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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Jan. 23

Quebec stores reopen their doors on Sunday following a three-week ban imposed by the government in a bid to limit hospitalizations. The province is also set to expand its vaccination passport program on Monday, making it mandatory to show proof of immunization to enter a number of retail settings.

Quebec expanding COVID-19 vaccine passport to include big-box stores

A shopper wearing a face mask leaves a big-box store in Montreal on Sunday. Quebec is set to expand its COVID-19 vaccination passport program starting Monday, making it mandatory to show proof of immunization in order to enter a number of retail settings. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The latest:

Sunday shoppers streamed back into Quebec stores for the first time in three weeks as a measure meant to curb soaring COVID-19-related hospitalization rates in the province came to an end amid declining patient numbers.

The positive signs were not confined to the province. Virus-related hospital admissions either decreased or held steady in other jurisdictions, such as Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Ontario reported a drop of 229 patients in hospitals with COVID-19, though officials noted that not all health-care facilities share data on weekends.

Quebec, meanwhile, said 12 fewer patients were hospitalized Sunday. But the two long-standing virus hotspots still had more than 7,000 hospitalizations between them as of Sunday.

A shopper wearing a face mask is seen in Montreal on Sunday. Sunday shoppers streamed back into Quebec stores for the first time in three weeks as a measure meant to curb soaring COVID-19-related hospitalization rates in the province came to an end. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The numbers came as most Quebec stores reopened their doors following a three-week ban on Sunday shopping imposed by the government in a bid to curb hospitalization rates that soared once the pandemic's Omicron-driven wave took hold. The province closed non-essential businesses for three Sundays starting Jan. 2, making exceptions only for pharmacies, convenience stores and gas stations.

The move — one of a suite of measures implemented to bring hospitalizations under control — appeared to be bearing fruit, as the number of patients in provincial facilities has declined for four days in a row.

Quebec is also set to expand its vaccination passport program as of Monday, making it mandatory to show proof of immunization in order to enter a number of retail settings.

They include big-box stores with areas of 1,500 square metres or more. As of Jan. 18, proof of vaccination also became mandatory to enter the province's liquor and cannabis stores.

Vaccines and other protective measures were the focus of fresh comments from Canada's top doctor on Sunday.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam issued a statement saying vaccines and virus treatments are keeping Canadians better protected against the ongoing pandemic even as she predicted more difficult weeks ahead.

"Among adolescent and adult age groups, vaccine coverage with two or more doses ranges from 83 per cent to 96 per cent, with room for improvement particularly on booster dose coverage for adults, which ranges from 21 to 75 per cent," Tam said.

Health Canada data from early January show fully vaccinated cases were 80 per cent less likely to be hospitalized and 80 per cent less likely to die as a result of their illness.

Mpho Sebape, 9, receives his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Sunday. (R.J. Johnston/Toronto Star/The Canadian Press)

What's happening across 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 there 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 ratesin its daily epidemiological updates.

In British Columbiaa "Freedom Convoy" of big-rig trucks is slated to roll out from the province Sunday en route to Ottawa for a demonstration against the federal government's vaccine mandate for truckers. The convoy is separate from the road safety convoy in B.C. that started Saturday. 

PHOTOS | Convoy protesting trucker vaccine mandate leaves for Ottawa: 

In the Prairies, a northern First Nation in Manitoba is facing criticism for its lockdown measures after a group of mothers left to buy groceries on Thursday and an attempt was made to prevent them from returning to the community. In Saskatchewan, hospitalizations rose by eight on Sunday, while ICU admissions remained at 26. In Alberta, the Omicron wave has left Edmonton-area schools dealing with their most challenging staffing issues in the pandemic, with about 10 per cent of staff absent.

In the Atlantic provinces, four more people are in hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador because of COVID-19 on Sunday; Prince Edward Island registered its sixth death of the pandemic; Nova Scotia says there are 85 people in designated COVID-19 hospital units, including 11 people in intensive care; and more than 1,000 people marched in New Brunswick to protest government-imposed restrictions and vaccination mandates; drivers also slowed traffic along the border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Vehicles slowly enter New Brunswick from Nova Scotia as part of a protest against COVID-19 measures in Fort Lawrence, N.S., on Sunday. (John Morris/Reuters)

In the North, Northwest Territories health officials say its modelling suggests the peak of the Omicron wave "may have already passed mid-January" in the territory. Hundreds of people protested in Yukon against public health measures over the weekend and Nunavut reported 26 new cases on Sunday.


What's happening around the world

As of Sunday, more than 349.6 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 5.59 million.

In Europe, police in Belgium fired water cannons and tear gas in Brussels on Sunday to disperse protesters marching against COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions.

PHOTOS | Anti-vaccine protest turns violent in Belgian capital: 

In Asia, South Korea posted 7,630 new cases — its second highest daily number —  despite extended restrictions and a high vaccination rate, raising concerns of further spread during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.

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, the National Treasury said.

In the Americas, the world-famous Carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro will be held in late April rather than the final weekend of February, as the number of coronavirus cases in Brazil spikes and the Omicron variant spreads.

    Corrections

    • A previous version of this story said entry to grocery stores will require COVID-19 passports in Quebec. In fact, grocery stores are not part of the mandate — only big-box stores.
      Jan 23, 2022 4:46 PM ET

    With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

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