Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Feb. 17

The latest:

People in Ontario, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island are facing fewer COVID-19 restrictions as of Thursday.

Ontario has lifted more pandemic restrictions on businesses and social gatherings. Businesses that screen people for vaccination status, including restaurants, gyms, cinemas and others that use the system, can open without capacity limits. Social gatherings can include up to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

Health officials in the province on Thursday said hospitalizations stood at 1,342 — down by 61 from a day earlier — with 356 people in intensive care units due to COVID-19. The province also reported 37 additional deaths.

Ontario is expected to lift its vaccine passport program as of March 1. The province said in a statement that masking requirements “will remain in place at this time, with a specific timeline to lift this measure to be communicated at a later date.”

In British Columbia, restrictions on personal gatherings and capacity limits were lifted as of 11:59 p.m. local time on Wednesday. The province’s vaccine card program and indoor masking requirements, however, remain in place.

Premier John Horgan said earlier this week that the changes are not in response to protests but because of a plan put in place when temporary restrictions were imposed as Omicron surged.

“You’ll remember at Christmas how uncertain we were,” Horgan said at a briefing about the easing of restrictions. “Case counts were spiking, hospitalizations were increasing and we were uncertain about how we were going to be addressing yet another wave of COVID-19.”

Horgan said the province said it would revisit the issue of restrictions ahead of the Family Day long weekend, and “that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

There are 744 people in hospital with COVID-19 in British Columbia as of Thursday, including 120 in ICU. The province reported five additional deaths linked to the virus.

Meanwhile, Prince Edward Island on Thursday is entering the first step of its easing plan, which includes easing capacity limits for some businesses and allowing for larger gatherings.

Three people are being hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province as of Thursday and none of them are in ICU.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 4 p.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Newfoundland and Labrador ‘now at a turning point’ in pandemic, top doctor says: 

N.L. to begin easing COVID-19 restrictions

2 days ago

Duration 1:10

Newfoundland and Labrador is ‘now at a turning point’ in the coronavirus pandemic and will be able to eliminate restrictions by March 14, says Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald. 1:10

In Atlantic Canada, officials in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday announced a multi-step plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the province. The province plans on easing some restrictions next week, followed by the next step on Feb. 28. The province plans to lift vaccine passport programs and mask rules in mid-March — though the province’s top doctor noted masking will continue to be strongly recommended even after that date.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the restrictions were “important to reduce hospitalizations to a manageable level while we were in the height of the outbreak.”

But the province is now at a turning point, she said Wednesday, pointing to declining cases, a less severe variant, high vaccination rates and new therapies for people with COVID-19.

Sixteen people are in hospital in the province Thursday — the same as Wednesday — with five of those in critical care. One more person died with COVID-19.

New Brunswick will further ease restrictions on Friday at 11:59 p.m. Atlantic time. The province reported 79 COVID-19 hospitalizations Thursday, including nine people in intensive care, and one more death.

Nova Scotia quietly dropped distancing requirements between tables at restaurants Thursday, a move applauded by some businesses. The move came just days after the province increased capacity limits to 75 per cent, but still required there to be two metres of distance between tables.

Luc Erjavec, the vice-president Atlantic for Restaurants Canada, said for most businesses, the 75 per cent capacity increase didn’t change a thing because most restaurants in the province didn’t have the space to add more tables while keeping them two metres apart.

Now, he said, inspectors will focus on capacity numbers instead of spacing.

The province reported two deaths linked to the coronavirus on Thursday and 66 hospitalizations, including 11 in ICU.

In Central Canada, Quebec on Thursday reported 1,902 hospitalizations — down by 93 from a day earlier — with 124 people in intensive care. The province also reported 22 additional deaths.

Across the Prairie provinces, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney signed a letter, along with 16 U.S. governors, urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden to “immediately reinstate the vaccine and quarantine exemptions available to cross-border truck drivers.”

Alberta reported 18 additional COVID-19 deaths on Thursday and 1,491 hospitalizations, including 116 in intensive care.

Another five people have died due to COVID-19 in Manitoba and there are 607 people in hospital with the virus, including 38 in ICU.

In the North, Yukon health officials said Thursday the territory will ease more public health restrictions on Friday because the territory seems to be through the worst of the Omicron wave of COVID-19.

As of Thursday, Yukon reported 12 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases and Nunavut reported 35 new cases.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:50 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

WATCH | Who is watching the Beijing Olympics in person if tickets weren’t sold? 

Who’s in the stands if tickets weren’t sold at Beijing Olympics?

2 days ago

Duration 2:19

There are plenty of people in the stands despite tickets not being sold to the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games, but the process of getting a seat was long, complicated and involved a lot of COVID-19 testing. 2:19

As of Thursday evening, more than 419.2 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 5.8 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan will ease border controls imposed to counter the pandemic, its prime minister said, softening measures that have been among the strictest imposed by wealthy nations and slammed by business and educators.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s hospitals have reached 90 per cent capacity and quarantine facilities are at their limit as the city struggles to snuff out a record number of new COVID-19 cases by adhering to China’s “zero tolerance” strategy.

To ease the strain on the city’s health-care system, officials say they will take a different approach to hospitalization and isolation policies and allow some patients to be discharged sooner. Hong Kong reported 6,116 new coronavirus infections on Thursday. Any person in Hong Kong who is infected with the coronavirus must be admitted to a hospital or community isolation facility.

A woman wearing a face shield and face mask holds the hand of a patient lying in a bed at a makeshift treatment area outside a hospital in Hong Kong on Thursday. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

Hong Kong on Thursday reported 6,116 new coronavirus infections, as local authorities said hospitals had reached 90 per cent capacity. (Kim Cheung/The Associated Press)

In Africa, South Africa’s health regulator, SAHPRA, said Thursday that it had authorized access to Merck’s COVID-19 treatment pill molnupiravir.

“The authorization of molnupiravir for compassionate use offers further therapy in the fight against COVID-19,” SAHPRA said in a statement.

Health officials in South Africa on Wednesday reported 3,699 additional cases of COVID-19 and 89 deaths.

In the Middle East, Israel’s prime minister says the country’s coronavirus vaccination “green pass” system will be suspended as new daily cases of COVID-19 continue to decline. Naftali Bennett said Thursday after meeting with health officials that Israel’s Omicron wave “has been broken” and that additional reductions in coronavirus restrictions were forthcoming.

The Green Pass, Israel’s digital vaccination passport, limited entry to indoor venues and large gatherings to people who had recovered from coronavirus or received at least three doses of the vaccine. Although new infections remain high, Israel’s health ministry has reported a steady decline in serious cases of COVID-19 since the peak of the country’s Omicron wave earlier in February.

In the Americas, the Dominican Republic on Wednesday lifted all COVID-19 restrictions. The country has fully vaccinated just over 54 per cent of its population, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker.

In Europe, Britain’s vaccine officials on Wednesday advised that all children aged 5-11 should be offered COVID-19 shots, paving the way for a wider rollout of vaccines in children in a decision that has been taken more slowly than in some other countries. British Health Minister Sajid Javid said he would accept the advice for England.

Britain has offered COVID-19 shots to vulnerable children, but has been slower than the likes of the United States and Canada in offering the vaccine to all five to 11-year-olds.

“The main purpose of offering vaccination to five to 11-year-olds is to increase their protection against severe illness in advance of a potential future wave of COVID-19,” said Wei Shen Lim, chair of Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Meanwhile, Portugal’s government announced Thursday it is winding down its coronavirus pandemic restrictions, following the path of other European countries where a surge in cases blamed on the Omicron variant is ebbing.

Among the requirements being scrapped are: isolation if a close contact tests positive; limits on the number of people gathering in public areas; producing a digital vaccination certificate to gain entry to restaurants and other venues; and proof of a negative test to enter sports events, bars and discotheques.

However, face masks must still be worn indoors and a digital vaccination certificate must be shown to enter the country and for hospital and care-home visits.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:55 p.m. ET

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