Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is urging people to stay home ahead of Christmas as the province posted another record high COVID-19 case number on Thursday.

2,447 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario, 2,349 new cases reported in Quebec

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The latest:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is urging people to stay home ahead of Christmas as the province posted another record high COVID-19 case number on Thursday.

"I know the lockdown starts on December 26 — but I have to tell you, folks, every time you take a trip it puts people in jeopardy," he said. "So please, as of right now, please stay at home when you can."

He urged people to only go out for essentials like groceries, medical appointments or other "necessary trips."

"We have 28 days and we're going to give it everything we can," he said. "We will come out stronger than ever after this."

Ford's comments came shortly before Canada's first shipment of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Health Canada approved Moderna's vaccine on Wednesday, the second to be cleared for use in Canada.

Ontario on Thursday reported 2,447 new cases of COVID-19 and 49 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,278.  Hospitalizations stood at 967, with 277 COVID-19 patients in Ontario's intensive care units, according to provincial data.

Ford has faced criticism over how the province responded to increasing COVID-19 cases, with some critics lambasting the way lockdown measures were designed and implemented. The premier also faced questions over the delay between the announcement of the new measures and the beginning of the provincewide lockdown after the Christmas holiday.

In Windsor, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare hospital is taking over essential operations at The Village at St. Clair long-term care home, which is experiencing the region's largest COVID-19 outbreak. According to a news release, the hospital will take over "on-site leadership," as well as infection prevention, control and education.

Hard-hit Quebec also reported another single-day record on Thursday, with 2,349 new cases of COVID-19. Health officials in the province also reported 46 deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 7,913. Hospitalizations stood at 1,052 with 146 people in intensive care units, according to a provincial database.

Meanwhile, projections released by a government research centre — the Institut national d'excellence en santé et services sociaux (INESSS) — showed hospitals in Montreal are rapidly using up the space they have allotted for COVID-19 patients and could run out of beds by Jan. 12. The projections, which are released weekly, noted that hospitalizations have more than doubled in the Montreal area over the past month.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported seven new COVID-19 cases as the province released guidance on celebrating the holiday season as safely as possibleNew Brunswick reported two new cases and issued a potential exposure warning for three flights, while Prince Edward Island announced three new cases, all travel-related.

Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, reported no new cases Thursday, along with two recoveries.

Manitoba reported 244 new COVID-19 cases and 12 additional deaths. In a news release, the province said the number of people in hospital and intensive care with COVID-19 was down slightly on Thursday. Saskatchewan reported 154 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths.

In Alberta, the chief medical officer of health said Thursday that the province had an estimated 1,100 positive tests for COVID-19 over the past 24 hours. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the positivity rate is estimated to be seven per cent and that hospitalizations are increasing, while intensive-care unit numbers are stable. Alberta did not report deaths or recoveries on Thursday.

British Columbia reported 582 new COVID-19 cases, along with 12 additional deaths. The provincial government also announced that three mink on a second Fraser Valley mink farm have tested positive for COVID-19. The farm is currently under a quarantine order, meaning no animals or material can be moved from the farm.

In the North, Yukon reported one new COVID-19 case. The territorial government said the person, who got COVID-19 and was diagnosed outside of Yukon, is now recovered, keeping the territory's active case number at zero.

More added screening for travellers amid virus variant concerns

Canada also expanded enhanced screening and monitoring measures for travelers arriving from South Africa, citing the rise of a more infectious variant of the coronavirus in that country, similar to one that has emerged in the United Kingdom.

This followed a move on Wednesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to extend to Jan. 6 a ban on passenger flights arriving from the U.K., citing the variant. 

No cases of the variant have been found in Canada so far, Health Canada said in a release, noting it had tested over 25,000 samples. "All travellers who have been in the United Kingdom or South Africa within the period of 14 days before the day on which they seek entry into Canada will be subject to secondary screening and enhanced measures," Health Canada said.

Those measures include "increased scrutiny of quarantine plans," it said.

Canada also updated travel advisories for both the U.K. and South Africa to advise extra caution. Health officials continue to advise against all non-essential international travel.

As of 6:40 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada's COVID-19 case count stood at 535,243, with 76,459 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,720.

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What's happening in the U.S.

A clinician cares for a COVID-19 patient at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, Calif., on Wednesday. The 213-bed-capacity hospital in San Bernardino County is currently treating at least 140 COVID-19-positive in-patients while operating at approximately 250 percent of ICU capacity. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

California became the first U.S. state to record two million confirmed COVID-19 cases, reaching the milestone on Christmas Eve as nearly the entire state was under a strict stay-at-home order and hospitals were flooded with the largest crush of cases since the pandemic began.

California's infection rate — in terms of the number of cases per 100,000 people — is lower than the U.S. average. But its nearly 40 million residents mean the outbreak outpaces other states in sheer numbers.

"Hospitals are full, ICU beds are few, people are dying," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California's Health and Human Services Agency, though he noted the tally also reflects the state's broad testing efforts. "The simplest thing we can do, but also the most significant, is to stay home. We are the first line of defence against this virus, and we must act now."

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The crisis is straining the state's medical system well beyond its normal capacity, prompting hospitals to treat patients in tents, offices and auditoriums. The state has seen its number of cases climb exponentially in recent weeks, fuelled largely by people who ignored warnings and held traditional Thanksgiving gatherings, health officials say.

"Our systems are being overwhelmed, and the virus is spreading everywhere," a coalition of 10 neighbouring Southern California local health departments said in what they termed an urgent holiday message. "We cannot continue on our current path without facing serious consequences."

What's happening around the world

As of Thursday evening, more than 79 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 44.6 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University researchers. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.

Another new variant of the coronavirus appears to have emerged in Nigeria, Africa's top public health official said Thursday, but further investigation is needed. "It's a separate lineage from the U.K. and South Africa," the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters.

He said the Nigerian CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in that country — Africa's most populous — will be analyzing more samples. "Give us some time ... It's still very early," he said.

The alert about the apparent new variant was based on two or three genetic sequences, he said, but that and South Africa's alert late last week were enough to prompt an emergency meeting of the Africa CDC this week. The news comes as infections surge again in parts of the continent.

The new variant in South Africa is now the predominant one there, Nkengasong said, as confirmed infections in the country approach one million. While the variant transmits quickly and viral loads are higher, it is not yet clear whether it leads to a more severe disease, he said.

Africa's top public health official, John Nkengasong, said further investigation is needed about a new variant of the coronavirus that appears to have emerged in Nigeria. (Michael Tewelde/AFP/Getty Images)

"We believe this mutation will not have an effect" on the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines to the continent, he said of the South Africa variant. Late on Wednesday, South Africa's health minister announced an "alarming rate of spread" in that country, with more than 14,000 new cases confirmed in the past day, including more than 400 deaths.

The country has more than 950,000 infections and COVID-19 is "unrelenting," Zwelini Mkhize said in a statement. The African continent now has more than 2.5 million confirmed cases, or 3.3 per cent of global cases. Infections across the continent have risen 10.9 per cent over the past four weeks, Nkengasong said, including a 52 per cent increase in Nigeria and 40 per cent increase in South Africa.

In Europe, Denmark has identified 33 infections with the new variant of the coronavirus that has been spreading rapidly in parts of Britain.

Irish health chiefs believe a new variant of COVID-19 found in neighbouring Britain is present in Ireland, but not solely responsible for a rapid spread of the disease.

Ukraine's tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed one million on Thursday. Ukrainian health officials reported 11,490 new infections Thursday, which brought the country's total to 1,001,132. Ukraine has also reported 17,395 deaths in the pandemic.

The rapid rise in virus cases in Ukraine started in September and put a strain on the country's health-care system. In a bid to curb the spread of contagions, Ukrainian authorities decided to impose tight lockdown restrictions in January.

Russian authorities reported 29,935 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest daily spike in the pandemic. This is nearly 2,700 infections more than was registered the previous day. Russia's total of over 2.9 million remains the fourth-largest coronavirus caseload in the world. The government's coronavirus task force has also registered more than 53,000 deaths in all.

People wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus walk in Moscow on Wednesday. Russia's COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/The Associated Press)

Russia has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. The country's authorities have resisted imposing a second nationwide lockdown or a widespread closure of businesses.

French President Emmanuel Macron no longer has virus symptoms and is leaving isolation after a week with COVID-19, but is urging the French public to limit contacts and remain vigilant to keep infections under control during the holiday season.

Macron's office said in a statement on Thursday that he is finishing a week of isolation at a presidential retreat in Versailles based on French health protocols, which recommend seven days of confinement following a positive virus test.

In the Americas, Mexico now has more people hospitalized for COVID-19 than it saw at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in late July. The Health Department says 18,301 people are in hospital across Mexico being treated for the disease that can be caused by the coronavirus. That is 0.4 per cent more than in July.

Mexico City is the epicentre of the current wave of infections and 85 per cent of its hospital beds are in use.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus variant found in the United Kingdom, while 11 others who were already in quarantine had returned preliminarily positive results for the new strain

Indonesia has banned travellers from Britain and tightened the rules for those arriving from Europe and Australia to try to limit the spread of a new coronavirus variant.

A boy stands near a Christmas tree with a coronavirus-themed decoration in Bali, Indonesia, on Thursday. (Firdia Lisnawati/The Associated Press)

Taiwan's tourism department on Wednesday cancelled an annual New Year celebration at the northeastern tip of the island, after a report of the first locally transmitted COVID-19 case since April 12.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has reported 888 new coronavirus cases as of Thursday, an all-time daily high.

In the Middle East, Israel has detected four cases of the new, highly infectious variant that has emerged in Britain. The country will impose a third national lockdown to fight climbing COVID-19 infections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Kuwait has started its vaccine rollout, with the first Pfizer shots given to health-care and essential workers, older adults and those with chronic health conditions.

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

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