnout is essential.

Read the full story from the Star’s Francine Kopun.

6:10 a.m.: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said the nation should consider a vaccination mandate for domestic air travel, signalling a potential embrace of an idea the Biden administration has previously eschewed, as COVID-19 cases spike.

Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief science adviser on the pandemic response, said on Monday that such a mandate might drive up the nation’s lagging vaccination rate as well as confer stronger protection on flights, for which federal regulations require all those age 2 and older to wear a mask.

“When you make vaccination a requirement, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated,” Fauci told MSNBC. “If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that’s something that seriously should be considered.”

The Biden administration has thus far balked at imposing a vaccination requirement for domestic air travel. Two officials said Biden’s science advisers have yet to make a formal recommendation for such a requirement to the president.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said a vaccine mandate on planes could trigger a host of logistical and legal concerns.

The U.S. currently mandates that most foreign nationals travelling to the U.S. be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, though citizens and permanent residents only need to show proof of a negative test taken within a day of boarding.

6:08 a.m.: The Chinese city of Xi’an recorded 175 local coronavirus infections on Monday, as it grapples with a coronavirus outbreak that has pushed China’s daily cases to record highs since early last year.

The 175 infections reported in Xi’a, in the northwestern Shaanxi province, were up from 162 on Sunday, and 158 the day before, according to a government notice issued Tuesday. Authorities blame the outbreak on the Delta variant.

Authorities have locked down 13 million residents in Xi’an amid the rise in infections as they attempt to curb the spread. China is one of the few remaining countries with a “zero Covid” policy, with authorities implementing mass-testing when infections are found in the community.

Xi’an has so far conducted four mandatory rounds of testing as authorities sought to detect new infections. The city has also launched a disinfection campaign, spraying down roads and buildings.

6:08 a.m.: India has granted emergency use authorization for two vaccines and one COVID-19 pill, the health minister tweeted on Tuesday, as authorities warn about the spread of the omicron variant across the country.

The first is Covovax, the Serum Institute of India’s version of the Novavax vaccine, a two-dose shot made with lab-grown copies of the spike protein that coats the coronavirus. The second is Corbevax, made by Indian firm Biological-E, which the health minister said is the country’s first indigenously developed protein-based vaccine against COVID-19.

It also granted emergency use approval for Molnupiravir, an antiviral drug, that will be manufactured by 13 companies in India and will be used in emergency situations to treat COVID-19 patients at high risk.

Even though daily cases in India have remained low for months after the country saw a devastating surge earlier this year, concern over omicron has grown in recent weeks, sparking various states to enforce new restrictions. In the capital, New Delhi, a slew of new restrictions were announced Tuesday, including a night curfew, shutting down cinemas and gyms, and a ban on large public gatherings or events. India has so far confirmed over 650 omicron cases.

6:08 a.m.: Spain is dealing with the highest ever number of coronavirus infections, with some regions considering further curbs on social life ahead of the end of the year.

Updating pandemic figures for the first time in four days, health authorities reported 214,619 new cases late on Monday, bringing the 14-day national caseload to a pandemic record level of 1,206 new infections per 100,000 residents. At the height of the January surge, which until now was the one that infected most people in Spain, the rate had surged to 900.

The explosive spike is largely blamed on the omicron variant, which scientists say spreads faster than previous strains although the number of infected patients who need hospital care is proportionally less than in previous surges. Official data shows that 7.5% of Spanish hospital beds and 18% of intensive care units are treating COVID-19 patients.

Authorities reported 120 new deaths since Dec. 23.

In response to the soaring caseload, some Spanish regions are now considering restrictions they resisted only a week ago, when authorities only imposed mandatory mask wearing outdoors.

The northern regions of Navarra, Aragón and Cantabria, among others, are now limiting nightlife, imposing curfews or considering caps on members of different households allowed to gather together.

6:05 a.m.: Mirvish Productions is permanently closing its musical “Come From Away’’ in Toronto, describing the costs of reopening amid tightened pandemic restrictions “prohibitively high and risky.’’

The Gander, N.L.-set show had reopened after a 21-month pandemic hiatus on Dec. 15, but ended its run Dec. 22 amid a COVID-19 outbreak among crew.

The cases cancelled four December shows but the Tony Award-winning musical had planned to return Tuesday to the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

However, David Mirvish said Monday it’s become “bluntly apparent that it would be impossible to continue when this incredibly contagious variant has sent case numbers soaring.’’

He bemoaned the lack of a government “safety net’’ for the commercial theatre sector, where revenue is strained by tightened pandemic restrictions that have imposed a 50 per cent capacity limit on Ontario’s large venues.

Without such support, he said “the risks, uncertainty and financial situation have left us without another realistic outcome.’’

“I know this news is shocking, and it causes me and our partners great pain to have to take this action, but we are simply out of options. The most responsible way forward is to close the production,’’ Mirvish said Monday in a release.

“This is not the way any of us wanted this to end. ‘Come From Away’ deserves to have had many more years at the Royal Alex.’’

6:05 a.m.: With Canada recording more than two million total COVID-19 cases as of Boxing Day, there are mounting concerns over how provincial health systems will cope with an expected surge in cases after the holidays.

Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions President Linda Silas said her members are bracing themselves for the “big bump” usually seen two weeks after exposure to the virus. She added there are worries hospital could become overwhelmed with new cases as a result of holiday gatherings and the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Several provinces reported record high daily case counts over the Christmas weekend.

Quebec reported 8,231 cases, and Health Minister Christian Dube urged people to reduce contacts after hospitalizations climbed by more than 140 over a four-day period. Dube tweeted that 320 people were admitted to hospital while 179 were released between Dec. 22 and 26. On Monday, Montreal’s executive committee renewed the local state of emergency that was declared on Dec. 21 for another five days.

Manitoba announced new public health restrictions on Monday after recording eight new COVID-19 related deaths and 2,154 cases over a three-day period. As of 12:01 a.m., indoor and outdoor gatherings are now capped at 50 per cent of the venue’s capacity or 250 people, whichever is fewer.

New restrictions are also now in effect in New Brunswick, where the province announced it would impose a 50 per cent capacity limit on restaurants, stores, bars, gyms and other establishments after officials reported 639 new cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period.

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported a record 357 infections in the last three days, while Prince Edward Island reported 156 cases over the same period. Nova Scotia recorded 581 COVID-19 cases, including an outbreak at the Halifax Infirmary site of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.

6:04 a.m.: Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after taking a rapid test.

O’Regan shared the result Monday on Twitter, noting he will stay in isolation and continue to follow public health guidelines.

The minister did not share where or how he contracted the virus or provide any details about the state of his health.

O’Regan tweeted he’s grateful for his three COVID-19 vaccine doses, “the thousands of health care workers keeping us safe, and for vigilance of millions of Canadians.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly made a similar announcement last week, saying she tested positive on a rapid test and would continue to work virtually until receiving the results of her PCR test.

Due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, COVID-19 case counts have soared in Canada in recent days, with cases surpassing the two-million mark as of Boxing Day.

6 a.m.: Visitor restrictions are being implemented at a couple hospitals in Nova Scotia in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Nova Scotia Health says in a release the restrictions at Glace Bay Hospital and Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital took effect Monday, as the province recorded 581 new cases of COVID-19.

At Glace Bay Hospital, it says in-patients can have one consistent visitor.

At Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital, in-patients can no longer receive visitors.

At both hospitals, one designated support person is allowed to visit per day for certain patients such as those in palliative care, patients nearing end of life and outpatients, including those arriving at the hospital for procedures who need support due to physical, intellectual, cognitive and emotional conditions.

Nova Scotia Health says these decisions are “being made to control and contain the spread of COVID-19, keep COVID-19 out of hospitals, and keep patients, health care workers, and all Nova Scotians safe.”

It notes that the restrictions will remain in place at both hospitals until Jan. 3.

Also on Monday, Nova Scotia health authorities reported an outbreak at the Halifax Infirmary site of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, noting that fewer than five patients were “impacted.”

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