Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 3,453 new cases of COVID-19, 11 additional deaths; NHL announces league-wide shutdown from Wednesday to Christmas Day

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

10:45 a.m.: More health measures could be coming in British Columbia one day after restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 took effect.

Health Minister Adrian Dix, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry are set to provide another update this afternoon on COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health has reported 2,550 new cases between Friday and Sunday, pushing the total number of active infections to 5,435 — a leap of 2,486 cases in one week.

The ministry says public health is monitoring the increase as well as developments in other areas, and will outline additional measures.

Restrictions that took effect yesterday limit the size of indoor personal gatherings, cap audience numbers in large venues and prohibit most New Year’s Eve parties amid growing concerns that patients with the Omicron variant could overwhelm hospitals.

Dix and Henry are also expected to announce changes to the province’s rapid testing policy.

10:40 a.m.: Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have recieved their booster shots of an MRNA vaccine on Tuesday. Tory recieved his shot at the Thorncliffe Park clinic wheras Ford got his at a pharmacy in Etobicoke.

10:35 a.m.: Already declining U.S. population growth dipped to its lowest rate since the nation’s founding during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s because the coronavirus curtailed immigration, delayed pregnancies and killed hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents. Figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau show the U.S. grew by only 0.1% with only an additional 392,665 added to the U.S. population, from July 2020 to July 2021.

The population estimates are derived from calculating the number of births, deaths and migration in the U.S. For the first time, international migration surpassed natural increases from births outnumbering deaths. There was a net increase of almost 245,000 residents from international migration but only around 148,000 from natural increase.

10:15 a.m. (updated): Ontario is reporting 3,453 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths from the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says 805 of the cases are in people who aren’t vaccinated and 148 people have an unknown vaccination status.

The new numbers are based on 49,285 completed tests.

There were 165 people in intensive care due to COVID-19 including 101 patients on ventilators. There are 412 people in hospital.

The province says 81 per cent of the population aged five and older has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and 86 per cent has at least one shot.

Premier Doug Ford says more than 206,000 COVID-19 vaccines were administered yesterday as the province ramps up its booster dose campaign to fight the Omicron variant.

10 a.m.: Ontario’s top doctor is set to give an update today on COVID-19 in the province, as the Omicron variant puts increasing pressure on health systems.

Dr. Kieran Moore is expected to hold his weekly briefing on the state of the pandemic at 3 p.m.

The update comes as officials in some regions report health centres can’t keep up with the surge in demand for tests.

Ottawa Public Health has asked residents who have symptoms but can’t access a timely test to assume they are infected and self-isolate.

A similar strain on testing resources was reported in Kingston last week, and other health units have said they are bracing for the same problems.

Meanwhile, the Unity Health hospital network in Toronto says it has made the “difficult decision” to pause non-essential ambulatory care and surgical procedures, with the exception of urgent cases.

“Right now we need to focus all of our efforts, our people and resources on caring for our patients and assuring that we have the capacity to meet the demands of the pandemic,” Tim Rutledge, the network’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

9:20 a.m.: Omicron has overtaken the delta variant in Miami-Dade County as the dominant strain of the coronavirus in a matter of weeks, according to genomic surveillance data.

Genetic sequencing of the virus showed omicron grew from a tiny fraction of hundreds of samples taken the first week of December to nearly three of every four samples taken last week.

“It is absolutely astonishing how contagious this variant has proven to be,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told the Miami Herald.

The county contracts with NOMI Health to conduct testing, vaccination and sequencing. The company found that 76% of 504 COVID-19 samples taken Dec. 14-15 were the omicron variant. That compared to 64% of 378 samples collected Dec. 10-13, and 1.3% of the 373 samples collected Dec. 1-5, county records showed.

The variant is also sweeping the nation, accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials said.

9:20 a.m.: Britain has announced 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in grants and loans to help the hospitality industry survive the onslaught of the omicron variant, bowing to days of pressure from pubs, restaurants and other businesses that have seen their income plunge following public health warnings.

Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-time grants of up to 6,000 pounds ($7,900) each. An additional 100 million pounds ($132 million) will be given to local governments to support businesses in their areas hit by the sudden spike in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly transmissible new variant.

Pubs and restaurants have reported a wave of cancellations during the crucial Christmas season as people shun public events and workers are forced to self-isolate, leaving venues short of staff. Many theaters and museums also have closed their doors.

“With the surge in omicron cases, people are rightly exercising more caution as they go about their lives, which is impacting our hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors at what is typically the busiest time of the year,’’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “That’s why we’re taking immediate action.”

8:25 a.m.: The NFL’s decision to reduce COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic, vaccinated players could signal a trend for pro sports leagues and provide an example for society to follow heading into 2022.

Despite a rising number of positive cases that forced three games to be rescheduled over the weekend, the NFL, in cooperation with the players’ union, agreed on Saturday to scale back testing for vaccinated players. The move aligns with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends “diagnostic testing” only for symptomatic or close-contact vaccinated people, and “screening tests” only for unvaccinated people.

The NFL previously required vaccinated players to get tested weekly before amending the protocols. The NFLPA had advocated for daily testing for vaccinated players but eventually agreed to “target” testing.

The NBA didn’t require vaccinated players to get tested during the season but revised its policy to increase testing for a two-week period starting Dec. 26.

The NHL tested players every third day but returned to daily testing through at least Jan. 7.

7:50 a.m.: Approximately 6,662 new vaccine appointments at city-run immunization clinics in Toronto will be added to the provincial booking system at 8 a.m. today for Dec. 25, 26, and 27.

Visit this link to book an appointment.

6:23 a.m.: A spate of temporary closures is weaving through Toronto’s food industry as restaurants and bars navigate the rapid spread of Omicron cases and new limits on customer capacity.

Since the Ontario government announced the new restrictions for small businesses Friday, a multitude of bars and restaurants across the province have opted to temporarily shut their doors for the coming weeks rather than operate at half capacity and with early curfews.

Even before the restrictions came into effect on Sunday, some businesses reported a decline in customer demand due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Now, out of an abundance of caution, and to keep costs low — as the province has not announced any plans for renewed subsidies — some have shifted to takeout-only while others have closed until those restrictions are lifted.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jacob Lorinc here.

6:20 a.m.: The NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association have announced the suspension of all operations from Wednesday to Christmas Day amid an increase of positive COVID-19 tests.

The league and players’ association announced in a joint statement Monday night that all NHL team facilities will be closed until Boxing Day,

The league’s decision will result in five additional NHL games being postponed – all were scheduled to be played on Thursday. All four matches on Wednesday had already been postponed.

The league’s holiday break was initially scheduled to begin Friday and end Sunday.

The NHL has been forced to scrub 49 games this season, with 44 announced since Dec. 13.

After the shutdown, practices can resume Sunday afternoon and games are scheduled to resume next Monday.

When team facilities reopen, all people travelling with the team will only be able to access the facility by showing a negative COVID-19 test result.

The two remaining games on the schedule before the new holiday break are on Tuesday when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Washington Capitals, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are in Vegas.

Prior to the league-wide shutdown, the Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets were the latest teams sidelined by COVID-19. They joined the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators.

6:09 a.m.: Iran’s top diplomat to Yemen died on Tuesday after reportedly contracting the coronavirus, Iranian state TV said, just days after he was abruptly recalled from his mission in the war-torn nation.

State-run media in Iran said Ambassador Hassan Irloo had become infected with the coronavirus in Yemen, where a conflict between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led military coalition has raged for six years. Authorities said he was flown out of the country for urgent medical treatment in Iran over the weekend.

However, The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that Irloo was being removed from his post over growing strains between Iran and the Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north in 2014. In an effort to oust the Iran-backed rebels on its southern border, Saudi Arabia intervened in the war months later with a U.S.-backed bombing campaign.

Iran’s foreign ministry has denied that his departure was the result of tensions with the Houthis.

Houthi spokesman and chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul-Salam offered his condolences on Monday. He said earlier this week that the ambassador had departed Sanaa on an Iraqi flight made possible despite a Saudi air blockade on the capital through “an Iranian-Saudi understanding via Baghdad.”

6:06 a.m.: Germany’s leaders are set to decide on new restrictions to come in after Christmas aimed at slowing the spread of the new omicron variant of COVID-19, but plans so far fall short of a full lockdown.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany’s 16 state governors plan to consult later Tuesday after the government’s new panel of experts called for action to be taken within days and said that nationwide measures are needed, “in particular well-planned and well-communicated contact restrictions.”

Officials have said that night clubs likely will be closed regardless of local infection rates, on which closures currently depend. There are likely to be further restrictions on crowds at major events, while new contact restrictions are expected to be introduced for vaccinated people — with gatherings reportedly to be capped at 10 people.

Restrictions already in place target mainly the unvaccinated, with proof of vaccination or recovery required to enter non-essential stores among other things.

Authorities have scrambled to speed up a booster campaign, with an average of around a million vaccine shots administered per day over the past week, the highest level of the pandemic so far. But they remain dissatisfied with the number of people who have been vaccinated in the first place — the proportion of the population that has received a full first round of vaccine stands at 70.3%, short of the minimum 75% the government aimed for.

Germany’s infection rate is, for now, drifting downward slowly. On Tuesday, the national disease control centre recorded 306.4 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, down from 375 a week earlier, with 23,428 cases reported over the past 24 hours.

6:05 a.m.: As coronavirus cases surge in the days before Christmas, U.S. President Joe Biden plans to increase support for hospitals, improve access to COVID-19 testing through hundreds of millions of rapid at-home tests and expand the availability of vaccines that can reduce the risks from the omicron variant.

The world is confronting the prospect of a second straight holiday season with COVID-19 as families and friends begin to gather while the variant quickly spreads. Scientists don’t yet know whether omicron causes more serious disease, but they do know that vaccination should offer strong protections against severe illness and death. A senior administration official, insisting on anonymity, provided details on the proposals Biden will announce in his speech Tuesday afternoon.

The administration is prepared to deploy an additional 1,000 troops in medical professions to hospitals as well as direct federal medical personnel to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. There are also plans to send out additional ventilators and equipment from the national stockpile besides expanding hospital capacity to handle infected patients.

The government will purchase 500 million rapid at-home tests to be delivered for free to the homes of Americans who request them. It will also establish new testing sites and use the Defense Production Act to help manufacture more tests. There will also be pop-up vaccination sites, hundreds of new people to administer the vaccines and new rules that make it easier for pharmacists to work across state lines.

6:03 a.m.: The White House says President Joe Biden had close contact with a staff member who later tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Monday night that the staff member tested positive earlier in the day. Psaki says the staff member spent about 30 minutes around the president on Air Force One on Friday during a trip from Orange, South Carolina, to Philadelphia.

Psaki says the staff member is fully vaccinated and boosted and tested negative before boarding Air Force One. She says the staffer began experiencing symptoms Sunday night.

Psaki says the 79-year-old Biden is tested regularly for the virus and has had two negative tests since Sunday. She says he will be tested again Wednesday.

6:03 a.m.: Catalonia is preparing to become the first Spanish region to reinstate serious limitations given the latest spike in infections in a country that is among the world leaders in vaccination.

Health authorities have asked the courts to authorize a battery of measures including a new nightly curfew from 1-6 a.m., a limit of 10 people per social gathering, the closure of night clubs, and capping restaurants at 50% of seating indoors and stores, gyms and theatres to 70% capacity.

If approved by the courts, they would take effect on Friday and last for 15 days in the northeast region surrounding Barcelona.

Regional health chief Josep Argimon said that the measures are needed because of the arrival of the more contagious omicron variant. “Infections have grown 100% over the past week,” he said.

Spain’s prime minister is meeting via video with the heads of Spain’s regions on Wednesday to discuss new measures for the country that has seen cases rapidly increasing having given two doses of vaccines to over 80% of its entire population of 47 million.

Spain has been relying on administering booster shots and mandatory face mask use indoors for the past months.

6 a.m.: Surging COVID-19 cases brought on by the spread of the Omicron variant have put a damper on the “most wonderful time of year” for small business owners, as multiple provinces reinstate tough public health restrictions.

Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that last month, the organization surveyed 4,514 small business owners and found 36 per cent were back to normal sales.

But now, with capacity limits in place, he says that “Any little glimmer of hope that many businesses saw at the end of this two-year tunnel are quickly being extinguished.’’

Starting today, tighter gathering and capacity rules are in place in Manitoba, where health officials said climbing cases due to Omicron were expected to exceed its resources for notifying most close contacts.

Quebec has announced earlier closing times for bars, restaurants entertainment venues and movie theatres as it reported a new single-day record of 4,571 COVID-19 infections.

Calling the situation “critical,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said the fast-spreading COVID-19 Omicron variant has changed everything, as vaccines that offered 70 per cent protection against symptomatic infection from the Delta variant are believed to offer 30 per cent protection against Omicron.

B.C. has limited capacity to 50 per cent at venues that hold more than 1,000 people, but is extending its cap on fees charged by food delivery companies in an effort to help the restaurant industry.

Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, has limited bars to 50 per cent capacity and restaurants to 75 per cent with physical distancing. The province also sent kids home Monday as schools closed early in response to rising caseloads.

Ontario implemented its new public health orders Sunday, which see restaurants, retailers, gyms and other indoor settings operating at 50 per cent capacity.

6 a.m.: Tighter public health restrictions on gatherings and capacity for both vaccinated and unvaccinated Manitobans have come into force.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon has said the rules are necessary to try to curb the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and prevent more pressure on overburdened hospitals.

Private indoor gatherings with vaccinated people are limited to household members plus 10 other people.

Gatherings that include anyone who is unvaccinated are limited to one household plus five guests.

Gyms, movie theatres and restaurants — where people have already been required to be vaccinated — are limited to half capacity.

Churches that require proof of vaccination will be limited to half capacity, while those that do not require vaccination status will be limited to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is less.

The new rules are to be in place for three weeks until Jan. 11.

Nine additional cases of the variant were identified in Manitoba on Monday for a total of 17. But Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, has said modelling from other areas shows that will quickly increase.

There were 200 new cases in the province Monday and 333 on Sunday.

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