Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Jan. 27

Most coronavirus restrictions, including mandatory face masks, were lifted in England on Thursday, after Britain's government said its vaccine booster rollout successfully reduced serious illness and COVID-19 hospitalizations.

England ends mask mandate, no longer requires COVID-19 vaccine pass

Commuters in England went back to work as coronavirus restrictions imposed to tackle the Omicron variant were lifted on Thursday, with masks no longer required and vaccine passports shelved. (Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)

The latest:

Most coronavirus restrictions including mandatory face masks were lifted in England on Thursday, after Britain's government said its vaccine booster rollout successfully reduced serious illness and COVID-19 hospitalizations.

From Thursday, face coverings are no longer required by law anywhere in England, and a legal requirement for COVID passes for entry into nightclubs and other large venues has been scrapped.

The government last week dropped its advice for people to work from home, as well as guidance for face coverings in classrooms.

The so-called "Plan B" measures were introduced in early December to stop the rapid spread of the Omicron variant from overwhelming health services and to buy time for the population to get its booster vaccine shot.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government's vaccine rollout, testing and development of antiviral treatments combine to make "some of the strongest defences in Europe," allowing a "cautious return" to normality.

But he added that "as we learn to live with COVID, we need to be clear-eyed that this virus is not going away." While infections continue to fall, health officials said that Omicron remained prevalent across the country, especially among children and the elderly.

Officials said that almost 84 per cent of people over 12 in the U.K. have had their second vaccine dose, and that of those eligible, 81 per cent have received their booster shot.

Hospital admissions and the number of people in intensive care units have stabilized or fallen, and daily cases have fallen from a peak of over 200,000 cases a day around New Year to under 100,000 in recent days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that the surge of Omicron infections "has now peaked nationally."

As the government moved away from legal measures, some shops and public transport operators say they will continue to ask people to wear masks. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said face coverings will still be required on the capital's buses and subways.

People will still need to wear masks on public transit in London. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

The legal requirement for those infected to self-isolate for five full days remains, but Johnson said that measure will also end soon, to be replaced with advice and guidance for those infected to be cautious.

Health officials have said they are planning a longer-term, post-pandemic strategy that treats COVID-19 more like the flu.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which make their own public health rules, have local timelines for easing COVID-19 restrictions.

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET

What's happening across Canada

WATCH | School districts switch from tracking COVID-19 to absences: 

School districts switch from tracking COVID-19 to absences

4 months ago
Duration 1:53
Some school districts have stopped tracking COVID-19 cases and are instead reporting overall absences, which isn’t ideal for some parents, but experts say is still a useful public health tool.

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.

For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.

You can also 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.

In Central Canada, Quebec health officials on Thursday reported 3,153 hospitalizations — down 117 from Wednesday's COVID-19 report — with 235 people in intensive care. The province also reported 56 additional deaths and 3,956 new lab-confirmed cases.

Ontario on Thursday reported a total of 3,645 hospitalizations — a decrease of 371 from a day earlier — with 599 people in the province's intensive care units. The province, which is set to loosen some COVID-19 restrictions early next week, also reported 70 additional deaths on the COVID-19 dashboard and 5,852 new lab-confirmed cases.

In the North, the premier of Nunavut on Thursday reported a total of 279 active cases of COVID-19 across 16 communities.

In the Northwest Territories, Health Minister Julie Green said Wednesday that the government plans to end the public health emergency in the spring. But she noted that the end of that phase of public health orders doesn't mean an end to outbreaks.

In the Yukon, there was one person in hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday, and 32 newly confirmed cases in the territory. 

In Atlantic Canada, officials in Prince Edward Island confirmed that students will be heading back to class on Monday after a period of remote learning. The province, which has been under tight restrictions in recent weeks, will also ease up some rules around gatherings, dining rooms and facilities like gyms.

The province said Thursday the number of people in hospital for COVID-19 treatment had risen to 17, including one person in ICU. The province also reported 247 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In New Brunswick, the chief medical officer and premier announced the province will move back to Level 2 restrictions as of 11:59 p.m. Friday. Students will also return to classrooms on Monday. The province on Thursday reported a total 141 people in hospital with COVID-19, including eight in intensive care units. Health officials also reported three additional deaths and 388 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Nova Scotia on Thursday said 93 people were in hospital with COVID-19, including 15 people in intensive care. The province also reported one additional death and 366 lab-confirmed cases.

Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday said 20 people remain in hospital with COVID-19, with seven people in intensive care. The province also reported four additional deaths and 378 lab-confirmed cases.

In the Prairie region, health officials in Manitoba said Thursday that total COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased to 711, but that two additional people are in the ICU, bringing that total to 51. The province also reported 14 additional deaths and 582 new lab-confirmed cases.

Manitoba's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the province might be nearing its peak of the current wave with intensive care admissions stabilizing and hospitalizations dropping slightly. But Roussin noted that wastewater samples used to track COVID-19 spread continue to fluctuate.

In Saskatchewan, health officials said Thursday that total COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 328 from 315 the day before, with 35 people in the province's ICUs. The province also reported two additional deaths and 1,273 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Alberta said Thursday that another 51 people were being treated in hospital with COVID-19, including 106 in the ICU. The province also reported 14 additional deaths and 3,218 lab-confirmed cases. 

In British Columbia, health officials reported 977 COVID-19 hospitalizations, an increase of 28 from a day earlier, including 141 people in ICUs. The province also reported 13 additional deaths and 2,033 additional lab-confirmed cases.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:30 p.m. ET

What's happening around the world

A man is seen wearing protective face gear in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Wednesday. (Moises Castillo/The Associated Press)

As of Thursday evening, 365.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tally posted on Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.6 million.

In the Americas, new cases of COVID-19 in the past week have been the highest since the pandemic began, and the fast-spreading Omicron variant has clearly become the predominant version of the virus, the Pan American Health Organization said.

In Europe, German lawmakers agonized over whether to impose compulsory COVID-19 shots, as new record daily infections and the country's stuttering vaccination campaign forced them into an ethical and constitutional dilemma.

The EU's drug regulator gave the green light to Pfizer's antiviral COVID-19 pill for treating adults at risk of severe illness.

The German Hospitals Federation had warned earlier this week that three-quarters of hospitals were reporting higher than usual numbers of staff out on sick leave.

Meanwhile, Russia's daily COVID-19 cases surged to 88,816 on Thursday, a new record high for the seventh consecutive day as the Omicron variant was identified in new regions, officials said.

The number of new infections was a significant jump from the 74,692 reported on Wednesday. Officials also said that 665 people had died in the last 24 hours.

An employee wearing a hazmat suit prepares to do COVID-19 tests on new arrivals at Beijing Capital International Airport ahead of the 2022 Olympic Games. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong will shorten its 21-day quarantine requirement to 14 days for incoming travellers starting from Feb. 5, leader Carrie Lam said.

Beijing has limited the movement of people in more parts of the Chinese capital, even as it reported fewer COVID-19 cases on Thursday, in a bid to lower virus risk less than 10 days before its hosting of the Winter Olympics Games. Twenty-three new cases of COVID-19 were detected among Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Games-related personnel on Jan. 26, organizers said.

South Korea reported 16,096 new cases for Thursday, another daily record after posting 14,518 a day before, amid the spread of Omicron, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said on Friday.

Australia's drug regulator approved the use of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for 16- and 17-year-olds as authorities urge people to get their third doses soon to mitigate the threat from Omicron.

LISTEN | Learning from South Africa's Omicron experience: 
South Africa's bout with Omicron is slowing down — offering other countries a glimpse of what might be coming next in the pandemic. Matt Galloway discusses what Canada might learn, with Dr. Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand; and Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Wednesday reported 4,515 new cases of COVID-19 and 94 additional deaths.

Morocco will reopen its airspace for international flights starting Feb. 7, the state news agency reported on Thursday.

In the Middle East, Israel on Wednesday broadened eligibility for a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to include adults under 60 with underlying medical conditions, their caretakers and others over 18 at significant risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

An official statement said the Health Ministry's director-general had approved the measures. Earlier this month, as the Omicron variant swept the country, Israel began offering a fourth dose, meaning a second booster, of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people over 60.

A United Arab Emirates medical convoy of one million COVID-19 vaccines reached the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing, state news agency WAM said.

Iran on Thursday reported 30 additional deaths in the past 24 hours and 14,285 additional cases of COVID-19, the country's health ministry said.

-From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 8 p.m. ET

With files from CBC News, Reuters and The Canadian Press

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