With the holiday season in full swing, officials are enacting measures to try and curb the spread of the newest COVID-19 variant, omicron.
Canada is once again advising against non-essential international travel; the same advisory had been in place for most of the pandemic but was lifted in October.
“To those who were planning to travel, I say very clearly — now is not the time to travel. The rapid spread of the omicron variant on a global scale makes us fear the worst,” federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said.
The virus is spreading quickly and not just within Canada, he said, and those who decide to leave may be stranded if countries impose lockdown measures or if flights in and out are cancelled.
As it stands, Quebec plans to allow gatherings of up to 20 people over the holiday season, but with case numbers rising again, Premier François Legault says he hasn’t ruled out changing those if need be.
Most of the cases in Montreal are still of the delta variant. But there are now 95 cases of the omicron variant in the city, and the vast majority of them — 90 per cent — involve people who were fully vaccinated, said Montreal Public Health Director Dr. Mylène Drouin.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec has been steadily rising over the last few weeks, and hospitalizations are also going up. On Dec. 14, the number of reported hospitalizations went from 25 to 293, a jump of 268 cases, the highest single-day increase since April. The following day, the province reported 2,386 new cases, the highest number since January.
A study by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest health insurer, found that Omicron appears to cause less severe illness than other variants but is more resistant to the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The vaccine provided just 33 percent protection against infection with the omicron variant, lower than the level for other variants detected in the country. At the same time, it may offer 70 percent protection against being hospitalized, a level described as being “very good.”
Officials in South Africa were the first to report the presence of the omicron variant to the World Health Organization in November, leading to travel bans targeting foreign nationals from some African countries. Many have decried the bans, which have been described as discriminatory.
In Quebec, 10 million rapid tests will be made available to the general population starting Monday, Dec. 20. They will be distributed through 1,900 pharmacies, and people will have access to five free tests every 30 days. Rapid tests can provide results in about 20 minutes.
The province is also asking employers to encourage their employees to work from home.
Omicron and Delta variants forcing another shut down in
As coronavirus cases continue to spike upwards, the Quebec government has pushed the panic button one more time.
On Thursday December 16, Premier Francois Legault and Health Minister Christian Dubé announced a series of new measure to try to hold back the tidal wave of cases that still threaten to overwhelm the healthcare system.
CBC News Montreal compiled a list of the new measures put into place by the government.
• Stores can have one client per 20 square metres.
• High schools and CEGEPs will remain close until January 10, 2022 and masks will be required in classes.
• Places of worship will reduce capacity by 50 per cent, with a cap of 250 people. Vaccine passports will be required and people must be seated.
• Funerals and weddings can have up to 25 people without requiring vaccine passports but up to 250 people with passports.
• Working from home is strongly recommended.
• At work, two metres of distance must be maintained, masks worn at all times, and there will be increased monitoring for at-risk places.
• For public activities, capacity is lowered by 50 per cent to a maximum of 250 people. People must stay seated and wear a mask at all times.
• Bars and restaurants must cut capacity by 50 per cent, spacing tables as much as possible, with a maximum of 10 people at tables.
• Dancing and karaoke are banned once again.
• Cinemas and theatres will also have capacity reduced by 50 per cent.
• All tournaments and competitions suspended as of Monday, with reduced capacity of gyms and other indoor training facilities.