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Canadian provinces grapple with rising, record COVID-19 cases due to Omicron variant

The mayors of Ottawa and Montreal both announced on Saturday that they had tested positive for COVID-19
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML

Provinces across the country grappled with rising COVID-19 cases Saturday, with the Omicron variant compelling many jurisdictions to reintroduce public health restrictions a week before Christmas.

One day after setting a pandemic record for daily cases, Quebec reported 3,631 new infections, two deaths and a big jump in hospitalizations in its latest numbers.

With new public health measures set to begin Monday, Premier François Legault warned Quebecers again the province would be hit hard.

“The Omicron variant is advancing at breakneck speed,” he wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday urging solidarity among the population. “It’s hard to imagine.”

Ontario reported 3,301 new infections — the highest tally since early May — and four additional deaths.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said nurses from the Canadian Red Cross would be deployed to Manitoba in response to a request from the province earlier this week for help.

Blair announced the news in a Tweet on Saturday afternoon, saying that “the fight against COVID-19 is not over” and that the nurses would remain in Manitoba until Jan. 17.

Annie Cullinan, a spokeswoman for Blair, said up to eight emergency acute-care nurses will be sent by the Red Cross after the province asked Ottawa to provide up to 30 nurses for about six weeks.

The Red Cross said in a statement Saturday that it’s still determining the best places to send the nurses.

Surgeries have been cancelled in Manitoba so that staff can be transferred to help with COVID-19 cases in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the mayors of Ottawa and Montreal both announced on Saturday that they had tested positive for COVID-19.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said someone in her entourage had tested positive and she’d been isolating since Friday. Her office said in a statement she was double vaccinated and was feeling few symptoms and would continue her duties virtually.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Waston announced his isolation would continue for eight more days after he received a positive test. He had been isolating since Monday after a staffer had come into contact with a positive case last week. Watson had received a negative test but decided to continue isolating and get re-tested.

“Thankfully, I am feeling OK and don’t have any symptoms,” Watson wrote on social media.

A 50 per cent capacity limit returned Saturday at Ontario venues that hold more than 1,000 people. The health measure comes a day before more restrictions were due to resume. As of Sunday, restaurants and retailers in Ontario will see their capacity capped at 50 per cent and indoor social gatherings will go from a maximum of 25 people down to 10.

In British Columbia, Vancouver’s Rogers Arena was due to sit empty on Saturday evening after the NHL postponed a game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs as COVID-19 case counts spiked throughout the league.

Vancouver has six players undergoing the league’s COVID-19 protocol, while Toronto has four.

On Monday, British Columbia will impose new restrictions limiting the capacity of large venues to 50 per cent, and will ban amateur sports tournaments over the holidays and cancel New Year’s Eve parties.

Manitoba will bring in similar restrictions on Tuesday.

The surge was being felt in other provinces as well, with Nova Scotia reporting 426 new cases, a single-day record for that province since the beginning of the pandemic.

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, several new measures came into effect in New Brunswick on Saturday, including a limit on household contacts to a maximum of 20, distancing in restaurants along with proof of vaccination and capacity cut in half for entertainment venues, including movie theatres, professional sports and casinos.

That province logged 133 new cases Saturday.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported 23 new infections while in Prince Edward Island, health officials shuttered a testing clinic early because so many people were seeking a test.

New measures went into effect Saturday in PEI reducing private gatherings to a maximum of 10 people and cutting indoor public gatherings to 50 per cent of capacity.

Ottawa is expected to tighten border rules as of Tuesday, requiring a pre-arrival negative molecular test result for COVID-19, even for short trips of less than 72 hours.

In announcing the move Friday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos advised Canadians against travelling outside the country, warning that if they get sick abroad they could become stranded, with the government unable to do much to help them.

In the face of the growing COVID-19 threat, provincial governments are being forced to respond with measures discouragingly reminiscent of last year’s troubled holiday season.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Omicron numbers have rapidly risen since last week, and she urged Canadians to adjust their holiday plans.

Tam noted on social media that Omicron cases have been seen in vaccinated, unvaccinated and previously infected people.

But she stressed that being fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot is likely to provide reasonable protection against infection and probably strong protection against severe illness.

READ MORE: Doctors’ group urges B.C. to expedite booster shots as Omicron moves in

The Canadian Press

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