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

The latest:

  • Ontario reports 2,421 new COVID-19 cases ahead of updated modelling from science table.
  • ‘Now is not the time’: Federal government warns against travel abroad as Omicron spreads.
  • LISTEN | How much should Omicron affect our holiday plans?
  • Join CBC Radio today at 1 p.m. ET as The Current‘s Matt Galloway hosts a special with guests Dr. Brian Goldman and psychologist Dr. Jackie Kinley to answer your COVID-19 questions about how to stay safe and connected this holiday season. Tune in on CBC Radio and the CBC Listen app.
  • Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email: [email protected]

Spiralling infections in Britain driven in part by the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus rattled many in Europe on Thursday, fuelling a familiar feeling of dread that tighter restrictions will scuttle holiday plans again this year.

Much remains unknown about Omicron, but increasingly officials are warning that at the very least it appears more transmissible than the Delta variant, which was already putting pressure on hospitals from the United States to the Netherlands. With so many questions outstanding, uncertainty reigned over how quickly and how severely to crack down on Christmas travel and end-of-year parties.

After the U.K. recorded the highest number of confirmed new COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began, France announced Thursday that it would tighten entry rules for those coming from Britain.

In England, the chief medical officer urged people to limit who they see in the festive period — and pubs and restaurants said many were heeding that advice by cancelling Christmas parties, although there has been much debate about what’s OK to do right now. In the U.S., meanwhile, the White House insisted there was no need for a lockdown, despite signs that Omicron was gaining ground there.

In Britain, where Omicron cases are doubling every two to three days, the variant is expected to soon replace Delta as the dominant strain in the country — and the government has accelerated its booster program in response. Authorities in the 27-member European Union say Omicron will be the dominant variant in the bloc by mid-January.

On Thursday, Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, told a parliamentary committee hearing that the government could have to review measures if vaccines prove less effective than expected against Omicron.

He said that “would be a material change to how ministers viewed the risks going forward.”

Among those taking the more cautious route was Queen Elizabeth, who opted to cancel her traditional pre-Christmas family lunch as cases soared.

The Netherlands, meanwhile, has been in a partial lockdown since November to curb a Delta-driven surge and while infection numbers are declining now, the government this week ordered elementary schools to close for Christmas a week early amid fears Omicron will fuel a new rise. Authorities also sped up a vaccination booster campaign as caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte cited Britain as an example of how swiftly the variant can spread.

Understanding a new coronavirus variant: What are scientists learning about Omicron?

EU leaders gathering in Brussels for a summit Thursday sought to balance tackling the surge of infections across the continent while keeping borders open with common policies throughout the bloc.

“Let’s try to maintain the European solution,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “If every country goes it alone again, we’ll be even further from home.”

But ahead of the meeting, European countries already were acting to rein in the spread of the virus. Greece and Italy tightened entry requirements for travellers earlier this week, and Portugal decided to keep stricter border controls in place beyond their planned Jan. 9 end.

On Thursday, France said it will slap restrictions on travellers arriving from the U.K. — which is no longer part of the EU — putting limits on reasons for travelling and requiring 48-hour isolation upon arrival. The new measures will take effect first thing Saturday.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the measures are being imposed “in the face of the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the U.K.”

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 11:05 a.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | What masks are most effective against Omicron? 

What masks are most effective against Omicron?

The National’s Andrew Chang finds out what researchers have learned about cloth, surgical and N95-style masks and the protection they offer against the Omicron variant. 3:37

What’s happening around the world

A health-care worker wearing personal protective equipment takes a swab sample to test for COVID-19 in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)

As of early Thursday morning, more than 272.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to case-tracking done by Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia and New Zealand reported their first cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant while South Korea said it will reinstate stricter physical distancing rules a month-and-a-half after easing them.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Wednesday reported 26,976 new cases of COVID-19 and 54 additional deaths. Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla urged people on Thursday to follow COVID-19 prevention protocols through the holiday season.

“We call upon all travellers, especially those who are unvaccinated or partly vaccinated coming from areas declared hot spots, to get vaccinated before hitting the roads to protect their families and friends they will be visiting during this period associated with large social gatherings like parties and weddings, which can be ‘super spreader’ events that carry a huge risk of transmission of the virus,” the health minister said in a statement.

In the Middle East, the Israeli government says it is donating one million coronavirus vaccines to the UN-backed COVAX program. The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the AstraZeneca vaccines would be transferred to African countries in the coming weeks. COVAX is a global initiative that aims to provide coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations

In Europe, the European Commission said on Thursday it reached an agreement with Moderna to accelerate deliveries of the U.S. company’s COVID-19 vaccine to EU member states that have a short-term need, in particular Germany.

Moderna expects to deliver 10 million doses to Germany in December, with delivery of 25 million extra doses expected in the first quarter of 2022, the European Union’s executive body said in a statement.

WATCH | COVID-19: How risky are holiday travel and gatherings? 

COVID-19: How risky are holiday travel and gatherings?

Infectious diseases physician Dr. Lisa Barrett answers viewer questions about how risky holiday travel and gatherings may be and the usefulness of rapid COVID-19 tests. 2:59

In the Americas, Brazil registered 301 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and 5,446 additional cases, according to data released by the nation’s Health Ministry, though the statistics were incomplete as four of the nation’s 27 federative units failed to provide complete numbers following a Friday hacking incident. 

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

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