Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 3,814 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 41 more deaths

OPEN DIGITAL ACCESS Jan 14, 2022 by Star staff Toronto Star

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

8:14 p.m. The Canadian Press has published an account of the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:

  • Some Ontario school boards say classes could be cancelled with very little notice if they don’t have enough teachers available due to high rates of COVID-19. Classes are set to resume in-person on Monday after schools began the term with online learning. In a message to parents, the Toronto District School Board, the province’s largest board, says it’s taken numerous steps to ensure staffing levels are as high as possible, but last-minute class cancellations could happen. The Rainbow District School Board in northern Ontario says there may be same-day class cancellations if there aren’t enough teachers.

  • The scientific director of Ontario’s expert pandemic advisory group says some indicators suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the next few weeks. Dr. Peter Juni says while the province lacks accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases, data on mobility and test positivity are offering some clues on the current trajectory. He says people’s mobility outside of their homes, which is strongly correlated with their number of contacts, has dropped significantly since late last month. Test positivity has also started to decrease.

  • Botched messaging from the federal government is wreaking havoc among the transport community, and could choke already strained supply chains, says the head of a Canadian trucking organization. The Canada Border Services Agency said Wednesday that a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing into Canada from the United States would not come into effect Saturday as planned. But the government backtracked the next day and stated the rule would go into force this weekend after all. The end of the exemption for truck drivers and other non-essential workers means they must be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine and pre-arrival molecular test for COVID-19.

  • While Quebec Premier François Legault says he’s hopeful about the COVID-19 outbreak in the province, doctors at Montreal-area hospitals are preparing for the number of patients in their care with the disease to keep rising. Dr. Joseph Dahine, an intensive care physician at the Cité-de-la-Santé hospital in Laval, Que., says he and his colleagues are feeling a “mix of fatigue, apprehension, resignation and frustration” as the number of COVID-19 patients continues to rise. There are about eight patients with active COVID-19 cases in the 22-bed ICU at his hospital north of Montreal. Another three ICU patients who were admitted with COVID-19 have been in the unit for more than 28 days, the point at which cases stop being considered active, but involve people too unwell to be discharged. One of his ICU patients has been in hospital since September.

  • The Department of National Defence says formal proceedings have been launched against more than 900 members of the Canadian Armed Forces for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Chief of the defence staff ,Gen. Wayne Eyre, ordered all military personnel to attest to having been fully vaccinated by mid-October. The deadline was later extended to mid-December. Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says reviews had been launched against 100 Armed Forces members by the end of December for repeatedly refusing to get their jabs. Another 800 had received warnings, orders to attend counselling and other remedial measures, and could also be forced to hang up their uniforms if they refuse to get the shot.

  • COVID-19 modelling released by the British Columbia government shows challenging days ahead for the healthcare system, even though the latest wave propelled by the Omicron variant may have peaked in parts of the province. Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says the wave has spread faster than previous ones and their research shows the top of the latest surge was likely reached last weekend. However, the data also shows hospital admissions are expected to peak in the next week with a lag time of about six to eight days after community transmissions, she told a news conference.

  • Tourism operators in British Columbia can apply for financial help from a $15-million relief fund to cover some of their losses due to COVID-19. The provincial government says B.C.-owned hotels or motels that employ more than 150 people, Indigenous-owned resorts on reserves with over 100 employees and tourism operators who hold tenure or BC Parks permits can all apply for grants. The fund was suggested by a task force established in September 2020 to look at ways of helping tourism operators during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador health officials say a 70-year-old woman in the western region of the province has died of COVID-19. She is the 24th person to die from the disease in the province. Public health officials said in a news release Friday there were eight COVID-19 patients in hospital, three of whom were in intensive care.

4:41 p.m. Newfoundland and Labrador health officials say a 70-year-old woman in the western region of the province has died of COVID-19, reports The Canadian Press.

She is the 24th person to die from the disease in the province, according to CP.

Public health officials said in a news release Friday there were eight COVID-19 patients in hospital, three of whom were in intensive care.

The province has 5,574 active reported cases of the disease, though the figures do not include those who may have COVID-19, but do not qualify for PCR testing to confirm their infections.

Officials reported 475 new cases, 404 of which had been confirmed since Thursday.

The remaining 71 cases were among tests sent to labs outside the province because a demand in testing overwhelmed local capacity.

4:17 p.m. Alberta’s big three research universities are extending online learning because the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly, reports The Canadian Press.

The University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge say virtual classes will continue for another six weeks, according to CP.

Students who have been online since returning from the holiday break are to return to their campuses on Feb. 28.

The universities say data shows that infections driven by Omicron are continuing to rise and won’t peak until late January or early next month.

The schools say that makes it prudent to extend online classes until after the spring break in late February.

The Opposition says the provincial government should take responsibility for not providing the resources all schools needed to prepare for a COVID-19 surge, including high-quality N95 masks, rapid tests and air quality audits and upgrades.

Alberta has nearly 63,000 active cases, the highest since the pandemic began, but chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says that number is likely to be 10 times higher because testing for the virus at labs is no longer open to everyone.

4:13 p.m. Nova Scotia is reporting 891 new cases of COVID-19 and four outbreaks at long-term care homes in the province, reports The Canadian Press.

Officials say the new clusters at the care homes involve a total of 23 staff members and 20 residents who have now tested positive for the disease, according to CP.

The affected residences are in Wolfville, New Glasgow, Sydney and Sydney Mines.

There are also additional cases of COVID-19 related to previously reported outbreaks in hospitals across the province.

Officials estimate there are now 6,648 active infections, and 57 people are in hospital due to the disease, including 10 in intensive care.

Officials also say 83.1 per cent of residents have two shots of COVID-19 vaccine, while 90.4 per cent have had at least one dose.

4:11 p.m. Elementary and secondary schools across Western Canada have reopened following the Christmas break as provincial governments faced criticism from teachers over what they say is a lack of protective measures against the COVID-19 Omicron variant, reports The Canadian Press.

Schools in British Columbia and Alberta reopened on Monday with health and education officials stressing the need for in-person learning. Schools in Saskatchewan returned the previous week as scheduled, according to CP.

The leaders of teacher unions in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have been critical of how the reopening of schools has been handled and the stress it has placed on staff.

“We have situations where learning assistants, or learning resource teachers, who are specialized teachers are being pulled out of their duties into classrooms to cover staff shortages,” said Patrick Maze, the head of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation. “The learning program suffers when you have this many transitions going on in the schools.”

The president of the BC Teachers’ Federation agreed with those concerns. Teri Mooring said teachers want greater access to N95 masks in schools as well as priority for booster vaccines.

Four B.C. schools announced functional closures this week, meaning there was not enough staff to teach students.

“We’re concerned there will be a lot more functional closures. It’s hard for us to understand why the additional safety measures we’re calling for aren’t being put in place,” Mooring said in an interview.

She said refusing to accommodate the union’s requests could lead to a staffing shortage in schools.

“We think with those safety measures teachers and support staff are more likely to stay healthy,” she said. “This whole issue of doing the bare minimum has always been a problem in education. We’d like to see a more preventive approach rather than a bare minimum approach.”

B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said in an interview that teachers would not be prioritized for vaccines and the government has taken steps to manage risks posed by the virus.

“It is a balancing act. One thing we have been very determined about in B.C. ... is to ensure we keep children and youth at the centre of our decision-making. We know how important it is to have access to in-person learning,” said Jennifer Whiteside.

But Cameron Phillips, a parent and Vancouver secondary school teacher, said he questions if the B.C. government is thinking about the long-term health effects facing students.

Phillips said he and his wife, who is an elementary school teacher, decided to keep their kids home this week as they assess the COVID-19 situation in schools.

“As a parent, I’m concerned about the future health of my children,” he said. “As a teacher, I love my kids. I love my students. I know the school I teach at has many multiple generation families. There are so many students in my classes who are terrified of taking it home to auntie or grandma and causing suffering or havoc in their families.”

Phillips said he’s “baffled” by the reluctance to provide N95 masks to students and staff, and would like to see improved ventilation in schools.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said schools have done a commendable job of continuing in-person learning in a safe way.

“One thing we’ve seen is how important it is to maintain in-class learning as much as possible while accepting some higher transmission, which is not just unique to school, this is happening in health care, schools, all workplaces,” he said.

In Alberta, as the number of Omicron infections hit a record high this week, the president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said he’s concerned about students’ future in classrooms because “community spread is echoed in schools.”

“I anticipate we’re going to have more of what we saw this year but it might be intensified so we’ll see more absences, we’ll see more inabilities for schools to fill absent teachers,” Jason Schilling said Friday.

Alberta has left it up to schools to contact trace infections.

Hundreds of students and dozens of teachers were reported absent on the Edmonton Public Schools board website on Thursday. Out of 105,151 students under the division, 3.16 per cent were absent due to COVID-19 and 3.56 per cent were absent due to other illnesses.

The Calgary Board of Education also said its absent rate for kindergarten to Grade 12 students was 20.2 per cent on Wednesday.

4:10 p.m. The lCanadian Press has published a look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:

  • Some Ontario school boards say classes could be cancelled with very little notice if they don’t have enough teachers available due to high rates of COVID-19. Classes are set to resume in-person on Monday after schools began the term with online learning. In a message to parents, the Toronto District School Board, the province’s largest, says it’s taken numerous steps to ensure staffing levels are as high as possible, but last-minute class cancellations could happen. The Rainbow District School Board in northern Ontario says there may be same-day class cancellations if there aren’t enough teachers.

  • The scientific director of Ontario’s expert pandemic advisory group says some indicators suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the next few weeks. Dr. Peter Juni says, while the province lacks accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases, data on mobility and test positivity are offering some clues on the current trajectory. He says people’s mobility outside of their homes, which is strongly correlated with their number of contacts, has dropped significantly since late last month. Test positivity has also started to decrease.

  • Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting the first two COVID-19 deaths of the pandemic. Chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, says a person between the ages of 60 and 79 and a person over the age of 79 have died of COVID-19. Premier Dennis King issued a statement extending condolences to the families of the two people. Officials are also reporting 225 new cases of COVID-19 on the Island.

  • When news of the first cases of COVID-19 began cropping up in Canada in early 2020, Linda Silas was one of the first to ring alarm bells about the lack of proper personal protective equipment for health workers. While early indications showed the virus was spread by droplets that settled on surfaces, Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, urged health authorities to learn from the SARS outbreak of 2003 and take the highest level of precaution. Now she knows she was right — the virus is airborne — but she is still desperately calling for more protective equipment for nurses two years later. Regional unions across the country report that nurses who have requested fit-tested respirators still can’t get them in some cases, despite the Omicron variant being far more transmissible than previous strains.

  • The Department of National Defence says formal proceedings have been launched against more than 900 members of the Canadian Armed Forces for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Chief of the defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, ordered all military personnel to attest to having been fully vaccinated by mid-October. The deadline was later extended to mid-December. Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says reviews had been launched against 100 Armed Forces members by the end of December for repeatedly refusing to get their jabs. Another 800 had received warnings, orders to attend counselling and other remedial measures, and could also be forced to hang up their uniforms if they refuse to get the shot.

  • COVID-19 modelling released Friday by the British Columbia government shows the latest wave propelled by the Omicron variant may have already peaked in parts of the province. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the wave has spread faster than previous ones and health officials believe the top of the latest surge was likely reached this past weekend. The modelling figures show a decrease in infections in two health authorities, Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health, with a levelling off on Vancouver Island and a slight rise in the Interior.

  • More than 3,000 people are now in Quebec hospitals with COVID-19 and another 68 deaths have been linked to the disease. The Health Department said today the number of hospitalizations had risen by 91 from the day before, to 3,085, after 442 people were admitted and 351 discharged. Officials say 275 people are in intensive care, an increase of three from the day before.

  • The government of Nova Scotia did not disclose a recent outbreak of COVID-19 at a large facility housing people with intellectual disabilities, citing the privacy of residents for the decision that’s dismayed disability rights advocates. Documents from the facility obtained by The Canadian Press reveal that in the days after Christmas, two workers at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S., and one resident had contracted COVID-19. The centre, which is home to 159 residents, declined all comment, referring the matter to public health.

3:41 p.m. Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting four more COVID-19-related deaths today, hours before the province enters a two-week lockdown, reports The Canadian Press.

Two people in their 70s died in the Moncton and Fredericton regions, and two people in their 80s died in the Saint John and Edmundston areas, according to CP.

New Brunswick has reported a total of 182 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Health officials say there are 103 people hospitalized with the disease, one less than on Thursday. Eleven people are in intensive care.

The Level 3 lockdown restrictions, set to go into force at midnight, include the closure of gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants.

Retail businesses can remain open at half capacity and with distancing between people there maintained.

2:47 p.m.: In a major pre-election setback for Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips is retiring from politics.

Phillips, a key cabinet minister who has represented Ajax since 2018, announced Friday he would not be running in the June 2 election.

“I have spoken with Premier Ford and with Brian Patterson, president of the Ontario PC Party, to inform them of my decision not to seek re-election and to step down next month as the MPP for Ajax,” Phillips, 56, said in a written statement.

His surprise departure is a political blow to Ford, coming just 20 weeks before what public opinion polls suggest could be a close election.

Read the full story here from Robert Benzie

2:33 p.m.: As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly and infects people, stark contrasts in approach by Canada and the U.S have become evident.

Most Canadians have cancelled plans, huddled into lockdowns and braced for public health restrictions. Meanwhile across the border, America is open for business even as the country shattered a global record with more than 1.35 million COVID-19 cases in a single day.

In today’s episode of This Matters, Saba Eitizaz asks Edward Keenan, The Star’s Washington Bureau Chief, about the differences in the Canadian and American responses to the Omicron surge. Listen to it here.

2:30 p.m.: COVID-19 modelling released by the British Columbia government shows the latest wave propelled by the Omicron variant may have already peaked in parts of the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the wave has spread faster than previous ones and health officials believe the top of the latest surge was likely reached this past weekend.

The modelling figures show a decrease in infections in two health authorities, Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health, with a levelling off on Vancouver Island and a slight rise in the Interior.

The data also show actual infections could be three to four times higher than the official daily figures because testing capacities have hit their limit in the province.

2:25 p.m.: New federal modelling suggests an estimated peak of 170,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, even with the range of public health restrictions in place across the country.

The peak may come this month and then recede into February but the overall timing of the peak is likely to vary across the country, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a briefing Friday.

Those numbers aren’t based on known case counts but what’s believed to be the true spread of the Omicron virus in Canada, given that testing capacity is now restricted nationwide, Tam said.

Without existing measures, Tam said, that peak could be nearly 300,000 per day.

“These scenarios highlight that while combined public health measures and booster doses could help reduce the size of the Omicron wave, in either scenario, the true number of daily cases, driven by extremely high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, could still vastly exceed anything we have experienced to date during this pandemic,” she said.

Read the full story here from Stephanie Levitz

2 p.m.: When news of the first cases of COVID-19 began cropping up in Canada in early 2020, Linda Silas was one of the first to ring alarm bells about the lack of proper personal protective equipment for health workers.

While early indications showed the virus was spread by droplets that settled on surfaces, Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, urged health authorities to learn from the SARS outbreak of 2003 and take the highest level of precaution.

Now she knows she was right — the virus is airborne — but she is still desperately calling for more protective equipment for nurses two years later.

Regional unions across the country report that nurses who have requested fit-tested respirators still can’t get them in some cases, despite the Omicron variant being far more transmissible than previous variants.

The shortage of healthy nurses to address the massive wave of the Omicron variant has meant hospitals and other health institutions have deployed nurses with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and still some are not offered appropriate masks, she said.

“These vulnerable patients might have a COVID positive staff treating them, and without the proper PPE it’s plain dangerous,” she said.

2 p.m.: More than 3,000 people are now in Quebec hospitals with COVID-19 and another 68 deaths have been linked to the disease.

The Health Department said today the number of hospitalizations had risen by 91 from the day before, to 3,085, after 442 people were admitted and 351 discharged.

Officials say 275 people are in intensive care, an increase of three from the day before.

The Health Department says 7,382 new cases of COVID-19 were detected Thursday and 15.9 per cent of tests conducted were positive.

Authorities say 340 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in long-term care facilities, bringing the total number of active infections in those facilities to 3,324.

2 p.m. The Toronto Maple Leafs have added three more players to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol as an outbreak on the team that started in December continues to drag on.

The Leafs announced Friday that forwards Ondrej Kaše and Nick Ritchie and defenceman Justin Holl have been added to the list.

The announcement comes two days after the Maple Leafs dropped a 2-1 road decision to the Arizona Coyotes, who are in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak.

1:49 p.m.: Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting the first two COVID-19 deaths of the pandemic.

Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says a person between the ages of 60 and 79 and a person over the age of 79 have died of COVID-19.

Premier Dennis King issued a statement today extending condolences to the families of the two people.

Officials are also reporting 225 new cases of COVID-19.

Prince Edward Island has 1,994 active reported cases and has reported an average of 199 new infections a day over the last week.

Morrison says the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 is unchanged from a day earlier — eight patients, including one in intensive care.

1:45 p.m. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has pushed back its return to play to Feb. 1 due to ongoing challenges around the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league had originally planned to restart on Monday.

The QMJHL said in a statement that the change to the restart was made because there is no clear timeline of easing COVID-19 restrictions.

Most of the league’s teams operate out of Quebec, where entertainment venues remain closed and a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is in force. The curfew is expected to be lifted Monday.

1:30 p.m. JJP Community Centre (1369 St. Clair Avenue West) is holding a COVID-19 vaccination clinic every Friday until Feb. 4 from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Those ages 5-29 will be provided with Pfizer and those 30 plus will be provided with Moderna. No health card is needed but bring proof of age.

1:15 p.m. A Rhode Island man who is believed to have faked his death and fled the U.S. to evade prosecution in Utah and other states has been apprehended in Scotland after being hospitalized with COVID-19, authorities said.

Nicholas Alahverdian was discovered after developing a serious case of the coronavirus and being placed on a ventilator at a hospital in Glasgow, Rhode Island State Police Maj. Robert Creamer told The Providence Journal on Wednesday.

Alahverdian, 34, who had been a vocal critic of Rhode Island’s child welfare system in recent years, now faces extradition to the U.S. to face a charge of first-degree rape in Utah.

12:55 p.m. The scientific director of Ontario’s expert pandemic advisory group says some indicators suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the next few weeks.

Dr. Peter Juni says while the province lacks accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases, data on mobility and test positivity are offering some clues on the current trajectory.

He says people’s mobility outside of their homes, which is strongly correlated with their number of contacts, has dropped significantly since late last month.

Test positivity has also started to decrease.

Juni says those two elements combined are cause for cautious optimism that the COVID-19 situation in hospitals may start to peak in the next few weeks.

12:40 p.m. Patients in Ontario hospitals struggling with unprecedented COVID-19 admissions can now be transferred to other hospitals without consent as the Omicron surge comes to a head, the Star has learned.

A directive signed Friday by chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore clears the way for the practice, which has not seen since the pandemic’s third wave last spring when intensive care units rapidly filled, leading to 2,000 critically ill patients being transferred to other cities and away from their families.

“It’s sending a very strong message to the system that the functional integrity of the health-care system is in danger,” said Dr. Chris Simpson, a cardiologist at Kingston General Hospital and executive vice-president of Ontario Health, a provincial agency overseeing health care.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

12:10 p.m. Barberian’s Steak House, in partnership with the University Health Network (UHN), will be holding a low-barrier vaccination clinic in support of front-line food and hospitality workers on Jan. 20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The clinic will offer 1st, 2nd, and 3rd doses for all those in the food, restaurant, and hospitality industry. No appointments are required nor proof of address or identification.

12 p.m. Some Ontario school boards say classes could be cancelled with very little notice if they don’t have enough teachers available due to high rates of COVID-19.

Classes are set to resume in-person on Monday after schools began the term with online learning.

In a message to parents, the Toronto District School Board — the province’s largest — says it’s taken numerous steps to ensure staffing levels are as high as possible, but last-minute class cancellations could happen.

The Rainbow District School Board in northern Ontario says it may have to cancel classes day-of if there aren’t enough teachers.

And the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says it will make “every effort” to keep classes and schools open, but if it cannot operate safely, a class or school may have to pivot to remote learning.

11:45 a.m. Boris Johnson’s office apologized to Queen Elizabeth following revelations of partying in Downing Street the night before her husband’s funeral, heaping further pressure on the prime minister as his government faces a string of allegations over pandemic rule-breaking.

The Daily Telegraph on Friday said that on April 16, 2021, two parties were held in Downing Street to mark the departures of two staffers, on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral. One of them was for Johnson’s former spokesman James Slack. At the time, indoor mixing between households was still banned.

“It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning,” Johnson’s spokesman, Jamie Davies, told reporters at a regular briefing, declining to comment on whether the government believes the events also breached COVID regulations. “We acknowledge the significant public anger.”

11:15 a.m. (updated) New federal modelling suggests an estimated peak of 170,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, even with the range of public health restrictions in place across the country.

The peak may come this month and then recede into February but the overall timing of the peak is likely to vary across the country, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a briefing Friday.

Those numbers aren’t based on known case counts but what’s believed to be the true spread of the Omicron virus in Canada, given that testing capacity is now restricted nationwide, Tam said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Stephanie Levitz

10:42 a.m. An outbreak of COVID-19 at a large facility housing people with intellectual disabilities in Nova Scotia wasn’t disclosed to the public, because the province says it wants to protect the privacy of residents.

Documents from the facility obtained by The Canadian Press say that in the days after Christmas, two workers at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S., and one resident had contracted COVID-19.

The centre, which is home to 159 residents, declined all comment, referring the matter to public health.

10:21 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 3,814 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 527 in intensive care.

That’s an increase from 3,630 patients in hospital yesterday, and 27 more in ICU. The province is also reporting 41 new deaths today from the virus.

There are 288 people on ventilators due to COVID-19, 13 more than the previous day.

There are 10,964 new COVID-19 cases reported, though Public Health Ontario has noted that the total number is likely higher due to testing policy changes.

10:20 a.m. Australia cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time, reversing a court decision that temporarily thwarted the federal government’s bid to deport the unvaccinated tennis star.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke exercised special powers to override the court ruling, just days before the world men’s No. 1 is due to vie for a record 21st Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open. The visa was revoked on health and good order grounds and on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so, he said in a statement Friday.

“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement following the decision. “Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe.”

10 a.m. Alphonso Davies’ return from a bout of COVID-19 has been put on hold with Bayern Munich saying the Canadian star shows signs of an inflammation of the heart muscle.

The 21-year-old from Edmonton has been sidelined, with his participation in doubt for Canada’s World Cup qualifiers later this month.

Bayern manager Julian Nagelsmann told a pre-match news conference Friday that the problem was detected in the followup examination that all players who have had COVID undergo.

“He’ll sit out training until further notice. He won’t be available, also in the coming weeks,” Nagelsmann said in German.

9:45 a.m. The highly transmissible Omicron variant is forcing mathematicians to rework the models that have helped shaped Canada’s understanding of COVID-19, as well as the country’s response to the pandemic.

Everything from who gets tested to who’s most likely to contract the virus has changed with the latest wave of the pandemic, and that’s posing distinct challenges for those who model its impact, says Caroline Colijn, an associate professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

In particular, Colijn said it will be difficult to understand the severity of the disease as it spreads through a mostly vaccinated public.

“We’re still adapting to flying blind in terms of reported cases,” she said in an interview. “Hospitalizations are lagging and there’s not always good data on them, and (hospitalization numbers) won’t tell you as directly about infections as reported cases will.”

9:30 a.m. Children in Romania aged between 5-11 will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 starting late January, authorities said, as the country grappled Friday with a virus surge and low adult vaccination rates.

Parents or legal guardians can schedule appointments starting this week to get their children inoculated with Pfizer jabs that will be available from Jan. 26, the national vaccination committee said Thursday.

Health authorities said 219 pediatric vaccination centres are configured in the national programming platform and shots can also be administered without appointments at dedicated centres, and in some general practitioners’ surgeries. The jabs will be administered in 21-day intervals.

9:15 a.m. The last quarter of the year is traditionally the slowest in real estate. But last year’s record-breaking sales and prices bucked tradition through to the end, according to the Royal LePage House Price Survey.

It shows that more than half of Canadian property markets — 61 per cent — saw a quarterly increase of 3 per cent or more in the final quarter, including a 4.1 per cent rise in the Toronto area. Among 62 regions surveyed, 87 per cent experience double-digit annual home price growth in the fourth quarter of 2021.

That portends a busier-than-usual spring, said CEO Phil Soper. Thanks to the reinstatement of pandemic restrictions, he expects the upcoming season to look a lot like a less frenetic version of last year — “Too many buyers, no enough homes, multiple offers, upward pressure on prices.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski

9 a.m. Concerns about schools reopening are outweighed by the need for kids to get back to class because they have suffered “significant harms” with online learning, says Toronto’s medical officer of health.

“What this comes down to is the criticality or essentiality of in-person learning for kids,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said in an interview with the Star on Thursday, just days before schools are to reopen for students across the province.

“The evidence shows school closures and shifts to online learning are associated with pretty significant harms — particularly from an educational perspective, but also from a mental health and developmental perspective,” she said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy

8:45 a.m. Thousands of students have been absent from class for “no reason,” according to recent data from Toronto’s public school board.

It’s unclear why they were away last week after the province’s last-minute decision to move schools to remote learning due to rising COVID cases. But figures reveal absences were particularly high amongst elementary students.

“It’s definitely interesting to see the change, but it’s difficult to say what it all means,” said Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board.

Read the full story from the Star’s Isabel Teotonio

8:06 a.m. The Russian government on Friday decided to delay adopting unpopular legislation restricting ccess to public places for the unvaccinated, despite surging coronavirus cases and warnings from top officials about the spread of the highly-infectious omicron variant.

Russia reported 23,820 new infections Friday, a 12% increase from the previous day, and 739 deaths.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said the legislation was postponed due to the “high uncertainty” as the draft bill was originally prepared in response to the Delta variant but “new challenges” have arisen.

The bill required Russians willing to access certain public places to have a QR code either confirming vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19, or a medical exemption from immunization.

The initiative, along with another bill proposing a similar system for both domestic and international planes and trains, was met with high resistance amid a largely vaccine-skeptical population. The transport bill was withdrawn from Parliament last month, but the one on public places passed the first reading.

7:35 a.m. Immunocompromised Ontarians can book appointments for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine starting this morning.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, says appointments for moderately to severely immunocompromised people will be made available through the provincial vaccine contact centre at 8 a.m.

Moore said the move aims to provide further protection for vulnerable populations.

The province has already started administering fourth doses in long-term care homes, retirement homes and other congregate settings.

In a news conference Thursday, Ontario’s top doctor also said transplant patients are lagging in getting their third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is considered part of their primary series of shots.

7 a.m. A wave of unvaccinated workers have filed wrongful dismissal claims in protest of their employers’ vaccine mandates, but lawyers say the courts are likely to prioritize public safety measures over the predicaments of terminated employees.

Canadian employers began firing unvaccinated workers in late October after a string of corporate titans — including several of the largest banks, airlines, railway operators and automakers — warned employees over the summer they had a matter of months to get fully vaccinated or face penalties.

In the time since, workplaces across the country have faced pushback from employees and their unions over vaccine mandates they say breach their pre-existing agreements with their employers.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jacob Lorinc

5:59 a.m.: Homeless and vulnerable people in British Columbia and Alberta have been approached with offers of payment to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by those attempting to fraudulently get a vaccine card.

Vancouver Coastal Health said Thursday those who have been approached have been asked to get vaccinated while falsely using that person’s name and information.

“This behaviour is deplorable and we’re disappointed that anyone would take advantage of vulnerable people in this way in an attempt to circumvent the process for receiving a BC Vaccine Card,” the health authority said in a statement.

“Future instances of fraud may be forwarded to local police authorities for follow up.”

5:59 a.m.: An imminent return to in-class learning has prompted some Manitoba parents to book early COVID-19 followup shots for their young children, but public health officials say it is worth the wait.

Both Canada and Manitoba, per the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Manitoba Pediatric Vaccine Advisory Committee, initially recommended an eight-week interval or 56 days between first and second shots for youth aged five to 11, the latest population to became eligible for a jab. The above recently reaffirmed their support for that time frame, following reviews of the guidance and consideration of Omicron.

With that in mind, and Nov. 24 being the first day child-sized doses were administered in Manitoba, second doses will start to ramp up later this month.

5:58 a.m.: Winnipeg schools are requesting families only accept rapid tests being distributed to K-6 students if they plan to use them and return unused kits they have no intention of utilizing, in order to address high demand and limited supply.

Before classes were dismissed at the end of 2021, the Manitoba government announced the launch of an optional return-to-school testing program that would see elementary students supplied with rapid antigen tests.

The province indicated it had ordered more than 90,000 kits, each containing five tests, from the federal government — enough to ensure every student enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 6 in a public or division-administered First Nations school in Manitoba could receive a kit.

Officials did not confirm Wednesday how many of the kits have been obtained and distributed to schools.

5:57 a.m.: China further tightened its anti-pandemic measures in Beijing and across the country on Friday as scattered outbreaks continued ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics in a little over two weeks.

The actions appear to reflect nervousness about a possible surge in cases ahead of the Beijing Games.

Beijing has ordered children at international schools to be tested starting next week and is barring air passengers who transited via a third point. Citizens are being told only to travel if absolutely necessary, with no guarantee they will be permitted to return if found to have visited a city or region where an outbreak occurred.

The city of Tianjin, about an hour from the capital, has ordered a third round of mass testing starting Saturday morning to be completed within 24 hours.

A port and manufacturing centre with 14 million people, Tianjin is one of a half dozen cities where the government is imposing lockdowns and other restrictions as part of a policy to track down every virus case.

5:54 a.m.: Israel has administered a 4th vaccine dose to more than 500,000 people, the Health Ministry said Friday.

Israel began administering second boosters to the most vulnerable late last month and later began offering them to everyone over 60.

Authorities hope the additional boosters will blunt a wave of infections driven by the omicron variant. Health Ministry figures show Israel currently has some 260,000 active cases. But only 289 patients are listed as seriously ill, far fewer than during previous waves.

Israel was among the first countries to roll out vaccines a year ago and began widely offering third doses last summer in a bid to contain the Delta variant. Nearly half the population has received at least one booster shot.

5:53 a.m.: Tens of thousands of devout Hindus, led by heads of monasteries and ash-smeared ascetics, took a holy dip into the frigid waters of the Ganges River in northern India on Friday despite rising COVID-19 infections in the country.

Hindu pilgrims congregated at the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers — the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati — in Prayagraj city, 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh, to participate in the Magh Mela festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism. They bathed in the Ganges waters, a ritual Hindus believe will wash away their sins and free them from the cycle of death and rebirth.

A similar gathering at a Hindu festival last year in the Himalayan town of Haridwar, in neighbouring Uttarakhand state, helped spread the Delta variant that ravaged the country and made India one of the world’s worst-hit countries. Epidemiologists described the festival as a “superspreader event.”

5:52 a.m.: To mask or not to mask is a question Italy settled early in the COVID-19 outbreak with a vigorous “yes.” Now the one-time epicentre of the pandemic in Europe hopes even stricter mask rules will help it beat the latest infection surge.

Other countries are taking similar action as the more transmissible — yet, apparently, less virulent — omicron variant spreads through the continent.

With Italy’s hospital ICUs rapidly filling with mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, the government announced on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks — which offer users more protection than cloth or surgical masks — must be worn on public transport, including planes, trains, ferries and subways.

That’s even though all passengers in Italy, as of this week, must be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19. FFP2s also must now be worn at theatres, cinemas and sports events, indoors or out, and can’t be removed even for their wearers to eat or drink.

5:51 a.m.: Cambodia on Friday began a fourth round of vaccinations against the coronavirus in response to the omicron variant, with high-risk groups being among the first to receive the additional boosters.

Frontline medical staff and members of the armed forces were among those lining up at hospitals and clinics. Government ministers, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, also received booster doses on Friday.

Hun Sen has appealed to all Cambodian people to get fully vaccinated, including a booster, saying on his Facebook page that it is the only way to make sure to keep their families and communities safe from COVID-19. A campaign to have people get their third jabs is still ongoing.

5:50 a.m.: Two members of the U.S. Marine Corps have been given religious exemptions from the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate, the first of their kind since the mandate was introduced last summer.

According to officials, 95% of active-duty Marines — the military branch with the greatest number of holdouts against COVID-19 vaccines — are inoculated against COVID. About 97% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members in the United States have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Thousands of U.S. troops across the military have sought religious exemptions from the vaccine, but none had been approved until this week. There have been 3,350 requests for religious accommodation across the Marines.

“The Marine Corps recognizes COVID-19 as a readiness issue. The speed with which the disease transmits among individuals has increased risk to our Marines and the Marine Corps’ mission,” Maj. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesman, said Thursday in a written statement.

Friday 5:49 a.m.: South Korea will slightly ease its coronavirus gathering restrictions starting next week but continue to maintain a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants and entertainment venues, as it braces for a possible surge in infections driven by the contagious omicron variant.

Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Friday the four-person limit on private social gatherings between fully vaccinated people will be raised to six for at least three weeks starting Monday.

While officials have acknowledged frustration and fatigue with prolonged virus restrictions and the damage on small businesses, they say they couldn’t afford to loosen social distancing rules further when the country may face a huge wave of cases in coming weeks as omicron continues to spread.

Friday 4 a.m. Some areas of the country are easing pandemic restrictions while others are tightening them depending on their perceptions of whether the COVID-19 curve is flattening or has yet to peak.

Quebec announced its controversial 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be lifted on Monday because researchers there believe the latest wave of the pandemic, fuelled by COVID-19’s highly infectious Omicron variant, is cresting.

And Nunavut says the tough measures it implemented just before Christmas have been so effective that it’s cancelling travel restrictions on Monday, allowing businesses to reopen and schools will resume in-person learning on Jan. 24.

It’s a different story in New Brunswick where new restrictions come into effect today limiting residents to a single-household bubble while also closing gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants.

In neighbouring Prince Edward Island where chief medical health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says the “worst of this wave” is yet to come, current restrictions that include business capacity limits and remote learning for school students will be extended.

Across the country, new COVID case counts and related hospitalizations remain at or near record levels.

Ontario recorded a jump in hospitalizations of 182 to an all-time high of 3,630 on Thursday. About 6,000 new cases were reported in Alberta and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Read Thursday’s coronavirus news.

Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 3,814 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 41 more deaths

OPEN DIGITAL ACCESS Jan 14, 2022 by Star staff Toronto Star

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

8:14 p.m. The Canadian Press has published an account of the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:

  • Some Ontario school boards say classes could be cancelled with very little notice if they don’t have enough teachers available due to high rates of COVID-19. Classes are set to resume in-person on Monday after schools began the term with online learning. In a message to parents, the Toronto District School Board, the province’s largest board, says it’s taken numerous steps to ensure staffing levels are as high as possible, but last-minute class cancellations could happen. The Rainbow District School Board in northern Ontario says there may be same-day class cancellations if there aren’t enough teachers.

  • The scientific director of Ontario’s expert pandemic advisory group says some indicators suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the next few weeks. Dr. Peter Juni says while the province lacks accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases, data on mobility and test positivity are offering some clues on the current trajectory. He says people’s mobility outside of their homes, which is strongly correlated with their number of contacts, has dropped significantly since late last month. Test positivity has also started to decrease.

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  • Botched messaging from the federal government is wreaking havoc among the transport community, and could choke already strained supply chains, says the head of a Canadian trucking organization. The Canada Border Services Agency said Wednesday that a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing into Canada from the United States would not come into effect Saturday as planned. But the government backtracked the next day and stated the rule would go into force this weekend after all. The end of the exemption for truck drivers and other non-essential workers means they must be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine and pre-arrival molecular test for COVID-19.

  • While Quebec Premier François Legault says he’s hopeful about the COVID-19 outbreak in the province, doctors at Montreal-area hospitals are preparing for the number of patients in their care with the disease to keep rising. Dr. Joseph Dahine, an intensive care physician at the Cité-de-la-Santé hospital in Laval, Que., says he and his colleagues are feeling a “mix of fatigue, apprehension, resignation and frustration” as the number of COVID-19 patients continues to rise. There are about eight patients with active COVID-19 cases in the 22-bed ICU at his hospital north of Montreal. Another three ICU patients who were admitted with COVID-19 have been in the unit for more than 28 days, the point at which cases stop being considered active, but involve people too unwell to be discharged. One of his ICU patients has been in hospital since September.

  • The Department of National Defence says formal proceedings have been launched against more than 900 members of the Canadian Armed Forces for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Chief of the defence staff ,Gen. Wayne Eyre, ordered all military personnel to attest to having been fully vaccinated by mid-October. The deadline was later extended to mid-December. Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says reviews had been launched against 100 Armed Forces members by the end of December for repeatedly refusing to get their jabs. Another 800 had received warnings, orders to attend counselling and other remedial measures, and could also be forced to hang up their uniforms if they refuse to get the shot.

  • COVID-19 modelling released by the British Columbia government shows challenging days ahead for the healthcare system, even though the latest wave propelled by the Omicron variant may have peaked in parts of the province. Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says the wave has spread faster than previous ones and their research shows the top of the latest surge was likely reached last weekend. However, the data also shows hospital admissions are expected to peak in the next week with a lag time of about six to eight days after community transmissions, she told a news conference.

  • Tourism operators in British Columbia can apply for financial help from a $15-million relief fund to cover some of their losses due to COVID-19. The provincial government says B.C.-owned hotels or motels that employ more than 150 people, Indigenous-owned resorts on reserves with over 100 employees and tourism operators who hold tenure or BC Parks permits can all apply for grants. The fund was suggested by a task force established in September 2020 to look at ways of helping tourism operators during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador health officials say a 70-year-old woman in the western region of the province has died of COVID-19. She is the 24th person to die from the disease in the province. Public health officials said in a news release Friday there were eight COVID-19 patients in hospital, three of whom were in intensive care.

4:41 p.m. Newfoundland and Labrador health officials say a 70-year-old woman in the western region of the province has died of COVID-19, reports The Canadian Press.

She is the 24th person to die from the disease in the province, according to CP.

Public health officials said in a news release Friday there were eight COVID-19 patients in hospital, three of whom were in intensive care.

The province has 5,574 active reported cases of the disease, though the figures do not include those who may have COVID-19, but do not qualify for PCR testing to confirm their infections.

Officials reported 475 new cases, 404 of which had been confirmed since Thursday.

The remaining 71 cases were among tests sent to labs outside the province because a demand in testing overwhelmed local capacity.

4:17 p.m. Alberta’s big three research universities are extending online learning because the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly, reports The Canadian Press.

The University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge say virtual classes will continue for another six weeks, according to CP.

Students who have been online since returning from the holiday break are to return to their campuses on Feb. 28.

The universities say data shows that infections driven by Omicron are continuing to rise and won’t peak until late January or early next month.

The schools say that makes it prudent to extend online classes until after the spring break in late February.

The Opposition says the provincial government should take responsibility for not providing the resources all schools needed to prepare for a COVID-19 surge, including high-quality N95 masks, rapid tests and air quality audits and upgrades.

Alberta has nearly 63,000 active cases, the highest since the pandemic began, but chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says that number is likely to be 10 times higher because testing for the virus at labs is no longer open to everyone.

4:13 p.m. Nova Scotia is reporting 891 new cases of COVID-19 and four outbreaks at long-term care homes in the province, reports The Canadian Press.

Officials say the new clusters at the care homes involve a total of 23 staff members and 20 residents who have now tested positive for the disease, according to CP.

The affected residences are in Wolfville, New Glasgow, Sydney and Sydney Mines.

There are also additional cases of COVID-19 related to previously reported outbreaks in hospitals across the province.

Officials estimate there are now 6,648 active infections, and 57 people are in hospital due to the disease, including 10 in intensive care.

Officials also say 83.1 per cent of residents have two shots of COVID-19 vaccine, while 90.4 per cent have had at least one dose.

4:11 p.m. Elementary and secondary schools across Western Canada have reopened following the Christmas break as provincial governments faced criticism from teachers over what they say is a lack of protective measures against the COVID-19 Omicron variant, reports The Canadian Press.

Schools in British Columbia and Alberta reopened on Monday with health and education officials stressing the need for in-person learning. Schools in Saskatchewan returned the previous week as scheduled, according to CP.

The leaders of teacher unions in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have been critical of how the reopening of schools has been handled and the stress it has placed on staff.

“We have situations where learning assistants, or learning resource teachers, who are specialized teachers are being pulled out of their duties into classrooms to cover staff shortages,” said Patrick Maze, the head of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation. “The learning program suffers when you have this many transitions going on in the schools.”

The president of the BC Teachers’ Federation agreed with those concerns. Teri Mooring said teachers want greater access to N95 masks in schools as well as priority for booster vaccines.

Four B.C. schools announced functional closures this week, meaning there was not enough staff to teach students.

“We’re concerned there will be a lot more functional closures. It’s hard for us to understand why the additional safety measures we’re calling for aren’t being put in place,” Mooring said in an interview.

She said refusing to accommodate the union’s requests could lead to a staffing shortage in schools.

“We think with those safety measures teachers and support staff are more likely to stay healthy,” she said. “This whole issue of doing the bare minimum has always been a problem in education. We’d like to see a more preventive approach rather than a bare minimum approach.”

B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said in an interview that teachers would not be prioritized for vaccines and the government has taken steps to manage risks posed by the virus.

“It is a balancing act. One thing we have been very determined about in B.C. ... is to ensure we keep children and youth at the centre of our decision-making. We know how important it is to have access to in-person learning,” said Jennifer Whiteside.

But Cameron Phillips, a parent and Vancouver secondary school teacher, said he questions if the B.C. government is thinking about the long-term health effects facing students.

Phillips said he and his wife, who is an elementary school teacher, decided to keep their kids home this week as they assess the COVID-19 situation in schools.

“As a parent, I’m concerned about the future health of my children,” he said. “As a teacher, I love my kids. I love my students. I know the school I teach at has many multiple generation families. There are so many students in my classes who are terrified of taking it home to auntie or grandma and causing suffering or havoc in their families.”

Phillips said he’s “baffled” by the reluctance to provide N95 masks to students and staff, and would like to see improved ventilation in schools.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said schools have done a commendable job of continuing in-person learning in a safe way.

“One thing we’ve seen is how important it is to maintain in-class learning as much as possible while accepting some higher transmission, which is not just unique to school, this is happening in health care, schools, all workplaces,” he said.

In Alberta, as the number of Omicron infections hit a record high this week, the president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said he’s concerned about students’ future in classrooms because “community spread is echoed in schools.”

“I anticipate we’re going to have more of what we saw this year but it might be intensified so we’ll see more absences, we’ll see more inabilities for schools to fill absent teachers,” Jason Schilling said Friday.

Alberta has left it up to schools to contact trace infections.

Hundreds of students and dozens of teachers were reported absent on the Edmonton Public Schools board website on Thursday. Out of 105,151 students under the division, 3.16 per cent were absent due to COVID-19 and 3.56 per cent were absent due to other illnesses.

The Calgary Board of Education also said its absent rate for kindergarten to Grade 12 students was 20.2 per cent on Wednesday.

4:10 p.m. The lCanadian Press has published a look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:

  • Some Ontario school boards say classes could be cancelled with very little notice if they don’t have enough teachers available due to high rates of COVID-19. Classes are set to resume in-person on Monday after schools began the term with online learning. In a message to parents, the Toronto District School Board, the province’s largest, says it’s taken numerous steps to ensure staffing levels are as high as possible, but last-minute class cancellations could happen. The Rainbow District School Board in northern Ontario says there may be same-day class cancellations if there aren’t enough teachers.

  • The scientific director of Ontario’s expert pandemic advisory group says some indicators suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the next few weeks. Dr. Peter Juni says, while the province lacks accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases, data on mobility and test positivity are offering some clues on the current trajectory. He says people’s mobility outside of their homes, which is strongly correlated with their number of contacts, has dropped significantly since late last month. Test positivity has also started to decrease.

  • Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting the first two COVID-19 deaths of the pandemic. Chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, says a person between the ages of 60 and 79 and a person over the age of 79 have died of COVID-19. Premier Dennis King issued a statement extending condolences to the families of the two people. Officials are also reporting 225 new cases of COVID-19 on the Island.

  • When news of the first cases of COVID-19 began cropping up in Canada in early 2020, Linda Silas was one of the first to ring alarm bells about the lack of proper personal protective equipment for health workers. While early indications showed the virus was spread by droplets that settled on surfaces, Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, urged health authorities to learn from the SARS outbreak of 2003 and take the highest level of precaution. Now she knows she was right — the virus is airborne — but she is still desperately calling for more protective equipment for nurses two years later. Regional unions across the country report that nurses who have requested fit-tested respirators still can’t get them in some cases, despite the Omicron variant being far more transmissible than previous strains.

  • The Department of National Defence says formal proceedings have been launched against more than 900 members of the Canadian Armed Forces for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Chief of the defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, ordered all military personnel to attest to having been fully vaccinated by mid-October. The deadline was later extended to mid-December. Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says reviews had been launched against 100 Armed Forces members by the end of December for repeatedly refusing to get their jabs. Another 800 had received warnings, orders to attend counselling and other remedial measures, and could also be forced to hang up their uniforms if they refuse to get the shot.

  • COVID-19 modelling released Friday by the British Columbia government shows the latest wave propelled by the Omicron variant may have already peaked in parts of the province. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the wave has spread faster than previous ones and health officials believe the top of the latest surge was likely reached this past weekend. The modelling figures show a decrease in infections in two health authorities, Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health, with a levelling off on Vancouver Island and a slight rise in the Interior.

  • More than 3,000 people are now in Quebec hospitals with COVID-19 and another 68 deaths have been linked to the disease. The Health Department said today the number of hospitalizations had risen by 91 from the day before, to 3,085, after 442 people were admitted and 351 discharged. Officials say 275 people are in intensive care, an increase of three from the day before.

  • The government of Nova Scotia did not disclose a recent outbreak of COVID-19 at a large facility housing people with intellectual disabilities, citing the privacy of residents for the decision that’s dismayed disability rights advocates. Documents from the facility obtained by The Canadian Press reveal that in the days after Christmas, two workers at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S., and one resident had contracted COVID-19. The centre, which is home to 159 residents, declined all comment, referring the matter to public health.

3:41 p.m. Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting four more COVID-19-related deaths today, hours before the province enters a two-week lockdown, reports The Canadian Press.

Two people in their 70s died in the Moncton and Fredericton regions, and two people in their 80s died in the Saint John and Edmundston areas, according to CP.

New Brunswick has reported a total of 182 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Health officials say there are 103 people hospitalized with the disease, one less than on Thursday. Eleven people are in intensive care.

The Level 3 lockdown restrictions, set to go into force at midnight, include the closure of gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants.

Retail businesses can remain open at half capacity and with distancing between people there maintained.

2:47 p.m.: In a major pre-election setback for Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips is retiring from politics.

Phillips, a key cabinet minister who has represented Ajax since 2018, announced Friday he would not be running in the June 2 election.

“I have spoken with Premier Ford and with Brian Patterson, president of the Ontario PC Party, to inform them of my decision not to seek re-election and to step down next month as the MPP for Ajax,” Phillips, 56, said in a written statement.

His surprise departure is a political blow to Ford, coming just 20 weeks before what public opinion polls suggest could be a close election.

Read the full story here from Robert Benzie

2:33 p.m.: As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly and infects people, stark contrasts in approach by Canada and the U.S have become evident.

Most Canadians have cancelled plans, huddled into lockdowns and braced for public health restrictions. Meanwhile across the border, America is open for business even as the country shattered a global record with more than 1.35 million COVID-19 cases in a single day.

In today’s episode of This Matters, Saba Eitizaz asks Edward Keenan, The Star’s Washington Bureau Chief, about the differences in the Canadian and American responses to the Omicron surge. Listen to it here.

2:30 p.m.: COVID-19 modelling released by the British Columbia government shows the latest wave propelled by the Omicron variant may have already peaked in parts of the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the wave has spread faster than previous ones and health officials believe the top of the latest surge was likely reached this past weekend.

The modelling figures show a decrease in infections in two health authorities, Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health, with a levelling off on Vancouver Island and a slight rise in the Interior.

The data also show actual infections could be three to four times higher than the official daily figures because testing capacities have hit their limit in the province.

2:25 p.m.: New federal modelling suggests an estimated peak of 170,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, even with the range of public health restrictions in place across the country.

The peak may come this month and then recede into February but the overall timing of the peak is likely to vary across the country, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a briefing Friday.

Those numbers aren’t based on known case counts but what’s believed to be the true spread of the Omicron virus in Canada, given that testing capacity is now restricted nationwide, Tam said.

Without existing measures, Tam said, that peak could be nearly 300,000 per day.

“These scenarios highlight that while combined public health measures and booster doses could help reduce the size of the Omicron wave, in either scenario, the true number of daily cases, driven by extremely high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, could still vastly exceed anything we have experienced to date during this pandemic,” she said.

Read the full story here from Stephanie Levitz

2 p.m.: When news of the first cases of COVID-19 began cropping up in Canada in early 2020, Linda Silas was one of the first to ring alarm bells about the lack of proper personal protective equipment for health workers.

While early indications showed the virus was spread by droplets that settled on surfaces, Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, urged health authorities to learn from the SARS outbreak of 2003 and take the highest level of precaution.

Now she knows she was right — the virus is airborne — but she is still desperately calling for more protective equipment for nurses two years later.

Regional unions across the country report that nurses who have requested fit-tested respirators still can’t get them in some cases, despite the Omicron variant being far more transmissible than previous variants.

The shortage of healthy nurses to address the massive wave of the Omicron variant has meant hospitals and other health institutions have deployed nurses with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and still some are not offered appropriate masks, she said.

“These vulnerable patients might have a COVID positive staff treating them, and without the proper PPE it’s plain dangerous,” she said.

2 p.m.: More than 3,000 people are now in Quebec hospitals with COVID-19 and another 68 deaths have been linked to the disease.

The Health Department said today the number of hospitalizations had risen by 91 from the day before, to 3,085, after 442 people were admitted and 351 discharged.

Officials say 275 people are in intensive care, an increase of three from the day before.

The Health Department says 7,382 new cases of COVID-19 were detected Thursday and 15.9 per cent of tests conducted were positive.

Authorities say 340 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in long-term care facilities, bringing the total number of active infections in those facilities to 3,324.

2 p.m. The Toronto Maple Leafs have added three more players to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol as an outbreak on the team that started in December continues to drag on.

The Leafs announced Friday that forwards Ondrej Kaše and Nick Ritchie and defenceman Justin Holl have been added to the list.

The announcement comes two days after the Maple Leafs dropped a 2-1 road decision to the Arizona Coyotes, who are in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak.

1:49 p.m.: Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting the first two COVID-19 deaths of the pandemic.

Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says a person between the ages of 60 and 79 and a person over the age of 79 have died of COVID-19.

Premier Dennis King issued a statement today extending condolences to the families of the two people.

Officials are also reporting 225 new cases of COVID-19.

Prince Edward Island has 1,994 active reported cases and has reported an average of 199 new infections a day over the last week.

Morrison says the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 is unchanged from a day earlier — eight patients, including one in intensive care.

1:45 p.m. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has pushed back its return to play to Feb. 1 due to ongoing challenges around the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league had originally planned to restart on Monday.

The QMJHL said in a statement that the change to the restart was made because there is no clear timeline of easing COVID-19 restrictions.

Most of the league’s teams operate out of Quebec, where entertainment venues remain closed and a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is in force. The curfew is expected to be lifted Monday.

1:30 p.m. JJP Community Centre (1369 St. Clair Avenue West) is holding a COVID-19 vaccination clinic every Friday until Feb. 4 from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Those ages 5-29 will be provided with Pfizer and those 30 plus will be provided with Moderna. No health card is needed but bring proof of age.

1:15 p.m. A Rhode Island man who is believed to have faked his death and fled the U.S. to evade prosecution in Utah and other states has been apprehended in Scotland after being hospitalized with COVID-19, authorities said.

Nicholas Alahverdian was discovered after developing a serious case of the coronavirus and being placed on a ventilator at a hospital in Glasgow, Rhode Island State Police Maj. Robert Creamer told The Providence Journal on Wednesday.

Alahverdian, 34, who had been a vocal critic of Rhode Island’s child welfare system in recent years, now faces extradition to the U.S. to face a charge of first-degree rape in Utah.

12:55 p.m. The scientific director of Ontario’s expert pandemic advisory group says some indicators suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the next few weeks.

Dr. Peter Juni says while the province lacks accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases, data on mobility and test positivity are offering some clues on the current trajectory.

He says people’s mobility outside of their homes, which is strongly correlated with their number of contacts, has dropped significantly since late last month.

Test positivity has also started to decrease.

Juni says those two elements combined are cause for cautious optimism that the COVID-19 situation in hospitals may start to peak in the next few weeks.

12:40 p.m. Patients in Ontario hospitals struggling with unprecedented COVID-19 admissions can now be transferred to other hospitals without consent as the Omicron surge comes to a head, the Star has learned.

A directive signed Friday by chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore clears the way for the practice, which has not seen since the pandemic’s third wave last spring when intensive care units rapidly filled, leading to 2,000 critically ill patients being transferred to other cities and away from their families.

“It’s sending a very strong message to the system that the functional integrity of the health-care system is in danger,” said Dr. Chris Simpson, a cardiologist at Kingston General Hospital and executive vice-president of Ontario Health, a provincial agency overseeing health care.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

12:10 p.m. Barberian’s Steak House, in partnership with the University Health Network (UHN), will be holding a low-barrier vaccination clinic in support of front-line food and hospitality workers on Jan. 20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The clinic will offer 1st, 2nd, and 3rd doses for all those in the food, restaurant, and hospitality industry. No appointments are required nor proof of address or identification.

12 p.m. Some Ontario school boards say classes could be cancelled with very little notice if they don’t have enough teachers available due to high rates of COVID-19.

Classes are set to resume in-person on Monday after schools began the term with online learning.

In a message to parents, the Toronto District School Board — the province’s largest — says it’s taken numerous steps to ensure staffing levels are as high as possible, but last-minute class cancellations could happen.

The Rainbow District School Board in northern Ontario says it may have to cancel classes day-of if there aren’t enough teachers.

And the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says it will make “every effort” to keep classes and schools open, but if it cannot operate safely, a class or school may have to pivot to remote learning.

11:45 a.m. Boris Johnson’s office apologized to Queen Elizabeth following revelations of partying in Downing Street the night before her husband’s funeral, heaping further pressure on the prime minister as his government faces a string of allegations over pandemic rule-breaking.

The Daily Telegraph on Friday said that on April 16, 2021, two parties were held in Downing Street to mark the departures of two staffers, on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral. One of them was for Johnson’s former spokesman James Slack. At the time, indoor mixing between households was still banned.

“It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning,” Johnson’s spokesman, Jamie Davies, told reporters at a regular briefing, declining to comment on whether the government believes the events also breached COVID regulations. “We acknowledge the significant public anger.”

11:15 a.m. (updated) New federal modelling suggests an estimated peak of 170,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, even with the range of public health restrictions in place across the country.

The peak may come this month and then recede into February but the overall timing of the peak is likely to vary across the country, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a briefing Friday.

Those numbers aren’t based on known case counts but what’s believed to be the true spread of the Omicron virus in Canada, given that testing capacity is now restricted nationwide, Tam said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Stephanie Levitz

10:42 a.m. An outbreak of COVID-19 at a large facility housing people with intellectual disabilities in Nova Scotia wasn’t disclosed to the public, because the province says it wants to protect the privacy of residents.

Documents from the facility obtained by The Canadian Press say that in the days after Christmas, two workers at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S., and one resident had contracted COVID-19.

The centre, which is home to 159 residents, declined all comment, referring the matter to public health.

10:21 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 3,814 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 527 in intensive care.

That’s an increase from 3,630 patients in hospital yesterday, and 27 more in ICU. The province is also reporting 41 new deaths today from the virus.

There are 288 people on ventilators due to COVID-19, 13 more than the previous day.

There are 10,964 new COVID-19 cases reported, though Public Health Ontario has noted that the total number is likely higher due to testing policy changes.

10:20 a.m. Australia cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time, reversing a court decision that temporarily thwarted the federal government’s bid to deport the unvaccinated tennis star.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke exercised special powers to override the court ruling, just days before the world men’s No. 1 is due to vie for a record 21st Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open. The visa was revoked on health and good order grounds and on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so, he said in a statement Friday.

“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement following the decision. “Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe.”

10 a.m. Alphonso Davies’ return from a bout of COVID-19 has been put on hold with Bayern Munich saying the Canadian star shows signs of an inflammation of the heart muscle.

The 21-year-old from Edmonton has been sidelined, with his participation in doubt for Canada’s World Cup qualifiers later this month.

Bayern manager Julian Nagelsmann told a pre-match news conference Friday that the problem was detected in the followup examination that all players who have had COVID undergo.

“He’ll sit out training until further notice. He won’t be available, also in the coming weeks,” Nagelsmann said in German.

9:45 a.m. The highly transmissible Omicron variant is forcing mathematicians to rework the models that have helped shaped Canada’s understanding of COVID-19, as well as the country’s response to the pandemic.

Everything from who gets tested to who’s most likely to contract the virus has changed with the latest wave of the pandemic, and that’s posing distinct challenges for those who model its impact, says Caroline Colijn, an associate professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

In particular, Colijn said it will be difficult to understand the severity of the disease as it spreads through a mostly vaccinated public.

“We’re still adapting to flying blind in terms of reported cases,” she said in an interview. “Hospitalizations are lagging and there’s not always good data on them, and (hospitalization numbers) won’t tell you as directly about infections as reported cases will.”

9:30 a.m. Children in Romania aged between 5-11 will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 starting late January, authorities said, as the country grappled Friday with a virus surge and low adult vaccination rates.

Parents or legal guardians can schedule appointments starting this week to get their children inoculated with Pfizer jabs that will be available from Jan. 26, the national vaccination committee said Thursday.

Health authorities said 219 pediatric vaccination centres are configured in the national programming platform and shots can also be administered without appointments at dedicated centres, and in some general practitioners’ surgeries. The jabs will be administered in 21-day intervals.

9:15 a.m. The last quarter of the year is traditionally the slowest in real estate. But last year’s record-breaking sales and prices bucked tradition through to the end, according to the Royal LePage House Price Survey.

It shows that more than half of Canadian property markets — 61 per cent — saw a quarterly increase of 3 per cent or more in the final quarter, including a 4.1 per cent rise in the Toronto area. Among 62 regions surveyed, 87 per cent experience double-digit annual home price growth in the fourth quarter of 2021.

That portends a busier-than-usual spring, said CEO Phil Soper. Thanks to the reinstatement of pandemic restrictions, he expects the upcoming season to look a lot like a less frenetic version of last year — “Too many buyers, no enough homes, multiple offers, upward pressure on prices.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski

9 a.m. Concerns about schools reopening are outweighed by the need for kids to get back to class because they have suffered “significant harms” with online learning, says Toronto’s medical officer of health.

“What this comes down to is the criticality or essentiality of in-person learning for kids,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said in an interview with the Star on Thursday, just days before schools are to reopen for students across the province.

“The evidence shows school closures and shifts to online learning are associated with pretty significant harms — particularly from an educational perspective, but also from a mental health and developmental perspective,” she said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy

8:45 a.m. Thousands of students have been absent from class for “no reason,” according to recent data from Toronto’s public school board.

It’s unclear why they were away last week after the province’s last-minute decision to move schools to remote learning due to rising COVID cases. But figures reveal absences were particularly high amongst elementary students.

“It’s definitely interesting to see the change, but it’s difficult to say what it all means,” said Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board.

Read the full story from the Star’s Isabel Teotonio

8:06 a.m. The Russian government on Friday decided to delay adopting unpopular legislation restricting ccess to public places for the unvaccinated, despite surging coronavirus cases and warnings from top officials about the spread of the highly-infectious omicron variant.

Russia reported 23,820 new infections Friday, a 12% increase from the previous day, and 739 deaths.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said the legislation was postponed due to the “high uncertainty” as the draft bill was originally prepared in response to the Delta variant but “new challenges” have arisen.

The bill required Russians willing to access certain public places to have a QR code either confirming vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19, or a medical exemption from immunization.

The initiative, along with another bill proposing a similar system for both domestic and international planes and trains, was met with high resistance amid a largely vaccine-skeptical population. The transport bill was withdrawn from Parliament last month, but the one on public places passed the first reading.

7:35 a.m. Immunocompromised Ontarians can book appointments for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine starting this morning.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, says appointments for moderately to severely immunocompromised people will be made available through the provincial vaccine contact centre at 8 a.m.

Moore said the move aims to provide further protection for vulnerable populations.

The province has already started administering fourth doses in long-term care homes, retirement homes and other congregate settings.

In a news conference Thursday, Ontario’s top doctor also said transplant patients are lagging in getting their third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is considered part of their primary series of shots.

7 a.m. A wave of unvaccinated workers have filed wrongful dismissal claims in protest of their employers’ vaccine mandates, but lawyers say the courts are likely to prioritize public safety measures over the predicaments of terminated employees.

Canadian employers began firing unvaccinated workers in late October after a string of corporate titans — including several of the largest banks, airlines, railway operators and automakers — warned employees over the summer they had a matter of months to get fully vaccinated or face penalties.

In the time since, workplaces across the country have faced pushback from employees and their unions over vaccine mandates they say breach their pre-existing agreements with their employers.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jacob Lorinc

5:59 a.m.: Homeless and vulnerable people in British Columbia and Alberta have been approached with offers of payment to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by those attempting to fraudulently get a vaccine card.

Vancouver Coastal Health said Thursday those who have been approached have been asked to get vaccinated while falsely using that person’s name and information.

“This behaviour is deplorable and we’re disappointed that anyone would take advantage of vulnerable people in this way in an attempt to circumvent the process for receiving a BC Vaccine Card,” the health authority said in a statement.

“Future instances of fraud may be forwarded to local police authorities for follow up.”

5:59 a.m.: An imminent return to in-class learning has prompted some Manitoba parents to book early COVID-19 followup shots for their young children, but public health officials say it is worth the wait.

Both Canada and Manitoba, per the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Manitoba Pediatric Vaccine Advisory Committee, initially recommended an eight-week interval or 56 days between first and second shots for youth aged five to 11, the latest population to became eligible for a jab. The above recently reaffirmed their support for that time frame, following reviews of the guidance and consideration of Omicron.

With that in mind, and Nov. 24 being the first day child-sized doses were administered in Manitoba, second doses will start to ramp up later this month.

5:58 a.m.: Winnipeg schools are requesting families only accept rapid tests being distributed to K-6 students if they plan to use them and return unused kits they have no intention of utilizing, in order to address high demand and limited supply.

Before classes were dismissed at the end of 2021, the Manitoba government announced the launch of an optional return-to-school testing program that would see elementary students supplied with rapid antigen tests.

The province indicated it had ordered more than 90,000 kits, each containing five tests, from the federal government — enough to ensure every student enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 6 in a public or division-administered First Nations school in Manitoba could receive a kit.

Officials did not confirm Wednesday how many of the kits have been obtained and distributed to schools.

5:57 a.m.: China further tightened its anti-pandemic measures in Beijing and across the country on Friday as scattered outbreaks continued ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics in a little over two weeks.

The actions appear to reflect nervousness about a possible surge in cases ahead of the Beijing Games.

Beijing has ordered children at international schools to be tested starting next week and is barring air passengers who transited via a third point. Citizens are being told only to travel if absolutely necessary, with no guarantee they will be permitted to return if found to have visited a city or region where an outbreak occurred.

The city of Tianjin, about an hour from the capital, has ordered a third round of mass testing starting Saturday morning to be completed within 24 hours.

A port and manufacturing centre with 14 million people, Tianjin is one of a half dozen cities where the government is imposing lockdowns and other restrictions as part of a policy to track down every virus case.

5:54 a.m.: Israel has administered a 4th vaccine dose to more than 500,000 people, the Health Ministry said Friday.

Israel began administering second boosters to the most vulnerable late last month and later began offering them to everyone over 60.

Authorities hope the additional boosters will blunt a wave of infections driven by the omicron variant. Health Ministry figures show Israel currently has some 260,000 active cases. But only 289 patients are listed as seriously ill, far fewer than during previous waves.

Israel was among the first countries to roll out vaccines a year ago and began widely offering third doses last summer in a bid to contain the Delta variant. Nearly half the population has received at least one booster shot.

5:53 a.m.: Tens of thousands of devout Hindus, led by heads of monasteries and ash-smeared ascetics, took a holy dip into the frigid waters of the Ganges River in northern India on Friday despite rising COVID-19 infections in the country.

Hindu pilgrims congregated at the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers — the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati — in Prayagraj city, 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh, to participate in the Magh Mela festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism. They bathed in the Ganges waters, a ritual Hindus believe will wash away their sins and free them from the cycle of death and rebirth.

A similar gathering at a Hindu festival last year in the Himalayan town of Haridwar, in neighbouring Uttarakhand state, helped spread the Delta variant that ravaged the country and made India one of the world’s worst-hit countries. Epidemiologists described the festival as a “superspreader event.”

5:52 a.m.: To mask or not to mask is a question Italy settled early in the COVID-19 outbreak with a vigorous “yes.” Now the one-time epicentre of the pandemic in Europe hopes even stricter mask rules will help it beat the latest infection surge.

Other countries are taking similar action as the more transmissible — yet, apparently, less virulent — omicron variant spreads through the continent.

With Italy’s hospital ICUs rapidly filling with mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, the government announced on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks — which offer users more protection than cloth or surgical masks — must be worn on public transport, including planes, trains, ferries and subways.

That’s even though all passengers in Italy, as of this week, must be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19. FFP2s also must now be worn at theatres, cinemas and sports events, indoors or out, and can’t be removed even for their wearers to eat or drink.

5:51 a.m.: Cambodia on Friday began a fourth round of vaccinations against the coronavirus in response to the omicron variant, with high-risk groups being among the first to receive the additional boosters.

Frontline medical staff and members of the armed forces were among those lining up at hospitals and clinics. Government ministers, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, also received booster doses on Friday.

Hun Sen has appealed to all Cambodian people to get fully vaccinated, including a booster, saying on his Facebook page that it is the only way to make sure to keep their families and communities safe from COVID-19. A campaign to have people get their third jabs is still ongoing.

5:50 a.m.: Two members of the U.S. Marine Corps have been given religious exemptions from the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate, the first of their kind since the mandate was introduced last summer.

According to officials, 95% of active-duty Marines — the military branch with the greatest number of holdouts against COVID-19 vaccines — are inoculated against COVID. About 97% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members in the United States have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Thousands of U.S. troops across the military have sought religious exemptions from the vaccine, but none had been approved until this week. There have been 3,350 requests for religious accommodation across the Marines.

“The Marine Corps recognizes COVID-19 as a readiness issue. The speed with which the disease transmits among individuals has increased risk to our Marines and the Marine Corps’ mission,” Maj. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesman, said Thursday in a written statement.

Friday 5:49 a.m.: South Korea will slightly ease its coronavirus gathering restrictions starting next week but continue to maintain a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants and entertainment venues, as it braces for a possible surge in infections driven by the contagious omicron variant.

Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Friday the four-person limit on private social gatherings between fully vaccinated people will be raised to six for at least three weeks starting Monday.

While officials have acknowledged frustration and fatigue with prolonged virus restrictions and the damage on small businesses, they say they couldn’t afford to loosen social distancing rules further when the country may face a huge wave of cases in coming weeks as omicron continues to spread.

Friday 4 a.m. Some areas of the country are easing pandemic restrictions while others are tightening them depending on their perceptions of whether the COVID-19 curve is flattening or has yet to peak.

Quebec announced its controversial 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be lifted on Monday because researchers there believe the latest wave of the pandemic, fuelled by COVID-19’s highly infectious Omicron variant, is cresting.

And Nunavut says the tough measures it implemented just before Christmas have been so effective that it’s cancelling travel restrictions on Monday, allowing businesses to reopen and schools will resume in-person learning on Jan. 24.

It’s a different story in New Brunswick where new restrictions come into effect today limiting residents to a single-household bubble while also closing gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants.

In neighbouring Prince Edward Island where chief medical health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says the “worst of this wave” is yet to come, current restrictions that include business capacity limits and remote learning for school students will be extended.

Across the country, new COVID case counts and related hospitalizations remain at or near record levels.

Ontario recorded a jump in hospitalizations of 182 to an all-time high of 3,630 on Thursday. About 6,000 new cases were reported in Alberta and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Read Thursday’s coronavirus news.

Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 3,814 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 41 more deaths

OPEN DIGITAL ACCESS Jan 14, 2022 by Star staff Toronto Star

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

8:14 p.m. The Canadian Press has published an account of the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:

  • Some Ontario school boards say classes could be cancelled with very little notice if they don’t have enough teachers available due to high rates of COVID-19. Classes are set to resume in-person on Monday after schools began the term with online learning. In a message to parents, the Toronto District School Board, the province’s largest board, says it’s taken numerous steps to ensure staffing levels are as high as possible, but last-minute class cancellations could happen. The Rainbow District School Board in northern Ontario says there may be same-day class cancellations if there aren’t enough teachers.

  • The scientific director of Ontario’s expert pandemic advisory group says some indicators suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the next few weeks. Dr. Peter Juni says while the province lacks accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases, data on mobility and test positivity are offering some clues on the current trajectory. He says people’s mobility outside of their homes, which is strongly correlated with their number of contacts, has dropped significantly since late last month. Test positivity has also started to decrease.

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  • Botched messaging from the federal government is wreaking havoc among the transport community, and could choke already strained supply chains, says the head of a Canadian trucking organization. The Canada Border Services Agency said Wednesday that a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing into Canada from the United States would not come into effect Saturday as planned. But the government backtracked the next day and stated the rule would go into force this weekend after all. The end of the exemption for truck drivers and other non-essential workers means they must be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine and pre-arrival molecular test for COVID-19.

  • While Quebec Premier François Legault says he’s hopeful about the COVID-19 outbreak in the province, doctors at Montreal-area hospitals are preparing for the number of patients in their care with the disease to keep rising. Dr. Joseph Dahine, an intensive care physician at the Cité-de-la-Santé hospital in Laval, Que., says he and his colleagues are feeling a “mix of fatigue, apprehension, resignation and frustration” as the number of COVID-19 patients continues to rise. There are about eight patients with active COVID-19 cases in the 22-bed ICU at his hospital north of Montreal. Another three ICU patients who were admitted with COVID-19 have been in the unit for more than 28 days, the point at which cases stop being considered active, but involve people too unwell to be discharged. One of his ICU patients has been in hospital since September.

  • The Department of National Defence says formal proceedings have been launched against more than 900 members of the Canadian Armed Forces for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Chief of the defence staff ,Gen. Wayne Eyre, ordered all military personnel to attest to having been fully vaccinated by mid-October. The deadline was later extended to mid-December. Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says reviews had been launched against 100 Armed Forces members by the end of December for repeatedly refusing to get their jabs. Another 800 had received warnings, orders to attend counselling and other remedial measures, and could also be forced to hang up their uniforms if they refuse to get the shot.

  • COVID-19 modelling released by the British Columbia government shows challenging days ahead for the healthcare system, even though the latest wave propelled by the Omicron variant may have peaked in parts of the province. Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says the wave has spread faster than previous ones and their research shows the top of the latest surge was likely reached last weekend. However, the data also shows hospital admissions are expected to peak in the next week with a lag time of about six to eight days after community transmissions, she told a news conference.

  • Tourism operators in British Columbia can apply for financial help from a $15-million relief fund to cover some of their losses due to COVID-19. The provincial government says B.C.-owned hotels or motels that employ more than 150 people, Indigenous-owned resorts on reserves with over 100 employees and tourism operators who hold tenure or BC Parks permits can all apply for grants. The fund was suggested by a task force established in September 2020 to look at ways of helping tourism operators during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador health officials say a 70-year-old woman in the western region of the province has died of COVID-19. She is the 24th person to die from the disease in the province. Public health officials said in a news release Friday there were eight COVID-19 patients in hospital, three of whom were in intensive care.

4:41 p.m. Newfoundland and Labrador health officials say a 70-year-old woman in the western region of the province has died of COVID-19, reports The Canadian Press.

She is the 24th person to die from the disease in the province, according to CP.

Public health officials said in a news release Friday there were eight COVID-19 patients in hospital, three of whom were in intensive care.

The province has 5,574 active reported cases of the disease, though the figures do not include those who may have COVID-19, but do not qualify for PCR testing to confirm their infections.

Officials reported 475 new cases, 404 of which had been confirmed since Thursday.

The remaining 71 cases were among tests sent to labs outside the province because a demand in testing overwhelmed local capacity.

4:17 p.m. Alberta’s big three research universities are extending online learning because the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly, reports The Canadian Press.

The University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge say virtual classes will continue for another six weeks, according to CP.

Students who have been online since returning from the holiday break are to return to their campuses on Feb. 28.

The universities say data shows that infections driven by Omicron are continuing to rise and won’t peak until late January or early next month.

The schools say that makes it prudent to extend online classes until after the spring break in late February.

The Opposition says the provincial government should take responsibility for not providing the resources all schools needed to prepare for a COVID-19 surge, including high-quality N95 masks, rapid tests and air quality audits and upgrades.

Alberta has nearly 63,000 active cases, the highest since the pandemic began, but chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says that number is likely to be 10 times higher because testing for the virus at labs is no longer open to everyone.

4:13 p.m. Nova Scotia is reporting 891 new cases of COVID-19 and four outbreaks at long-term care homes in the province, reports The Canadian Press.

Officials say the new clusters at the care homes involve a total of 23 staff members and 20 residents who have now tested positive for the disease, according to CP.

The affected residences are in Wolfville, New Glasgow, Sydney and Sydney Mines.

There are also additional cases of COVID-19 related to previously reported outbreaks in hospitals across the province.

Officials estimate there are now 6,648 active infections, and 57 people are in hospital due to the disease, including 10 in intensive care.

Officials also say 83.1 per cent of residents have two shots of COVID-19 vaccine, while 90.4 per cent have had at least one dose.

4:11 p.m. Elementary and secondary schools across Western Canada have reopened following the Christmas break as provincial governments faced criticism from teachers over what they say is a lack of protective measures against the COVID-19 Omicron variant, reports The Canadian Press.

Schools in British Columbia and Alberta reopened on Monday with health and education officials stressing the need for in-person learning. Schools in Saskatchewan returned the previous week as scheduled, according to CP.

The leaders of teacher unions in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have been critical of how the reopening of schools has been handled and the stress it has placed on staff.

“We have situations where learning assistants, or learning resource teachers, who are specialized teachers are being pulled out of their duties into classrooms to cover staff shortages,” said Patrick Maze, the head of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation. “The learning program suffers when you have this many transitions going on in the schools.”

The president of the BC Teachers’ Federation agreed with those concerns. Teri Mooring said teachers want greater access to N95 masks in schools as well as priority for booster vaccines.

Four B.C. schools announced functional closures this week, meaning there was not enough staff to teach students.

“We’re concerned there will be a lot more functional closures. It’s hard for us to understand why the additional safety measures we’re calling for aren’t being put in place,” Mooring said in an interview.

She said refusing to accommodate the union’s requests could lead to a staffing shortage in schools.

“We think with those safety measures teachers and support staff are more likely to stay healthy,” she said. “This whole issue of doing the bare minimum has always been a problem in education. We’d like to see a more preventive approach rather than a bare minimum approach.”

B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said in an interview that teachers would not be prioritized for vaccines and the government has taken steps to manage risks posed by the virus.

“It is a balancing act. One thing we have been very determined about in B.C. ... is to ensure we keep children and youth at the centre of our decision-making. We know how important it is to have access to in-person learning,” said Jennifer Whiteside.

But Cameron Phillips, a parent and Vancouver secondary school teacher, said he questions if the B.C. government is thinking about the long-term health effects facing students.

Phillips said he and his wife, who is an elementary school teacher, decided to keep their kids home this week as they assess the COVID-19 situation in schools.

“As a parent, I’m concerned about the future health of my children,” he said. “As a teacher, I love my kids. I love my students. I know the school I teach at has many multiple generation families. There are so many students in my classes who are terrified of taking it home to auntie or grandma and causing suffering or havoc in their families.”

Phillips said he’s “baffled” by the reluctance to provide N95 masks to students and staff, and would like to see improved ventilation in schools.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said schools have done a commendable job of continuing in-person learning in a safe way.

“One thing we’ve seen is how important it is to maintain in-class learning as much as possible while accepting some higher transmission, which is not just unique to school, this is happening in health care, schools, all workplaces,” he said.

In Alberta, as the number of Omicron infections hit a record high this week, the president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said he’s concerned about students’ future in classrooms because “community spread is echoed in schools.”

“I anticipate we’re going to have more of what we saw this year but it might be intensified so we’ll see more absences, we’ll see more inabilities for schools to fill absent teachers,” Jason Schilling said Friday.

Alberta has left it up to schools to contact trace infections.

Hundreds of students and dozens of teachers were reported absent on the Edmonton Public Schools board website on Thursday. Out of 105,151 students under the division, 3.16 per cent were absent due to COVID-19 and 3.56 per cent were absent due to other illnesses.

The Calgary Board of Education also said its absent rate for kindergarten to Grade 12 students was 20.2 per cent on Wednesday.

4:10 p.m. The lCanadian Press has published a look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:

  • Some Ontario school boards say classes could be cancelled with very little notice if they don’t have enough teachers available due to high rates of COVID-19. Classes are set to resume in-person on Monday after schools began the term with online learning. In a message to parents, the Toronto District School Board, the province’s largest, says it’s taken numerous steps to ensure staffing levels are as high as possible, but last-minute class cancellations could happen. The Rainbow District School Board in northern Ontario says there may be same-day class cancellations if there aren’t enough teachers.

  • The scientific director of Ontario’s expert pandemic advisory group says some indicators suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the next few weeks. Dr. Peter Juni says, while the province lacks accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases, data on mobility and test positivity are offering some clues on the current trajectory. He says people’s mobility outside of their homes, which is strongly correlated with their number of contacts, has dropped significantly since late last month. Test positivity has also started to decrease.

  • Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting the first two COVID-19 deaths of the pandemic. Chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, says a person between the ages of 60 and 79 and a person over the age of 79 have died of COVID-19. Premier Dennis King issued a statement extending condolences to the families of the two people. Officials are also reporting 225 new cases of COVID-19 on the Island.

  • When news of the first cases of COVID-19 began cropping up in Canada in early 2020, Linda Silas was one of the first to ring alarm bells about the lack of proper personal protective equipment for health workers. While early indications showed the virus was spread by droplets that settled on surfaces, Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, urged health authorities to learn from the SARS outbreak of 2003 and take the highest level of precaution. Now she knows she was right — the virus is airborne — but she is still desperately calling for more protective equipment for nurses two years later. Regional unions across the country report that nurses who have requested fit-tested respirators still can’t get them in some cases, despite the Omicron variant being far more transmissible than previous strains.

  • The Department of National Defence says formal proceedings have been launched against more than 900 members of the Canadian Armed Forces for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Chief of the defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, ordered all military personnel to attest to having been fully vaccinated by mid-October. The deadline was later extended to mid-December. Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says reviews had been launched against 100 Armed Forces members by the end of December for repeatedly refusing to get their jabs. Another 800 had received warnings, orders to attend counselling and other remedial measures, and could also be forced to hang up their uniforms if they refuse to get the shot.

  • COVID-19 modelling released Friday by the British Columbia government shows the latest wave propelled by the Omicron variant may have already peaked in parts of the province. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the wave has spread faster than previous ones and health officials believe the top of the latest surge was likely reached this past weekend. The modelling figures show a decrease in infections in two health authorities, Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health, with a levelling off on Vancouver Island and a slight rise in the Interior.

  • More than 3,000 people are now in Quebec hospitals with COVID-19 and another 68 deaths have been linked to the disease. The Health Department said today the number of hospitalizations had risen by 91 from the day before, to 3,085, after 442 people were admitted and 351 discharged. Officials say 275 people are in intensive care, an increase of three from the day before.

  • The government of Nova Scotia did not disclose a recent outbreak of COVID-19 at a large facility housing people with intellectual disabilities, citing the privacy of residents for the decision that’s dismayed disability rights advocates. Documents from the facility obtained by The Canadian Press reveal that in the days after Christmas, two workers at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S., and one resident had contracted COVID-19. The centre, which is home to 159 residents, declined all comment, referring the matter to public health.

3:41 p.m. Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting four more COVID-19-related deaths today, hours before the province enters a two-week lockdown, reports The Canadian Press.

Two people in their 70s died in the Moncton and Fredericton regions, and two people in their 80s died in the Saint John and Edmundston areas, according to CP.

New Brunswick has reported a total of 182 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Health officials say there are 103 people hospitalized with the disease, one less than on Thursday. Eleven people are in intensive care.

The Level 3 lockdown restrictions, set to go into force at midnight, include the closure of gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants.

Retail businesses can remain open at half capacity and with distancing between people there maintained.

2:47 p.m.: In a major pre-election setback for Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips is retiring from politics.

Phillips, a key cabinet minister who has represented Ajax since 2018, announced Friday he would not be running in the June 2 election.

“I have spoken with Premier Ford and with Brian Patterson, president of the Ontario PC Party, to inform them of my decision not to seek re-election and to step down next month as the MPP for Ajax,” Phillips, 56, said in a written statement.

His surprise departure is a political blow to Ford, coming just 20 weeks before what public opinion polls suggest could be a close election.

Read the full story here from Robert Benzie

2:33 p.m.: As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly and infects people, stark contrasts in approach by Canada and the U.S have become evident.

Most Canadians have cancelled plans, huddled into lockdowns and braced for public health restrictions. Meanwhile across the border, America is open for business even as the country shattered a global record with more than 1.35 million COVID-19 cases in a single day.

In today’s episode of This Matters, Saba Eitizaz asks Edward Keenan, The Star’s Washington Bureau Chief, about the differences in the Canadian and American responses to the Omicron surge. Listen to it here.

2:30 p.m.: COVID-19 modelling released by the British Columbia government shows the latest wave propelled by the Omicron variant may have already peaked in parts of the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the wave has spread faster than previous ones and health officials believe the top of the latest surge was likely reached this past weekend.

The modelling figures show a decrease in infections in two health authorities, Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health, with a levelling off on Vancouver Island and a slight rise in the Interior.

The data also show actual infections could be three to four times higher than the official daily figures because testing capacities have hit their limit in the province.

2:25 p.m.: New federal modelling suggests an estimated peak of 170,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, even with the range of public health restrictions in place across the country.

The peak may come this month and then recede into February but the overall timing of the peak is likely to vary across the country, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a briefing Friday.

Those numbers aren’t based on known case counts but what’s believed to be the true spread of the Omicron virus in Canada, given that testing capacity is now restricted nationwide, Tam said.

Without existing measures, Tam said, that peak could be nearly 300,000 per day.

“These scenarios highlight that while combined public health measures and booster doses could help reduce the size of the Omicron wave, in either scenario, the true number of daily cases, driven by extremely high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, could still vastly exceed anything we have experienced to date during this pandemic,” she said.

Read the full story here from Stephanie Levitz

2 p.m.: When news of the first cases of COVID-19 began cropping up in Canada in early 2020, Linda Silas was one of the first to ring alarm bells about the lack of proper personal protective equipment for health workers.

While early indications showed the virus was spread by droplets that settled on surfaces, Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, urged health authorities to learn from the SARS outbreak of 2003 and take the highest level of precaution.

Now she knows she was right — the virus is airborne — but she is still desperately calling for more protective equipment for nurses two years later.

Regional unions across the country report that nurses who have requested fit-tested respirators still can’t get them in some cases, despite the Omicron variant being far more transmissible than previous variants.

The shortage of healthy nurses to address the massive wave of the Omicron variant has meant hospitals and other health institutions have deployed nurses with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and still some are not offered appropriate masks, she said.

“These vulnerable patients might have a COVID positive staff treating them, and without the proper PPE it’s plain dangerous,” she said.

2 p.m.: More than 3,000 people are now in Quebec hospitals with COVID-19 and another 68 deaths have been linked to the disease.

The Health Department said today the number of hospitalizations had risen by 91 from the day before, to 3,085, after 442 people were admitted and 351 discharged.

Officials say 275 people are in intensive care, an increase of three from the day before.

The Health Department says 7,382 new cases of COVID-19 were detected Thursday and 15.9 per cent of tests conducted were positive.

Authorities say 340 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in long-term care facilities, bringing the total number of active infections in those facilities to 3,324.

2 p.m. The Toronto Maple Leafs have added three more players to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol as an outbreak on the team that started in December continues to drag on.

The Leafs announced Friday that forwards Ondrej Kaše and Nick Ritchie and defenceman Justin Holl have been added to the list.

The announcement comes two days after the Maple Leafs dropped a 2-1 road decision to the Arizona Coyotes, who are in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak.

1:49 p.m.: Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting the first two COVID-19 deaths of the pandemic.

Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says a person between the ages of 60 and 79 and a person over the age of 79 have died of COVID-19.

Premier Dennis King issued a statement today extending condolences to the families of the two people.

Officials are also reporting 225 new cases of COVID-19.

Prince Edward Island has 1,994 active reported cases and has reported an average of 199 new infections a day over the last week.

Morrison says the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 is unchanged from a day earlier — eight patients, including one in intensive care.

1:45 p.m. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has pushed back its return to play to Feb. 1 due to ongoing challenges around the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league had originally planned to restart on Monday.

The QMJHL said in a statement that the change to the restart was made because there is no clear timeline of easing COVID-19 restrictions.

Most of the league’s teams operate out of Quebec, where entertainment venues remain closed and a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is in force. The curfew is expected to be lifted Monday.

1:30 p.m. JJP Community Centre (1369 St. Clair Avenue West) is holding a COVID-19 vaccination clinic every Friday until Feb. 4 from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Those ages 5-29 will be provided with Pfizer and those 30 plus will be provided with Moderna. No health card is needed but bring proof of age.

1:15 p.m. A Rhode Island man who is believed to have faked his death and fled the U.S. to evade prosecution in Utah and other states has been apprehended in Scotland after being hospitalized with COVID-19, authorities said.

Nicholas Alahverdian was discovered after developing a serious case of the coronavirus and being placed on a ventilator at a hospital in Glasgow, Rhode Island State Police Maj. Robert Creamer told The Providence Journal on Wednesday.

Alahverdian, 34, who had been a vocal critic of Rhode Island’s child welfare system in recent years, now faces extradition to the U.S. to face a charge of first-degree rape in Utah.

12:55 p.m. The scientific director of Ontario’s expert pandemic advisory group says some indicators suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the next few weeks.

Dr. Peter Juni says while the province lacks accurate numbers on COVID-19 cases, data on mobility and test positivity are offering some clues on the current trajectory.

He says people’s mobility outside of their homes, which is strongly correlated with their number of contacts, has dropped significantly since late last month.

Test positivity has also started to decrease.

Juni says those two elements combined are cause for cautious optimism that the COVID-19 situation in hospitals may start to peak in the next few weeks.

12:40 p.m. Patients in Ontario hospitals struggling with unprecedented COVID-19 admissions can now be transferred to other hospitals without consent as the Omicron surge comes to a head, the Star has learned.

A directive signed Friday by chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore clears the way for the practice, which has not seen since the pandemic’s third wave last spring when intensive care units rapidly filled, leading to 2,000 critically ill patients being transferred to other cities and away from their families.

“It’s sending a very strong message to the system that the functional integrity of the health-care system is in danger,” said Dr. Chris Simpson, a cardiologist at Kingston General Hospital and executive vice-president of Ontario Health, a provincial agency overseeing health care.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

12:10 p.m. Barberian’s Steak House, in partnership with the University Health Network (UHN), will be holding a low-barrier vaccination clinic in support of front-line food and hospitality workers on Jan. 20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The clinic will offer 1st, 2nd, and 3rd doses for all those in the food, restaurant, and hospitality industry. No appointments are required nor proof of address or identification.

12 p.m. Some Ontario school boards say classes could be cancelled with very little notice if they don’t have enough teachers available due to high rates of COVID-19.

Classes are set to resume in-person on Monday after schools began the term with online learning.

In a message to parents, the Toronto District School Board — the province’s largest — says it’s taken numerous steps to ensure staffing levels are as high as possible, but last-minute class cancellations could happen.

The Rainbow District School Board in northern Ontario says it may have to cancel classes day-of if there aren’t enough teachers.

And the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says it will make “every effort” to keep classes and schools open, but if it cannot operate safely, a class or school may have to pivot to remote learning.

11:45 a.m. Boris Johnson’s office apologized to Queen Elizabeth following revelations of partying in Downing Street the night before her husband’s funeral, heaping further pressure on the prime minister as his government faces a string of allegations over pandemic rule-breaking.

The Daily Telegraph on Friday said that on April 16, 2021, two parties were held in Downing Street to mark the departures of two staffers, on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral. One of them was for Johnson’s former spokesman James Slack. At the time, indoor mixing between households was still banned.

“It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning,” Johnson’s spokesman, Jamie Davies, told reporters at a regular briefing, declining to comment on whether the government believes the events also breached COVID regulations. “We acknowledge the significant public anger.”

11:15 a.m. (updated) New federal modelling suggests an estimated peak of 170,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, even with the range of public health restrictions in place across the country.

The peak may come this month and then recede into February but the overall timing of the peak is likely to vary across the country, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a briefing Friday.

Those numbers aren’t based on known case counts but what’s believed to be the true spread of the Omicron virus in Canada, given that testing capacity is now restricted nationwide, Tam said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Stephanie Levitz

10:42 a.m. An outbreak of COVID-19 at a large facility housing people with intellectual disabilities in Nova Scotia wasn’t disclosed to the public, because the province says it wants to protect the privacy of residents.

Documents from the facility obtained by The Canadian Press say that in the days after Christmas, two workers at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S., and one resident had contracted COVID-19.

The centre, which is home to 159 residents, declined all comment, referring the matter to public health.

10:21 a.m. (updated) Ontario is reporting 3,814 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 527 in intensive care.

That’s an increase from 3,630 patients in hospital yesterday, and 27 more in ICU. The province is also reporting 41 new deaths today from the virus.

There are 288 people on ventilators due to COVID-19, 13 more than the previous day.

There are 10,964 new COVID-19 cases reported, though Public Health Ontario has noted that the total number is likely higher due to testing policy changes.

10:20 a.m. Australia cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time, reversing a court decision that temporarily thwarted the federal government’s bid to deport the unvaccinated tennis star.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke exercised special powers to override the court ruling, just days before the world men’s No. 1 is due to vie for a record 21st Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open. The visa was revoked on health and good order grounds and on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so, he said in a statement Friday.

“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement following the decision. “Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe.”

10 a.m. Alphonso Davies’ return from a bout of COVID-19 has been put on hold with Bayern Munich saying the Canadian star shows signs of an inflammation of the heart muscle.

The 21-year-old from Edmonton has been sidelined, with his participation in doubt for Canada’s World Cup qualifiers later this month.

Bayern manager Julian Nagelsmann told a pre-match news conference Friday that the problem was detected in the followup examination that all players who have had COVID undergo.

“He’ll sit out training until further notice. He won’t be available, also in the coming weeks,” Nagelsmann said in German.

9:45 a.m. The highly transmissible Omicron variant is forcing mathematicians to rework the models that have helped shaped Canada’s understanding of COVID-19, as well as the country’s response to the pandemic.

Everything from who gets tested to who’s most likely to contract the virus has changed with the latest wave of the pandemic, and that’s posing distinct challenges for those who model its impact, says Caroline Colijn, an associate professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

In particular, Colijn said it will be difficult to understand the severity of the disease as it spreads through a mostly vaccinated public.

“We’re still adapting to flying blind in terms of reported cases,” she said in an interview. “Hospitalizations are lagging and there’s not always good data on them, and (hospitalization numbers) won’t tell you as directly about infections as reported cases will.”

9:30 a.m. Children in Romania aged between 5-11 will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 starting late January, authorities said, as the country grappled Friday with a virus surge and low adult vaccination rates.

Parents or legal guardians can schedule appointments starting this week to get their children inoculated with Pfizer jabs that will be available from Jan. 26, the national vaccination committee said Thursday.

Health authorities said 219 pediatric vaccination centres are configured in the national programming platform and shots can also be administered without appointments at dedicated centres, and in some general practitioners’ surgeries. The jabs will be administered in 21-day intervals.

9:15 a.m. The last quarter of the year is traditionally the slowest in real estate. But last year’s record-breaking sales and prices bucked tradition through to the end, according to the Royal LePage House Price Survey.

It shows that more than half of Canadian property markets — 61 per cent — saw a quarterly increase of 3 per cent or more in the final quarter, including a 4.1 per cent rise in the Toronto area. Among 62 regions surveyed, 87 per cent experience double-digit annual home price growth in the fourth quarter of 2021.

That portends a busier-than-usual spring, said CEO Phil Soper. Thanks to the reinstatement of pandemic restrictions, he expects the upcoming season to look a lot like a less frenetic version of last year — “Too many buyers, no enough homes, multiple offers, upward pressure on prices.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski

9 a.m. Concerns about schools reopening are outweighed by the need for kids to get back to class because they have suffered “significant harms” with online learning, says Toronto’s medical officer of health.

“What this comes down to is the criticality or essentiality of in-person learning for kids,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said in an interview with the Star on Thursday, just days before schools are to reopen for students across the province.

“The evidence shows school closures and shifts to online learning are associated with pretty significant harms — particularly from an educational perspective, but also from a mental health and developmental perspective,” she said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy

8:45 a.m. Thousands of students have been absent from class for “no reason,” according to recent data from Toronto’s public school board.

It’s unclear why they were away last week after the province’s last-minute decision to move schools to remote learning due to rising COVID cases. But figures reveal absences were particularly high amongst elementary students.

“It’s definitely interesting to see the change, but it’s difficult to say what it all means,” said Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board.

Read the full story from the Star’s Isabel Teotonio

8:06 a.m. The Russian government on Friday decided to delay adopting unpopular legislation restricting ccess to public places for the unvaccinated, despite surging coronavirus cases and warnings from top officials about the spread of the highly-infectious omicron variant.

Russia reported 23,820 new infections Friday, a 12% increase from the previous day, and 739 deaths.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said the legislation was postponed due to the “high uncertainty” as the draft bill was originally prepared in response to the Delta variant but “new challenges” have arisen.

The bill required Russians willing to access certain public places to have a QR code either confirming vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19, or a medical exemption from immunization.

The initiative, along with another bill proposing a similar system for both domestic and international planes and trains, was met with high resistance amid a largely vaccine-skeptical population. The transport bill was withdrawn from Parliament last month, but the one on public places passed the first reading.

7:35 a.m. Immunocompromised Ontarians can book appointments for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine starting this morning.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, says appointments for moderately to severely immunocompromised people will be made available through the provincial vaccine contact centre at 8 a.m.

Moore said the move aims to provide further protection for vulnerable populations.

The province has already started administering fourth doses in long-term care homes, retirement homes and other congregate settings.

In a news conference Thursday, Ontario’s top doctor also said transplant patients are lagging in getting their third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is considered part of their primary series of shots.

7 a.m. A wave of unvaccinated workers have filed wrongful dismissal claims in protest of their employers’ vaccine mandates, but lawyers say the courts are likely to prioritize public safety measures over the predicaments of terminated employees.

Canadian employers began firing unvaccinated workers in late October after a string of corporate titans — including several of the largest banks, airlines, railway operators and automakers — warned employees over the summer they had a matter of months to get fully vaccinated or face penalties.

In the time since, workplaces across the country have faced pushback from employees and their unions over vaccine mandates they say breach their pre-existing agreements with their employers.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jacob Lorinc

5:59 a.m.: Homeless and vulnerable people in British Columbia and Alberta have been approached with offers of payment to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by those attempting to fraudulently get a vaccine card.

Vancouver Coastal Health said Thursday those who have been approached have been asked to get vaccinated while falsely using that person’s name and information.

“This behaviour is deplorable and we’re disappointed that anyone would take advantage of vulnerable people in this way in an attempt to circumvent the process for receiving a BC Vaccine Card,” the health authority said in a statement.

“Future instances of fraud may be forwarded to local police authorities for follow up.”

5:59 a.m.: An imminent return to in-class learning has prompted some Manitoba parents to book early COVID-19 followup shots for their young children, but public health officials say it is worth the wait.

Both Canada and Manitoba, per the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Manitoba Pediatric Vaccine Advisory Committee, initially recommended an eight-week interval or 56 days between first and second shots for youth aged five to 11, the latest population to became eligible for a jab. The above recently reaffirmed their support for that time frame, following reviews of the guidance and consideration of Omicron.

With that in mind, and Nov. 24 being the first day child-sized doses were administered in Manitoba, second doses will start to ramp up later this month.

5:58 a.m.: Winnipeg schools are requesting families only accept rapid tests being distributed to K-6 students if they plan to use them and return unused kits they have no intention of utilizing, in order to address high demand and limited supply.

Before classes were dismissed at the end of 2021, the Manitoba government announced the launch of an optional return-to-school testing program that would see elementary students supplied with rapid antigen tests.

The province indicated it had ordered more than 90,000 kits, each containing five tests, from the federal government — enough to ensure every student enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 6 in a public or division-administered First Nations school in Manitoba could receive a kit.

Officials did not confirm Wednesday how many of the kits have been obtained and distributed to schools.

5:57 a.m.: China further tightened its anti-pandemic measures in Beijing and across the country on Friday as scattered outbreaks continued ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics in a little over two weeks.

The actions appear to reflect nervousness about a possible surge in cases ahead of the Beijing Games.

Beijing has ordered children at international schools to be tested starting next week and is barring air passengers who transited via a third point. Citizens are being told only to travel if absolutely necessary, with no guarantee they will be permitted to return if found to have visited a city or region where an outbreak occurred.

The city of Tianjin, about an hour from the capital, has ordered a third round of mass testing starting Saturday morning to be completed within 24 hours.

A port and manufacturing centre with 14 million people, Tianjin is one of a half dozen cities where the government is imposing lockdowns and other restrictions as part of a policy to track down every virus case.

5:54 a.m.: Israel has administered a 4th vaccine dose to more than 500,000 people, the Health Ministry said Friday.

Israel began administering second boosters to the most vulnerable late last month and later began offering them to everyone over 60.

Authorities hope the additional boosters will blunt a wave of infections driven by the omicron variant. Health Ministry figures show Israel currently has some 260,000 active cases. But only 289 patients are listed as seriously ill, far fewer than during previous waves.

Israel was among the first countries to roll out vaccines a year ago and began widely offering third doses last summer in a bid to contain the Delta variant. Nearly half the population has received at least one booster shot.

5:53 a.m.: Tens of thousands of devout Hindus, led by heads of monasteries and ash-smeared ascetics, took a holy dip into the frigid waters of the Ganges River in northern India on Friday despite rising COVID-19 infections in the country.

Hindu pilgrims congregated at the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers — the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati — in Prayagraj city, 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh, to participate in the Magh Mela festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism. They bathed in the Ganges waters, a ritual Hindus believe will wash away their sins and free them from the cycle of death and rebirth.

A similar gathering at a Hindu festival last year in the Himalayan town of Haridwar, in neighbouring Uttarakhand state, helped spread the Delta variant that ravaged the country and made India one of the world’s worst-hit countries. Epidemiologists described the festival as a “superspreader event.”

5:52 a.m.: To mask or not to mask is a question Italy settled early in the COVID-19 outbreak with a vigorous “yes.” Now the one-time epicentre of the pandemic in Europe hopes even stricter mask rules will help it beat the latest infection surge.

Other countries are taking similar action as the more transmissible — yet, apparently, less virulent — omicron variant spreads through the continent.

With Italy’s hospital ICUs rapidly filling with mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, the government announced on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks — which offer users more protection than cloth or surgical masks — must be worn on public transport, including planes, trains, ferries and subways.

That’s even though all passengers in Italy, as of this week, must be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19. FFP2s also must now be worn at theatres, cinemas and sports events, indoors or out, and can’t be removed even for their wearers to eat or drink.

5:51 a.m.: Cambodia on Friday began a fourth round of vaccinations against the coronavirus in response to the omicron variant, with high-risk groups being among the first to receive the additional boosters.

Frontline medical staff and members of the armed forces were among those lining up at hospitals and clinics. Government ministers, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, also received booster doses on Friday.

Hun Sen has appealed to all Cambodian people to get fully vaccinated, including a booster, saying on his Facebook page that it is the only way to make sure to keep their families and communities safe from COVID-19. A campaign to have people get their third jabs is still ongoing.

5:50 a.m.: Two members of the U.S. Marine Corps have been given religious exemptions from the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate, the first of their kind since the mandate was introduced last summer.

According to officials, 95% of active-duty Marines — the military branch with the greatest number of holdouts against COVID-19 vaccines — are inoculated against COVID. About 97% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members in the United States have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Thousands of U.S. troops across the military have sought religious exemptions from the vaccine, but none had been approved until this week. There have been 3,350 requests for religious accommodation across the Marines.

“The Marine Corps recognizes COVID-19 as a readiness issue. The speed with which the disease transmits among individuals has increased risk to our Marines and the Marine Corps’ mission,” Maj. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesman, said Thursday in a written statement.

Friday 5:49 a.m.: South Korea will slightly ease its coronavirus gathering restrictions starting next week but continue to maintain a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants and entertainment venues, as it braces for a possible surge in infections driven by the contagious omicron variant.

Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Friday the four-person limit on private social gatherings between fully vaccinated people will be raised to six for at least three weeks starting Monday.

While officials have acknowledged frustration and fatigue with prolonged virus restrictions and the damage on small businesses, they say they couldn’t afford to loosen social distancing rules further when the country may face a huge wave of cases in coming weeks as omicron continues to spread.

Friday 4 a.m. Some areas of the country are easing pandemic restrictions while others are tightening them depending on their perceptions of whether the COVID-19 curve is flattening or has yet to peak.

Quebec announced its controversial 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be lifted on Monday because researchers there believe the latest wave of the pandemic, fuelled by COVID-19’s highly infectious Omicron variant, is cresting.

And Nunavut says the tough measures it implemented just before Christmas have been so effective that it’s cancelling travel restrictions on Monday, allowing businesses to reopen and schools will resume in-person learning on Jan. 24.

It’s a different story in New Brunswick where new restrictions come into effect today limiting residents to a single-household bubble while also closing gyms, entertainment venues and indoor dining at restaurants.

In neighbouring Prince Edward Island where chief medical health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says the “worst of this wave” is yet to come, current restrictions that include business capacity limits and remote learning for school students will be extended.

Across the country, new COVID case counts and related hospitalizations remain at or near record levels.

Ontario recorded a jump in hospitalizations of 182 to an all-time high of 3,630 on Thursday. About 6,000 new cases were reported in Alberta and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Read Thursday’s coronavirus news.