Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Dec. 20

Tougher restrictions go into effect in Quebec on Monday as more people in Ontario become eligible to access COVID-19 booster doses, moves that come amid concern over the Omicron coronavirus variant and increasing case numbers.

Quebec brings in new restrictions, as Ontario and Sask. expand access to COVID-19 vaccine booster doses

Quebec shutters businesses amid COVID-19 surge

2 years ago
Duration 1:59
Quebec has shut down bars, gyms, cinemas and other businesses, in an attempt to curb a dramatic surge in COVID-19 caseloads. The province also instituted a mandatory work-from-home order for all non-essential workers.

The latest:

Tougher public health measures took effect in Quebec on Monday as the province announced a new single-day record of 4,571 new COVID-19 infections, while Ontario and Saskatchewan expanded access to third doses of vaccine. 

As of 5 p.m. ET, Quebec was shutting down schools, bars, gyms and casinos. Restaurants must reduce capacity to 50 per cent, while working from home is being made mandatory again for all non-essential workers.

"The situation is critical. The explosion of cases is overwhelming," said Quebec Health Minister Chirstian Dubé in a news conference, appearing from home.

People walk by a sign reading 'Mandatory Face-Covering,' in Montreal on Sunday. New measures come into effect in Quebec on Monday, reducing capacity at stores and restaurants while closing gyms and bars. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In neighbouring Ontario, people 18 and older are able to book a COVID-19 vaccine booster through the provincial portal as of Monday, as long as it has been at least three months since getting the second shot.

The province announced last Wednesday that it was expanding eligibility in an effort to bolster defences against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Pharmacies were able to start offering the boosters to younger adults on Friday, but now Ontarians can make appointments through the province's or a local public health unit's website.

Health officials in Ontario on Monday reported 3,784 new cases and no additional deaths. The update came as some struggled to book booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In Ottawa, for example, the local public health unit announced early Monday that all available booster appointments were already booked.

Nurse Lisa Paddle wears a headband with a lit up Christmas tree as she delivers a COVID-19 booster shot at Jabapalooza, a pop up vaccine clinic, in Ottawa, on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The change in booster availability comes after the province tightened up restrictions. As of Sunday, restaurants, retailers, gyms and other indoor settings in Ontario are only allowed to open at 50 per cent capacity. Indoor social gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people, while outdoor gatherings can only have 25.

Saskatchewan also opened booster shots Monday to eligible residents over the age of 18 and is reducing the time required between second and third doses to three months from five.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

What's happening across Canada

WATCH | The need for greater access to rapid tests: 

COVID Test Finders pushing for more access to rapid tests

2 years ago
Duration 7:26
Dr. Dalia Hasan, who started the COVID Test Finders Twitter account about three months ago, is calling on health officials to make rapid tests more widely available. (Credit: Kory Lynn Siegers/CBC)

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported 485 new COVID-19 cases on Monday — the highest daily total the province has seen during the pandemic. 

New Brunswick health officials reported 118 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, while Newfoundland and Labrador had 27 new cases. 

Health officials in Prince Edward Island reported 21 new cases on Monday.

In the North, health officials in the Northwest Territories on Sunday reported the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the territory, but no further cases were announced Monday. There were 29 new cases in Yukon on Monday. Nunavut has not yet reported its numbers.

In the Prairies, Saskatchewan reported 59 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. The province is also expanding access to boosters as of Monday, with everyone aged 18 and up allowed to book provided their second dose was at least three months ago.

Health officials in Manitoba reported 809 new cases since Friday, including 276 Saturday, 333 Sunday and 200 today. 

Alberta reported 1,925 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, with about half the new Omicron cases in Calgary

In British Columbia, health officials reported 2,550 new cases in the province since Friday, including 911 on Saturday, 832 on Sunday and 807 today. The province will announce plans to expand access to rapid tests tomorrow. 

LISTEN | Canada's chief public health officer on COVID-19, the holiday season and the year ahead: 
COVID-19 cases continue to rise as another calendar year of the pandemic comes to a close. The Omicron variant is part of the reason why — and just ahead of the holidays, it’s making Canadians nervous. We speak to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam about where we are in the pandemic, what to expect in the near future — and celebrating a safe holiday season.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

What's happening around the world

People wait in a long line to get tested for COVID-19 in Times Square, New York, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Omicron has quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

As of Monday evening, more than 275.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus database. The reported death toll worldwide stood at more than 5.3 million, according to the case-tracking tool.

Omicron is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73 per cent of new infections last week, federal health officials said Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in Omicron's share of infections in only one week.

It's responsible for an estimated 90 per cent of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.

Elsewhere in the Americas, Cuba has vaccinated more of its citizens against COVID-19 than most of the world's largest and richest nations, a milestone that will make the poor, communist-run country a test case as the Omicron variant begins to circle the globe. The Caribbean island has vaccinated more than 90 per cent of its population with at least one dose, and 83 per cent of the population has two doses. 

Peru detected its first cases of Omicron, as in the United States, senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker said they both tested positive for COVID-19 and were experiencing mild symptoms.

In Africa, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is back at work after a period of self-isolation following a positive COVID-19 test, local media reported.

In the Asia-Pacific region, new COVID-19 cases in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, surged past 3,000 on Tuesday for the first time, adding pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to speed the rollout of booster shots. 

Australia's advisory group on immunization is reportedly considering changing the definition of "fully vaccinated" to mean those who have had a booster shot in addition to two vaccine doses.

Meanwhile, New Zealand delayed its planned reopening of its international border because of the sweeping spread of Omicron around the world on Tuesday, as several other countries reimposed social distancing measures.

A cluster of coronavirus infections linked to a U.S. military base in Japan has grown to at least 180, Japan's government said on Monday, raising fears over the spread of the virus in the community.

WATCH | What masks are most effective against Omicron? 

What masks are most effective against Omicron?

2 years ago
Duration 3:37
The National’s Andrew Chang finds out what researchers have learned about cloth, surgical and N95-style masks and the protection they offer against the Omicron variant.

In Europe, the European Union's drugs regulator gave the green light Monday to a fifth COVID-19 vaccine for use in the 27-nation bloc, granting conditional marketing authorization to the two-dose vaccine made by U.S. biotech company Novavax.

The European Medicines Agency decision to grant conditional marketing authorization for the vaccine for people aged 18 and over, which must be confirmed by the EU's executive commission, comes as many European nations are battling surges in infections and amid concerns about the spread of the new Omicron variant.

Pedestrians, some wearing face coverings to combat the spread of COVID-19, walk through a light-covered archway near shops on the last Saturday for shopping before Christmas in central London. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

Novavax says it currently is testing how its shots will hold up against the Omicron variant, and like other manufacturers has begun formulating an updated version to better match that variant in case it's eventually needed.

Meanwhile, the Queen has decided not to gather the royal family for Christmas at the royal Sandringham estate in eastern England, amid concerns about the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The royal palace said Monday that the 95-year-old queen will spend the holidays at Windsor Castle, where she has spent most of her time during the pandemic. Family members will visit, with precautions in place. 

In the Middle East, Iran has confirmed its first case of Omicron, while authorities urged Iranians to get their booster doses in the Middle East's worst-hit country.

Meanwhile, Kuwait has mandated that everyone who has been vaccinated against the coronavirus at least nine months ago receive a booster shot. The Gulf Arab state said that booster shots will become compulsory starting Jan. 2 as the Omicron variant courses across the region. Kuwait detected its first Omicron case earlier this month.

The tiny sheikhdom has seen cases gradually trend upward this week after hitting record lows of under 50 infections a day. The government also urged all citizens and residents to avoid travel.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 10:20 p.m. ET

With files from Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News

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