Today’s coronavirus news: B.C. records highest-ever daily case count; Quebec to limit

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

9:33 p.m.: U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said Wednesday he has tested positive for COVID-19, though he is fully vaccinated with a booster and has no symptoms.

“America is in a new phase of this pandemic,” Clyburn, 81, said in a statement. “No one is immune.”

The South Carolina Democrat said he tested negative for COVID-19 last week ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to South Carolina State University.

“On Sunday, my entire family took at-home tests as a precaution prior to my granddaughter’s wedding, which took place today,” he said. The home test was inconclusive, he said, and he quarantined and took another test Monday.

Clyburn said it took 56 hours to get results, which came back positive. He remains quarantined and missed the wedding.

Two senators and another House lawmaker said recently they have tested positive for COVID-19 after having been vaccinated: U.S. Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

8:20 p.m.: With Omicron cases rapidly rising in Ontario and other provinces, public health experts and policy-makers are revising quarantine and isolation rules, due to newly emerging data on the variant and to avoid staffing shortages at hospitals.

On Wednesday, the Ontario government announced hospital workers who have been in close contact with someone who is COVID-positive don’t have to stay home and isolate, as long as they test negative daily for 10 days.

And earlier on Wednesday, the U.K. government announced the reduction of COVID-19 self-isolation periods from 10 to seven days for people who test negative through a rapid test two days in a row — a decision experts lauded as “significant.”

Ontario’s decision to revise isolation protocol for health-care workers comes after reports of a rising number of hospital staff who have recently tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to the virus in the community, prompting worries about critical staffing shortages that could impact patient care.

Read the full story here: Ontario revises COVID isolation rules for health-care workers

8:10 p.m.: Quebec Premier François Legault said Wednesday the province is facing a major challenge as COVID-19 cases climb “exponentially,” but his government will wait until after Christmas to further restrict private gatherings.

Legault told a news conference in Montreal that beginning Sunday, gatherings inside homes will be limited to six people or two family bubbles. Restaurants, which are already operating at half capacity and have to close at 10 p.m., will also have to limit groups at tables to six people or two families.

Legault said Quebec recorded about 9,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, which will be reported in Thursday’s official numbers.

“Until Saturday, we’re letting people who absolutely want to gather, but I invite all Quebecers who can put off their gatherings to do so,” the premier said. The province, he added, “will be facing a very difficult test in the coming weeks, but this is not the first time that our people have gone through a big test.”

Read the full story here: Quebec to limit private gatherings to 6 people as of Boxing Day

7:43 p.m.: Canadian research has pulled back the curtain to offer a glimpse of how the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is managing to infect human cells while evading immunity and vaccine protection.

The extremely detailed look at Omicron has emerged thanks to the University of British Columbia, which announced Wednesday it had completed the world’s first molecular-level analysis of the variant.

The analysis was conducted with cryo-electron microscopy, which uses beams of electrons to visualize shapes of tissues. Some such microscopes are up to four metres tall, according to UBC.

The study shows the variant’s spike protein has three to five times more mutations than previous COVID variants.

The Star spoke with Sriram Subramaniam of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at UBC’s faculty of medicine, one of the researchers behind the project.

Read the full story here: Scientists in Canada took the world’s most detailed look yet at Omicron. Here’s what they saw

7:15 p.m.: British Columbia has recorded its highest-ever daily COVID-19 case count with 1,474 new infections reported Wednesday as the Omicron variant takes over.

The fast-spreading variant led provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to impose new restrictions, closing bars, dance studios and fitness facilities.

Active cases have surged to 7,253 across B.C., including 187 people in hospital, and six more people have died, bringing the death toll in the province to 2,409.

The biggest jump of 711 new infections and the highest number of active cases were located in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, followed by Fraser Health.

The Health Ministry says in a statement that 86.7 per cent of eligible people aged five and up have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 82.7 per cent have had two shots and 18 per cent of eligible adults have had a booster.

It says people who have received two doses of vaccine made up nearly 72 per cent of new COVID-19 cases from Dec. 14 to 20, while people who had not been vaccinated accounted for almost 68 per cent of hospitalizations from Dec. 7 to 20.

In response to surging Omicron infections, the University of British Columbia announced Wednesday that most classes would move temporarily online at both its Vancouver and Okanagan campuses starting in the new year.

In a statement, university president Santa Ono says campuses will remain open but instruction after the holiday break will be provided online until at least Jan. 24.

Ono says they intend to allow in-person learning after that, but university officials will monitor the situation and provide an update in the first week of the new year.

Some courses, including those with clinical or performance and studio components, are set to continue in-person with safety protocols in place.

6:40 p.m.: York Region has announced it will open bookings for two new mass vaccination clinics starting Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

The two locations will operate at Richmond Green Sports Centre and Aaniin Community Centre.

The clinics will offer approximately 15,000 appointments for the following priority groups: booster doses for eligible people aged 50 and over (born 1971 or earlier) at least three months (84 days) after receipt of a second dose, and first and second doses for all eligible people above the age of five.

Although people can book their vaccine starting Thursday, appointments will begin Monday, December 27th.

5:35 p.m.: Infection with the omicron variant of COVID-19 may be less likely to land patients in the hospital than cases involving The Delta strain, according to a trio of studies of preliminary data.

Researchers in Scotland suggest omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospitalization when compared with the earlier variant, though omicron was 10 times more likely than delta to infect people who’d already had COVID.

An Imperial College London team working with a larger set of data from England found that people with omicron were 15 per cent to 20 per cent less likely to visit the hospital and 40 per cent to 45 per cent less likely to require an overnight stay.

Read the full story here: Omicron hospitalization risk is far below Delta’s in two studies

4:55 p.m.: New Brunswick health officials advised residents to limit their contacts as much as possible as the province reported 237 cases of COVID-19 and one new death Wednesday.

Public health officials confirm the person who died was in their 60s and lived in the Fredericton region.

Officials also reported 98 recoveries and said 86 cases to date have been confirmed as the Omicron variant.

They said 40 people are in hospital with an infection, including 17 patients in intensive care.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, says the high number of cases isn’t surprising given the numbers seen in other provinces.

She is advising that people should only go out only when they “absolutely need to,” adding that they should book a booster shot of vaccine as soon as they are eligible.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said in a news release that people should limit the number of contacts they have to “as small as you can, beginning today.”

“The virus is in every corner of our province, and the only way we can slow the spread is by each of us doing our part,” Shephard said.

4:25 p.m.: The Trudeau government is pushing back at U.S. President Joe Biden’s televised message to vaccinated Americans that they can gather safely for the holidays despite the spread of the Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and top health officials are urging Canadians to limit contacts during the holidays to control the…

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