The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Wednesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
7:26 p.m.: Three days after being photographed without a face mask at the NFC championship game, Mayor Eric Garcetti and other officials urged fans headed for the Super Bowl to strictly adhere to pandemic safety protocols that include staying masked, except while eating or drinking.
The Los Angeles area continues to see high levels of COVID-19 infections, and ticket holders ages 5 and older must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter. Under a Los Angeles County health order, masks are required at all times, with limited exceptions.
The biggest challenge at the Super Bowl might not be on the field, with officials acknowledging there was no way to constantly police 70,000 people. At the championship game Sunday at SoFi Stadium near Los Angeles, where the Super Bowl will be played, thousands of fans openly disregarded the mask mandate.
“You can’t force everybody to wear a mask all the time,” said James Butts, mayor of Inglewood, where the stadium is located. “In the end, it’s the responsibility of the people to take care of themselves, their families and their friends. And that’s the simplest way I can put it.”
Garcetti wasn’t alone in facing criticism for shedding his mask last weekend, if even for a moment. Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed also were photographed without masks at the game. The three Democrats were accused of hypocrisy for lecturing residents about dutifully wearing masks in public, while the pictures from the game that circulated widely online suggested they set different rules for themselves.
7:19 p.m.: Michigan surpassed 30,000 deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday as the state nears 2 million confirmed cases since the pandemic began.
The state added 18,803 cases and 327 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, including cases from Tuesday.
The state averaged 9,402 cases per day over the two days, which is a 27 per cent drop from a daily average of 13,000 cases reported last week.
Wednesday’s additions bring the state’s overall total to 1,999,416 confirmed cases and 30,170 deaths since the virus was first detected here in March 2020.
The state on Wednesday reported 2,966 adults and 73 pediatric patients were hospitalized with confirmed infections and about 82 per cent of the state’s inpatient hospital beds are occupied.
Adult hospitalization rates are declining from records set on Jan. 10, when 4,580 adults were hospitalized with COVID-19.
6:55 p.m.: New Zealand’s government on Thursday said it will end its quarantine requirements for incoming travelers and reopen its borders, a change welcomed by thousands of citizens abroad who have endured long waits to return home.
Since the start of the pandemic, New Zealand has enacted some of the world’s strictest border controls. Most incoming travelers need to spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel room run by the military, a requirement that has created a bottleneck at the border.
The measures were initially credited with saving thousands of lives and allowed New Zealand to eliminate or control several outbreaks of the coronavirus.
But, increasingly, the border controls have been viewed as out-of-step in a world where the virus is becoming endemic, and in a country where the omicron variant is already spreading. The bottleneck forced many New Zealanders abroad to enter a lottery-style system to try and secure a spot in quarantine and passage home.
The shortcomings of the system were highlighted over the past week by pregnant New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis, who was stranded in Afghanistan after New Zealand officials initially rejected her application to return home to give birth. After international publicity, officials backed down and offered her a spot in quarantine, which she has accepted.
The border changes mean that vaccinated New Zealanders returning from Australia will no longer need to go into quarantine from the end of this month, and vaccinated New Zealanders returning from the rest of the world can skip quarantine by mid-March. They will still be required to isolate at home.
6:05 p.m.: The Army said Wednesday it will immediately begin discharging soldiers who have refused to get the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, putting more than 3,300 service members at risk of being thrown out soon.
The Army’s announcement makes it the final military service to lay out its discharge policy for vaccine refusers. The Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy have already discharged active-duty troops or entry-level personnel at boot camps for refusing the shots. So far, the Army has not discharged any.
According to data released by the Army last week, more than 3,300 soldiers have refused to get the vaccine. The Army has said that more than 3,000 soldiers have been issued official written reprimands, which suggests they are already identified in the disciplinary process, and some of them could be among the first to be discharged.
The Pentagon has ordered all service members — active-duty, National Guard and Reserves — to get the vaccine, saying it is critical to maintaining the health and readiness of the force. COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the country as a result of the omicron variant.
Roughly 97 per cent of all Army soldiers have gotten at least one shot. More than 3,000 have requested medical or religious exemptions.
5:30 p.m.: Health Canada has reinstated the position of a federal chief nursing officer (CNO), a move that has been applauded by nursing associations as a clear signal to nurses about the importance of their contributions through the pandemic.
The role will offer a voice to nurses at the federal level, said Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. A CNO, she said, brings the “collective voice” of nurses to decision-makers in Parliament.
Though the position exists in some provinces and territories, the long-standing CNO role was ended federally during former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government. Nursing organizations like the RNAO, Grinspun said, have been pushing for its reinstatement. In the summer of 2020, the organization sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging the reinstatement of the position in the face of COVID-19, which has tested the profession like never before.
A CNO can voice the perspectives of nurses without fear of repercussions, Grinspun said, as well as offer a “line of hope that someone is at least listening” to the concerns of nurses across specialties.
5:13 p.m.: The Manitoba government is relaxing some of its COVID-19 public health orders and signalling that all restrictions may be lifted within a few months.
“I think the message is that, given where we are right now, if we don’t see anything unexpected, that we’re looking at a restriction-free Manitoba by spring,” Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday.
The first phase of easing restrictions will start next Tuesday, Roussin announced.
There will be higher caps on gatherings in private homes — 25 visitors, up from 10 if everyone is fully vaccinated; and 10 visitors, up from five, if anyone is not.
Bars and restaurants will be allowed to sell alcohol until midnight, instead of the current 10 p.m. cutoff.
Casinos, museums, restaurants, and professional sporting events will still be limited to half capacity and require all patrons to be fully vaccinated, but will no longer be capped at a maximum of 250 people.
For the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets, that will mean several thousand fans in the seats instead of 250.
The province is easing the rules because there are signs that the current pandemic wave has peaked, Roussin said.
The number of new hospital admissions is dropping and the number of people in intensive care, including non-COVID patients, has steadied.
4:15 p.m.: Nova Scotia is reporting six more deaths today related to COVID-19.
Health officials say the deaths involve five women in the province’s central zone ranging in age from their 60s to their 80s and one woman over 100 in the western zone.
They are reporting 10 new hospital admissions and say 347 people are in hospital with an infection, including 13 patients in intensive care.
An additional 395 new lab-confirmed cases of novel coronavirus are also being reported.
They include 154 cases in the central zone, which includes Halifax, 58 cases in the eastern zone, 73 cases in the northern zone and 110 cases in the western zone.
There are an estimated 3,632 active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.
3:55 p.m.: With teacher absences mounting and substitutes in short supply, parents may be wondering: Who’s teaching the kids?
The answer around the U.S. could be a local police officer, National Guard soldier, state budget analyst, parent or recent high school graduate — nearly anyone willing to help keep schools’ doors open through the omicron-driven staffing crunch.
States have been loosening teaching requirements to give schools more flexibility on hiring as coronavirus exposures, illness and quarantines add to strains on schools that also have been tapping librarians, custodians and support staff to help cover classrooms during the pandemic.
Brian McKinney, a parent with students in second and 10th grade in Hays County, Texas, spent part of this week as a substitute, helping sixth graders through a social studies assignment that had them writing essays about the Soviet Union. A former teacher, he decided he could help as he waited out a cold snap that has slowed business at the World War II-themed miniature golf course he and his wife now own.
“There was no down time today; I was heavily involved with the kids,” he said after school Tuesday.
The measures have kept schools from having to revert to the waves of remote learning that disrupted homes and left many students behind earlier in the pandemic. Supporters say it’s better to have students in school, where they are supervised and have access to food and services, even if the solutions fall short academically.
3:51 p.m.: There has been a breakthrough to resolve the impasse at a protest blockade at the United States border in southern Alberta.
Chad Williamson, a lawyer representing truckers blocking access to the border crossing at Coutts, Alta., says they have spoken with Mounties and agreed to open some blocked lanes.
Trucks and other vehicles have begun clearing two lanes — one going north and one going south.
Demonstrators began parking their vehicles and blocked the highway on Saturday in solidarity with similar events in Ottawa and countrywide — to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and broader public health measures.
The tie-up has stranded travellers and cross-border truckers for days, compromising millions of dollars in trade and impeding access to basic goods and medical services for area residents.
Police tried to peacefully break up the demonstration yesterday, only to see demonstrators breach a nearby checkpoint.
3:48 p.m. Quebec’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have been dropping, but that trend could change in the next few weeks as restrictions are eased in the province, the province’s interim public health director said Wednesday.
Dr. Luc Boileau said that the overall outlook remains “optimistic” but that there are reasons for caution, including a slight rise in the number of children under 12 testing positive for COVID-19 in the province’s emergency rooms.
“We shouldn’t be unduly worried, or much less panic for the moment, but it’s entirely plausible that lifting measures last week, along with those that were announced yesterday, will result in more contagion, notably with the risk of seeing more hospitalizations,” Boileau told a news conference in Montreal.
3:26 p.m. Four more people have died in New Brunswick as a result of COVID-19, increasing the number of people who have died since the start of the pandemic to 247.
The latest deaths involve three people in the Moncton region — two in their 70s and one in their 80s — and a person in the Saint John area in their 70s.
There are currently 165 people hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, an increase of three since Tuesday.
2:40 p.m. Ottawa officials held a virtual press conference to address the ongoing disruption by the trucker convoy in the nation’s capital.
Peter Sloly, chief of the Ottawa Police Service, says the demonstration “has been intolerable.”
“The range of illegal, dangerous and unacceptable activities is beyond the ability to list in the time that we have here today,” Sloly said during the news conference Wednesday afternoon, adding “residents have been the victims of intense noise, threatening behaviour, hateful vitriol that has no place in our city, or anywhere in our country.”
Sloly went on to say that his officers have been pushed to the limit, have been injured and fatigued during the convoy’s time in the city. He addressed the demonstrators directly
There are consequences for your behaviour. There have been arrests made, there have been charges laid, there are more coming, they’ll be announced even today,” Sloly said.
“It does not matter how long it takes, we will find those who committed the criminal acts, we will lay charges against them, and they will face the possibility of jail as a result of it.”
2:03 p.m. The Manitoba government is relaxing some of its COVID-19 restrictions starting Tuesday.
Chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, says indicators such as hospital admissions suggest the current pandemic wave is at its peak.
There will be a larger cap on gatherings in private homes, and alcohol sales at licensed premises will be extended until midnight from 10 p.m.
Casinos, museums, restaurants and professional sporting events will still be limited to half capacity, but will no longer be capped at a maximum of 250 people.
Hospital usage remains high, with 110 people in intensive care, including non-COVID patients.
The province is reporting seven additional COVID-related deaths.
2 p.m. Ontario’s official COVID-19 testing volumes have plummeted since PCR access was sharply restricted in the face of an Omicron surge, but rather than widely re-expanding eligibility in the future, the province appears to be forging a new pandemic testing path.
Demand for tests at the end of last year saw a high of more than 75,000 processed the day the government announced eligibility would be limited largely to high-risk individuals — including patients in hospital, residents and staff in long-term care, and people being considered for COVID-19 treatments.
There have been calls to allow more residents to access gold-standard PCR tests, including students and staff in schools and child-care settings, now that an average of 25,460 tests have been processed each day over the past week, including a low of 15,008 one day on the weekend.
2 p.m. Newfoundland and Labrador health officials say seven people in the province died of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities or in personal care homes between Dec. 20 and Jan. 28.
That number represents 35 per cent of the 20 people who died in the province during that period.
A Health Department spokeswoman says those seven deaths are the first in the province to occur in these facilities since the pandemic began.
Newfoundland and Labrador does not regularly report COVID-19 deaths or infections in long-term care centres, unlike Quebec or Ontario.
The province is reporting four more COVID-19 deaths today, bringing the provincial total to 44.
1:40 p.m. Tensions are rising at the U.S. border crossing near Coutts, Alta., as a blockade enters its fifth day, with protesters snarling traffic and bucking police demands.
Alberta RCMP officers had attempted to clear the logjam of trucks on Tuesday, saying the blockaders were breaking the law by blocking critical infrastructure, but their efforts ultimately failed.
The blockade has been in place since Saturday on the north side of the crossing between Alberta and Montana to protest vaccination mandates put in place this month for truck drivers going across the Canada-U.S. border.
Its drawn condemnation from politicians across the country and brought cross-border traffic to a standstill, while causing headaches for nearby residents.
1:25 p.m. Prince Edward Island is reporting 238 new cases of COVID-19. They say there are 15 people in hospital because of the disease, unchanged since Tuesday.
Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says there are two people in intensive care. She says there are another eight patients in hospital who were admitted for other reasons and have tested positive for COVID-19. The Island has 2,253 active reported infections.
Officials say they are monitoring multiple outbreaks at long-term care facilities and in early learning and childcare centres.
1:05 p.m. Ottawa police face mounting pressure to take stronger action against the protest of COVID-19 measures that has taken over the capital city, while organizers threaten to stay “as long as it takes” for governments across the country to end pandemic restrictions.
Although politicians do not direct the police, local elected officials say officers need to do more to move the protesters and their big trucks off city streets.
“I’m happy no cars have been burning on the streets and no windows are smashed in and we haven’t had any fatalities, but we have hit a boiling point in the city,” said Coun. Tim Tierney, who chairs a committee responsible for Ottawa’s roadways.
“We’re hearing loud and clear from our constituencies and we want to see some kind of action.”
12:45 p.m. The Canadian Medical Association and a group of domestic and international activists are calling on the federal government to do more to boost COVID-19 vaccination efforts in less developed countries in order to end the pandemic.
Raising the international vaccination rate in less prosperous countries is the only way to prevent the emergence of new COVID-19 variants that are prolonging the pandemic through an endless cycle of lockdowns and serious illness, said Dr. Katharine Smart, the president of the leading association of Canadian medical professionals.
“Without taking this perspective, we will continue to find ourselves in a perpetual cycle of pandemic management, with new variants and mutations developing in countries where vaccine rates remain low,” Smart said Wednesday.
12:30 p.m. The Canadian team’s head doctor in Beijing says COVID-19 preventions before and upon athletes’ arrivals has kept the virus mostly at bay so far.
One asymptomatic non-athlete in Canada’s delegation of about 450 was in isolation Wednesday two days before the opening ceremonies, which was down from five personnel in protocol last week.
“Our goal … is to enable the athletes and the teams to get to the starting line safely, and to try and enable every athlete that is here in Beijing to be able to compete through all these protocols,” Dr. Mike Wilkinson said Wednesday at the Canadian Olympic Committee’s opening news conference.
12 p.m. The Quebec government is reporting another big drop in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 Wednesday, as well as 50 new deaths linked to the pandemic.
The Health Department said today that COVID-19 related hospitalizations dropped by 122, to 2,730, after 328 people left hospital and 206 were admitted.
The number of people in intensive care dropped by 14 to 204.
Health officials say 3,816 new cases were confirmed by PCR testing and another 1,000 positives from take-home rapid tests were declared via the province’s online platform.
Health workers also gave 49,444 vaccine doses in the past 24 hours.
11:30 a.m. The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s rights was abruptly recessed on Wednesday after one of the defendants tested positive for COVID-19.
Judge Paul Magnuson says the court is in recess until Monday. The officer who tested positive wasn’t named by the court.
11:10 a.m. A Montreal lawyer is in court Wednesday contesting a COVID-19 health order that prevents unvaccinated people from entering long-term care homes and private seniors homes to care for residents.
The provincial government issued a decree in December tightening rules in care settings, including by imposing an order that requires caregivers to show proof of vaccination before they can enter facilities.
Lawyer Natalia Manole says the government should revert to the previous rule, which required caregivers to present negative results from tests taken within the previous 72 hours.
She says if health-care workers who are unvaccinated are able to work under those conditions, she doesn’t see why caregivers shouldn’t be afforded the same right.
10:30 a.m. Ottawa police say they have arrested two men after investigations related to protest against public health restrictions in the capital city, while organizers of the convoy are threatening to stay “for as long as it takes” for governments across the country to end COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Police say 37-year-old Andre Lacasse was charged on Sunday with carrying a weapon to a public meeting, while 29-year-old Matthew Dorken was charged Tuesday with mischief under $5,000.
10:18 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 2,939 people in the hospital with COVID-19 and 555 people in intensive care.
That’s down from 3,091 hospitalized patients and 568 people in ICU on Tuesday.
The province is also reporting 67 more deaths from the virus.
There were 3,909 new COVID-19 cases though Public Health Ontario has said the true number is likely higher due to testing policy changes.
The province isn’t reporting data on virus cases and outbreaks in schools but seven schools were reported closed for operational reasons.
10:05 a.m. Europe is accelerating steps to roll back coronavirus restrictions as efforts to control the fast-spreading Omicron variant have been largely futile.
Under pressure from a pandemic-weary public, politicians across the region are deeming many public-health measures increasingly unnecessary. Italy, Switzerland and Finland are set to join Denmark, Ireland and France in easing the bulk of restrictions on public life. Norway also relaxed most rules.
While the virus continues to spread rapidly across the continent — with more than 2.4 million cases over the past two days — the alert level has dropped. Health care systems are proving resilient because omicron causes milder symptoms and most people are protected by vaccines.
9:35 a.m. Keegan Messing’s Olympic Games are in jeopardy. The 30-year-old isn’t with Canada’s figure skating team at the Beijing Olympics, as he waits to clear COVID-19 testing to travel.
The delay means Messing, who captured his first Canadian title last month, won’t be in Beijing in time for the team event, which begins with the short programs on Friday. The Canadian Olympic Committee hopes he’ll get the green light in time to skate in the men’s singles competition, which begins with the short programs on Tuesday.
9:20 a.m. COVID-19 hospitalizations are predicted to rise at a time when Hamilton’s hospitals are already so strained they are transferring patients out.
Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) reported severe overcrowding for a second day on Tuesday, with occupancy at 129 per cent at Juravinski Hospital and 111 per cent at Hamilton General Hospital.
All funded beds are full when occupancy is at 100 per cent. Anything over occupancy is unfunded beds — sometimes in unconventional spaces like hallways.
The intensive care unit (ICU) at the Charlton Campus of St. Joseph’s Healthcare was also overflowing at 104 per cent occupancy.
9:05 a.m. RCMP say more officers have been called in to help with an illegal blockade at a United States border crossing in southern Alberta, now in its fifth day.
Mounties were prepared to make arrests Tuesday at the Coutts crossing but backed off when there were safety concerns.
Some of those involved in the blockade are protesting mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for cross-border truck drivers as well as broader public health measures.
Premier Jason Kenney says he also opposes the vaccine mandate for truckers, but protesters should find a lawful way to make their point.
8:45 a.m. A COVID-19 draft law defeated in Poland’s parliament has exposed deep divisions inside the ruling right-wing coalition and a weakening of the country’s most powerful politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, analysts said on Wednesday.
Some 61 lawmakers of the so-called United Right ruling team led by Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party abstained or voted against the law in the 460-seat lower house late Tuesday. Another 15 of the ruling coalition’s 228 lawmakers didn’t even show up for the vote. Analysts said the result marked an unprecedented high degree of dissent within the ruling coalition and poses a challenge to Kaczynski’s leadership.
The vote indicates that “the United Right does not exist as such any more,” political analyst Barbara Brodzińska-Mirowska from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun told private TVN24. “The rifts are really deep and the games and interests are very much advanced, and things will not get better.”
8:15 a.m. The Toronto-raised star of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will take the reins as host of this year’s televised celebration of Canadian music May 15.
It’s another high-profile hosting gig for the “Kim’s Convenience” alum who presided over an episode of “Saturday Night Live” for the first time last November.
The Junos will be historic in their own way since it’s the first time the awards show will be held outdoors.
7:18 a.m. On Ontario’s first days of reopening, dozens of moviegoers around Toronto rushed to sit in a theatre again, nibbling on buttered popcorn and snacks as they caught the latest Spider-Man film.
Others took the opportunity to revisit the gym after a month-long hiatus, or to take their toddlers to see the famed jellyfish at Ripley’s Aquarium.
“You really get the sense that there’s a mood right now where people want to be in that snap-back stage,” said Steve Joordens, a University of Toronto psychology professor, as he reflected on the lifting of restrictions.
6:40 a.m. Beijing reported three new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as officials said the virus situation was under control with the Olympic Games set to open later in the week.
The three cases reported in the 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday all involved people under some sort of quarantine.
“The current pandemic situation in the capital is overall controllable and it’s headed in a good direction,” said Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the city government, at a daily press briefing. “Beijing is safe.”
The Chinese capital has been on high-alert as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics starting Friday.
6:37 a.m. Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Parade will return this year, depending on the continued Ontario government’s reopening plan, according to the a news release.
St. Patrick’s Parade was among the first to cancel its event when the pandemic arrived in early 2020. The parade was cancelled again in 2021.
The event is set to take place on Sunday, March 20.
6:05 a.m. RCMP say more officers have been called in to help with an illegal blockade at a United States border crossing in southern Alberta, now in its fifth day.
Mounties were prepared to make arrests Tuesday at the Coutts crossing but backed off when there were safety concerns.
Cpl. Curtis Peters says some vehicles left peacefully but others, including tractors, sped through police roadblocks to join the blockade.
He says there was a head-on crash and a person involved then assaulted another person.
Peters also says some protesters have harassed the local mayor and his wife by showing up at their home and taking photos through their windows.
5:45 a.m. 5:38 a.m. Just one member of the Canadian team in Beijing was in COVID-19 protocols on Wednesday, down from three members a day earlier.
The 414-member Canadian delegation includes athletes, coaches and team staff.
The individual is in protocols that “impact their ability to fulfil their role at Games,” the Canadian Olympic Committee said in a statement.
“We are managing each one on a case-by-case basis and to respect the privacy of the people involved we will not be sharing names at this time,” the COC’s statement said. “Part of our strategy was to arrive early to allow time for confirmation testing and, if necessary, the Medical Expert Panel process to unfold.”
5:35 a.m. On Ontario’s first days of reopening, dozens of moviegoers around Toronto rushed to sit in a theatre again, nibbling on buttered popcorn and snacks as they caught the latest Spider-Man film.
Others took the opportunity to revisit the gym after a month-long hiatus, or to take their toddlers to see the famed jellyfish at Ripley’s Aquarium.
“You really get the sense that there’s a mood right now where people want to be in that snap-back stage,” said Steve Joordens, a University of Toronto psychology professor, as he reflected on the lifting of restrictions. “They want to say, ‘let’s just go back and live the way we were before.’ ”
By now, the excitement of reopening is a familiar feeling for most, as the province moves to gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions yet again. But this stage of reopening is different: the threat of the Omicron variant remains potent, and official case counts are high even with limited testing and contact tracing, forcing some to tread with caution.
5:30 a.m. The Ottawa Police Service says it has charged two men following demonstration-related investigations as the anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate protest continues to keep the capital at a standstill.
Police say 37-year-old Andre Lacasse was charged on Sunday with carrying a weapon to a public meeting, while 29-year-old Matthew Dorken was charged with mischief under $5,000.
Ottawa residents frustrated with the incessant blare of truck horns, traffic gridlock and harassment by some members of the protest have questioned how police have handled the demonstration.
5:25 a.m. More provinces say they are preparing to loosen COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks, despite virus-related hospitalizations remaining high.
British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said gathering restrictions will begin to slowly be eased later this month.
Even as Alberta reported a record 1,585 people in hospital with the virus, Premier Jason Kenney said he is optimistic the province will be able to relax some public health measures and remove its vaccine passport program by the end of February, providing hospital pressures decline.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced yesterday that gyms and spas, which have been closed since Dec. 20, will be able to reopen on Feb. 14. He also said he is scrapping a plan to tax people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, saying the plan has proven to be divisive at a time he wants to bring Quebecers together.
After allowing restaurant dining rooms to reopen Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he will continue with plans to further ease restrictions on Feb. 21 and March 14, despite a warning from the province’s scientific advisory panel.
5 a.m. Experts say the Omicron wave appears to be cresting but it’s difficult to predict what lies ahead.
Professor Bernard Crespi, an evolutionary biologist at Simon Fraser University, says Omicron broke through people’s health defences, while its quick spread left a higher degree of natural immunity. He says that means it will be difficult for the next variant to get a foothold because people either have immunity or have been vaccinated.
However, Crespi says there’s always a possibility that the next variant will spread like Omicron and we’ll end up with more hospitalizations and deaths. He says the transition from pandemic to fully endemic, with something like the common cold, could take anywhere from a few years to perhaps dozens or hundreds of years.
Doctor Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, says the impact of the next variant can be blunted by a combination of vaccinations, masking and other public health guidelines, just as it was done with Omicron.
Doctor Nelson Lee, interim director of the Institute for Pandemics at the University of Toronto, says he believes the virus that causes COVID-19 will transition to an epidemic with seasonal waves like the flu.
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