A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:
— Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland pleaded with provinces to use the COVID-19 rapid tests they've already been sent as she promised Ottawa will spend another $1.7 billion to buy millions more of them in the next few months. The dark clouds of COVID-19 hung grimly over Tuesday's fiscal update — a point hammered home by the fact that Freeland did not deliver it in the House of Commons chamber in person. Instead, she released the update virtually, after two of her staff members tested positive for the virus using rapid tests earlier in the day. As case numbers rise, many Canadians are clamouring for easier access to rapid tests, and Freeland said the supply is there for the provinces to use.
— The lightning spread of the Omicron variant is prompting federal politicians to reconsider the wisdom of having several hundred MPs crammed together in the House of Commons. Government House leader Mark Holland announced Tuesday that the Liberals will "greatly reduce" the number of their MPs in the chamber and intend to hold entirely virtual caucus meetings. He met with his opposition counterparts to advise them of that decision but said it's up to opposition parties to decide whether to follow suit.
— Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to make an announcement Wednesday on COVID-19 booster doses, as the province's top doctor urges new provincial measures to deal with the Omicron variant. Dr. Kieran Moore told a news conference Tuesday that the current regional approach to public health restrictions was designed with the Delta variant in mind, and Omicron — which appears to be highly transmissible and is infecting vaccinated people — poses new risks. He said an announcement will come later this week, with health officials reviewing restrictions such as maximum group sizes for gatherings and best practices in schools.
— Several provinces on Tuesday issued new health orders to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, which is disrupting holiday plans across the country and threatening governments' abilities to control COVID-19 transmission. Ontario imposed new restrictions on visits to long-term care homes, and Quebec ordered many civil servants home and recommended employers prioritize remote work, effective immediately. Prince Edward Island, meanwhile, imposed limits on private indoor gatherings. The new rules came hours before a scheduled virtual meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial and territorial premiers to discuss the spread of Omicron. Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters in Ottawa discussions would include new travel recommendations for Canadians.
— Ontario is ramping up COVID-19 testing in long-term care homes and tightening restrictions on visitors and resident activities in an attempt to guard against the Omicron variant. Only fully vaccinated people will be permitted to visit indoors and will need to provide proof of a negative test from within the last day. Group activities for residents will be discouraged, with cohorts introduced for some activities and dining. Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said the indefinite measures are a response to rising community COVID-19 infections and the "emerging threat" of the Omicron variant, believed to be highly infectious and on track to become dominant in Ontario soon.
— Quebec is recommending employers prioritize remote work, as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations rise across the province. Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters today his remote work recommendation is effective immediately, shortly after health officials reported 1,747 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. COVID-19-related hospitalizations jumped by 25 patients compared with the prior day, to 293, after 47 people entered hospital and 22 were discharged. Quebec has confirmed 11 cases of the Omicron variant, but Dubé says experts believe that number might be underestimated.
— Connor McDavid calls the idea potentially having to quarantine up to five weeks in China because of a positive COVID-19 test at the Beijing Olympics "unsettling" as the NHL's participation at the Games remains up in the air. One of three members already named to Canada's provisional Olympic team, the Edmonton Oilers captain says players need to continue gathering information before making a final decision. Speaking today in Edmonton, McDavid adds he still wants to compete, but the situation is "fluid." The NHL has committed to sending players to Beijing, but can pull out of the Games at any point. Jan. 10 is the deadline to nix the plan without financial penalty.
— Three more Calgary Flames have entered the NHL's COVID-19 protocol. The Flames confirmed in a short statement on social media Tuesday that defenceman Noah Hanifin and forwards Milan Lucic and Sean Monahan have joined six other players and a staff member in the league's protocol.
— The Vancouver Canucks have cancelled practice after two players tested positive for COVID-19. The club says it was informed of defenceman Luke Schenn's positive result on Monday and winger Juho Lammikko's positive result on Tuesday morning. Both players have been placed in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol and Tuesday's morning skate was cancelled as a precaution.
— British Columbia health officials are recommending against large holiday parties with COVID-19 cases poised to rise thanks to the quick-moving Omicron variant, but the province won't likely roll out free at-home rapid tests before January. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province ordered a different type of rapid test than provinces that are distributing tests in time for the holidays and B.C.'s at-home test delivery has been delayed. The bulk of rapid tests that B.C. already has on hand — about 1.3 million — must be administered by a medical professional using a special machine.
— Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says the province is looking at making rapid COVID-19 tests widely available, perhaps for free. Stefanson says she has asked public health officials to look at changing the current rules, which focus mainly on selling rapid test kits to businesses and other employers. In Nova Scotia, residents are able to get free rapid tests from pop-up locations across the province for at-home testing. Manitoba's rising number of COVID-19 cases has brought its intensive care units to near capacity, and Stefanson has asked the federal government to provide up to 30 nurses for the next several weeks.
— Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says all of her Progressive Conservative caucus members have complied with an order to get COVID-19 vaccines. Earlier this month, Stefanson said any Tory not fully immunized by Dec. 15 would be removed from caucus. Her statement at the time mentioned Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler, who has been the only Tory to not say he has received a vaccine. Schuler continues to reject interview requests and has only issued statements that say his personal health information is private.
— Prince Edward Island joined New Brunswick on Tuesday in linking the emergence of the Omicron variant to the COVID-19 outbreak at St. Francis Xavier University that has spread through the region. Dr. Heather Morrison, the province's chief public health officer, said there is at least one confirmed Omicron case on the Island connected to the cluster at the Antigonish, N.S., university. She told a briefing the Island will not be able to avoid the variant's further spread, adding it feels like the province is "bracing for another hurricane."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2021.
The Canadian Press