Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Dec. 11

The British government may need to introduce tougher restrictions to slow the growth of the omicron variant and prevent a new surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, British scientists said Saturday.

British scientists say U.K. government may need tougher restrictions in wake of omicron threat

People ride the London Eye observation wheel on Friday. British scientists said Saturday that their national government may need to introduce tougher restrictions to slow the growth of the omicron variant and prevent a new surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

The latest:

The British government may need to introduce tougher restrictions to slow the growth of the omicron variant and prevent a new surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, British scientists said Saturday.

U.K. health officials say omicron is spreading much more quickly than the delta strain and is likely to replace it and become the dominant variant in Britain within days. The U.K. recorded 58,194 coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest number since January, though what portion were the omicron variant is unclear.

Concerns about the new variant led Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government to reintroduce restrictions that were lifted almost six months ago. Masks must be worn in most indoor settings, vaccine certificates must be shown to enter nightclubs and people are being urged to work from home if possible.

Many scientists say that's unlikely to be enough.

Modelling released Saturday by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested omicron is likely to cause a large wave of infections by January — and could cause between 25,000 and 75,000 deaths in England in the next five months if no other measures are taken.

Mask-wearing shoppers walk past a coronavirus-related warning sign in London on Saturday. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

The most pessimistic scenario foresees half a million people hospitalized with the virus by the end of April and says daily hospital admissions could be double the previous peak in January 2021. The study by the scientists, who help advise the British government, has not been peer reviewed.

The number of infections will depend on how much the variant escapes protection from vaccines and how effective booster shots are at bolstering immunity, both of which remain unclear.

— CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 9:35 a.m. ET

What's happening across Canada

WATCH | Caution for Canadians travelling abroad for the holidays:

Caution for Canadians travelling abroad for the holidays

5 months ago
Duration 1:59
Federal officials are warning Canadians that travelling abroad is both “risky and unstable” given the emergence of the omicron variant. Travellers can expect to face changing rules abroad and at home as the pandemic situation shifts.

— From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 3:30 p.m. ET

What's happening around the world

Two people wear face masks as they stroll past an inflatable snowman decoration in Dharmsala, India, on Saturday. (Ashwini Bhatia/The Associated Press)

As of Saturday afternoon, more than 269.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's tracking tool. The reported death toll surpassed 5.3 million.

In Asia, Taiwan has recorded its first case of the omicron variant in a passenger who recently travelled to the southern African country of Eswatini, health officials said Saturday.

The passenger, a Taiwanese woman in her 30s who returned on Wednesday, is now in quarantine in hospital, officials said. Taiwan reported 10 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, all of which were identified in travellers entering from abroad.

In Europe, tens of thousands of people rallied in Vienna on Saturday to protest against restrictions introduced to halt the spread of the coronavirus in Austria, including mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and home confinement orders for the unvaccinated.

Demonstrators hold flags and placards on Saturday as they protest against pandemic restrictions and a vaccine mandate in front of Hofburg Palace in Vienna. (Lisi Niesner/Reuters)

In neighbouring Italy, La Scala has postponed its ballet season premiere after a coronavirus outbreak in its ranks, just days after the famed Milan theatre staged its high-profile opera season opener with a full-capacity audience.

At least one of the four ballerinas who tested positive for COVID-19 also appeared in Tuesday's premiere of the opera Macbeth. Ten other people linked to the outbreak tested positive for the virus, all of them theatre support personnel, including someone who worked in the hairdressing department.

In France, authorities want to accelerate vaccinations against the coronavirus before Christmas as infections surge and more people with COVID-19 seek medical attention.

People wearing protective masks walk next to an Iron Man model in Paris on Friday. France on Monday closed nightclubs until Jan. 6 and tightened physical distancing measures in closed spaces and outdoors. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

"People can celebrate Christmas normally, but we must respect the rules ... and get vaccinated," French Prime Minister Jean Castex told public radio outlet France Blue during an interview in the Alsace region late Friday.

France has registered a daily average of more than 44,000 new cases over the last week, a 36 per cent increase from the previous week, according to the latest government figures. Weekly hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 went up 1,120, a 41 per cent rise.

In the Middle East, the first six cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus have been detected in Turkey, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca was reported as saying on Saturday by state broadcaster TRT Haber.

In the Americas, a Brazilian Supreme Court justice ruled on Saturday that all travellers arriving in Brazil must present a vaccine passport documenting they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The decision from Luis Roberto Barroso challenges a more lenient rule announced by the government. Barroso's ruling must be reviewed by all 11 judges of the Supreme Court next week.

In Africa, South African officials announced plans on Friday to roll out vaccine boosters as daily infections approached an all-time high. Meanwhile, scientists there said there was no sign that the omicron variant was causing more severe illness.

Hospital data shows that COVID-19 admissions were rising sharply in more than half of the country's nine provinces, but deaths were not rising as dramatically and the median length of hospital stay was more manageable.

In the past few days, a countrywide outbreak has been infecting about 20,000 people a day, with 19,018 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday but only 20 new deaths, according to data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. About 38 per cent of adults in South Africa are fully vaccinated, more than in many other African countries.

— From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 5:05 p.m. ET

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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