US advises against travel to Canada as COVID hospitalizations reach critical levels

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Children in Alberta and British Columbia returned to class on Monday as rising COVID-19 cases threatened to overwhelm hospitals in several provinces and prompted the United States to counsel its citizens “d ‘avoid travel’ to Canada.

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Quebec reported an all-time high of 2,554 hospitalized patients with COVID-19, an increase of 118 from the previous day’s record of 2,436. Critical care cases fell by nine to a total of 248.

The province has also reported 26 additional deaths from the disease and 10,573 new COVID-19 infections, although PCR testing is reserved for certain high-risk groups. Quebec said nearly 20 percent of tests came back positive.

Quebec has also opened appointments for third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to people aged 40 and over, as the province prepares to extend eligibility to all adults aged 18 and over on the week. next.

In Ontario, 2,467 people have been hospitalized for COVID-19, including 438 intensive care patients, said Health Minister Christine Elliott, noting that not all hospitals are reporting weekend data.

The province has reported 9,706 new cases of COVID-19, but Public Health Ontario said it may have been undercoverage due to a policy making testing less accessible. The disease has killed 12 more, provincial officials said.

The rampant spread of the Omicron variant has fueled alarms across the border, where the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a new level 4 “avoid travel” advisory for Canada, citing a “very high” level of COVID-19 in the country and urging all who have to go to get a full vaccine.

This quickly prompted the State Department to revise its travel advisory, which was at level 3, “reconsider travel,” to move its advisory to level 4: “Do not travel to Canada due to COVID-19.”

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In mid-December, the Canadian government issued its own advisory, warning residents against all non-essential international travel due to Omicron.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with provincial and territorial leaders Monday afternoon to discuss the growing health crisis posed by the variant.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford planned to raise the provinces’ plea for more health funds with the Premier, asking Ottawa to increase its annual share of spending from 22% to 35%, to around $ 71 billion.

The federal government has pledged a 4.8% increase, bringing the total for 2022-23 to about $ 45 billion.

A federal official said Trudeau assured prime ministers the federal government will do everything possible to help provinces and territories weather the tide.

He assured them that there were enough doses of the vaccine available for all eligible Canadians to receive a third booster shot, as well as for the children. And he reiterated that 140 million rapid tests will be delivered to them this month, although he offered no specific timeline.

The official, who spoke in depth, said Trudeau also stressed the need to promote supportive programs, such as the federal wage subsidy, to help individuals and businesses survive the latest public health closures and restrictions.

Many provinces have delayed the return to in-person schooling as part of renewed efforts to stem the skyrocketing number of cases.

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But the two westernmost provinces reopened classrooms on Monday, with officials saying virtual learning poses its own risks to the mental health of young people.

BC’s top doctor has said going back to school is “essential” for children’s emotional, physical and intellectual well-being, and told parents that safety measures have been put in place to protect them. mitigate the risks posed by Omicron.

Dr Bonnie Henry acknowledged on Friday that some families may feel uncomfortable about the move, but maintained that students are safer in the classroom than in some of the “unstructured settings children find themselves in. outside the school environment “.

British Columbia reported 6,966 new cases over a three-day period Monday and seven more deaths.

While some parents in Alberta said they were relieved that K-12 students were returning to class after a long vacation period, many said they were worried and frustrated with the little instructions. clear from the provincial government on how it plans to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease in classrooms.

The Calgary School Board and Edmonton Public Schools said the biggest challenge remains finding consistent staff, as some schools have resumed without teachers in classrooms and at least two in Calgary have started the semester. winter with online learning.

Edmonton Public, Alberta’s second-largest school district with more than 105,000 students, said there were 454 teachers and 252 teaching assistants absent on Monday.

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Alberta also announced Monday that in order to ensure that high-risk cases get timely PCR results, only those in high-risk situations will get them, including continuing care residents and frontline health workers.

The province has reported 17,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the past three days and has 635 people hospitalized with the virus.

Manitoba saw the number of hospital patients with COVID-19 climb to 378, up 81 from Friday, including 38 people in intensive care. The province has also reported 19 deaths linked to the virus.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a wave of COVID-19 infections has exceeded its testing capacity over the past two weeks, forcing authorities to send more than 6,635 swabs to laboratories in Winnipeg and Toronto between Dec. 29 and Jan. 6, said Health Minister John Haggie, who is recovering from the illness.

In addition to the 680 positive tests analyzed in outside labs, health officials said 455 new cases had been detected since Sunday, for a total of 1,135 cases reported on Monday.

– With files from Paola Loriggio in Toronto and James McCarten in Washington.

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