Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday

The latest:

French teachers walked off the job on Thursday over what they say is the government’s failure to adopt a coherent policy for schools to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and protect pupils and staff against infection.

Teachers, parents and school administrators have struggled as new testing requirements were announced on the eve of the return from Christmas holidays and changed twice since.

“We had reached such a level of exasperation, tiredness, and anger that we didn’t have any other option but to organize a strike to send a strong message to the government,” said Elisabeth Allain-Moreno, national secretary of the SE-UNSA teachers union.

Unions have said they expect many schools to be closed on Thursday and large numbers of teachers — including about 75 per cent in primary schools — to join the one-day strike. Unions representing school directors, inspectors and other staff have also joined the strike.

Schools in Paris and beyond offered a mixed picture on Thursday morning, with some entirely closed because of the strike, some partly open, others operating normally. Some were open only for children of health workers.

The government, having reversed an earlier policy of quickly shutting down classes with positive coronavirus cases, has been standing by its policy to keep classes open as much as possible, saying some degree of complication is the price to pay.

“I know it’s tough, but a strike does not solve problems. One does not strike against a virus,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told BFM TV.

Infections have surged in schools as France has set records with close to 370,000 new daily cases. Positive cases can result in dozens of pupils and staff being sent to labs and pharmacies for testing.

“The exhaustion and exasperation of the entire educational community have reached an unprecedented level,” eleven unions said in a joint statement.

“The responsibility of the minister and the government in this chaotic situation is total because of incessant changes of footing, unworkable protocols and the lack of appropriate tools to guarantee (schools) can function properly.”

The Education Ministry said it would provide strike turnout numbers later in the day.

How governments handle the identification and tracing of COVID-19 cases has sparked debate in many countries — including Canada and the U.S., where hospitalizations have been rising.

Students in Alberta and British Columbia returned to classrooms this week, with students in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba slated to return on Monday after a period of remote learning. Students in Nova Scotia, who began the year with online learning, are also expected to return to classrooms on Monday.

-From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 8:35 a.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Quebec’s proposed unvaccinated tax raises legal, ethical, political concerns: 

Quebec’s proposed unvaccinated tax raises legal, ethical, political concerns

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among the chorus of voices saying they need more details before they can support Quebec’s plan to implement a tax on residents unvaccinated against COVID-19. 2:43

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, Newfoundland and Labrador officials are expected to offer details on when students will be back in classrooms at a briefing later Thursday. 

“I know remote learning is not ideal, but we want to make sure that heading back can be done safely and effectively,” Premier Andrew Furey said at a briefing on Wednesday. Health officials in the province said Wednesday that hospitalizations stood at seven, with three people in intensive care.

The province, which did not report any additional deaths on Wednesday, also recorded 731 additional lab-confirmed cases — though health officials noted that more than 200 of those results were from tests sent out of province over the holidays.

In New Brunswick, hospitalizations increased by six to 94, health officials said Wednesday, with 10 people in intensive care units. The province also saw one additional death and 359 additional lab-confirmed cases. 

“The rate of people hospitalized and in ICU continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated,” a statement from the province said. 

Nova Scotia health officials on Wednesday reported one additional death and cautioned that the health system in the province is facing extreme strain.

“There are 60 people in hospital who were admitted due to COVID-19 and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit,” a statement from the province said. That includes five people in ICU.”

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, cautioned that the situation in Nova Scotia is as serious as it’s ever been.

“If I sound concerned, it’s because I am, deeply,” he said.

Prince Edward Island health officials said Wednesday that there were seven people in hospital with COVID-19, an increase of one. One person was receiving care in an intensive care unit, the province said. The update came as the province reported an additional 230 lab-confirmed cases.

In Central Canada, Quebec on Wednesday reported 2,877 hospitalizations — an increase of 135 — with 263 people in the province’s intensive care units. Health officials also reported 52 additional deaths, with 8,351 new lab-confirmed cases.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 46 additional deaths and said total hospitalizations with COVID-19 had risen to 3,448 – an increase of 228 from a day earlier. The number of people in ICU rose to 505 as health officials reported an additional 9,783 lab-confirmed cases.

The update came as the province’s education minister and top doctor offered some information about the planned return to classrooms on Monday.

Across the North, health officials in the Northwest Territories are warning that hospitalizations are expected to rise as COVID-19 cases increase.  The territory as of Wednesday had one person in hospital, officials said.

“If we continue at this rate, we will start to see the lag indicator of hospitalization start to increase,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said at a briefing, as she noted that the territory has been seeing roughly 125 cases a day over the week.

In Yukon, the acting chief medical officer of health expects the same.

“I anticipate we’ll continue to see a number of people off work due to illness and isolation and a number of more people continuing to get sick,” Dr. Catherine Elliott said Wednesday. “I’ll also expect that we’ll see more people requiring hospitalization in the next days to week.”

In the Prairie provinces, hospitalizations in Manitoba hit a pandemic high, health officials said on Wednesday. There were 454 COVID-19-related cases in hospital — up 36 in one day. The number of people in ICU stood at 46, said officials, who reported three additional deaths. The province also reported 1,478 additional lab-confirmed cases. 

In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe said Wednesday that he won’t impose additional COVID-19 restrictions, even as the province expects increased strain on health systems as Omicron spreads. Health officials in the province on Wednesday said hospitalizations held steady at a total of 121, with nine people in ICU. The province, which on Wednesday had no additional deaths to report, saw 1,084 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Alberta on Wednesday said COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 40 to reach 748, with 82 people in the province’s intensive care units. The province, which reported 15 additional deaths from Jan. 7 to Jan. 12, also recorded 6,789 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In British Columbia, health officials on Wednesday reported six COVID-19 deaths. The province also said there were 500 people in hospital — an increase of 31 — including 102 in intensive care. The province reported an additional 2,859 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 8:30 a.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

An Ivory Coast fan wearing a protective mask reacts as he watches the Africa Cup of Nations soccer match between Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast on a big screen in Abidjan on Wednesday. (Luc Gnago/Reuters)

As of early Thursday morning, roughly 317.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking database. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.

In Africa, Ivory Coast soccer fans watching the Africa Cup of Nations are being greeted at dedicated fan zones with rapid tests, masks and COVID-19 vaccines, an initiative of the Health Ministry to spur vaccination.

Soccer is the West African country’s favourite sport and thousands of fans have flocked to the “Cup of Nations villages” in the commercial capital Abidjan where the matches are projected on giant screens.

Masks are required within the fan zones, and stands have been set up for awareness-raising about COVID-19. Rapid tests and vaccines are also being offered at mobile clinics.

“We came with vaccines and more, to sensitize the population about the wearing of masks and compliance with protective measures,” said Serge Yao Djezou, COVID-19 manager for the health ministry at the fan zone in Yopougon, a suburb of Abidjan.

Abidjan is the center of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ivory Coast, where cases have surged in recent weeks due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Meanwhile, Africa’s top public health body said it was in talks with Pfizer about securing supplies of its antiviral COVID-19 pills for the continent, the latest to join the race for a drug seen as a potential game changer in fighting the virus.

“We are in really close discussions with Pfizer to see what can be done to make the drugs available on the continent and accessible on the continent, that is, the Paxlovid drugs,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea will begin treating coronavirus patients with Pfizer’s antiviral pills on Friday, health officials said, as concern mounts over the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant. At least 21,000 of the pills arrived on Thursday to be distributed to some 280 pharmacies and 90 residential treatment centres, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

In the Americas, the Biden administration on Wednesday announced a new set of measures to keep classes open in the U.S., including doubling COVID-19 testing capacity in schools with 10 million more tests, as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly through the United States.

In Europe, British officials said Thursday the self-isolation period for people in England who test positive for COVID-19 will be reduced from next week to five full days, instead of seven.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said that early signs indicate that the rate of hospitalization from the coronavirus in the country is starting to slow. Currently, those infected can be released from self-isolation after seven days if they test negative on both days six and seven.

Javid urged people to continue to self-test for the virus, so that “we can restore the freedoms to this country while we’re keeping everyone safe.”

The U.K. saw record numbers of daily confirmed infections over Christmas and into the new year, topping 200,000 cases on some days, as the more transmissible omicron variant spread rapidly. Industries from retail to education, and infrastructure like public transport and postal services, have been severely disrupted because scores of workers had to isolate and could not go to work.

Javid told lawmakers that although hospitals will “remain under significant pressure” over the coming weeks — with almost 17,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in England — the current wave of the pandemic has not seen an increase in intensive care patients. Official data showed “encouraging signs” that cases were falling in London and eastern England, he added, but infections were rising elsewhere in the country.

Denmark, meanwhile, is to offer a fourth coronavirus vaccination to vulnerable citizens and will ease restrictions at the end of the week, while Sweden will cut the recommended interval between the second and third jabs to five months from six.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday reported two additional deaths and 5,362 confirmed cases of COVID-19

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 9:10 a.m. ET

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