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Coronavirus: What happened in Canada and around the world on Dec. 18

As COVID-19 infections soar across the country, restrictions are being reintroduced in a desperate effort to try to slow the rampant spread of the Omicron variant.

Restrictions tightened in several provinces in face of Omicron variant

Dr. Sabra Gibbons administers a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a drive-thru clinic in Kingston, Ont., on Saturday. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

The latest:

  • Maple Leafs vs. Canucks game in Vancouver postponed due to COVID-19 cases.

Many Canadian provinces grappled with rising COVID-19 cases across the country Saturday, with the Omicron variant compelling many jurisdictions to reintroduce public health restrictions just a week before Christmas.

One day after setting a pandemic record for daily cases, Quebec reported 3,631 new infections, two deaths and a big jump in hospitalizations in its latest numbers.

With new public health measures set to begin Monday, Premier François Legault warned Quebecers again the province would be hit hard.

"The Omicron variant is advancing at breakneck speed," he wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday urging solidarity among the population. "It's hard to imagine."

People wait in line to receive a COVID-19 test in Montreal on Friday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 3,301 new infections — the highest tally since early May — and four additional deaths.

A 50-per-cent capacity limit came back into effect at venues that hold more than 1,000 people in Ontario on Saturday, a day before yet more restrictions were due to resume. As of Sunday, restaurants and retailers will also see their capacity capped at 50 per cent and indoor social gatherings will go from a maximum of 25 people down to 10.

The surge is being seen in other provinces as well, as Nova Scotia reported 426 new cases — a single-day high.

A slew of restrictions are being reintroduced next week by provincial governments while Ottawa will tighten border rules as of Tuesday, requiring a pre-arrival negative molecular test result for COVID-19, even for short trips of less than 72 hours.

In announcing the move Friday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos advised Canadians against travelling outside the country, warning that if they get sick abroad they could become stranded, with the government unable to do much to help them.

In the face of the growing COVID-19 threat, provincial governments are being forced to respond with measures discouragingly reminiscent of last year's troubled holiday season.

On Monday, British Columbia will impose new restrictions limiting the capacity of large venues to 50 per cent, banning amateur sports tournaments over the holidays and cancelling New Year's Eve parties.

Manitoba will bring in similar restrictions on Tuesday.


What's happening across Canada

In British Columbia, fears over hundreds of students being packed tightly together to write finals has prompted a call for the cancellation of in-person exams at the University of British Columbia. Several universities across Canada have already taken that step, including the University of Victoria.

In P.E.I., health officials said testing clinics in Charlottetown and Borden-Carleton had to close early today because of the high volume of people getting tested.

Across the Confederation Bridge, new restrictions are taking effect in New Brunswick. They include limiting contacts to a steady group of 20, the reinstatement of physical distancing in public spaces indoors and reduced capacity at venues such as movie theatres, sporting arenas and casinos.

In Saskatchewan, pharmacists say they don't have enough staff to handle a growing demand for third COVID-19 vaccine doses, as more people become eligible on Monday.

A staff member distributes COVID-19 rapid tests at a Regina Public Library location on Saturday. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Bill Blair, Canada's minister of emergency preparedness, said Saturday that nurses from the Red Cross will be deployed to Manitoba until Jan. 17 following a request by the provincial government.

In Ontario, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has tested positive for the coronavirus and will remain in isolation for eight days. On Monday, Watson announced on social media he would be self-isolating after a staff member was in close contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.

And in Quebec, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante also announced that she tested positive on Saturday. On Friday night, Plante said she took a test and was going into preventive isolation after a case was detected "in her entourage."


What's happening around the world

As of early Saturday afternoon, more than 273.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries and is spreading rapidly even in places with high levels of population immunity, the World Health Organization said Saturday.

The number of COVID-19 cases involving omicron is doubling every 1.5 to three days in countries where there is community transmission of the variant and not just people who were infected abroad, WHO said in a document reviewing what's known about the variant.

WATCH | Omicron spreading in nations with high immunity, WHO says: 

Omicron spreading in nations with high immunity, WHO says

5 months ago
Duration 3:47
The World Health Organization says the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has been reported in 89 countries — with COVID-19 cases doubling approximately every one to three days.

In Europe, the Dutch government is imposing tough lockdown measures in the Netherlands starting Sunday to curb the Omicron variant.

In the Americas, a U.S. appeals court panel on Friday allowed President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for larger private employers to move ahead, reversing a previous decision on a requirement that could affect some 84 million U.S workers.

In Africa, Egyptian health authorities said they have identified the country's first cases of Omicron. 

In the Asia-Pacific region, India has detected a total of 101 cases of the Omicron variant, a Health Ministry official said.

With files from CBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters

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