Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Dec. 3
Toronto confirms first omicron cases as delta variant still dominant globally
- Toronto, York Region confirm first cases of omicron variant.
- All Canadians over 50 should get a COVID-19 booster shot, immunization guidance says.
- Canadians, other foreigners will need COVID-19 test a day before flights to U.S.
- Canada should focus on vaccine equity — not travel bans — human rights advocate, doctors say.
- Explainer: How the arrival testing system will work for foreign travellers from non-U.S. countries.
- Track how many people have been given the COVID-19 vaccine across Canada.
While the new coronavirus variant omicron appeared to be very transmissible, the right response was to be prepared, cautious and not panic, the World Health Organization's (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said Friday.
WHO has urged countries to boost health-care capacity and vaccinate their people to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant, saying travel curbs could buy time, but were not the only answer.
"How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we're in a different situation to a year ago," Swaminathan said.
While the emergence of the new variant was unwelcome, she said the world was much better prepared than it was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, given the development of vaccines.
Much remains unknown about omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been spotted in at least two dozen countries. Parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the delta variant before omicron emerged.
"We need to wait, let's hope it's milder … but it's too early to conclude about the variant as a whole," Swaminathan said of the new variant.
"Delta accounts for 99 per cent of infections around the world. This variant would have to be more transmissible to out-compete and become dominant worldwide. It is possible, but it's not possible to predict."
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WHO's top scientist said the omicron variant seemed to be causing three times more infections than experienced previously in South Africa, meaning "it does seem to be able to overcome some of the natural immunity from previous infection."
Vaccines did appear to be having some effect.
"The fact that they're not getting sick … that means the vaccines are still providing protection and we would hope that they would continue to provide protection," Swaminathan said.
She said the health organization is "preparing for all scenarios," which could include an additional booster dose, particularly among some age groups or vulnerable sections of the population, or a modified vaccine.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's emergency program, said later Friday that information about the variant will soon be flowing in as scientists learn more. He urged people to "stay centred" and not "go to the extremes of any analysis."
"There was a time when scientists would look at all this data and nobody in the public would know, and eventually, a month later … there would be a result," he said during a question and answer session about omicron. "That's not how the world works anymore — everything is happening in real time."
Ryan said that shift offers some real benefits around transparency and community empowerment, but it can also be "unsettling" to people because firm answers aren't available right away.
"We've got to get used to living in that world where getting the real evidence and answers is slightly behind getting all the data and all this kind of unlinked information," he said.
"We all live with that uncertainty."
-From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 6:02 p.m. ET
What's happening across Canada
An Ontario infectious disease specialist says there is evidence that testing all travellers before and after they arrive in Canada will identify most cases of COVID-19 coming into the country.
McMaster University physician Dr. Zain Chagla is highly critical of Canada's plan to try to slow the spread of the new omicron variant by only banning travellers from 10 African nations, and said testing, not travel bans, is a less harmful and more effective mitigation strategy.
Friday afternoon, York Region in Ontario reported one positive case of the omicron variant, bringing the total to 13 cases nationally: seven in Ontario, four in Alberta, one in Quebec and one in B.C.
- 147 new COVID-19 cases, 4 deaths reported in Manitoba on Friday.
- Ontario reports 1,031 new COVID-19 cases, most since late May.
- Omicron variant-driven COVID-19 outbreak declared at Toronto East Detention Centre.
- Quebec reports 1,355 new cases on Friday, 2 additional deaths.
- N.B. winter plan for COVID-19 to be released today at briefing.
- COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU airlifts cost Saskatchewan at least $100M.
- Alberta records 4th case of omicron variant.
- B.C. records 368 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 5 more deaths.
What's happening around the world
As of Friday evening, more than 264.7 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 5.2 million.
In Ireland, the government on Friday announced strict new limits on the hospitality sector and home visits after officials warned the new omicron variant was likely to add to pressure on the health service.
In Africa, the health ministry in South Africa on Friday reported 16,055 new cases and 25 deaths, up from 11,535 new cases of COVID-19 and 44 deaths a day earlier. The country, which raised the alarm about the new variant now named omicron, has seen a surge in cases.
In Europe, more regions of Russia have made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for those 60 and over as the country tries to control infections and keep the omicron variant at bay.
Authorities in the northern region of Komi said Friday people in that age group are required to get fully vaccinated by Feb. 1. The Omsk region in Siberia introduced a more stringent timeline Thursday that obligates those 60 and older to get their first dose by Dec. 24 and their second by Jan. 15.
Russia has struggled to get cases down amid low vaccination rates and poor compliance with public health measures. Only about 40 per cent of Russia's population have been fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England rose to around one in 60 people in the week ending Nov. 27, Britain's Office for National Statistics said Friday, noting the increase was attributed to the dominant delta variant rather than newly identified omicron. The prevalence was up from 1 in 65 reported the previous week, the ONS said.
In the Americas, the Biden administration announced more measures meant to curb the spread of the new variant. Starting Monday, international air travellers arriving in the United States must provide a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel.
"We're going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion," said President Joe Biden. Around 60 per cent of the U.S. population have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy nations.
In the Middle East, OPEC and its allies agreed to stick to their existing policy of monthly oil output increases despite fears that a U.S. release from crude reserves and the new omicron coronavirus variant would lead to a fresh oil price rout.
In the Asia-Pacific region, India reported its first omicron cases but the government said it had no immediate plan to authorize booster vaccine shots despite demands from legislators.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:20 p.m. ET
With files from The Associated Press and CBC News