Coronavirus: What happened in Canada and around the world on Dec. 29

Daily COVID-19 infections have hit record highs in the United States, parts of Canada and swaths of Europe and Australia as the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus races out of control, keeping workers at home and overwhelming testing centres.

Single-day high COVID-19 case numbers reported in most provinces; B.C. to phase in return to school

Countries need to find right balance on length of coronavirus quarantine: WHO

5 months ago
Duration 1:39
A risk-based approach that protects vulnerable people from COVID-19 needs to be taken when countries, like the U.S., decide to shorten the quarantine period for infected people, a WHO official says.

The latest:

Daily COVID-19 infections have hit record highs in the United States and swaths of Europe and Australia as the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus races out of control, keeping workers at home and overwhelming testing centres.

Almost two years after China first reported a cluster of "viral pneumonia" cases in the city of Wuhan, the regularly mutating coronavirus is wreaking havoc in many parts of the world, forcing governments to rethink quarantine and test rules.

Although some studies have suggested the Omicron variant is less deadly than some of its predecessors, the huge numbers of people testing positive mean that hospitals in some countries might soon be overwhelmed, while businesses might struggle to carry on operating because of workers having to quarantine.

"Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalization and deaths," WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Tedros told a news briefing on Wednesday.

"I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases."

WATCH | WHO director warns countries not to become complacent about Omicron: 

WHO warns against Omicron complacency as European countries post record daily cases

5 months ago
Duration 2:12
World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is warning against downplaying Omicron's seriousness as major nations in Europe, along with the U.S., announce record-breaking daily COVID-19 case counts.

Record high cases

Global COVID-19 infections hit a record high over the past seven-day period, Reuters data showed on Wednesday, as the Omicron variant raced out of control and governments wrestled with how to contain its spread without paralyzing fragile economies.

Almost 900,000 cases were detected on average each day around the world between Dec. 22 and 28, with myriad countries posting new all-time highs in the previous 24 hours, including the United States, Australia, many in Europe and Bolivia.

Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, P.E.I., N.B., Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario all confirmed single-day highs on Wednesday. Nunavut saw 37 new cases — a single-day high for the territory, which has just one hospital.

New daily infections in Australia spiked to nearly 18,300 on Wednesday, eclipsing the previous pandemic high of about 11,300 hit a day earlier.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country needs "a gear change" to manage overburdened laboratories, with long walk-in and drive-in queues reported in a number of areas.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran told lawmakers Wednesday that the country was seeing a "dizzying" rise in cases, with 208,000 reported in the space of 24 hours — a national and European record.

Britain reported 183,037 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, a new record and over 50,000 more than the previous-highest figure registered just a day earlier, government statistics showed. Ireland, too, reported record cases on Wednesday, with more than 16,000 new infections.

A number of governments were also increasingly worried about the huge numbers of people being forced into self-isolation because they had been in contact with a coronavirus sufferer.

People line up in cars for COVID-19 tests at a clinic in Sydney on Wednesday. Coronavirus cases are surging across Australia as an outbreak of the Omicron variant spreads. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image/The Associated Press)

"We just can't have everybody just being taken out of circulation because they just happen to be at a particular place at a particular time," Australia's Morrison told reporters.

Italy on Wednesday scrapped self-isolation rules for those coming into contact with someone testing positive for coronavirus providing they have had a booster shot, have recently recovered or been vaccinated. 

However, China showed no let-up in its policy of zero tolerance to outbreaks, keeping 13 million people in the city of Xi'an under rigid lockdown for a seventh day as new COVID-19 infections persisted, with 151 cases reported on Tuesday.

-From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7 p.m. ET

What's happening across Canada

WATCH | Nunavut seeks federal help as coronavirus cases climb: 

Nunavut seeks federal help as coronavirus cases surge

5 months ago
Duration 1:02
Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok says the territory's health-care capacity is reaching a 'breaking point' and he's looking to Ottawa for help as COVID-19 spreads rapidly. (Emma Tranter/The Canadian Press)

For more details on the situation in your province and territory — including the latest on hospitalizations and ICU capacity, as well as local testing issues — click through to the local coverage below.

In the North, Nunavut on Wednesday reported 37 new cases, a new single-day high for the territory. The premier said the territory, which is currently living under tough restrictions, has active cases in eight communities. 

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok on Wednesday said the territory is approaching a "breaking point" in terms of health-care capacity. He said he is working with staff to request additional workers and supplies from the federal government, noting that the territory also has an urgent need for more housing to allow people to safely isolate at home.

Health officials in Yukon reported 27 cases on Wednesday from over the past five days, while the Northwest Territories reported 68 new cases since Dec. 24.

In Central Canada, Quebec on Wednesday reported 13,149 new cases of COVID-19, yet another single-day high. The province also reported 10 additional deaths.

The update came a day after Health Minister Christian Dubé announced measures that would allow certain health-care workers to stay on the job despite testing positive for the virus. The province had little choice but to change its isolation protocols, he said, due to the meteoric spread of the Omicron variant, which has created staff shortages.

"We have no choice," Dubé said at a briefing, calling the government's plan the "best alternative" compared to not providing care.

Ontario on Wednesday saw a single-day high of 10,436 new cases of COVID-19, as well as three additional deaths.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador health officials reported 312 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, though they noted there are still no COVID-19 patients in hospital.

Provincial officials said that when students return to school on Jan. 4, it will be to virtual learning, with the situation to be reassessed weekly.

"Now is the time for precaution, not for panic," Premier Andrew Furey said at a briefing on Wednesday.

Health officials in Nova Scotia reported 586 new cases on Wednesday, while Prince Edward Island had a record-high 129 cases

New Brunswick also had a record-high number of daily new cases, with 486 reported. 

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba saw another record daily high of 947 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with health officials reporting one additional death. The province has reached a deal with a private lab to increase COVID-19 testing capacity by 30 per cent.

Saskatchewan reported 293 new cases and four deaths on Wednesday, while Alberta also recorded a new daily record with 2,775 cases and 11 additional deaths. The surge in cases has forced the province to change its criteria for obtaining a PCR test to confirm the COVID-19 virus.

In British Columbia, health officials reported 2,944 new cases on Wednesday, a new daily record, along with five deaths since Dec. 24. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she is recommending a phased return to school for students in K-12, with some children of essential workers or with special needs going back as planned on Jan. 3 or 4, with a full return for all students by Jan. 10. 

"This will give us time to add additional protocols to reduce crowding, and stagger times for recesses," she said, "those things that we did early on that we know can reduce the potential for transmission within the settings."

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said there will also be enhanced safety plans for schools. 

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

What's happening around the world

Customers look at COVID-19 test sets sold in a supermarket in Saint-Herblain, France. (Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

As of Wednesday evening, roughly 284.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.4 million.

In Europe, Italy surged to a record 98,030 new cases of COVID-19 infections Wednesday, an increase of 25 per cent in one day.

In the Americas, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that average coronavirus cases in the country this week have increased 60 per cent over the previous week — a reflection, she said, "of the exceptionally transmissible Omicron variant."

"This virus has proven its ability to adapt quickly and we must adapt with it," Walensky said during the Biden administration's COVID-19 task force briefing.

She pointed in particular to the CDC's decision to reduce quarantine time for asymptomatic individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to five days from 10. After five days, the risk of transmission "substantially decreases," she said, and the reduced quarantine period reflects an effort to "provide updated recommendations using science to ease the burden of lengthy isolation and quarantine recommendations."

In Africa, South Africa on Tuesday reported 7,216 new cases of COVID-19 and 25 additional deaths.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported 602 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one additional death.

Daily infections in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf region's tourism and commercial hub, rose above 2,000 for the first time since June.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Thai authorities warned that residents should brace for a potential jump in coronavirus cases after classifying the country's first cluster of the Omicron variant as a "super-spreader" incident.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 5:45 p.m. ET

With files from The Canadian Press, CBC News and Reuters

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