Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Feb. 9

As several provinces move forward on lifting proof-of-vaccination programs and mandatory masking, others say, it's not time yet.

Ontario says it's not yet time to lift vaccine or masking mandates in the province

A woman has her COVID-19 QR code scanned by the manager of a Montreal fitness centre in September 2021. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The latest:

Many provinces indicated Wednesday they would not rush to follow the lead of Alberta and Saskatchewan by quickly dropping COVID-19 vaccination passports and indoor mask requirements.

"Just because one province is doing something doesn't mean we're necessarily going to do that," said Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba's deputy chief public health officer.

Manitoba is hoping to lift all restrictions by spring, but Atwal said the plan will be dictated by science — not the decisions of other jurisdictions or demands from protesters.

Easing public health orders in Ontario will also be done with caution and only when it's safe to do so, said Health Minister Christine Elliott. She added that proof of vaccination and masks will be required for some time.

"We have no plans currently to drop the passport vaccination situation or masking. We believe that masking is going to be important for some time to come," Elliott said at a news conference in Kitchener, Ont., adding that the province is following advice from the chief medical officer and other expert advisers.

"We are not in the clear yet," Elliott said.

WATCH | 'We believe that masking is going to be important for some time to come,' Ontario's health minister says:

Ontario not dropping vaccine passport or masking for now, says minister

8 months ago
Duration 1:26
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province is sticking to a cautious path toward loosening public health restrictions because of the spread of highly transmissible coronavirus variants.

Ontario is tracking on a best-case projection, she said, after gradually lifting some restrictions on businesses and social gatherings late last month. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals Wednesday was down 195 from Tuesday to 2,059.

Saskatchewan and Alberta announced Tuesday their intentions to get rid of vaccination passports, mandatory masks and nearly all other COVID-19 rules in the coming weeks.

The proof-of-vaccination requirement, known in Alberta as the restriction exemption program, and capacity limits at most venues ended Wednesday. And starting Monday, masks will no longer be mandatory in all settings for children under 12 and for all students in schools.

Saskatchewan plans to scrap its vaccine passport policy on Monday and end nearly all public health orders, including indoor mask mandates, by the end of the month.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, has said hospitals across the country remain heavily strained. "We're not out of the woods," Tam said on social media Tuesday.

Saskatchewan infectious diseases specialist Dr. Alexander Wong echoed that thought, saying it's too soon to end proof-of-vaccination measures.

"A lot of these decision feel, at least to me and for many health-care workers in our province, like it's just been a real rush."

WATCH | Dr. Wong says vaccine mandates are the best way to boost immunization rates

Sask. doctor says lifting proof-of-vaccine measure too rushed

8 months ago
Duration 4:51
The decision to end proof-of-vaccination in Saskatchewan is coming too soon, says Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious diseases specialist in Regina. He suggested it is more likely due to political pressure.

Health officials across the country, saying it's time to learn to live with COVID-19, have been announcing gradual reopening strategies.

"You're tired. We are too. Everyone is tired of COVID," Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said Wednesday. "But COVID has proven to be a formidable opponent."

Houston announced some restrictions around gathering sizes, capacity limits and sports events are to be loosened next week. He said that's possible because less than 10 per cent of eligible Nova Scotians are unvaccinated and the province is leading the country in booster shots.

He said the move isn't because of protests in Ottawa and elsewhere against vaccine mandates and other public health orders.

Federal ministers again urged protesters to stop blocking roads and border crossings, and to cease incessant honking.

Trucks and people seen in downtown Ottawa during an ongoing protest against vaccine mandates on Feb. 4, 2022. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said every Canadian is frustrated that the pandemic has persisted and normal life is still not achievable. But, he said, health measures to keep people safe have always been informed by advice from public health experts.

"There is a point in the future, that day is coming, where we will be back to life as normal," Mendicino said.

"In the meantime, we can all be exhausted about it. We can be fatigued about it, (but) that can never be a justification to somebody going beyond the boundaries of the law and creating an illegal blockade and hurting Canadians."

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs pointed out that provincial and territorial governments are all following through on plans to lift COVID-19 measures, albeit some faster than others. Soon most areas of the country will have minimal restrictions, he said.

"You kind of wonder, 'What is the point at this stage?" Higgs said about the protesters.

-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 5 p.m. ET. 

What's happening across Canada

Omicron breakthrough infection could boost immunity

8 months ago
Duration 2:04
New research suggests that getting infected with the Omicron variant after being fully vaccinated could help boost immunity, but unvaccinated people don’t appear to get the same benefit.

In Central Canada, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced expanded access to free rapid tests. The province has 2,059 people in hospital with COVID-19 Wednesday, including 449 in the ICU. 

Quebec's interim director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, said Wednesday that he estimates at least two million Quebecers have been infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic's fifth wave in December, and in fact, it's likely that nearly half of all Quebecers have been infected with some form of COVID-19 since the pandemic was first declared.

The province currently has 2,348 people in hospitals being treated for the virus, including 171 in intensive care. 

In Atlantic Canada, officials in Prince Edward Island put forward a plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions with a three-step process set to begin on Feb. 17. The second step on the Island is tentatively scheduled for mid-March, with the third step set for early April. The province currently has seven people in hospital with COVID-19, including one in the ICU. 

New Brunswick is also moving to loosen restrictions, beginning Feb. 18. Premier Blaine Higgs said Wednesday that the province will move to Level 1, which means social bubbles will increase to 20 from 10, while businesses — including retail, spas and salons, entertainment centres, gyms and restaurant dining rooms — can return to full capacity.

Proof of vaccination will still be required where it has been previously. Masks will remain mandatory in all indoor public places, as well as outdoor public places when physical distancing can't be maintained.

There are 139 people in New Brunswick hospitals being treated for COVID-19, with 15 in the ICU. 

Newfoundland and Labrador officials announced some changes Tuesday, when health officials said restrictions on gatherings and sporting events were being eased. As of Wednesday, there were 20 people in hospital with COVID-19, with seven people in the ICU. 

Nova Scotia saw its hospitalization numbers remain unchanged Wednesday, with 91 people still in hospital. An additional two people are in intensive care, for a total of 16. Premier Tim Houston said the numbers support a move to fewer restrictions, beginning Feb. 14. 

This will include loosening restrictions on sports and arts and culture events and allowing retail stores to operate at full capacity. Gyms will be able to operate at 75 per cent capacity and cosmetologists will be able to resume all services.

In the Prairie provinces, Saskatchewan is lifting all of its pandemic public health orders in a phased approach that is to begin Monday with the removal of its COVID-19 vaccine passport policy. At the end of the month, it also plans to end its indoor mask mandate and the requirement for people to self-isolate if they test positive for the virus.

"The benefits of this policy no longer outweigh the costs," said Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who added people should be able to choose whether to get vaccinated.

Alberta's shift is coming even faster. The province's passport has ended, and most other big COVID-19 health rules will be lifted in about three weeks.

"Restrictions, mandates, and those kinds of interventions will not — and must not — become a permanent feature of our lives," Premier Jason Kenney said at a briefing outlining the shift on Tuesday. 

The premier said COVID-19 vaccines "are doing what we always said they would do, to protect us from severe illness and outcomes."

Alberta reported 1,615 people were in hospital Wednesday with the virus, including 135 patients in intensive care. 

Manitoba began to allow larger private gatherings and higher capacity in public spaces for people who are fully vaccinated as of Tuesday. The acting deputy chief public health officer said Wednesday that the new rules will be in place for at least two weeks and will be loosened further only if the numbers warrant. 

"We're going to look at the situation. We're going to look at our data. We're not going to speculate on our orders; they were just changed yesterday," Dr. Jazz Atwal said.

The province has 680 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 43 in the ICU. 

Across the North, a top official in Nunavut said Tuesday that more nurses would be coming to the territory to help with the COVID-19 response.

There are four people in hospital in Yukon with COVID-19. The other two territories did not have any patients being treated in the hospital as of Wednesday. 

In British Columbia, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday that as current restrictions expire next week, she will share the province's plan to move forward.

"You will hear less about the pandemic as we get through this wave and more about how we continue to manage our personal risks as restrictions are adjusted in step with what we are seeing in terms of transmission and hospitalizations."

She also announced an expansion to the province's vaccine mandate for health-care workers, saying it will now include dentists, chiropractors and other health practitioners regulated by B.C.'s health-care colleges.

There are currently 893 people with COVID-19 in B.C. hospitals, including 143 in intensive care units. There have also been 18 additional deaths from the virus. 

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:30 p.m. ET

What's happening around the world

As of late Wednesday afternoon, more than 402.4 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 5.7 million.

"Depending on where you live, it might feel like the COVID-19 pandemic is almost over, or it might feel like it is at its worst," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, said at a briefing on Wednesday.

"But wherever you live, COVID isn't finished with us," Tedros said, adding that the virus will continue to evolve. But the world is not defenceless against COVID-19, he said, pointing to vaccines, tests and treatments.

The biggest barrier to ending the pandemic as a global health emergency is making sure people in all countries have access to those critical tools, he said, as he made a plea for billions in funding for the ACT-Accelerator.

The ACT-Accelerator is a global collaborative project meant to ensure people in low- and middle-income countries have access to essential tests, treatments, vaccines and personal protective equipment.

"We have a plan, we have the tools, we have hope," he said. "Now we need the resources to execute the plan everywhere, make the tools available everywhere and make hope a reality everywhere."

The last set of coronavirus disease PCR tests are collected at the testing site as Sweden changes its approach towards coronavirus testing, in Svagertorp, Malmoe, Sweden on Tuesday. (Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/Reuters)

In Europe, Sweden has halted wide-scale testing for COVID-19 even among people showing symptoms of an infection, putting an end to the mobile city-square tent sites, drive-in swab centres and home-delivered tests that became ubiquitous during the pandemic and provided essential data for tracking the virus's spread.

The move puts the Scandinavian nation at odds with most of Europe, but some experts say it could become the norm as costly testing yields fewer benefits with the easily transmissible but milder Omicron variant and as governments begin to consider treating COVID-19 like they do other endemic illnesses.

For most of the pandemic, Sweden stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response. It never went into lockdown or closed businesses, largely relying instead on individual responsibility to control infections. While coronavirus deaths were high compared with other Nordic countries, they were lower than many other places in Europe that did implement lockdowns.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told a reporter at a WHO briefing on Wednesday that his country, along with Denmark and Sweden, have lifted many restrictions recently they enter a phase of the pandemic "where the cost of the restrictions really outweigh the burden on the health service."

"Each country has to make its judgment on that national call," he said. But the Norwegian leader said that shouldn't lead to a situation in which people think the "pandemic is behind us" or that global solidarity in fighting the virus is not needed.

WATCH | Norway's prime minister defends his move to end most restrictions while the pandemic continues:

'Moral obligation' to help other countries end COVID-19 pandemic: Norwegian PM

8 months ago
Duration 3:12
Despite lifting COVID-19 restrictions, richer countries maintain a moral responsibility to help end the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, says Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

In the Americas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stands by its mask-wearing guidance for public kindergarten to Grade 12 schools, with COVID-19 cases still high countrywide, even as some states plan to relax masking rules, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Reuters.

A child wearing a face mask arrives at school in New York City in early January. Some states are moving away from mask mandates for schools. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong's daily COVID-19 infections nearly doubled to a record 1,161 cases on Wednesday, authorities said, as the global financial hub battles a rapid surge that is shaping up to be the biggest test yet of its "dynamic zero" policy.

Residents line up to get tested for the coronavirus at a temporary testing centre for COVID-19 in Hong Kong on Wednesday, where COVID-19 cases have been on the rise. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday that the government would extend COVID-19 restrictions in Tokyo and 12 prefectures by three weeks as the Omicron variant continued to spread. Japan has been breaking daily records for coronavirus cases and deaths.

In the Middle East, health officials said on Wednesday that 116 people had died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. Health officials also reported an additional 39,085 additional cases of the novel coronavirus.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Tuesday reported 2,824 new cases of COVID-19 and 268 additional deaths. 

-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

With files from CBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters

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