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

The latest:

People receive COVID-19 rapid tests in Toronto’s Union Station on Dec. 22, 2021. Ontario reported another record for COVID-19 cases on Friday. (Spencer Gallichan-lowe/CBC)

Coronavirus case figures continue to grow in Canada, with Ontario and Manitoba both reporting record-high numbers on Friday.

Ontario reported 9,571 cases, eclipsing the 5,790 cases the province reported yesterday. 

Provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted that 508 people are hospitalized with the virus, 355 of whom are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status. On Thursday, there were 440 people in hospital due to COVID-19.

The number of people in intensive care units across the province due to COVID-19 hit 164. Of them, 136 are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 28 are fully vaccinated, Elliott tweeted. Friday’s total number of ICU cases is down by five from yesterday.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said earlier this week that record-high daily case counts were expected and will likely continue for several weeks.

Meanwhile, in Manitoba, an all-time daily record of nearly 750 new COVID-19 cases will be reported today, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said. The full data will be released at 12:30 p.m. CT, but as he predicted in mid-December, Roussin said Omicron is sweeping through the province.

Because of a backlog in testing, the Friday caseload is actually an underestimate, he said.

“We have to expect this will put significant strain on our health-care system if we continue these case numbers at this rate,” he said.

Anyone planning multiple Christmas gatherings in the province is being urged to cut that back to one. Though current health orders allow for up to 10 visitors inside a home, not counting the people that live there, Roussin is pleading with people to scale that back.

On Thursday, Canada reported more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time, a culmination of a record-shattering day that saw several provinces confirm new highs in infections.

What’s happening elsewhere in Canada

For more details on how COVID-19 is impacting your community — including hospital data and the latest on restrictions — check out the coverage from CBC newsrooms around the country.

WATCH | Health-care workers tired of the ‘burden of the virus,’ doctor says: 

Health-care workers tired of the ‘burden of the virus,’ doctor says

Though he is not tired of caring for patients, critical care physician Dr. Del Dorscheid says he and his colleagues are tired of the burden that COVID-19 has become and wonder if it will ever really go away. 6:50

Quebec, which recorded 9,397 new cases on Thursday, has reportedly decided to order millions more rapid tests itself rather than wait for deliveries from the federal government.

Sources told Radio-Canada the province has agreed to spend $86 million on the order, which could secure at least 12 million rapid tests. It is not known when Quebec will receive this order.

In the Western provinces, B.C. reported 2,046 new cases Thursday, a new high, after the province shut down bars, nightclubs and gyms Wednesday and banned gatherings such as weddings. It’s the third day in a row that the province’s COVID-19 case numbers have hit new highs. On Wednesday, a report from an independent COVID-19 modelling group said hospitalizations due to B.C.’s Omicron-fuelled fifth wave will reach unprecedented heights by around mid-January.

Alberta reported 1,625 new cases Thursday. The province’s chief medical officer of health said Albertans should use rapid tests to confirm whether they have COVID-19 if they show symptoms, rather than booking PCR tests. She noted that lab capacity has been strained in Quebec and Ontario, where Omicron is causing case counts to spike.

Saskatchewan reported 194 new cases and one additional death Thursday.

One new death and 556 new cases were reported Thursday in Manitoba. The province warned that it has hit its capacity for processing tests and there is now a four-day wait for results. Current case counts are an undercount because of the delay, the government said.

This chart shows the latest rise in COVID-19 cases in Canada, as well as hospitalizations, which may not spike until weeks after cases do. (Adam Ciolfi and Wendy Martinez/CBC News)

In New Brunswick, officials announced 257 new cases Thursday and another two deaths. The province’s chief medical officer of health is urging people to keep their gatherings small.

Nova Scotia also reported a new high Thursday, with 689 new cases.

Prince Edward Island’s new pandemic restrictions went into effect Friday morning. Wedding and funeral receptions as well as wakes and visitations will no longer be permitted. Organized gatherings such as worship services, wedding and funeral ceremonies, concerts and shows will be capped at 50 people, and schools won’t return to in-person learning until at least Jan. 10. The move comes after the province reported a record 35 new cases.

Newfoundland and Labrador is back in COVID-19 Alert Level 3 as of Thursday morning, the change brought on by a rapid increase in cases, the emergence of the Omicron variant and outbreaks found across three of the province’s regional health authorities. At Level 3, people are asked to stay home as much as possible and to maintain a household bubble of up to 20 people. The province reported 100 new cases Thursday, the highest count since February.

Yukon reported nine new cases Thursday.

All Nunavut communities entered into a full lockdown on Friday due to a surge of COVID-19 cases across the territory. There are eight active cases in the territory: one in Rankin Inlet and one in Sanirajak. Pangnirtung has one new case, bringing the total in that community to three. Iqaluit has one more confirmed case, bringing the number of cases in the city to three. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said the strict measures are to break transmission of the virus. 

The Northwest Territories has cancelled its travel bubble with Nunavut, citing concerns about COVID-19 community spread in the neighbouring territory. The cancellation took effect Thursday at 5 p.m. 

“The updated [public health order] will now be treating all residents travelling from or through Nunavut as though they are travellers from outside of the N.W.T.,” said a new release from the N.W.T. Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 11:52  a.m. ET

Another quiet Christmas in Bethlehem

In the West Bank, the town of Bethlehem faces its second Christmas Eve affected by the pandemic, with small crowds and grey, gloomy weather dampening celebrations Friday in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

A ban on nearly all incoming air traffic by Israel — the main entry point for foreign visitors heading to the occupied West Bank — is keeping many international travellers away again this year. The ban is meant to help control the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

Prior to the pandemic, thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world would visit the town at Christmas, providing some holiday spirit and an economic boost to the town.

Christian pilgrims visit the Church of the Nativity, revered as the site of Jesus Christ’s birth, with security forces standing guard during Christmas celebrations in the biblical city of Bethlehem on Friday. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

The lack of foreign visitors has Bethlehem counting on the Holy Land’s small Christian community to lift spirits.

Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman said the town was optimistic this Christmas would be better than last year, when local residents stayed home due to lockdown restrictions.

 “Last year, our festival was virtual, but this year it will be face to face with popular participation,” Salman said.

In Bethlehem’s Manger Square, scout bands paraded through, banging drums and holding flags ahead of the arrival from Jerusalem of Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land. Pizzaballa was scheduled to celebrate Midnight Mass at the nearby Church of the Nativity — which houses the grotto where Christians believe Jesus was born.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 5:55 a.m. ET

What’s happening elsewhere around the world

As of early Friday, more than 278.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at almost 5.4 million.

Shoppers, some wearing face coverings to combat the spread of COVID-19, pass stores on Christmas Eve in Guildford, south of London. The U.K. government has opted not to introduce tougher restrictions in England ahead of Christmas, focusing instead on a campaign to increase vaccine protection through a booster program. (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

The Flightaware website reported that global airline carriers have cancelled more than 2,000 flights today. Some carriers said some flights were scrapped because of the impact on flight crews of illnesses largely tied to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. 

In Australia, the federal government cut the wait time for people to get booster shots. Starting Jan. 4, the country will offer booster shots to everyone over 18 years old who had received their second vaccination shot four months earlier. The interval would be reduced again to three months by the end of the month, said federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. The move comes as Omicron cases in Australia hit 9,100 on Friday, up from the previous day’s record of 8,200.

In India, judges of the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most-populous state, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to suspend political rallies and election campaigns in regions due to hold elections early next year. Despite rising infection numbers due to the Omicron variant, political parties, including Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have been holding rallies and meetings where crowds continue to ignore pandemic protocols. The judges said, if possible, the elections that are expected to be held in February 2022 should be postponed by a couple of months.

In South Africa, people without COVID-19 symptoms won’t need to test or isolate if they have been in contact with a positive case, the government said Friday. The country’s health ministry said people will no longer need to isolate, but should monitor for symptoms for five to seven days and avoid attending large gatherings. South Africa’s experience is being closely watched as it was one of the first to identify the Omicron variant.

The United States will lift travel restrictions to eight southern African countries on New Year’s Eve, the White House announced today. The restrictions, imposed on Nov. 29, were meant to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. The ban barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9:15 a.m. ET

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