Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Feb. 22

The number of new coronavirus cases around the world fell 21 per cent in the last week, marking the third consecutive week that COVID-19 cases have dropped, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

New global COVID-19 cases have dropped for a 3rd straight week, says WHO

A medical worker tends to a COVID-19 patient in Ashkelon, Israel, on Tuesday. The number of new coronavirus cases around the world fell 21 per cent in the last week, marking the third consecutive week that COVID-19 cases have dropped, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of new coronavirus cases around the world fell 21 per cent in the last week, marking the third consecutive week that COVID-19 cases have dropped, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

In the UN health agency's weekly pandemic report, the WHO said there were more than 12 million new coronavirus infections last week. The number of new COVID-19 deaths fell eight per cent to about 67,000 worldwide, the first time that weekly deaths have fallen since early January.

The Western Pacific was the only region that saw an increase in COVID-19 cases, with a 29 per cent jump, while the number of infections elsewhere dropped significantly. The number of new deaths also rose in the Western Pacific and Africa while falling everywhere else. The highest number of new COVID-19 cases were seen in Russia, Germany, Brazil, the U.S. and South Korea.

WHO said Omicron remains the overwhelmingly dominant variant worldwide, accounting for more than 99 per cent of sequences shared with the world's biggest virus database. It said Delta was the only other variant of significance, making up fewer than one per cent of shared sequences.

The WHO also reported that available vaccine evidence shows that "booster vaccination substantially improves [vaccine effectiveness]" against the Omicron variant but said more research is still needed in order to get a better idea of exactly how long such protection lasts.

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The agency had previously said there was no proof that boosters were necessary for healthy people and pleaded with rich countries not to offer third doses to their people before sharing them with poorer countries.

Health officials have noted that Omicron causes milder disease than previous COVID-19 variants and in countries with high vaccination rates, Omicron has spread widely but COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates have not increased substantially.

Scientists, however, warn that it's possible that more transmissible and deadly variants of COVID-19 could still emerge if the virus is allowed to spread uncontrolled.

The WHO's Europe chief, Dr. Hans Kluge, says the region is now entering a "plausible endgame" for the virus and said there is now a "singular opportunity" for authorities to end the acute phase of the pandemic.

What's happening in Canada

With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.

You can read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.

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In the Prairies, Manitoba registered 11 coronavirus-related deaths in the past four days, while a county in Alberta has approved a policy that disqualifies businesses with mandatory COVID-19 vaccine mandates from being awarded future county contracts.

Ontario reported 1,038 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday, as the rate of hospitalizations in the province continues to gradually decline.

Quebec elementary and high schools students will no longer be required to wear masks in class when they return from March break, Quebec Public Health announced Tuesday

The province reported 1,742 people in hospital, including 107 in intensive care. Thirty more people died due to COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Grade one students wear masks as they attend class at a Montreal elementary school in March 2021. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

In the Atlantic, New Brunswick announced two more people died of COVID-19 over the Family Day long weekend, pushing the province's pandemic death toll to 300.

As of Tuesday, there are 78 people in hospital with COVID-19, including eight in intensive care.

Nova Scotia reported three COVID-19 related deaths and 53 people in hospital with the virus, including 12 in intensive care on Tuesday.

And in the North, Nunavut says the territory will gradually ease health measures over the coming months with the goal of eventually managing the virus in a similar way as influenza.

On Tuesday, British Columbia reported 44 more COVID-19 deaths over four days. There were 688 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday, including 108 in intensive care.

What's happening around the world

As of Tuesday, more than 426.5 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 5.89 million.

In Asia, Hong Kong will roll out compulsory testing starting in mid-March for its 7.4 million residents, said Chief Executive Carrie Lam said.

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In Africa, Uganda plans to impose fines on people who refuse to be vaccinated, and those who fail to pay could be sent to prison under a new public health law which lawmakers are scrutinizing, parliament said.

In Europe, the EU countries agreed to open their borders to travelers from outside the bloc who have had shots against COVID-19 authorized by the World Health Organization, easing restrictions on those who received Indian and Chinese vaccines.

In the Americas, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away a challenge to Maine's vaccine mandate for health-care workers, rebuffing for the second time a group of plaintiffs who sought a religious exemption.

        With files from CBC News and Reuters

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