A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:
— Canada's health minister says he expects the country to reach a time in the COVID-19 pandemic when provinces consider implementing a broader vaccine mandate to counter rising cases. Jean-Yves Duclos told a COVID-19 briefing on Friday that such a measure was not currently being contemplated in Canada, but his personal opinion was that the country would get there at some point. Given how fragile the health-care system is in Canada and its aging population, Duclos said he thinks that type of measure will be considered by provinces over the next weeks and months.
— Ontario is rolling out a new $10,000 grant for businesses shuttered by the latest round of public health measures. Eligible businesses include gyms, museums and galleries, tour services and before- and after-school programs, while companies that had to slash their capacity in half, such as retailers, do not qualify. Businesses that qualified for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and that have been forced to close will be pre-screened for the new grant, and need not apply. Qualifying businesses can expect to receive their payment in February, the province said.
— The pressure on Ontario's hospitals is expected to worsen in the coming weeks as more staff are forced off the job due to COVID-19 and admissions due to the virus climb, says the head of the province's hospital association. Beds are filling up rapidly, with a record 2,472 COVID-19 patients in hospital as of Friday, compared to 508 two weeks earlier. And though the 324 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units pales in comparison to the peak during the third wave of the pandemic, when roughly 900 people with the virus were in ICU, that doesn't mean health-care workers are breathing any easier, said Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association.
— Three pediatricians groups are urging the Ontario government to resume in-person learning no later than Jan. 17. The Canadian Paediatric Society, the Pediatrics Section of the Ontario Medical Association and the Pediatricians Alliance of Ontario make the call in an open letter to Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce. They say they understand that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is overwhelming hospitals and governments need to take action. But, they say, "certain decisions and measures pose a far greater risk to children and youth than the virus itself."
— The chief of Bearskin Lake says the remote northern Ontario community is "almost at a breaking point" after half of its population tested positive for COVID-19, as he renewed his call for immediate federal help. Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin joined other Indigenous leaders at a news conference Friday to ask ministers to send urgent aid including staff to distribute essential supplies such as food, water and wood for stoves to keep residents warm in freezing temperatures. The First Nation is in a state of emergency as COVID-19 has infected 201 of its 400 residents, including elders and a nine-month-old baby.
— Premier Jason Kenney says mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations won't happen in Alberta, despite the federal government conceding such intervention may be necessary down the road. Kenney, in a short statement, says his government removed the power of mandatory vaccination from the law books last year and "will not revisit that decision, period." Kenney was responding to comments from federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. Duclos told reporters mandatory vaccinations will be left up to individual provinces to decide, but it's looming as a necessary measure to preserve the health system over the long-term.
— Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his position around mandated COVID-19 vaccinations remains unchanged. He says the Saskatchewan Party government will not mandate vaccinations. Moe says vaccinations are a personal choice and shouldn't be imposed on people by governments.
— A pediatrician who has researched COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among parents in Canada, the United States and Israel is urging people concerned about getting their children vaccinated to talk to a health-care provider. Dr. Ran Goldman, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia, said the current national vaccination rate among children aged five to 11 is too low, so parents with questions about the safety of the vaccine should get them answered through a personal connection with a pediatrician, family doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Goldman said past campaigns involving pediatric vaccines have shown that conversations with health-care providers are meaningful and have helped to change hesitant parents' minds.
— Canada's chronically understaffed agriculture industry is warning that increased worker shortages related to the highly contagious Omicron variant could severely stress this country's food production systems. Already, there are signs of strain. A slaughterhouse in Quebec opted to kill thousands of chickens that couldn't be processed this week, blaming rising COVID-19 infections among employees as well as federal delays processing temporary foreign worker applications for its protracted staff shortage. Mushroom farms across the country are dealing with "unprecedented" levels workers being out sick, says Janet Krayden, workforce specialist with the Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association.
— The head of Canada's largest private-sector union says the refusal by the country's grocers to reinstate "hero pay" for employees amid an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases is "about greed, period." Unifor national president Jerry Dias says while front-line supermarket workers are facing the biggest risks, executives are receiving the biggest rewards. He says top grocery bosses have received multimillion-dollar bonuses as sales and profits soar during the pandemic — even as they refuse to bring back pay bumps for employees.
— Alberta's oilsands are maintaining production levels with critical staff only as operators try to minimize the workforce impact of the highly contagious Omicron variant. However, depending on the trajectory of the virus, the head of an industry group said there could come a point when output is affected. Perry Berkenpas, executive director of the Oil Sands Community Alliance, said energy companies operating remote camps in northern Alberta are currently focused only on routine day-to-day operations and are enforcing work-from-home orders for all other employees. This decision was made just before Christmas, when it became apparent that Omicron would likely have an impact, he said.
— Getting kids back to school is "essential," says British Columbia's top doctor as she and the education minister laid out plans for keeping students safe while COVID-19 infections surge. Dr. Bonnie Henry said schools need to remain open for the emotional, physical and intellectual well-being of children. Businesses will also need to redeploy their COVID-19 safety plans to help reduce crowding and protect workers and customers while keeping their operations running through the surge, Henry added.
— The Victoria Police Department is preparing to move all its available officers to front-line policing duties as it anticipates staffing shortages caused by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. A statement from the department says, for the first time, it is enacting a clause in its contract with its police union that allows for the potential assignment of all officers to front-line duties. That work includes anything related to serving the public, such as traffic or crowd control, criminal investigations and arrests. The statement says the change begins this weekend as some Victoria officers will be redeployed to the patrol division to answer calls for help.
— COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Quebec rose by nine per cent on Friday, pushing hospitals to cancel more surgeries and leaving doctors worried about the impact on patients forced to live with pain. Health officials reported 27 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus and said there were 2,133 patients hospitalized with the disease — 180 more than the prior day, a 9.2 per cent increase. A total of 229 people were in intensive care, a rise of 22. Coupled with the fast-rising number of patients, about 20,000 health-care workers across the province were off the job isolating because they had either contracted the virus or had been exposed to it.
— The Manitoba government is extending its current COVID-19 restrictions for three more weeks as the Omicron variant continues to spread. The rules limit movie theatres, museums, professional sports arenas and many other venues to 50 per cent capacity or 250 people, whichever is lower, and everyone must be vaccinated. There are also limits on gatherings in private homes — five guests if anyone is unvaccinated and 10 if everyone is immunized. The orders were set to expire Tuesday, but will remain in place until Feb. 1.
— The Toronto Maple Leafs have placed forwards Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall into the NHL's COVID-19 protocol. The forwards are the 16th and 17th Toronto players to enter the league's protocol since a COVID-19 outbreak on the team started last month, but are the only two team members currently sidelined by the virus. Seven staff members have also gone through the league's protocol.
— The Montreal Canadiens added two more players into the NHLs COVID-19 protocols Friday. Forward Alex Belzile and defenceman Kale Clague are the two latest players to be added by the Habs to the protocol. The Canadiens said the players are being monitored by team doctors and continue to follow league guidelines. The Canadiens have 24 players, assistant coach Trevor Letowski and goaltender coach Eric Raymond on the NHL's COVID-19 protocols list.
— The NHL has postponed Saturday's game between the Canucks and Ottawa Senators in Vancouver due to ongoing attendance restrictions. The league also pushed back a matchup between the Senators and Jets in Winnipeg originally set for Jan. 15. The NHL says the games will be rescheduled for dates later in the season when such restrictions may be eased or lifted.
— The Edmonton Oilers have placed Kailer Yamamoto in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol after the forward tested positive on a rapid test. Yamamoto was pulled from the Oilers' practice Friday after recording the positive result. Coach Dave Tippett said the team is awaiting further results to confirm the test. Edmonton also has superstar captain Connor McDavid, defenceman Tyson Barrie and forward Derek Ryan in protocol.
— The Ontario Hockey League has postponed two games and rescheduled another due to COVID-19 protocols affecting the Saginaw Spirit. The league postponed Saginaw's games Friday at Sarnia and Saturday against visiting Flint. Meanwhile, Flint's game at Sarnia has been moved up from Jan. 19 to Saturday.
— The Western Hockey League has postponed eight games and suspended activities for 15 teams due to COVID-19 concerns. The WHL said in a release Friday that the affected teams have had players and staff added to the league's COVID-19 protocol list due to exhibiting symptoms or having tested positive for the coronavirus. The Calgary Hitmen, Edmonton Oil Kings, Everett Silvertips, Kamloops Blazers, Medicine Hat Tigers, Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Prince George Cougars, Red Deer Rebels, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, Spokane Chiefs, Tri-City Americans, Victoria Royals and Winnipeg Ice are the affected teams.
— New Brunswick will expand COVID-19 booster shots next week to residents 18 and older, as the health system prepares to face unprecedented pressure. Residents 18 and older will be able to book appointments starting Monday as long five months have passed since their second doses, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said.
— An Education Department official says the priority for schools in Yukon remains on keeping students in classrooms, but the COVID-19 Omicron variant could force adjustments. Deputy minister Nicole Morgan says in-class learning for students will be tested by the spread of the Omicron variant as it hits teachers, students, staff and administrators. She says education officials have plans to keep students in classrooms as long as safely possible by, among other things, shifting resources and using targeted remote learning options, but a full switch to remote learning is not being ruled out.
— Newfoundland and Labrador is reducing the isolation period for fully vaccinated residents who test positive for COVID-19 to seven days from 10 days. The provincial government said today the new rule would enter into effect at midnight. It says the isolation period is also reduced for vaccinated people who are close contacts of cases and have symptoms.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2022.
The Canadian Press