Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Dec. 15

Concerns about Omicron, a quick-spreading coronavirus variant, took centre stage Wednesday as the federal government moved to limit travel outside the country and some provinces saw their highest case counts in months. 

Quebec and Ontario see highest COVID-19 case counts in months

A nurse instructs people on how to use a COVID-19 rapid test at a clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The latest:

Concerns about Omicron, a quick-spreading coronavirus variant, took centre stage Wednesday as the federal government moved to limit travel outside the country and some provinces saw their highest case counts in months. 

The federal government said it would change its travel guidance Wednesday to officially advise Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside of the country.

"To those who were planning to travel, I say very clearly — now is not the time to travel. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant on a global scale makes us fear the worst," Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a press conference.

He acknowledged that it was a "drastic" move to make so close to the holidays.

WATCH | Trudeau says Canadians must be careful about COVID-19 this holiday season: 

Federal government advising against non-essential travel

5 months ago
Duration 1:16
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he knew Canadians were looking forward to 'getting away, not having to think about COVID' but emphasized the importance of safety and caution in dealing with the Omicron variant and advised against non-essential travel.

Canada's two most populous provinces saw more new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday than they have in months. 

Quebec logged 2,386 new cases — the highest number since January, when the province was in the middle of a brutal second wave. 

Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos speaks during an update on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

In Ontario, officials reported 1,808 new cases, a level not seen since May. An estimated 80 per cent of new cases on Dec. 13 were caused by Omicron, a new report from Public Health Ontario found, and the chief medical officer of health has said that all new cases in Ontario will be treated as Omicron moving forward.

Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday afternoon that everyone 18 or older is eligible to book their third vaccine dose starting Monday.

'The bigger the gathering, the higher the risk'

Meanwhile, medical experts told CBC News that Canadians should be "ready to pivot" their holiday plans in the face of Omicron. 

David Naylor, co-chair of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, recommended limiting holiday gatherings to family and trusted friends who have received two or three doses of vaccine.

"I would not set a specific limit on numbers in those circumstances," he said, "but the bigger the gathering, the higher the risk that Omicron or Delta will crash the party."

Some provincial authorities are saying the same, while others are loosening some types of restrictions. 

Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer urged Manitobans to rethink any plans to attend large gatherings, as he announced that the province was on track to see 1,000 new cases a day by January. 

"You need to be very, very careful about your plans to gather," Dr. Brent Roussin said.

Meanwhile, Alberta's premier changed the rules in his province to allow unvaccinated people to attend indoor private gatherings, and to allow people from more than two households to gather as long as no more than 10 people are in attendance.

"... The reality is that families are going to be gathering for Christmas," Premier Jason Kenney said. "We want people to be mindful of and to follow these rules. We feel like this is a more realistic approach."

Some doctors called it a risky move that could allow Omicron to spread more rapidly.

-From CBC News, last updated at 6:10 p.m. ET

What's happening across Canada

WATCH | 'Our best defense is get a booster shot,' Ontario premier says: 

Boosters, not lockdowns, the answer to Omicron variant: Ford

5 months ago
Duration 0:18
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the solution to controlling the Omicron variant is to get booster shots out everywhere in the province.

What's happening around the world

A health-care worker of Castilla La Mancha Health Care administers a vaccine to a child at a walk-in clinic at a school in Toledo, Spain. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

As of late Wednesday afternoon, more than 272 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.

In Africa,  South Africa reported a record number of daily COVID-19 infections Wednesday in a fourth infection wave believed to be caused by Omicron. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported 26,976 new infections, surpassing a previous peak in early July during a third wave driven by the Delta variant.

In Europe, the United Kingdom also recorded a new daily record of 78,610 new infections Wednesday. England's chief medical officer warned the situation is likely to get worse as the Omicron variant drives a new wave of illness during the Christmas holidays. 

Britain is also accelerating its national vaccination program, with a goal of offering a booster dose to every adult by the end of December. The government said within days it will open new mass vaccination centres at sports stadiums around the country, including a 90,000-seat soccer stadium in London.

Greece, Italy and a handful of other European Union nations began vaccinating children ages 5-11 against COVID-19 on Wednesday as EU governments braced for the Omicron variant to spread quickly during the travel and large gatherings of the holiday season. 

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines and Cambodia detected their first Omicron cases.

The Americas could be left behind as new treatments for COVID-19 are approved by health regulators, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, noting that countries and companies must work to ensure access.

"As new treatments gain final approvals, countries and companies alike must work together to ensure that everyone who can benefit from these tools has timely access to them, at a price our countries can afford," PAHO director Carissa Etienne told journalists during the group's weekly news conference. "Without additional support, they will be left behind."

While vaccinations were not as rapid or evenly distributed as hoped and millions of people have not yet received a single dose, 56 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully vaccinated, Etienne said.

Facing rising infections and a new COVID-19 variant, colleges across the United States have once again been thwarted in seeking a move to normalcy and are starting to require booster shots, extend mask mandates, limit social gatherings and, in some cases, revert to online classes. Cornell University shut down all campus activities on Tuesday and moved final exams online after more than 700 students tested positive over three days. 

A medical worker takes a nasal swab from a visitor as part of a test for COVID-19 in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday reported 148 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths.

-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 5:09 p.m. ET

Tune in to CBC's The National tonight for a special full edition on COVID-19 and the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant in Canada and around the world. What do you need to know to protect yourself and the people around you? Should you change your holiday plans? What's safe and what's not? Adrienne Arsenault and Andrew Chang will be joined by doctors and health experts throughout the program to answer your questions. Send your questions to, and be sure to tune in to The National tonight at 9 p.m. on CBC News Network, 10 p.m. on CBC Television and CBC Gem.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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