Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Jan. 20

The latest:

Quebec seems to have reached a peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations, but the province “can’t afford” to lift any more measures aimed at slowing the spread of infections, Premier François Legault said Thursday.

“Today, finally, we had a net decrease of hospitalizations, so 14 fewer people in hospital … [and] for the time being, things seem to be stabilizing at around 3,400 hospitalizations,” he told reporters.

However, Legault noted that Quebec is still missing about 12,000 employees in its health-care network, who are absent due to COVID-19, so people in the province should “stand in solidarity,” continue to follow measures, “stay prudent” and “think about hospital staff.”

“I understand we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault said. “I’m currently under a lot of pressure to remove measures, but my duty is to be responsible, to protect the lives of Quebecers.”

Quebec on Thursday reported 3,411 hospitalizations, with 285 people in intensive care. The province’s COVID-19 situation report, which is updated daily, showed 98 additional deaths. The province also reported 6,528 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Ontario to gradually lift restrictions

In neighbouring Ontario, Premier Doug Ford on Thursday announced a phased approach to lifting restrictions.

Among the changes, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, cinemas, museums and zoos — which have been closed since early this month — will be allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity on Jan. 31.

Ford said there will be 21 days between each reopening step, noting that pauses are a possibility if health indicators aren’t trending the right way.

“If trends remain stable or improve, Ontario will move to the next step on Feb. 21, and then March 14,” he said.

The provincial COVID-19 dashboard on Thursday showed hospitalizations at 4,061, with 594 people in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 75 deaths, though health officials noted the number reflected a data catch-up.

Ontario also reported 7,757 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney on Thursday said the province would only consider relaxing COVID-19 restrictions further if there is a “sustained decline” in pressure on hospitals, which “would follow a sustained decline in new cases, of course.”

“I think we can reasonably expect to see 1,500 or more COVID patients in non-ICU beds when we reach the hospitalization peak a little later in January,” Kenney said at a news briefing.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province increased to 1,131 on Thursday, up by 30 from the previous day. Of those patients, 108 were in ICUs, a number unchanged from Wednesday. The province also reported eight additional deaths and 3,527 lab-confirmed cases.

-From CBC News last updated at 7 p.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | The life-saving decisions inside an Ontario ICU: 

The life-saving decisions inside an Ontario ICU

1 day ago

Duration 3:52

CBC News goes inside the intensive care unit of a Scarborough, Ont., hospital to witness the life-saving decisions staff have to make, where staff describe the common factors among patients. 3:52

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 Atlantic Canada, students in Newfoundland and Labrador will be back in the classroom as of next Tuesday, Premier Andrew Furey announced on Thursday. 

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said at the same briefing that the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 had risen to 20 — the highest level of hospitalizations the province has seen in the pandemic. That figure includes four people in critical care, a statement from the province said.

The province also reported two additional deaths due to COVID-19 and 360 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Fitzgerald said school is important to children not just for their academic well-being — but also for their physical and emotional well-being. 

“COVID is circulating in our communities, and we will see that reflected in schools,” she said, noting that the province’s system can withstand a rise in cases among a “very low-risk age group.”

“At this time, the benefits of being in school for children outweigh the risks of COVID-19.”

The province will stay in Alert Level 4 as kids head back to class, which means officials will continue to urge people to stay home as much as possible.

New Brunswick on Thursday reported a total of 112 people in hospital with COVID-19, down from a record high of 123 on Wednesday. Of those, 12 were in intensive care, up from 11 the previous day.

The province also reported 488 new lab-confirmed cases and three additional deaths.

“The rate of people hospitalized and in ICU continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated and those who are over six months from their second dose,” the New Brunswick health department said in a statement.

In Nova Scotia, health officials on Thursday reported three additional deaths. The number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 rose by two to 85 patients. Twelve remained in ICU, a number unchanged from Wednesday.

The province also reported an additional 696 lab-confirmed cases.

Prince Edward Island on Thursday reported the number of people in hospital for treatment of COVID-19 remained at 10, with three patients in ICU, no change from the previous day.

There were also 294 additional cases of COVID-19, island officials said.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba on Thursday reported a total of 665 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 50 in ICU. Health officials also reported seven additional COVID-19-related deaths and 851 lab-confirmed cases.

In Saskatchewan, the province said the total number of people in hospital with COVID-19 stood at 215, with 23 people in intensive care. The province, which had no additional deaths to report on Thursday, also saw an additional 1,158 lab-confirmed cases.

Across the North, Nunavut’s Health Minister John Main on Thursday extended the territory’s public health emergency until Feb. 3 as 35 new lab-confirmed cases were reported.

Health officials in the Northwest Territories on Wednesday reported the first intensive care admission of the current Omicron-driven wave.

In Yukon, a spokesperson for the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board said that people who believe they contracted COVID-19 at work will need a PCR test to make a workplace claim.

In British Columbia, health officials on Thursday said hospitalizations decreased by four patients to 891, with 119 people in ICU, an increase of four from Wednesday. The daily COVID-19 brief from the province outlined an additional 15 deaths and 2,150 lab-confirmed cases.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

As of Thursday evening, more than 340.2 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 5.5 million.

In Europe, Austria’s parliament voted on Thursday to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for residents 18 and older, beginning Feb. 1, the first measure of its kind in Europe.

A person protests on the street in Vienna on Thursday before Austria’s parliament approved the introduction of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for adults starting in February. (Lisa Leutner/The Associated Press)

Enforcement will only begin in mid-March as police routinely check people’s vaccination status. Exempted from the mandate are pregnant women, individuals who for medical reasons can’t be vaccinated, and people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection in the past six months.

Meanwhile, France will ease work-from-home rules from early February and allow nightclubs to reopen two weeks later, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.

Caps on the number of people allowed into sports and entertainment venues will also be lifted on Feb. 2, and masks will no longer be required outdoors from that date.

Infections continue to accelerate in the Americas, reaching new peaks, with 7.2 million new cases and more than 15,000 deaths in the last week, the Pan American Health Organization said.

WATCH | N95 masks are increasingly in demand — but often hard to find: 

N95 masks often recommended, hard to find

1 day ago

Duration 2:02

Doctors have been recommending N95 masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but for many people, they remain hard to find. 2:02

Mexico registered a record daily increase of more than 60,000 new cases, as the country steps up testing for the virus.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Biden administration is giving colleges and universities another $198 million to help them curb COVID-19 and address student needs, such as housing and food, amid the ongoing pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education said.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong will suspend face-to-face teaching in secondary schools from Monday until after the approaching Lunar New Year, authorities said, because of a rising number of coronavirus infections in several schools.

In Africa, top public health bodies called for donated vaccines to come with a shelf life of three to six months so countries could plan their rollouts and avoid a situation where doses expire.

Health officials in South Africa on Wednesday reported an additional 4,322 cases and 156 deaths, though officials noted there was a backlog of deaths.

Meanwhile, in Algeria, officials announced that elementary and secondary schools would be closed for a period of 10 days in the face of a wave of Omicron cases.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia reported two additional deaths and 5,591 additional cases of COVID-19. The country recently announced that as of Feb. 1, people will need to show proof of having a booster dose to get into certain public spaces, like malls and restaurants.

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

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