Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Friday

The latest:

Ontario is lifting the directive that put a pause on non-urgent procedures and surgeries, with the province citing a “steady decline in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and ICU admissions.”

The measure, called Directive 2, was put in place on Jan. 5 as the province worked to preserve capacity in the health-care system amid the growing Omicron wave. In early February, the directive was changed to allow some procedures to resume — including cancer screening and non-urgent procedures in pediatric hospitals.

The most recent shift, announced in a statement on Thursday, is meant to allow for the “gradual and cautious resumption of non-urgent and non-emergent surgeries and procedures across the province.”

Ontario on Thursday reported 1,897 COVID-19 hospitalizations — down by 162 from a day earlier and the first time the number of people in hospital dipped below 2,000 since early January. The number of people in the province’s intensive care unit stood at 445.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, also announced Thursday that provincial officials are also re-examining reopening timelines.

“We will be reviewing the evidence … and the evidence is showing we’re making remarkable improvement in all the key metrics in Ontario,” Moore said at his weekly briefing.

Health leaders across the country have been scrambling to maintain access to services as they grapple with the Omicron wave and staffing shortages.

In New Brunswick — where a large health network recently announced it was resuming non-urgent procedures after a pause — about 45 people have been put to work after an urgent call for paid workers and volunteers to aid in the COVID-19 response, the province said.

The province put out the call in mid-January, as officials sought people for both paid and unpaid roles handling everything from logistics to clinical tasks, like testing. More than 4,000 people registered on a website for those seeking to assist, with 45 of those people “successfully onboarded” so far, according to a Department of Health spokesperson.

Hospitalizations in New Brunswick stood at 140 on Thursday, according to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard, down from a high of 165.

-From CBC News, last updated at 7:20 a.m ET

What’s happening across Canada

With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.

For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.

You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.

In Atlantic Canada, the number of people hospitalized in Newfoundland and Labrador due to COVID-19 rose to 25 on Thursday — matching a provincial high set earlier this year — with eight people in the province’s intensive care units. 

In Central Canada, Quebec opposition parties are accusing the government of taking too long to give up COVID-19 emergency powers and say the delay is helping Premier François Legault and his ministers avoid scrutiny.

Earlier this week, the government renewed the state of emergency for the 99th time since March 2020. Legault told reporters the emergency order would only be lifted once a bill is passed allowing the government to keep some powers, such as the ability to impose the vaccine passport system and mask mandates.

Opposition parties, however, say the government should end the state of emergency and have a debate in the legislature about what measures should remain.

In the Prairie provinces, Saskatchewan on Thursday issued its first weekly COVID-19 update since ending daily reporting. The update showed a total of 384 COVID-19 hospitalizations, as of Wednesday, with 26 people in the province’s intensive care units.

“Among the population 18 years and older, 49.5 per cent had received at least one booster vaccination,” the update said. 

In the North, the chief public health officer in Nunavut is isolating after being exposed to COVID-19. Dr. Michael Patterson said he’s not tested positive, but will be working from home and “doing my part to protect the health of my community, colleagues and loved ones” by following isolation rules.

In British Columbia, health officials said Thursday the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday stood at 867 — down by 26 from a day earlier — with 138 people in ICU. They also said 90.4 per cent of those eligible aged 12 and older have had two shots of a vaccine, while 51.1 per cent of those have also had a booster dose.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:20 a.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

| Omicron breakthrough infection could boost immunity: 

Omicron breakthrough infection could boost immunity

New research suggests that getting infected with the Omicron variant after being fully vaccinated could help boost immunity, but unvaccinated people don’t appear to get the same benefit. 2:04

As of early Friday morning, more than 406.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the case-tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.7 million.

The World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said on Friday that the world was not yet at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, as there would be more coronavirus variants.

“We have seen the virus evolve, mutate … so we know there will be more variants, more variants of concern, so we are not at the end of the pandemic,” Swaminathan told reporters in South Africa, where she was visiting vaccine-manufacturing facilities with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In Europe, Russia’s daily COVID-19 cases exceeded 200,000 for the first time since the pandemic began as the Omicron variant continued to spread, authorities said on Friday. New cases jumped to 203,949, from 197,076 a day earlier. The government coronavirus task force also reported 722 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Vaccinated travellers can enter Britain without taking any coronavirus tests starting Friday, after the government scrapped one of the final restrictions imposed over the past two years in response to COVID-19.

British residents and visitors who have had at least two doses of an approved coronavirus vaccine now only need to fill out a passenger locator form before travelling to the U.K. Unvaccinated people still have to take tests both before and after arriving, but no longer need to self-isolate until they get a negative result.

People applaud a convoy departing for Paris on Friday in Strasbourg, eastern France. Authorities in France and Belgium have banned road blockades threatened by groups organizing online against COVID-19 restrictions. (Jean-Francois Badias/The Associated Press)

France will deploy thousands of police in and around Paris on Friday and over the weekend and set up checkpoints at toll stations on major roads leading into the capital to keep “Freedom Convoy” motorists out, the city’s police force said. Despite an order not to enter Paris, motorists protesting against COVID-19 restrictions are converging on the French capital from multiple cities across France, inspired by the horn-blaring demonstrations taking place in Canada

In Africa, Tunisia will lift the night curfew it imposed last month to curb the spread of COVID-19 from Thursday, a statement from the government said. A ban on gatherings and demonstrations has been extended for a further week, the statement added.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australian residents will need to receive booster shots to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, although authorities said foreign travellers will continue to need only two shots to enter the country.

In the Americas, Jamaica’s prime minister says the government is looking to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the weeks ahead. Andrew Holness said his government “wants to move definitively and decisively toward returning the country to normalcy,” according to a report in the Jamaica Observer.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on Friday reported 2,523 additional cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths.

-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 7:20 a.m. ET

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