People in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick will see more COVID-19 restrictions eased next week, said officials, who pointed to signs of a waning Omicron wave.
In Nova Scotia, Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, cautioned that the health system is still under “tremendous pressure” but noted that hospital admissions for COVID-19 have peaked.
Premier Tim Houston said the next shift will happen on Feb. 14, with the return of sports, arts and cultural events. Gathering limits for informal events will increase, and a range of businesses will be allowed to increase capacity.
The shift is happening because of “our high vaccination rates” and strong booster dose campaign, said Houston.
“It’s also happening because we know the need to balance between restrictions and the risk of COVID in terms of our overall public health.”
More restrictions will be lifted through a phased approach, Houston said.
In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs announced restrictions would be eased as of Feb. 18, including increased capacity at a range of businesses and increased limits on the number of people who can come together at household gatherings.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said while many people in the province are still being infected and hospitals are still under strain, the province is seeing signs that the Omicron wave is slowing.
“Today, there are 139 New Brunswickers in hospital due to COVID-19,” Russell said at the briefing on Wednesday, a decline from the peak of 165 a week earlier. The number of health workers off sick or isolating is also decreasing, which means hospitals are better positioned to handle current cases, as well as any increases.
Higgs said the end of mandates in New Brunswick is in sight — provided certain conditions are met, including hospitalizations declining as projected. When the province makes that decision, he said, “it will be based on science, as all of our COVID-19 decisions have been.”
“I am hopeful we’ll see the end of the emergency order, and further restrictions and mandates, by the end of March,” the premier said as he outlined the changes.
Higgs said the shift is not connected to a protest convoy expected in the province this weekend.
Prince Edward Island’s premier recently outlined a three-step plan to ease restrictions, with the first step to begin next week.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the province’s top doctor also unveiled an easing of some restrictions, including loosening rules around gatherings and sporting events.
-From CBC News, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
In Central Canada, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is set to hold a pandemic briefing later Thursday. Dr. Kieran Moore’s weekly COVID-19 news conference comes a day after the province’s health minister said Ontario will keep its mask mandate and vaccine certificate system in place for now.
Moore’s news conference also comes after the province began making rapid test kits available for free at grocery stores, pharmacies and other sites.
In Quebec, the interim public health director said Wednesday that the province’s vaccine passport program is expected to stay in place until mid-March. The decision to stop using vaccine passports will be linked to the COVID-19 situation in the province, said Dr. Luc Boileau.
“We’ll see then if it’s still a lever that has all the efficacy it has had in the last few months,” Boileau said of the passports. “Mostly it’ll be related to the epidemiological situation and the progression of this wave.”
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba is hoping to lift all restrictions by spring, but Dr. Jazz Atwal, the province’s
deputy chief public health officer, said the plan will be dictated by science — not the decisions of other jurisdictions or demands from protesters.
“Just because one province is doing something doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to do that,” Atwal said Wednesday. Manitoba recently announced slight easing of COVID-19 restrictions, including allowing for larger gatherings.
The remarks came after major shifts in restrictions from officials in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
In the North, the latest COVID-19 wave hit the territories later than the rest of Canada, said Dr. Andre Corriveau, the deputy chief public health officer for the Northwest Territories. That means any opening plans will also lag behind, he added.
“The goal is still there,” Corriveau said. “The intent is that the public health emergency will be gone in the next couple of months.”
British Columbia is still working through the details of its public health orders and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said more information will be provided next week about the “gradual process” of lifting restrictions. She said COVID-19 remains a severe illness and British Columbia’s resources are still stretched thin.
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 403.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.7 million.
In Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said 85 per cent of Africans had yet to receive a single dose of vaccine, and uptake needed to be significantly accelerated.
“A steady supply of doses is now reaching our shores, so the focus needs to be on translating those into actual shots in people’s arms,” she said.
In Europe, Paris police on Thursday banned road blockades threatened by groups organizing online against COVID-19 restrictions, in part inspired by protesters in Canada. Citing “risks of trouble to public order,” the Paris police department banned protests aimed at “blocking the capital” from Friday through Monday. Police will put measures in place to protect roads and detain violators. The vast majority of French adults are vaccinated against COVID-19.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea will begin offering Novavax Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine at hospitals, nursing homes and public health centres next week, adding another tool to fight a fast-developing Omicron surge. The country reported a record 54,122 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, but officials are expressing cautious hope that the country’s high vaccination rate will prevent an explosion in serious illnesses and deaths.
They say Novavax’s protein vaccine, which is similar to shots used for years against diseases including the common flu and hepatitis B, could appeal to people who are hesitant to use other COVID-19 vaccines designed with newer technologies.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she is deeply sorry and anxious about long queues at coronavirus testing centres and isolation facilities after a record number of new cases left authorities scrambling.
In the Americas, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that the state will end a COVID-19 mandate requiring face coverings in most indoor public settings, but will keep masking rules in place in schools for now.
The mask mandate for places like grocery stores, shops and offices was put in place Dec. 10 as the Omicron variant began infecting huge numbers of New Yorkers.
Hochul said infection rates and hospitalizations have declined to a level where it is safe to rescind the order.
“This fight is not over, we’re not surrendering. This is not disarmament,” she told reporters at her New York City office, “but again the trends are very, very positive.”
In the Middle East, countries have seen a rise in coronavirus infections in the last six weeks because of low vaccination rates, officials at the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET