A look at the latest COVID-19 developments in Canada

A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:

— Ontarians with COVID-19 symptoms can leave isolation sooner than the required five days if two rapid antigen tests come back negative. Officials say people can resume their regular activities if they receive two negative rapid test results separated by 24 to 48 hours and if their symptoms improve for 24 hours. The province says it expects rapid test demand will increase to 18 million per week as the Omicron variant spreads, and supply will be limited to high-risk areas for now. The province says the federal government has committed to send 54.3 million rapid tests to Ontario for January, and the province has purchased 85 million tests.

— The Ontario government says it’s accelerating booster shots for school and child-care staff to protect children, staff and families from COVID-19. In a written statement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce says starting Friday, child-care and school staff in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area will have “planned access to vaccines” at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont. He notes the clinic will support priority booking for education staff, including educators, custodial staff, administrative staff, school bus drivers and child-care staff.

— Ontario long-term care homes are dealing with more virus outbreaks and staff absences of between 20 and 30 per cent in some areas hard hit by COVID-19, the minister responsible for the sector says. Rod Phillips says outbreaks were reported in 186 homes — nearly 30 per cent of all those in province — across 30 of the province’s 34 public health units as of Thursday. With the Omicron variant continuing to drive cases at record levels, Phillips says he expects the number of long-term care outbreaks to rise. He says his ministry is in touch with homes struggling with staffing.

— Canadian airlines are slashing their flight schedules as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on air industry plans and profits. Transat A.T. is nixing nearly 30 per cent of its flights for the next two months. The tour operator says the ongoing impact of the Omicron variant and the federal government’s “restrictive measures” last month have triggered a wave of trip cancellations by passengers. On Dec. 15, the Public Health Agency of Canada advised against non-essential travel abroad. Transat’s slimmed-down flight schedule is in place Thursday through Feb. 25, though the Montreal-based company says more changes may be necessary.

— Bearskin Lake First Nation in northern Ontario is waiting for military assistance a week after it declared an emergency due to a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected nearly half of its 400 residents. Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox says the community needs military personnel on the ground immediately to assist in providing the basic supplies including water, wood and food. Fox says a lot of the essential workers in the community are sick with COVID-19 or isolating at their homes, including the First Nation Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin.

— Quebec will require people to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter liquor and cannabis stores starting Jan. 18, as a way to coerce unvaccinated people to get their first doses. Health Minister Christian Dubé says he only introduced new rules for liquor and pot stores because they are owned and operated by the provincial government, adding that he would soon announce more services and businesses for which the vaccine passport would apply, following consultations with various sectors. He is hinting at limiting access to shopping malls and personal care salons.

— Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says those unwilling to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should be accommodated through measures such as rapid testing. O’Toole came out as opposed to vaccine mandates during last year’s election campaign and today accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of fuelling vaccine hesitancy by attacking those who haven’t received their shot.

— The Montreal Canadiens are extending their pause on team activities as the club continues to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak. The Canadiens announced Thursday that both the NHL team and its American Hockey League affiliate, the Laval Rocket, will not return to the ice until practice resumes on Sunday. Twenty-two Habs players and two coaches are in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.

— The union for federal correctional officers says four prisons in Quebec are “very close” to experiencing staff shortages, as more workers test positive for COVID-19. Mario Guilmette, Quebec region vice-president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, says Correctional Service Canada is working on a protocol to be used if the province’s federal prisons. The protocol would mean workers who are considered close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 may be asked to come back to work after isolating for eight days instead of 10.

— Nova Scotia health officials say the province is in talks with the federal government to secure help for the COVID-19 booster vaccine rollout. Health Department spokesperson Marla MacInnis confirmed in an email the province has sent a request to Ottawa for resources, but she didn’t specify. MacInnis says details need to be finalized, but she says the province expects help from the Canadian Red Cross.

— Newfoundland and Labrador is extending online learning for schoolchildren until at least Jan. 14. Officials say they would update parents and children on the situation no later than next Thursday. The Education Department says it is co-ordinating with school districts to deliver COVID-19 rapid tests to schools.

— Nunavut will no longer offer lab-confirmed testing for communities with COVID-19 to free up health-care resources. Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says that means Nunavut’s case counts will no longer reflect the total number of infections. Laboratory PCR tests will only be used to confirm COVID-19 in communities without previous cases and for people and staff in high-risk settings, including long-term care and front-line health workers.

— Prince Edward Island’s chief medical officer of health is reducing the amount of time residents who test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate. Dr. Heather Morrison says that starting Friday, fully vaccinated people who test positive must isolate for seven days instead of 10, adding that unvaccinated people still need to isolate for 10 days. She told reporters isolation rules can be eased because the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has a shorter incubation period compared with other mutations.

— Increasing COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick and a rising number of health-care staff isolating at home because of the virus are challenging officials trying to maintain a level of care in the province’s hospitals. A statement from the province’s Health Department says “hundreds” of health-care workers were isolating at home because of the virus. On Tuesday, the number was 571 — up from 530 just the day before. Health officials reported 672 new cases of COVID-19 in the province Thursday and another COVID-19-related death. There are 63 people hospitalized, including 19 in intensive care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2022.

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