The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
7:35 a.m. Immunocompromised Ontarians can book appointments for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine starting this morning.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, says appointments for moderately to severely immunocompromised people will be made available through the provincial vaccine contact centre at 8 a.m.
Moore said the move aims to provide further protection for vulnerable populations.
The province has already started administering fourth doses in long-term care homes, retirement homes and other congregate settings.
In a news conference Thursday, Ontario’s top doctor also said transplant patients are lagging in getting their third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is considered part of their primary series of shots.
7 a.m. A wave of unvaccinated workers have filed wrongful dismissal claims in protest of their employers’ vaccine mandates, but lawyers say the courts are likely to prioritize public safety measures over the predicaments of terminated employees.
Canadian employers began firing unvaccinated workers in late October after a string of corporate titans — including several of the largest banks, airlines, railway operators and automakers — warned employees over the summer they had a matter of months to get fully vaccinated or face penalties.
In the time since, workplaces across the country have faced pushback from employees and their unions over vaccine mandates they say breach their pre-existing agreements with their employers.
5:59 a.m.: Homeless and vulnerable people in British Columbia and Alberta have been approached with offers of payment to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by those attempting to fraudulently get a vaccine card.
Vancouver Coastal Health said Thursday those who have been approached have been asked to get vaccinated while falsely using that person’s name and information.
“This behaviour is deplorable and we’re disappointed that anyone would take advantage of vulnerable people in this way in an attempt to circumvent the process for receiving a BC Vaccine Card,” the health authority said in a statement.
“Future instances of fraud may be forwarded to local police authorities for follow up.”
5:59 a.m.: An imminent return to in-class learning has prompted some Manitoba parents to book early COVID-19 followup shots for their young children, but public health officials say it is worth the wait.
Both Canada and Manitoba, per the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Manitoba Pediatric Vaccine Advisory Committee, initially recommended an eight-week interval or 56 days between first and second shots for youth aged five to 11, the latest population to became eligible for a jab. The above recently reaffirmed their support for that time frame, following reviews of the guidance and consideration of Omicron.
With that in mind, and Nov. 24 being the first day child-sized doses were administered in Manitoba, second doses will start to ramp up later this month.
5:58 a.m.: Winnipeg schools are requesting families only accept rapid tests being distributed to K-6 students if they plan to use them and return unused kits they have no intention of utilizing, in order to address high demand and limited supply.
Before classes were dismissed at the end of 2021, the Manitoba government announced the launch of an optional return-to-school testing program that would see elementary students supplied with rapid antigen tests.
The province indicated it had ordered more than 90,000 kits, each containing five tests, from the federal government — enough to ensure every student enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 6 in a public or division-administered First Nations school in Manitoba could receive a kit.
Officials did not confirm Wednesday how many of the kits have been obtained and distributed to schools.
5:57 a.m.: China further tightened its anti-pandemic measures in Beijing and across the country on Friday as scattered outbreaks continued ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics in a little over two weeks.
The actions appear to reflect nervousness about a possible surge in cases ahead of the Beijing Games.
Beijing has ordered children at international schools to be tested starting next week and is barring air passengers who transited via a third point. Citizens are being told only to travel if absolutely necessary, with no guarantee they will be permitted to return if found to have visited a city or region where an outbreak occurred.
The city of Tianjin, about an hour from the capital, has ordered a third round of mass testing starting Saturday morning to be completed within 24 hours.
A port and manufacturing centre with 14 million people, Tianjin is one of a half dozen cities where the government is imposing lockdowns and other restrictions as part of a policy to track down every virus case.
5:54 a.m.: Israel has administered a 4th vaccine dose to more than 500,000 people, the Health Ministry said Friday.
Israel began administering second boosters to the most vulnerable late last month and later began offering them to everyone over 60.
Authorities hope the additional boosters will blunt a wave of infections driven by the omicron variant. Health Ministry figures show Israel currently has some 260,000 active cases. But only 289 patients are listed as seriously ill, far fewer than during previous waves.
Israel was among the first countries to roll out vaccines a year ago and began widely offering third doses last summer in a bid to contain the Delta variant. Nearly half the population has received at least one booster shot.
5:53 a.m.: Tens of thousands of devout Hindus, led by heads of monasteries and ash-smeared ascetics, took a holy dip into the frigid waters of the Ganges River in northern India on Friday despite rising COVID-19 infections in the country.
Hindu pilgrims congregated at the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers — the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati — in Prayagraj city, 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh, to participate in the Magh Mela festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism. They bathed in the Ganges waters, a ritual Hindus believe will wash away their sins and free them from the cycle of death and rebirth.
A similar gathering at a Hindu festival last year in the Himalayan town of Haridwar, in neighbouring Uttarakhand state, helped spread the Delta variant that ravaged the country and made India one of the world’s worst-hit countries. Epidemiologists described the festival as a “superspreader event.”
5:52 a.m.: To mask or not to mask is a question Italy settled early in the COVID-19 outbreak with a vigorous “yes.” Now the one-time epicentre of the pandemic in Europe hopes even stricter mask rules will help it beat the latest infection surge.
Other countries are taking similar action as the more transmissible — yet, apparently, less virulent — omicron variant spreads through the continent.
With Italy’s hospital ICUs rapidly filling with mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, the government announced on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks — which offer users more protection than cloth or surgical masks — must be worn on public transport, including planes, trains, ferries and subways.
That’s even though all passengers in Italy, as of this week, must be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19. FFP2s also must now be worn at theatres, cinemas and sports events, indoors or out, and can’t be removed even for their wearers to eat or drink.
5:51 a.m.: Cambodia on Friday began a fourth round of vaccinations against the coronavirus in response to the omicron variant, with high-risk groups being among the first to receive the additional boosters.
Frontline medical staff and members of the armed forces were among those lining up at hospitals and clinics. Government ministers, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, also received booster doses on Friday.
Hun Sen has appealed to all Cambodian people to get fully vaccinated, including a booster, saying on his Facebook page that it is the only way to make sure to keep their families and communities safe from COVID-19. A campaign to have people get their third jabs is still ongoing.
5:50 a.m.: Two members of the U.S. Marine Corps have been given religious exemptions from the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate, the first of their kind since the mandate was introduced last summer.
According to officials, 95% of active-duty Marines — the military branch with the greatest number of holdouts against COVID-19 vaccines — are inoculated against COVID. About 97% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members in the United States have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
Thousands of U.S. troops across the military have sought religious exemptions from the vaccine, but none had been approved until this week. There have been 3,350 requests for religious accommodation across the Marines.
“The Marine Corps recognizes COVID-19 as a readiness issue. The speed with which the disease transmits among individuals has increased risk to our Marines and the Marine Corps’ mission,” Maj. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesman, said Thursday in a written statement.
Friday 5:49 a.m.: South Korea will slightly ease its coronavirus gathering restrictions starting next week but continue to maintain a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants and entertainment venues, as it braces for a possible surge in infections driven by the contagious omicron variant.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Friday the four-person limit on private social gatherings between fully vaccinated people will be raised to six for at least three weeks starting Monday.
While officials have acknowledged frustration and fatigue with prolonged virus restrictions and the damage on small businesses, they say they couldn’t afford to loosen social distancing rules further when the country may face a huge wave of cases in coming weeks as omicron continues to spread.
Friday 4 a.m. Some areas of the country are easing pandemic restrictions while others are tightening them depending on their perceptions of whether the COVID-19 curve is flattening or has yet to peak.
Quebec announced its controversial 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be lifted on Monday because researchers there believe the latest wave of the pandemic, fuelled by COVID-19’s highly infectious Omicron variant, is cresting.
And Nunavut says the tough measures it implemented just before Christmas have been so effective that it’s cancelling travel restrictions on Monday, allowing businesses to reopen and schools will resume in-person learning on Jan. 24.
It’s a different story in New Brunswick where new restrictions come into effect today limiting residents to a single-household bubble while also closing gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants.
In neighbouring Prince Edward Island where chief medical health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says the “worst of this wave” is yet to come, current restrictions that include business capacity limits and remote learning for school students will be extended.
Across the country, new COVID case counts and related hospitalizations remain at or near record levels.
Ontario recorded a jump in hospitalizations of 182 to an all-time high of 3,630 on Thursday. About 6,000 new cases were reported in Alberta and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced he has tested positive for COVID-19.