Officials tighten COVID-19 restrictions across Canada in hopes of keeping Omicron infections at bay

Health authorities issue warnings as Omicron-fuelled waves crash into provinces

As cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant continue to grow at an alarming rate, hard-hit provinces like Quebec are tightening restrictions.

New restrictions for the province were announced Wednesday by Premier François Legault.

While gatherings of 10 people will be permitted for Christmas, on Dec. 26 that number will be reduced to six people, or two-family bubbles.

Restaurant tables, too, will have a six-person limit.

Legault said his government “won’t hesitate” to add further restrictions if needed, as the number of new COVID-19 infections in one day continues to break previous records.

“In the past week, the number of COVID cases has tripled … Our goal remains the same: to protect our hospitals so that we can continue to treat all those who need it.”

Wednesday’s announcement follows other restrictions that were implemented on Monday, which include the closure of bars, gyms and some schools.

On Thursday, the Quebec government is reporting a record-breaking 9,397 new infections.

According to federal data, Quebec is leading Canada in active COVID-19 cases. As of Dec. 22, there are 34,161 active cases in the province.

Health officials say the Omicron variant now accounts for around 80 per cent of Quebec’s cases, as well as 90 per cent of all cases in Montreal.

Other jurisdictions taking precaution

With Omicron cases soaring in Quebec and other jurisdictions, B.C. isn’t taking any chances.

“There is still many things we do not know about Omicron and its impacts on the health-care system, and on people in British Columbia and the world,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, at a press conference on Tuesday.

Health officials announced new measures, including the closures of bars and gyms, as well as limited restaurant seating. The measures are now fully in effect.

Henry said restrictions are necessary as it will allow the province time to prepare for the new variant. She noted jurisdictions like Quebec, Ontario and even the U.K., which are ahead in Omicron infections, are grappling with health-care strain.

“Really, it is about buying us time to understand and to prepare. The consequences of not slowing things down, of not taking these actions, are just too dire,” she said.

The new restrictions come on the heels of other new restrictions that took effect in the province as of Monday, such as a ban on all sports tournaments and New Year’s Eve events.

As of Tuesday, the province currently has 6,348 active cases of the virus, 756 of which have been identified as the Omicron variant.

In Manitoba, 556 new cases were announced Thursday, bringing the active case count to 2,933.

The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Jazz Atwal, said at a COVID-19 update on Wednesday that at least a quarter to one third of the current active cases are though to be Omicron.

“We are going to see the Omicron, just like in other jurisdictions become that dominant strain. It’s going to happen relatively soon,” he told reporters.

Out of precaution, provincial health officials put new limits on household gatherings.

Places that require proof of vaccination are now limited to half-capacity, like gyms, movie theatres and restaurants.

K to 12 schools will also have an extended Christmas break due to rising cases. Students will return to class on Jan. 10.

“(Parents) have an opportunity to make childcare arrangements and plan for that, and it gives us a little bit more of an opportunity on the public health side to understand that risk,” Atwal said.

In Nunavut, where case numbers have remained fairly low for months, two cases have been identified in the remote hamlet of Pangnirtung on Baffin Island.

They’re the first cases identified in the small community of 1,500 people.

It’s not yet known if the cases are linked to Omicron.

One other case has also been identified in Iqaluit in a person who has not recently left the territory, bringing the total number of active cases to three.

“This leads us to believe there may be community transmission in Iqaluit,” Dr. Michael Patterson, the territory’s chief public health officer, said in a news release.

Out of precaution, the territory has tightened public health restrictions in Iqaluit.

The city’s swimming pool, theatre, and hair and nail salons must close, restaurants are limited to takeout food only and indoor gatherings in homes are limited to five people plus household members.

Outdoor get-togethers are now restricted to 25 people.

As of Dec. 22, ISC’s website states its aware of 916 active cases of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities.

—With files from the Canadian Press

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