The Omicron variant continued to cause record-breaking COVID-19 numbers of cases in several provinces, but a new study out of Ontario suggested those infected with the variant are significantly less likely to face hospitalization or death compared to those with Delta.
In the study, Public Health Ontario compared Omicron cases with symptoms that emerged between Nov. 22 and Dec. 17 with Delta cases and found that, after adjusting for vaccination status and region, the risk of hospitalization or death was 54 per cent lower with Omicron.
The agency said Omicron appears to be the first dominant variant to show a decline in severity but warned that, due to its higher transmissibility, “the absolute number of hospitalizations and impact on the health-care system is likely to be significant, despite possible reduced severity.”
Provinces across the country have seen surging case counts as a result of Omicron, prompting some to amend or extend health restrictions.
Ontario and Quebec both recorded new highs for new infections Thursday. Ontario reported 13,807 new COVID-19 cases and Quebec had 14,188.
The research institute that reports to the Quebec government said its modelling predicts “significant growth in new hospitalizations and the consequent occupancy of regular and intensive care beds over the next three weeks.”
It said its models show there could be between 1,600 and 2,100 COVID-19 patients outside intensive care units (ICUs) over the next three weeks. The institute said that could include between 300 and 375 ICU patients during that period. The most dire scenarios — 2,100 regular COVID-19 patients and 375 ICU patients — would surpass anything recorded during previous waves of the pandemic.
On Thursday, Quebec announced it is tightening restrictions in the province, bringing back a curfew and banning private indoor gatherings. It also delayed the return to school again until Jan. 17.
Earlier in the day, Ontario announced changes to testing and isolation requirements, but only delayed the return to school by two days.
British Columbia said it will bring back students in January in a phased approach, with staff and students whose parents are health workers, as well as those who need extra support, returning to class on Jan. 3 or 4. All other students will go back to school on Jan. 10.
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
For more details on the situation in your province and territory — including the latest on hospitalizations and ICU capacity, as well as struggles with testing capacity — click through to the local coverage below.
In Central Canada, Ontario on Thursday reported 13,807 new cases of COVID-19, a new high, and eight additional deaths. Despite the high numbers, Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, also announced the province is changing its policies around testing and isolation.
As of Dec. 31, PCR tests will only be available to high-risk individuals who have symptoms and/or are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 — including for the purposes of confirming a COVID-19 diagnosis to begin treatment — as well as workers and residents in the highest risk settings and vulnerable populations.
Moore said Ontario is also changing the required isolation period. Individuals with COVID-19 who are vaccinated, along with children under 12, will now be required to isolate for only five days following the onset of symptoms. Their household contacts are also required to isolate with them. Unvaccinated individuals must isolate for 10 days.
Quebec also saw a fresh high on Thursday, with 14,188 new COVID-19 cases, and nine additional deaths. Premier François Legault announced that, beginning Friday, indoor restaurant dining will be paused and private indoor gatherings will be banned. He also said that the province would bring back a curfew from between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except for essential workers, along with fines of up to $6,000.
Indoor sports will be banned and people will continue to be encouraged to work from home. Schools, CEGEPs and universities will now reopen on Jan. 17, instead of as planned on Jan. 10.
In Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King outlined assistance measures for people impacted by COVID-19 on Thursday. The premier noted that cases have been rising on the island, but he noted that thus far most cases have been mild.
The update came as the province, which has not yet seen any COVID-19 deaths, reported 169 additional cases.
BREAKING: As of 8AM this morning there are 169 cases of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> in <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/PEI?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#PEI</a>. There are now 3 people in hospital with COVID-19. There are five people in hospital for other reasons who do have COVID. More details to come <a href=”https://twitter.com/CBCPEI?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CBCPEI</a>
In Newfoundland and Labrador, there were 349 new cases reported Thursday, another record high. Nova Scotia reported 522 new cases and is expanding booster eligibility to anyone 30 and up, beginning Monday, if they are six months out from their second dose.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston appealed during a Thursday afternoon briefing to retired health-care officials in the province to volunteer to help at vaccination clinics.
“We do need your skills. And the more people we can get, the quicker we can do this,” he said.
New Brunswick saw another new daily high number of cases Thursday, with 572 reported. There were two additional deaths.
Across the North, Nunavut reported 20 new cases on Thursday.
In the Northwest Territories, officials announced a delay in the return to school until Jan. 10, citing a surge in cases over the holidays. There were 32 new cases reported in the territory Thursday while Yukon health officials reported 34.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported another new high Thursday with 1,123 new cases and three additional deaths, while in Saskatchewan, health officials reported 589 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths.
Alberta saw another huge jump in case numbers, with 4,000 cases reported Thursday after a previously record-setting 2,775 new cases were reported Wednesday. Late Thursday afternoon, the education minister announced students will not return to school as scheduled on Monday, but will instead return on Jan. 10.
British Columbia reported another high Thursday — 4,383 new cases — and one additional death. Amid the surge, the province is considering allowing health-care workers who test positive to continue working. Quebec announced Tuesday that it would allow some COVID-infected health care workers to continue working.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Thursday evening roughly 286.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus database, which tracks cases from around the world. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.4 million.
In the Americas, Bolivia’s main cities cancelled any public activities for New Year’s Eve after the country reached a record 4,939 new cases of COVID-19, the highest number for one day in all the pandemic in the South American country.
The Omicron-fuelled surge that is sending COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in the U.S. is putting children in the hospital in close to record numbers, and experts lament that most are not vaccinated.
“It’s just so heartbreaking,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious-disease expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It was hard enough last year, but now you know that you have a way to prevent all this.”
During the week of Dec. 21-27, an average of 334 children 17 and under were admitted per day to hospitals with the coronavirus, a 58 per cent increase from the week before, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC)
In the Asia-Pacific region, India is going ahead with a legislative election in its most populous state despite daily COVID-19 infections more than doubling nationwide within a week. India reported 13,154 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a jump from 6,000 daily cases on Dec. 24.
The Chinese city of Xi’an reported on Thursday another 155 local cases, taking the total number to the highest seen in any Chinese city this year, as infections keep spreading eight days into a lockdown.
In Africa, health officials in South Africa reported 9,020 new cases of COVID-19 and 81 additional deaths.
In Europe, the U.K. reported a sharp increase in coronavirus-related deaths Thursday — 332 — as the National Health Service announced it was building temporary structures at hospitals in England to prepare for a possible surge of patients infected with the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
The number of people hospitalized in the U.K. with COVID-19 jumped to 11,898, up 44 per cent from a week earlier.
Residents and tourists in Paris will be required to wear masks outdoors starting Friday as France sees a surge of COVID-19 infections fuelled by the Omicron variant. Masks already are mandatory in shops, public facilities and office buildings and on public transportation in France
The Paris police prefecture said the mask rule will apply to people 12 and over, although individuals will be exempt while riding bicycles or motorcycles, travelling in vehicles and doing exercise.Those who do not comply face a fine.
France reported 206,243 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday reported 2,234 new cases of COVID-19, with no additional deaths.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:30 p.m. ET
Have a question or something to say? CBC News is live in the comments now.