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Coronavirus news and updates for Monday, December 27, 2021

Coronavirus news and updates for Monday, December 27, 2021

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Monday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

9:55 p.m.: Australia’s Victoria and Queensland states reported record levels of new daily coronavirus infections on Tuesday as pressure on testing centers prompted calls for wider use of rapid antigen tests.

Queensland state reported 1,158 cases, the first time the state has seen more than 1,000 cases in a day, but hospitalizations remained low. The state has more than 4,000 active cases of which 257 are reported to be the omicron variant.

State Health Minister Yvette D’Ath announced Tuesday that travelers from out of state no longer will have to have a PCR test five days after arrival. D’Ath said of the tens of thousands who had crossed the state’s borders recently, only 0.6 percent had tested positive on day five.

“Anyone who is waiting in lines now for the day five test . . . will not be required to get day five tests from now,” she said. “We thank everyone for doing the right thing. We have made sure we’ve done this in a safe and responsible way but from now, that no longer applies.”

Victoria state reported 2,738 new cases Tuesday, beating the previous state record of 2,297 cases in mid-October.

Australia’s most-populous state, New South Wales, saw a slight fall in case numbers but that corresponded with fewer tests around Christmas Day. The state reported 6,062 new infections Tuesday, down from 6,324 a day earlier.

New South Wales Heath Minister Brad Hazzard said the requirement for travelers to Queensland to have a negative PCR test 72 hours before departure was putting unnecessary strain on testing facilities. He said in enforcing the requirement, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was “perverting the purposes of pathology testing.”

“If Queensland thinks people are arriving free of COVID, that’s not necessarily true,” Hazzard said. “These tests have been done three or four days before arriving. It’s counterproductive.

“This rule is contributing to the breakdown of the biggest pathology system in the country. We are not getting the turnaround times we need.”

Long lines were reported at testing centers around Sydney on Tuesday.

Australian federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has called for rapid antigen tests to replace PCR tests for most interstate travelers, to relieve pressure on testing centers.

“Using that rapid antigen test ahead of interstate travel is a better approach than the more expensive and time consuming PCR test,” Frydenberg told the ABC. “I think that’s a sensible balance recognizing that people want some level of surety about their health status before they travel.

“But at the same time they want to avoid the long queues and long waiting times coming with the PCR tests.”

9:20 p.m.: Visitor restrictions are being implemented at a couple hospitals in Nova Scotia in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Nova Scotia Health says in a release the restrictions at Glace Bay Hospital and Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital took effect Monday, as the province recorded 581 new cases of COVID-19.

At Glace Bay Hospital, it says inpatients can have one consistent visitor.

At Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital, inpatients can no longer receive visitors.

At both hospitals, one designated support person is allowed to visit per day for certain patients such as those in palliative care, patients nearing end of life and outpatients, including those arriving at the hospital for procedures who need support due to physical, intellectual, cognitive and emotional conditions.

Nova Scotia Health says these decisions are “being made to control and contain the spread of COVID-19, keep COVID-19 out of hospitals, and keep patients, health care workers, and all Nova Scotians safe.”

It notes that the restrictions will remain in place at both hospitals until Jan. 3.

Also on Monday, Nova Scotia health authorities reported an outbreak at the Halifax Infirmary site of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, noting that fewer than five patients were “impacted.”

9:00 p.m.: Flight cancellations that disrupted holiday travel stretched into Monday as airlines called off more than 1,000 U.S. flights because crews were sick with COVID-19 during one of the year’s busiest travel periods, and storm fronts added to the havoc.

Flight delays and cancellations tied to staffing shortages have been common this year. Airlines encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and carriers have struggled to make up ground this year, when air travel rebounded faster than almost anyone had expected. The arrival of the omicron variant only exacerbated the problem.

“During the pandemic, we have seen experienced airline personnel leave the industry and not return across the globe,” said John Grant, senior analyst at travel industry research firm OAG. “Filling those skill gaps was already a challenge in the recovery before the latest variant.”

Read the full story here: Omicron and bad weather disrupt U.S. flights for fourth day in a row

8:25 p.m.: Award-winning musical “Come From Away” has permanently shut down its Toronto production as the number of Omicron cases skyrocket in the city.

In a press release Monday evening, Mirvish announced that after 855 performances, the Canadian musical has ended its run at the Royal Alexandra Theatre as of Wednesday Dec. 22.

“Despite our best efforts, within a week of reopening an outbreak in the backstage company forced us to cancel four performances, with the hope that we would resume on December 28,” David Mirvish said in the release.

“But during this short break, it became bluntly apparent that it would be impossible to continue when this incredibly contagious variant has sent case numbers soaring.”

Read the full story here: ‘Come From Away’ permanently shuts down in Toronto after 855 performances, says it’s ‘impossible to continue’

7:45 p.m.: Despite the wintry weather, a lineup snaked along Dundas Street East on Monday as hundreds waited to get their COVID-19 booster vaccines inside Filmore’s strip bar before dancers took the stage.

Recorded music played as people doffed their outerwear and rolled up their sleeves to receive either a Moderna or Pfizer booster shot at makeshift vaccine stations. The main stage inside “Toronto’s party place” was converted into an after-care area.

The low-barrier, pop-up vaccine clinic, the result of a partnership between sex work advocacy organization Maggie’s, Filmore’s Gentleman’s Club and University Health Network, targeted marginalized people who face difficulties accessing vaccines.

Another such clinic will run next Monday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Zanzibar on Yonge Street.

Read the full story here: Toronto strip club offers COVID boosters to marginalized residents

7:17 p.m.: British Columbia health officials reported 6,288 COVID-19 cases for a three-day period.

A news release Monday says the case numbers are “preliminary.”

Officials say hospitalization, death and vaccination numbers related to COVID-19 will be given Wednesday.

They say there were 2,552 cases on Christmas Eve, 2,023 on Christmas Day and 1,713 on Boxing Day.

Health experts have said COVID-19 case numbers are likely to be higher than reported because several hospitals and sites have reached testing limits.

Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry had said testing sites across B.C. were seeing long lines and waits, and urged people not to get tested unless they needed to.

7:00 p.m.: U.S. health officials on Monday cut isolation restrictions for Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days, and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

The decision also was driven by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, propelled by the Omicron variant.

Read the full story here: U.S. officials recommend shorter COVID isolation, quarantine

6:00 p.m.: Grade 10 student Elena Rinne can’t help but look at the new daily COVID-19 case counts hovering around 10,000 and worry.

She’s worried about going back to school next week, and having to eat lunch with 200 other students in an enclosed cafeteria.

She’s worried about the lack of safety protocols and social distancing at her school, where some of her peers and teachers are unvaccinated, and students often flout masking requirements.

But she’s also worried about the possibility of schools being shut down, and the impacts that could have on the mental health of her classmates and on her friends “who are not safe at home and need school as an escape.”

For Rinne, it feels like early 2020 all over again.

Read the full story here: Back to school in Ontario? Rising case counts make some hesitate but others say in-person learning is needed

5:00 p.m.: Prince Edward Island is reporting 156 new cases of COVID-19 over the holiday break.

Chief medical officer Dr. Heather Morrison says health officials confirmed 52 cases on Friday, five cases on Saturday and 99 cases on Sunday.

The newest cases are all under investigation and contact tracing is underway.

Officials reported 43 new recoveries Monday, bringing the active infection count to 309.

Officials say public exposure and flight exposure notifications will be paused due to widespread community transmission of the disease.

Island residents are now urged to assume all public spaces are potential exposure sites.

4:17 p.m.: New Brunswick is set to tighten restrictions to stem the surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Officials say the restrictions will include a 50 per cent capacity limit on restaurants, stores, bars, gyms and other establishments starting Monday at 11:59 p.m.

They say capacity limits will also be placed on public gatherings and faith venues, which takes the province back to Level 2 of its winter plan.

Officials reported 639 new cases of COVID-19 over the holidays and four deaths.

They say 309 of the new cases were reported on Saturday, 179 on Sunday and 151 on Monday.

Officials say 35 people were in hospital due to COVID-19, including 14 in intensive care.

4:00 p.m.: Manitoba health officials reported eight new COVID-19 related deaths and 2,154 cases for a three-day period since Christmas Eve.

A news release from the province Monday says that about 75 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Manitoba are now suspected to be the Omicron variant.

It says it will now screen only “certain samples” for Omicron and case numbers for the variant will not be given.

The province reported 785 cases on Christmas Day, 694 on Boxing Day and 675 on Monday.

Health experts have said that there may be more cases than reported because a number of sites and hospitals have reached testing limits.

The province says updated vaccine data is expected to be available Wednesday.

3:30 p.m.: Newfoundland and Labrador has reached record breaking single-day case counts of COVID-19 as officials report over 300 new infections discovered over the holidays.

Provincial health officials say a total of 357 infections have been confirmed in the last three days.

They say 89 cases were confirmed on Saturday, 135 cases Sunday and 133 cases were discovered Monday.

Previously, the highest single-day case count was 100 reported on Dec. 23.

There is currently one person in hospital due to the disease.

The province now has 677 active cases of COVID-19, which breaks the record set on Feb. 20 of 434 active infections.

1:28 p.m.: Thousands of flights were canceled Monday, continuing an ugly weekend for holiday travel.

Of more than 2,500 planes grounded globally as of noon Eastern time Monday, almost 1,000 were within, into or out of the United States, according to Flight Aware. Since Friday, more than 4,000 flights within the U.S. have been canceled.

The familiar explanation is bad weather, particularly in the Western U.S. where winter storms have shut down roadways and airways.

The National Weather Service warned Monday of “significant snowfall” along the West Coast mountain ranges and a pair of storm systems that will bring snow and “an icy wintry mix” to the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast.

“Travel delays due to icy conditions are possible in these regions, both on the ground and in the air,” forecasters said.

And in a more common refrain for 2021, omicron has wreaked havoc on the airlines as well, with hundreds of flights being canceled due to crew members calling out sick with COVID-19.

12:15 p.m.: Quebec’s health minister is asking everyone to limit their contact with others after the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 rose by 141 over a four-day period.

Christian Dubé reported on Twitter Monday that 320 people were admitted to hospital while 179 were released between Dec. 22 and 26.

Health authorities reported 8,231 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths over the last 24 hours.

Experts have said that many public health units have reached their testing capacity, which means that the number of cases may be higher.

Meanwhile, Quebecers between 60 and 64 who got a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine became eligible for a third shot starting Monday.

Premier François Legault, who is 64, is scheduled to receive his third dose at a Montreal vaccine clinic later in the day.

11:34 a.m.: Nova Scotia health authorities say there is a COVID-19 outbreak at a Halifax hospital.

They said today in a statement that the outbreak is at the Halifax Infirmary site of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.

They did not give details on how many patients have tested positive but said fewer than five have been “impacted.”

They say everyone is being monitored and infection prevention and control measures are being put in place.

Authorities are also reporting 581 new cases of COVID-19.

Of the new infections reported Monday, authorities say 420 cases are in Central Zone.

10:25 a.m.: Ontario is reporting 9,418 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.

There are 480 people hospitalized with the virus and 176 people are in ICU due to COVID-19. The seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 related patients in ICU is 168.

In Ontario, 26,494,532 vaccine doses have been administered, with over 45,000 doses administered on Boxing Day. Additionally, 90.7 per cent of Ontarians aged 12+ have had one dose and 88.0 per cent have had two doses.

7:47 a.m.: Israel has begun trials of a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine in what is believed to be the first study of its kind.

The trial began at Sheba Medical Center, outside Tel Aviv, with 150 medical personnel who received a booster dose in August receiving a fourth shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The staff receiving the additional dose were tested and found to have low antibody levels.

The trial came as Israeli officials have considered rolling out a second tranche of booster shots to its population as the country grapples with rising infections with the new omicron variant.

Prof. Jacob Lavee, former director of the heart transplant unit at Sheba, said “hopefully, we’ll be able to show here… that this fourth booster really provides protection against the omicron, which is highly needed.”

Monday 7:45 a.m.: Australia’s New South Wales state reported more than 6,000 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and confirmed its first death from the omicron variant.

The fatal case was identified as a man in his 80s who was infected at an aged care facility in western Sydney. He was fully vaccinated but had underlying health conditions.

New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, reported 6,324 new infections Monday, a fall of 70 from the record number a day before. There were 524 people in hospitals, including 55 in intensive care.

New measures came into force in New South Wales on Monday, including limits of one person per 2 square meters (22 square feet) in bars and restaurants and required “check-ins” with QR codes in hospitality venues.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the state government is considering lifting the requirement for health workers to isolate after being exposed to COVID-19 because of staff shortages.

Read Sunday’s coronavirus news.