Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday

Canada is in crisis when it comes to COVID-19 PCR testing capacity, even as the federal government struggles to make good on its promise to deliver 140 million rapid tests to provinces by the end of the month, according to the federal health minister.

Canada is in crisis when it comes to PCR testing, says federal health minister

People in Whitehorse who have COVID-19 symptoms, but who don't meet the Yukon government's threshold for a laboratory PCR test, can now pick up an at-home testing kit instead. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The latest:

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says Canada is in crisis when it comes to COVID-19 PCR testing capacity, even as the federal government struggles to make good on its promise to deliver 140 million rapid tests to provinces by the end of the month.

Duclos says access to PCR tests in provinces is a crisis, and that's why at-home rapid tests will be such an important tool to combat the Omicron wave of COVID-19.

But some provinces have flagged that shipments of those vital rapid tests from the federal government have been slow to arrive.

"Alberta Health has learned that the expected supply of at-home rapid COVID-19 tests has been delayed from the federal government and manufacturers," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday on Twitter.

WATCH | Procurement minister talks about demand for rapid tests: 

140 million rapid tests on the way to provinces

2 years ago
Duration 2:02
Filomena Tassi, minister of public services and procurement, acknowledged the difficulties in obtaining COVID-19 rapid tests due to the high demand over December, but stated the federal government was working hard to acquire more, and said there would be 140 million tests going out to the provinces in the month of January.

In Ontario for example, fewer than 0.3 per cent of the rapid tests committed to the province in January have been delivered so far, and there is no delivery scheduled for about 80 per cent of them.

However, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced on Wednesday that students and staff in Ontario schools and child-care settings will each get two rapid COVID-19 tests after schools return to in-person learning on Monday.

Tests will be distributed starting next week first to staff, then to children in daycares and students in public elementary schools, followed by high school students.

Provincial officials say more tests will be provided when supply allows.

Federal Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi says the provinces' demand for the tests has increased drastically since last year, while the market has become very competitive. She says the government is working with 14 suppliers to secure the tests that were promised by the end of the month.

Manitoba Health says it's been told by Ottawa the province is allotted five million tests a month. A recent shipping notice confirmed it would get a total of 700,000 devices for January. It has already received 132,000.

"The premier and prime minister also had discussions in December and again this week, in which the premier stressed the need for additional rapid tests for Manitoba," said the department in a statement.

N.S., Yukon shift approach to testing

In Nova Scotia, Premier Tim Houston said the province is distributing 830,000 rapid tests a week, which he said is almost a test for every person in the province.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang said there continues to be confusion and anger around the changes in the province's testing strategy since the Omicron variant arrived in Nova Scotia. He said given the amount of virus in the province, there is no need to identify every case of COVID-19.

Strang said rapid tests need to be used more efficiently, as there are currently just over one million tests in the province.

"We ask for your patience while we rebuild our testing supply," he said, adding that 3.6 million more tests were on the way.

WATCH | N.S. premier talks about why the province has changed its testing strategy: 

Change is hard, says N.S. premier as he describes modifications in testing

2 years ago
Duration 2:37
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says the province, which was once a leader in COVID-19 testing, has had to change its testing protocols, based on availability and need.

In Yukon, officials said on Wednesday that they have also had to shift their approach to testing due to the rapid rise in cases. For now, PCR tests will be available only to high-risk individuals with symptoms.

For everyone else, "The most important thing that you need to know is that if you have symptoms, you should assume you have COVID-19 and follow the recommendations for isolation,"  said Yukon Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee.

The territory says it received a shipment of 50,000 rapid antigen tests from the federal government on Saturday and that they are being made available at a drive-thru location in Whitehorse. McPhee said Yukon is expecting to receive more rapid tests in the coming weeks. 

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

What's happening across Canada

WATCH | Homeless shelters struggle with extreme cold, Omicron: 

Homeless shelters struggle with extreme cold, Omicron

2 years ago
Duration 1:40
Homeless shelters across Canada have seen more people seek a place to stay during extreme cold temperatures, but dealing with crowded spaces is even more challenging with the spread of the Omicron variant.

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

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

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

In Central Canada, health officials in Quebec on Wednesday reported 52 additional deaths and a total of 2,877 hospitalizations. The number of people in the province's intensive care units stood at 263, according to an update posted online. The province reported 8,351 additional lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The update comes a day after Premier François Legault became the first leader in Canada to propose a tax on adults who have chosen not to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Speaking on Tuesday, the premier said about 10 per cent of adults in Quebec are unvaccinated, but they represent about 50 per cent of intensive care patients.

"Those who refuse to get their first doses in the coming weeks will have to pay a new health contribution," Legault said.

In Ontario, health officials reported 46 additional deaths, as well as a total of 3,448 hospitalizations, including 505 in intensive care units, on Wednesday. The education minister announced that kids going back to in-class learning next week will get two new rapid antigen tests

WATCH | Ontario's education minister says it was worth keeping kids home until Jan. 17: 

Ontario education minister defends extending remote learning

2 years ago
Duration 2:01
Saying his government used 'every minute of the day' to get kids back to class and ensure their safety, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce outlined the measures put in place during the current two-week school shutdown due to COVID-19.

The province, which like many other regions has limited access to PCR tests, recorded an additional 9,783 lab-confirmed cases.

In Atlantic Canada, no additional deaths were reported in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday, but the province is expecting hospitalizations to spike in the coming weeks.

Health officials said there were seven hospitalizations across the province and 502 additional lab-confirmed cases. More than 220 additional positives were identified in samples previously sent out of the province for testing, said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health.

The update in Newfoundland and Labrador comes a day after health officials in New Brunswick urged people to reduce their contacts and step up their precautions in the face of rising COVID-19 cases. The province's chief epidemiologist said if current trends continue, the province could see 5,500 people testing positive each day for COVID-19 by the end of the month and nearly 220 people in hospital.

As of Wednesday, New Brunswick was reporting 94 hospitalizations — a pandemic high for the province. Ten of those people were being treated in intensive care units. Health officials also reported one additional death and 359 lab-confirmed cases.

Nova Scotia on Wednesday reported one additional death, and 60 hospitalizations — including five people who are in ICU. The province recorded 837 lab-confirmed cases. There is growing concern in the province that patients waiting for long-term care beds are being forced to stay in hospitals due to staff shortages. 

Meantime, an initiative to place 20 emergency single-occupancy shelters on church grounds across Nova Scotia is now complete. The 20 heated shelters, which measure 2.5 metres by 2.5 metres, come with a built-in bed, lighting, USB charging ports and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at a cost to the archdiocese of $11,500 a piece.

Justin Strang stands outside his temporary home at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Dartmouth, N.S., Jan. 12, 2022. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

In Prince Edward Island, there were seven people in hospital Wednesday, with one person in intensive care. The province also recorded 230 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Across the North, students in Nunavut will begin the new year with remote instruction, the education minister said.

"Whether it's provided through our online platform ... or through take-home learning packages, remote instruction beginning on Jan. 17 will be assessed and will count toward the final grades," Education Minister Pamela Gross said.

In Yukon, two people are being treated in hospital with COVID-19. There were 70 new cases announced on Wednesday, with active cases in the territory at more than 400. 

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba health officials on Wednesday reported that there were 454 people in hospital due to COVID-19, with 46 people in ICUs. The province also reported 1,478 additional lab-confirmed cases and three new deaths. 

In Saskatchewan, health officials on Wednesday reported a total of 121 COVID-19 hospitalizations, no change from Tuesday, with nine cases in intensive care units. The province, which reported no additional COVID-linked deaths, recorded 1,084 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Alberta on Wednesday reported 15 additional deaths and said there were 748 people in hospital with COVID-19 — including 82 people in intensive care. Health officials also reported an additional 6,789 lab-confirmed cases. 

The update comes as leaders of Alberta's largest public- and private-sector unions are calling for drastic lockdown measures immediately to fight the spiralling COVID-19 Omicron variant.

In British Columbia, the Health Ministry on Wednesday reported six additional deaths linked to COVID-19. The province also reported 500 hospitalized with COVID-19, with 102 patients in intensive care units. There were also an additional 2,859 lab-confirmed cases.

-From CBC News, last updated at The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET

What's happening around the world

WATCH | COVID-19: How long does immunity last after Omicron? 

COVID-19: How long does immunity last after Omicron?

2 years ago
Duration 2:22
Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, talks to Andrew Chang about how long immunity may last after acquiring the Omicron variant and its impact on how people may transmit the virus.

As of Wednesday evening, roughly 315.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.

The number of new coronavirus infections in the last week jumped by about 55 per cent, although the number of deaths remained stable, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. The agency's latest report, covering Jan. 3 to 9, said there were about 15 million new COVID-19 cases last week and more than 43,000 deaths. Every world region reported a rise in cases except Africa, where officials saw an 11 per cent drop.

According to WHO's weekly situation report, the highest number of cases were in:

  • The U.S., with more than 4.6 million recorded cases.
  • France, with nearly 1.6 million recorded cases.
  • The U.K., with more than 1.2 million recorded cases.

The update comes a week after WHO recorded a pandemic high of 9.5 million new infections in a single week.

WHO said the Omicron variant continues to define the pandemic globally and is now crowding out the previously dominant Delta variant. Early studies also show Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than Delta, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

WHO said Omicron has now proven to have a shorter doubling time compared to other variants, with "increasing evidence" that it's able to evade immunity. 

After a steep rise in cases in South Africa when Omicron was first detected, numbers quickly dropped and experts believe the wave has passed. WHO said this week that after a continuous rise of COVID-19 across Africa, cases fell this week for the first time.

Scientists say there are signs Omicron's wave may have peaked, but they're still uncertain how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold. WHO noted the Americas reported the highest-ever number of COVID-19 cases this week, with a 78 per cent spike. The Americas also reported 14,000 additional deaths, a 25 per cent increase compared to the previous week.

New cases in Europe rose by 31 per cent, however, the report said weekly deaths continued to decline with over 20,000 new deaths reported, a 10 per cent decrease compared to the previous week.

The biggest jump in COVID-19 infections was noted in Southeast Asia, where cases increased by more than 400 per cent. The numbers of deaths there fell by six per cent.

According to the weekly summary, seven countries in the WHO's Southeast Asia region reported a case count increase of over 50 per cent — led by India, with 638,872 new recorded cases.

Meanwhile, in the Americas, the Biden administration is increasing federal support for COVID-19 testing for schools in a bid to keep them open amid the Omicron surge. The White House said Wednesday the administration is making a dedicated stream of five million rapid tests and five million lab-based PCR tests available to schools starting this month.

The White House says states can request the tests immediately and the tests will be available for use by the end of the month. The initiative comes after Chicago public schools closed for days amid an impasse between teachers and officials over reopening policies.

A female health-care worker wearing full personal protective equipment, including a yellow medical mask, face shield and blue latex gloves, does up the ties of her white plastic medical gown behind her back.
Medical workers put on protective gear at the COVID-19 ward at a Veterans Affairs health system campus and medical centre in West Roxbury, Mass. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

The new crop of tests is enough to cover only a small fraction of the more than 50 million students and educators in the nation's schools. 

In Africa, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi has left isolation just over a week after testing positive for COVID-19 without symptoms, the government said.

South Africa, meanwhile, on Tuesday reported 5,668 additional cases and 119 deaths.

In Europe, Germany should make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all adults, Chancellor Olaf Scholz told parliament on Wednesday, brushing off heckling from opposition lawmakers who accused him of fomenting social divisions.

"With the decision not to get vaccinated, one ultimately is not just making a decision for oneself, but also for 80 million others," he said of an issue stirring passions around the world as some companies and authorities start to insist on inoculation.

Germany's Parliament passed a law in December making coronavirus vaccinations compulsory for certain professions from mid-March.

People wait in front of a COVID-19 test centre in Leipzig, Germany. COVID-19 infection rates, after having fallen in Germany throughout December, are steadily rising in the new year as the Omicron variant continues to spread. (Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized for attending a "bring your own booze" gathering at his official residence during the U.K.'s first lockdown, as a senior figure in his party and opponents said he should resign.

Denmark is to offer a fourth coronavirus vaccination to vulnerable citizens and will ease restrictions at the end of the week, while Sweden will cut the recommended interval between the second and third jabs to five months from six.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has registered its highest daily number of new infections so far, breaking through 5,000 cases on Wednesday.

In the Asia-Pacific region, India's Bharat Biotech said on Wednesday a booster shot of its Covaxin COVID-19 vaccine administered six months after the last of two doses neutralizes both the Omicron and Delta variants of the coronavirus.

The northern Chinese city of Tianjin ordered a second round of COVID-19 testing of all 14 million residents Wednesday following the discovery of 97 cases of Omicron during initial screenings that began Sunday.

Residents were asked to remain where they are until the results of all the nucleic acid tests are received, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Xinhua said authorities have carried out almost 12 million tests so far, with 7.8 million samples returned. Infections were first reported on Saturday in the city that is only about an hour from Beijing, which is to host the Winter Olympics beginning Feb. 4.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, officials are turning to additional pharmaceutical tools, authorizing the use of Novavax's vaccine and preparing to distribute the first of Pfizer's antiviral pills.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

With files from CBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters

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