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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Jan. 21

Ireland is to scrap almost all its COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday after a major surge in infections did not lead to a significant increase in the numbers requiring intensive hospital care, a senior minister said.

'Vast majority' of COVID-19 restrictions in Ireland to be lifted

A woman walks past a mural depicting a front-line worker in Dublin, Ireland, earlier this year. The country on Friday announced plans to scrap COVID-19 restrictions. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

The latest:

Ireland is to scrap almost all its COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday after a major surge in infections did not lead to a significant increase in the numbers requiring intensive hospital care, a senior minister said.

Ireland had the second-highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in Europe just last week but also one of the continent's highest uptake of booster vaccines, which has helped keep the number of seriously ill people well below the previous peak.

Following advice from public health officials, the government decided that bars and restaurants will no longer need to close at 8 p.m., a restriction put in place late last year when the Omicron wave struck, or to ask customers for proof of vaccination.

Capacity in indoor and outdoor venues is also set to return to full capacity, paving the way for full crowds for next month's Six Nations rugby championship.

Some measures, such as the need to wear a mask on public transport and in shops, will remain in place for now.

The changes would put Ireland back in line with Northern Ireland, which had less-severe restrictions over Christmas and agreed to scrap vaccine passes on Thursday and reopen nightclubs next week.

Ireland's hospitality sector, which has been particularly hard hit by one of Europe's toughest lockdown regimes, welcomed the decision.

Nightclubs opened their doors for the first time in 19 months in October only to be shut again six weeks later.

While the economy recovered rapidly last year, around a third of employers have chosen to defer tax payments and the wages of one in 12 workers are still being supported by a state subsidy scheme set to end in April.

-From Reuters, last update at 12:50 p.m. ET


What's happening across Canada

WATCH | Ontario eyes gradual reopening: 

Ontario eyes gradual reopening as experts warn Omicron isn’t over yet

4 months ago
Duration 2:01
Ontario is among the provinces eyeing steps toward reopening as COVID-19 hospitalizations level off, but health officials and experts are warning there is plenty of pandemic still to come.

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 British Columbia, health officials on Friday said they are shifting their approach to managing the spread of the novel coronavirus. At a midday press conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said health officials in the province must change their way of thinking in light of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

"Right now, with the level of transmission in our community, we have to assume we have been in contact with someone with COVID-19," Henry said.

"We cannot eliminate all risk, and I think that's something we need to understand and accept as this virus has changed and has become part of what we will be living with for years to come. But we can use all the layers of protection to keep our settings safe."

Henry said contact tracing is no longer an effective way of managing COVID-19's spread. She encouraged people to check themselves every day for symptoms and stay home as necessary. She urged anyone who has not been vaccinated to do so immediately.

B.C. reported 2,364 lab-confirmed new cases and nine new deaths Friday, along with 924 hospitalizations. Of those patients, 130 were in intensive care units. 

In Central Canada, the provincial COVID-19 dashboard in Ontario on Friday showed 4,114 hospitalizations — up by 53 from a day earlier — and 590 people in intensive care units. The province also reported a total of 64 additional deaths and 7,165 additional lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The update comes after Premier Doug Ford announced plans on Thursday to begin a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions over a period of months, with the first step to begin at the end of January.

Quebec cannot begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions because the situation in the province's hospitals remains too fragile, Premier François Legault said Thursday.

"The situation will continue to be difficult for the next few weeks. I understand that we are all tired, but lives are at stake," Legault said. "We are currently at the limit in our hospitals."

The province on Friday reported 3,351 hospitalizations, down 60 from a day earlier. Quebec's daily COVID-19 situation report showed 265 people in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 59 deaths and 5,995 new lab-confirmed cases.

WATCH | Pilot project for at-home COVID-19 treatment: 

Montreal hospital launches virtual pilot project to treat COVID-19 patients at home

4 months ago
Duration 5:11
Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, head of CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, discusses new pilot project which will offer COVID-19 patients virtual care at home.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday that the province has likely still not seen the peak of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

"But our ability to manage the situation is improving, thanks to the dedication of multiple teams," he said, noting that the province is seeing some positive signs, including a return of some health workers from isolation and a reduction in contacts.

The province, which is currently under tight COVID-19 restrictions, recently put out an urgent call for volunteers and workers to help with the pandemic response. The province saw a "huge" response, Higgs said, and work is underway to match offers to help to areas where assistance is needed.

New Brunswick health officials on Thursday said total hospitalizations had increased to 124, including 12 people in intensive care units. The province also reported an additional three deaths and 488 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Newfoundland and Labrador students will be back in classrooms next week, officials said Thursday at a COVID-19 briefing. Students will have to take two rapid tests before returning to school. One of the tests is to occur 72 hours before they return and the other on Tuesday morning, before classes begin. The province also reported an additional 360 lab-confirmed cases.

In New Brunswick, officials reported two new deaths and 124 hospitalizations on Friday. Twelve of those patients are in intensive care units.

In Nova Scotia, health officials reported 94 hopsitalizations on Friday, 13 of which are patients in intensive care units. There were also 601 new lab-confirmed cases; no new deaths were reported.

In Prince Edward Island, health officials reported one death on Friday, along with eight hospitalizations and one patient in an intensive care unit. The province also reported 267 lab-confirmed new cases of COVID-19.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba health officials on Friday reported 827 new cases and said a total of 664 hospitals, with 50 people are in intensive care units. The province also reported eight additional deaths.

Saskatchewan on Thursday reported 215 hospitalizations, with 23 people in intensive care units. According to the province's COVID-19 dashboard, there were no additional deaths and 1,158 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In Alberta, health officials on Friday reported eight new deaths and 1,191 hospitalizations, topping Thursday's record of by 60 cases. Of those, 107 patients were in intensive care units. Lab tests also confirmed 3,592 cases of COVID-19. Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday that 610 nursing students would be joining Alberta Health Services to help provide pandemic care, a move that some doctors fear points to a pending crisis in the province's hospitals.

Across the North, Nunavut on Friday reported 20 new additional lab-confirmed cases, with no additional deaths. Health officials in the Northwest Territories and Yukon had not yet provided updated information for the day.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:20 p.m. ET


What's happening around the world

WATCH | Europe loosens restrictions: 

Europe loosening COVID-19 restrictions despite high case numbers

4 months ago
Duration 2:03
European countries are starting to loosen their COVID-19 restrictions with Britain at the front of the pack despite the presence of some staggeringly high case numbers and concern from experts that it’s too soon.

As of Friday evening, more than 345.4 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 5.5 million.

In Europe, health ministers in the European Union will try to find a common line on Friday over a potential fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, amid a surge in cases sparked by the Omicron variant.

Meanwhile, daily new coronavirus infections in Russia reached an all-time high Friday and authorities blamed the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova on Friday noted "intensive spread of the Omicron variant" and said the authorities "expect it to become the dominating" variant driving the outbreak. The state coronavirus task force Golikova heads reported 49,513 new infections on Friday.

Record numbers of new cases were reported respectively in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city. In light of the surge, health officials in St. Petersburg on Friday limited elective outpatient care.

Golikova on Friday urged Russians who received their vaccinations or recovered from the virus more than six months ago to "head to a vaccination point again in order to protect yourself from the virus" with a booster.

Just about half of Russia's 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, despite the fact that Russia was among the first in the world to approve and roll out a COVID-19 vaccine. In Russia, everyone who received their primary vaccination more than six months ago has been eligible for a booster shot since July.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong police will deal with pet lovers who try to stop people giving up their hamsters to be put down, or who offer to care for abandoned hamsters, authorities said, after they ordered a cull of the cuddly rodents to curb the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, officials ordered the killing of about 2,000 hamsters from dozens of pet shops after tracing a coronavirus outbreak to a worker at a shop, where 11 hamsters later tested positive for COVID-19.

Thousands of people have offered to adopt unwanted hamsters amid a public outcry against the government and its pandemic advisers, which the office of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam called irrational.

Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department staff investigate a pet shop closed earlier this week after authorities said some hamsters tested positive for the coronavirus at the store where an infected employee was working. The country announced a cull of some 2,000 hamsters Tuesday. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

Bangladesh closed all schools and colleges for two weeks to counter an "alarming" rise in infections, just four months after ending a lengthy year school closure imposed due to coronavirus.

Japan acted to contain a record surge in cases with a return to curbs that have, however, shown diminishing results, while a laggard vaccine booster program leaves many people vulnerable to breakthrough infections.

Nepal's capital shut schools, ordered citizens to carry vaccination cards in public, banned religious festivals and instructed hotel guests to be tested every three days as it battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak.

People walk through Shinjuku area on Friday in Tokyo, Japan. As Japan sees a surge in COVID-19 infections due to the more transmissible Omicron variant, the government has implemented measures such as reduced hours for bars and eateries in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. (Yuichi Yamakazi/Getty Images)

In Africa, the World Bank has approved a loan of $750 million US to South Africa linked to COVID-19, aiming to help protect the poor and support economic recovery from the pandemic. South Africa's health ministry on Thursday reported 3,962 additional cases of COVID-19 and 139 additional deaths, though officials noted a data cleanup was contributing to the increased death figures.

In the Middle East, Israel will ditch mandatory quarantine for children exposed to COVID-19 carriers, the government said on Thursday, citing a need to relieve parents and schools as case numbers spiral due to the fast-spreading but low-morbidity Omicron variant.

In the Americas, President Joe Biden will urge U.S. mayors to use more of their state and local COVID-19 aid funds to expand their workforces, a White House official said, an effort partly aimed at easing economic bottlenecks and inflation.

Brazil approved China's Sinovac shot for children ages six to 17. The country's deputy health minister told a news conference the ministry has six million doses of the vaccine available. Brazil has also rescheduled its Carnival celebration, usually held in February, for April.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:20 p.m. ET

With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press and Reuters

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