April 23, 2024

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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports another 1,053 cases, eight deaths for Saturday; Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel makes final appeal for Germans to get vaccinated

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

10:57 p.m.: More cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant were confirmed in Ontario on Saturday as the province recorded more than 1,000 new virus cases for the second day running.

The latest infections involving the variant of concern emerged in Hamilton and Peel Region, according to news releases from local authorities.

Officials said a Hamilton local resident who returned from travelling to South Africa recently tested positive for Omicron, while a second potential case is under investigation with sequencing results expected in the coming days.

It also noted that Hamilton Public Health Services is conducting case and contact management and the two individuals and their case contacts continue to self-isolate.

Read the full story here.

10:18 p.m.: Five people in Sydney have contracted the omicron variant locally, New South Wales health authorities said.

The cases are linked to two schools and a climbing gym in Sydney’s western suburbs, which may also be the source of a confirmed omicron infection in the Australian Capital Territory, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said Sunday. Urgent genome testing is under way for a number of other cases linked to the venues and should be available in coming days, she said in a video update.

New South Wales state has confirmed 15 omicron infections and more are likely, Chant said. The outbreak was seeded from infected travelers on a flight from Doha who had been in southern Africa.

Separately, Australia will begin vaccinating young children starting early next year once authorities receive final approvals in the coming weeks.

9:41 p.m.: Ten people aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship approaching New Orleans have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Saturday night.

The Norwegian Breakaway had departed New Orleans on Nov. 28 and is due to return this weekend, the Louisiana Department of Health said in a news release. Over the past week, the ship made stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico.

More than 3,200 people are on board the ship, officials said.

According to the statement, Norwegian “has been adhering to appropriate quarantine and isolation protocols as new cases and exposures have been identified aboard this vessel.”

Prior to disembarking in New Orleans, each person on board will be tested for the coronavirus. Anyone who tests positive will either go directly home or self-isolate in accommodations provided by the cruise line, officials said.

Officials did not release any information about the conditions of those who have contracted the virus.

Cruise ships were an early source of outbreaks last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic as some ships were rejected at ports and passengers were forced into quarantine. Some passengers died of COVID-19 at sea while others fell so ill they had to be carried out of the vessels on stretchers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no-sail order in March 2020, prompting a standstill that ended last June as cruise ships began to leave U.S. ports with new health and safety requirements. According to Norwegian’s website, the company requires all passengers and crew members to have been vaccinated against the virus at least two weeks prior to departure.

8:55 p.m.: About 15 people who attended an animé convention in New York in November with a Minnesota man who later was found to have the omicron variant have also tested positive for the coronavirus, the man has told health officials in his state. It is uncertain whether any of those cases involved the omicron variant.

The man said that his friends — a group of about 30 people — had come from all over the country for the event, which was held Nov. 19-21. About half of them also later tested positive for the virus, he told the officials.

The man, officials said, was fully vaccinated and had gotten a booster just weeks before the convention. He has recovered from mild symptoms that began shortly after the convention ended and has provided health officials with names and contact information of several in his group. Because the friends live in other states, their names were forwarded to those states’ health departments. Details of their cases are not known.

The Minnesota man’s case was among the first reports of omicron in the United States, and it presented a worrisome possibility for health officials: Might the animé convention, which drew tens of thousands of people to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for three days, have been a vector for spreading the new variant, which scientists fear may be able to spread more quickly than any other variant?

After learning that the man had attended a large convention in New York, Kathy Como-Sabetti, manager of the COVID epidemiology section for the Minnesota Department of Public Health, said, “I kind of went, ‘Wow, well, this changes our story.’ This changes the picture of what we’re dealing with.”

At the Animé NYC conference, focused around a popular animation style that originated in Japan, attendees were fairly compliant about wearing masks, the man told officials. But some rooms were very crowded, at capacity, with crowds standing shoulder to shoulder, he said.

Convention attendees were required to provide proof that they had received at least one vaccine shot, and they had to wear masks, according to the convention website. The rules allowed entry “immediately after” a first dose. People are seen as having full vaccination protection two weeks after a second dose of a two-dose vaccine.

7:37 p.m.: Australia’s Parliament House will be closed to the public for the foreseeable future after a political staffer for Greens leader Adam Bandt tested positive for the coronavirus.

The staffer is fully vaccinated and tested positive upon return to Melbourne after attending parliament last week, a spokesperson for Bandt said in a statement. Other staffers have been cleared while Bandt, who is vaccinated, is isolating until he receives a result, according to the statement.

Given the positive result, officials “have decided that Parliament House should close to the public until further notice,” the Department of Parliamentary Services said in a separate statement. Authorities said they are investigating possible close contacts, exposure locations in parliament as well as in the broader community.

The Australian Capital Territory, home to capital Canberra, recorded six cases on Sunday, a health department spokeswoman said by phone. Neighboring New South Wales state found 286 new virus cases, while Victoria state recorded 980 new infections, according to separate statements on Twitter.

6:06 p.m.: A rush of vaccine-seeking customers and staff shortages are squeezing drugstores around the U.S., leading to frazzled workers and temporary pharmacy closures.

Drugstores are normally busy this time of year with flu shots and other vaccines, but now pharmacists are doling out a growing number of COVID-19 shots and giving coronavirus tests.

The push for shots is expected to grow more intense as President Joe Biden urges vaccinated Americans to get booster shots to combat the emerging omicron variant. The White House said Thursday that more than two in three COVID-19 vaccinations are happening at local pharmacies.

And pharmacists worry another job might soon be added to their to-do list: If regulators approve antiviral pills from drugmakers Merck and Pfizer to treat COVID-19, pharmacists may be able to diagnose infections and then prescribe pills to customers.

“There’s crazy increased demand on pharmacies right now,” said Theresa Tolle, an independent pharmacist who has seen COVID-19 vaccine demand quadruple since the summer at her Sebastian, Florida, store.

5:46 p.m.: The U.K. will require all travelers to take a pre-flight COVID-19 test within 48 hours prior to their flight regardless of their vaccine status, a surprise government move that prompted a swift and angry reaction from the airline industry.

The measure, which takes effect on Dec. 7, will be temporary and be reviewed as the omicron outbreak develops, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. More than 150 people across the U.K. have been identified with the new variant.

Travelers will be allowed to take either an instant test or a PCR test. After omicron was detected in the U.K. a week ago, the government added a required PCR test within two days of arrival, requiring travelers to self-isolate until they received a negative result.

The risk of a second lost winter has already tanked shares of airline stocks, with the Bloomberg EMEA Airline Index losing 18 per cent in November, its worst monthly performance in more than a year.

4:43 p.m.: As the number of confirmed cases of the omicron coronavirus variant rose to 160 in Britain, the government Saturday announced further tightening of travel restrictions to combat its spread. Beginning Tuesday, travelers will be required to take a coronavirus test within 48 hours of traveling to Britai…

As the number of confirmed cases of the omicron coronavirus variant rose to 160 in Britain, the government Saturday announced further tightening of travel restrictions to combat its spread.

Beginning Tuesday, travelers will be required to take a coronavirus test within 48 hours of traveling to Britain regardless of their vaccination status and restrictions will be placed on travelers from Nigeria, the country’s health secretary said in a statement. Nigeria announced Wednesday that it had detected the variant in three travelers who arrived from South Africa in November, according to Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, director-general of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control.

The two additional measures being imposed by Britain are the latest to come after a week of heightened concern led to the introduction of a number of restrictions intended to slow the incursion of the omicron variant.

At the moment, travelers are required to self-isolate and take a coronavirus test on the second day after arriving. If that test is negative, they can end their isolation. If not, they are expected to remain in self-isolation until they do get a negative result.

4:22 p.m.: The major of Rio de Janeiro canceled plans for the city’s New Year’s Eve celebrations following advice from the state that they weren’t safe to go ahead as the first cases of the omicron variant were reported in Brazil.

“We respect science,” Mayor Eduardo Paes wrote on his Twitter account Saturday. “The City Council says it can go ahead. The State’s says no. So it can’t. We will thus cancel the official New Year’s Eve celebration in Rio.”

Paes said there was no way to organize the celebrations without a guarantee from all health authorities. The party “will be missed, but the important thing is that we continue vaccinating and saving lives,” he said.

Rio de Janeiro Gov. Claudio Castro said on his Twitter account that he’ll meet Paes next week to make a final decision on the issue.

Brazil has reported 22.1 million COVID-19 cases, with 10,627 confirmed in the last 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data. More than 20 capitals have canceled their New Year’s Eve events amid concerns regarding the omicron variant, Exame reports, citing official statements.

4:08 p.m.: One more case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant was confirmed in Ontario on Saturday as the province recorded more than 1,000 new virus cases for the second day running.

The latest infection involving the variant of concern emerged in Hamilton, according to a news release from the city. Officials said one local resident who returned from travelling to South Africa recently tested positive for Omicron, while a second potential case is under investigation with sequencing results expected in the coming days.

It also noted that Hamilton Public Health Services is conducting case and contact management and the two individuals and their case contacts continue to self-isolate.

“As we have since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamilton Public Health Services follows up directly with all individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 and their close contacts,” the release reads. “Hamilton Public Health Services is working with the Province of Ontario and Public Health Ontario to monitor COVID-19 variants of concern including Delta and Omicron and will take strong action if necessary.”

Canada’s first known cases of the Omicron variant emerged last week when two positive tests were confirmed in Ottawa.

3:36 p.m.: New York announced three more cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus Saturday, bringing the number of state cases linked to the new variant to eight.

“The omicron variant is here, and as anticipated we are seeing the beginning of community spread,” state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a news release.

The number of states finding the variant is growing as well, with authorities in New Jersey, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Maryland reporting their first confirmed cases Friday, and Missouri reporting its first presumed case.

The variant also has been detected in Nebraska, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Colorado and Utah.

In New York, seven of the cases have been found in New York City, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, and the other in Suffolk County.

The arrival of omicron comes as hospitals statewide continue to strain under a surge in coronavirus cases, most traced to the delta variant, along with staffing shortages.

The number of people testing positive statewide each day for the virus has doubled in the last 30 days.

Gov. Kathy Hochul in recent days has authorized the Health Department to limit nonessential, non-urgent procedures at hospitals close to running out of beds and deployed National Guard teams to relieve healthcare workers at facilities dealing with staffing issues and surging caseloads.

Fifteen members of the National Guard arrived at Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester on Saturday, WROC reported. Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin said Wednesday the state would send 13 National Guard teams to the western New York county, where County Executive Adam Bello has declared a state of emergency.

3:15 p.m.: Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting 77 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday as the province prepared to enter the first phase of its so-called winter action plan.

The province will enter Level 1 of the plan as of Sunday, which is the least restrictive of the three tiers.

Among other things, masking will be required outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Physical distancing will also be mandatory in indoor public spaces that do not require proof of vaccination, such as retail stores, malls, salons and spas.

A maximum of 20 people is permitted for informal indoor household gatherings, and 50 for informal outdoor gatherings.

And it is recommended that unvaccinated individuals who are eligible to be vaccinated should not attend household gatherings.

The province’s number of active COVID-19 cases stood at 722 as of Saturday, which included 51 people in hospital — 16 of them in intensive care.

Eighteen of the hospitalized patients were initially admitted for other reasons and contracted COVID-19 due to outbreaks at hospitals in Moncton, Saint John and Miramichi.

3:14 p.m.: Chile on Saturday reported its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

A foreign national residing in Chile returned from Ghana on Nov. 25 and tested positive in a PCR test at the Santiago airport, according to authorities.

The foreigner, who had two Pfizer vaccines, is in good health and in quarantine, while other passengers on the flight he was on were being monitored, health officials in Valparaíso said in a statement.

12:22 p.m.: A Hamilton resident who recently returned from travelling to South Africa has tested positive for the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the city of Hamilton said in a news release Saturday.

The resident is one of two people under investigation by the city’s Public Health Services.

Testing results for the second case are expected in the coming days.

The statement from the city said the two individuals and their case contacts are self-isolating.

11:47 a.m.: Quebec is reporting another jump in COVID-19 cases today with 1,512 infections and one further death attributed to the virus.

The Health Department says 225 people are hospitalized, a drop of five, including 60 people listed in intensive care, an increase of three patients.

The province hasn’t reported more than 1,500 daily infections since mid-April, and the seven-day average for new cases is 1,089.

More than half of the new cases were among people who were either unvaccinated or less than two weeks removed from receiving their first dose of vaccine.

Quebec has reported 453,380 COVID-19 cases and 11,586 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Due to a technical error, the province was not able to provide an update on vaccinations today.

10:49 a.m.: Rio de Janeiro on Saturday canceled its New Year’s Eve party due to renewed COVID-19 fears.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes announced the decision on social media.

Paes had previously promised the biggest New Year’s Eve party ever, with multiple firework displays and artists performing on a dozen stages across the city. He said there is no decision about Carnival taking place in March.

The yearly celebration on Copacabana beach has in the past gathered more than one million locals and tourists.

Other Brazilian cities, including Sao Paulo and Salvador, have also canceled New Year’s Eve celebrations due to fears of the omicron variant,. So far, the Ministry of Health has confirmed five omnicron cases in Brazil.

9:51 a.m.: Ontario is reporting another 1,053 cases and eight deaths on Saturday.

Individuals who are not fully vaccinated represent 23.4 per cent of Ontario’s total population, amounting to 494 of Ontario’s 1,053 new reported cases, and 60 cases are in individuals with an unknown vaccination status.

The current seven-day average is 894 cases per day, which is up 22.7 per cent in a week, or a doubling pace of every 24 days.

Additionally, in the province 23,913,372 vaccine doses have been administered — 90.0 per cent of Ontarians aged 12+ have had one dose and 87.3 per cent have had two doses.

There are 284 people hospitalized with the virus, of which 220 are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 64 are fully vaccinated.

In the ICU there are 160 people due to COVID-19 — 136 are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 24 are fully vaccinated.

8:08 a.m.: Public Health Sudbury and Districts says it is pulling out all the stops to help curb the rapid spread of COVID-19 cases in local schools.

With more than 3,000 vaccination appointments booked in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts for children aged five to 11 and hundreds of rapid antigen screening kits distributed to students this week, there is hope that cases will decrease ahead of the Christmas break.

Although it’s too early to tell if these “additional layers of protection” are doing the trick, a health promoter at Public Health said she is confident these measures will help protect the school community.

Joëlle Martel added the local response to these programs have been positive so far and the health unit has been on hand to answer any questions that parents/guardians might have.

“Right now, the goal is to keep kids in school,” said Martel, who works in Public Health’s school health, vaccine preventable diseases, and COVID prevention division.

“If we start seeing cases go down and the trend holds steady, then we can slowly start to remove some of those measures, but our goal remains to keep kids in school as much as possible.”

Saturday 8 a.m.: Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday made what is likely her final appeal before leaving office next week for Germans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Merkel gave what is expected to be her last weekly video message two days after federal and state leaders decided on a series of measures meant to break a wave of coronavirus infections.

The measures include excluding unvaccinated people across the country from non-essential stores, restaurants and sports and cultural venues. In a longer-term move, Parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate.

At least 68.9{cfdf3f5372635aeb15fd3e2aecc7cb5d7150695e02bd72e0a44f1581164ad809} of Germans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, short of the government’s aim of a minimum 75{cfdf3f5372635aeb15fd3e2aecc7cb5d7150695e02bd72e0a44f1581164ad809} vaccination rate. The number of unvaccinated residents has been blamed as a key factor in a surge of new virus cases in recent weeks.

Official figures suggest that the infection rate may now be stabilizing, but at too high a level.

Read Friday’s coronavirus news.