Here’s your update with everything you need to know about the COVID situation in B.C. and around the world for the week of Dec. 29-Jan. 4. This page will be updated with the latest COVID news and related research developments daily throughout the week, so be sure to check back often.
You can also get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here.
Here are the latest weekly B.C. figures given on Dec. 22:
• Hospitalized cases: 349 (down 25)
• Intensive care: 35 (up four)
• New cases: 609 over seven days ending Dec. 17 (down 50)
• Total number of confirmed cases: 391,897
• Total deaths over seven days ending Dec. 17: 22 (total 4,806)
Read the full report here | Next update: Jan. 5
NOTE: There is no new data on Thursday, Dec. 29. The next update will be Jan. 5.
Adrian Dix supports COVID-19 testing for travellers from China
B.C.’s health minister says he supports Ottawa’s decision to temporarily require people flying from China, Hong Kong and Macao to test negative for COVID-19 before leaving for Canada, beginning in early January.
Adrian Dix says in a news release that the province will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation around the world while working with its federal partners to ensure the public is protected and informed.
The federal government says the measure, announced in a separate release Saturday, is “in response to the surge of COVID-19 in the People’s Republic of China and given the limited epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data available on these cases.”
Ottawa says, starting Jan. 5, people age two and older who are travelling from the three countries will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to the airline, taken no more than two days before their departure, before boarding a flight to Canada.
Read the full story here.
— The Canadian Press
Some in China return to regular activity after COVID infections
Some people in the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan braved the cold and a rise in COVID-19 infections to return to regular activity on Monday, raising the prospect of a boost to the economy as more recover from infections.
Among those who gathered to sled or ice skate on a frozen lake in the capital’s Shichahai Lake Park, some were upbeat about the opening-up after China dropped stringent “zero-COVID” measures on Dec. 7 to adopt a strategy of living with the virus.
The switch followed protests over the policy championed by President Xi Jinping, marking the strongest show of public defiance in his decade-old presidency and coinciding with grim growth figures for the country’s $17 trillion economy.
However, a wave of infections has erupted nationwide since the dismantling of the zero-COVID policy, fueling international concern and prompting some countries to impose curbs on travelers from China.
Read the full story here.
Ottawa to temporarily require negative COVID-19 test from travellers from China
Ottawa plans to temporarily require people flying from China, Hong Kong and Macao to test negative for COVID-19 before leaving for Canada, beginning in early January.
The federal government says in a Saturday news release that the requirement will apply to all air travellers age two and older from the three countries and will begin on Jan. 5 at 12:01 a.m. EST.
The government says the measure is “in response to the surge of COVID-19 in the People’s Republic of China and given the limited epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data available on these cases.”
It says people will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to the airline, taken no more than two days before their departure, before boarding a flight to Canada.
The release says the test can be either molecular, such as a PCR test, or an antigen test from a telehealth service or an accredited laboratory or testing provider.
The federal government says passengers who tested positive more than 10 days before their flight leaves, but not more than 90 days, can provide the airline with proof of their positive test instead.
It says the measure, which will apply regardless of vaccination status, will be in place for 30 days and will be reassessed as more data and evidence becomes available.
Read the full story here.
— The Canadian Press
Latest B.C. data to be released Jan. 5
B.C. health officials did not release an update on respiratory virus as per usual on Thursday afternoon. Instead, the B.C. CDC website said the next update on the COVID-19 and flu situation around the province will be Jan. 5.
Over 40% of U.S. COVID cases caused by Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5: CDC
Over 40% of COVID-19 cases in the United States are now caused by the highly contagious Omicron XBB.1.5, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed on Friday, with the subvariant doubling from the previous week.
Although many public health experts are expressing concern about the rising COVID cases in China, infectious disease experts have been increasingly worried about the XBB.1.5 variant.
“Ironically, probably the worst variant that the world is facing right now is actually XBB,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, in a recent interview with Reuters.
Osterholm added that seven of the 10 U.S. states where cases and hospitalizations are rising are in the Northeast, concurrent with an increase of XBB cases there, he said.
It seems like Déjà vu all over again as countries start imposing travel restrictions and screenings in response to COVID-19 surges.
It was three years ago that Taiwan began screening travelers arriving from China in the face of a new virus that we didn’t really know much about.
Canada didn’t join in screening for COVID-19 at the border for months, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claiming such a measure would be knee-jerk, reactionary, even racist. In the end, the Trudeau government did impose travel restrictions and mandates, and kept them in place longer than necessary.
As the United States joins India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan in starting to screen passengers arriving from China for COVID-19, the question is what will happen here in Canada?
— Brian Lilley, Toronto Sun
Ottawa Public Health has recorded the city’s first death of a child from COVID-19 in December.
It is the only death recorded in the 0-9 age group from the disease that has claimed 985 lives in the city overall since the pandemic began nearly three years ago.
“This is the first pediatric death reported in Ottawa in which COVID-19 was identified as the underlying or contributing cause of death. We cannot disclose more about the individual or the circumstances,” Ottawa Public Health said in an emailed response to inquiries from this newspaper.
The death was recorded in OPH’s Dec. 16 report.
Only five of Ottawa’s COVID-19 deaths have involved people under age 39, OPH reports say. Two were ages 20-29 and two were 30-39. There have been no deaths of people ages 10-19.
By far the most deaths have occurred among the elderly, with 64 per cent or 634 victims ages 80 or older. Nearly 94 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have involved those ages 60 or older.
— Ottawa Citizen
WHO urges China to share specific data regularly on COVID situation
The World Health Organization on Friday once again urged China’s health officials to regularly share specific and real-time information on the COVID-19 situation in the country, as it continues to assess the latest surge in infections.
The agency has asked Chinese officials to share more genetic sequencing data, as well as data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.
Official figures from China have become an unreliable guide as less testing is being done across the country following the recent easing of the strict “zero-COVID” policy.
WHO has previously said that China may be struggling to keep a tally of COVID-19 infections.
The agency has invited Chinese scientists to present detailed data on viral sequencing at its meeting of a technical advisory group scheduled for Jan. 3.
EU urges more checks for COVID variants given surge in China
The European Union should consider immediately scaling up genomic sequencing of COVID-19 infections and monitoring of waste water, including from airports, to detect any new variants given the virus surge in China, the bloc’s health chief said.
In a letter to health ministers of the EU’s 27 members, Stella Kyriakides said the bloc should be “very vigilant” as China lifted travel restrictions on Jan. 8 as reliable epidemiological and testing data for China were quite scarce.
Kyriakides advised ministers in the letter, which was reviewed by Reuters, to assess their current practices on genomic sequencing of the coronavirus “as an immediate step.”
If sequencing had been scaled down, countries might want to consider scaling it back up, she wrote, adding that it was important to continue or start surveillance of waste water, including sewage from key airports.
If a new variant appeared, the bloc needed to detect it early to be able to react quickly, the commissioner wrote.
COVID travel curbs against Chinese visitors ‘discriminatory’: state media
Chinese state-media said COVID-19 testing requirements imposed by a growing number of countries on travelers from China were “discriminatory” and aimed to undermine China’s re-opening, although a wave of infections has erupted across the country.
Having kept its borders all but shut for three years, imposing a strict regime of lockdowns and relentless testing, China abruptly reversed course toward living with the virus on Dec. 7, and infections have spread rapidly in recent weeks.
Some places have been taken aback by the scale of China’s outbreak and expressed skepticism over Beijing’s COVID statistics, with South Korea and Spain the latest countries on Friday to join the United States, India and others in imposing COVID tests for travelers from China.
Malaysia said it would screen all international arrivals for fever.
“The real intention is to sabotage China’s three years of COVID-19 control efforts and attack the country’s system,” state-run tabloid Global Times said in an article late on Thursday, calling the restrictions “unfounded” and “discriminatory.”
China will stop requiring inbound travelers to go into quarantine from Jan. 8. But it will still demand a negative PCR test result within 48 hours before departure.
Read the full story here.
Pandemic curbs linked to early start to Europe’s winter flu season
Pandemic restrictions that hampered the circulation of viruses other than COVID-19 could be behind the unseasonably early upsurge in respiratory infections in Europe this winter that the festive break could prolong, scientists say.
Apart from COVID-19, regulations to curb movement and social interaction limited the transmission of viruses that typically cause most infections during the colder, winter months, including influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).
That created a bigger pool of susceptible people, including children born during this time, who had less exposure to these viruses.
RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but can result in serious illness in older adults and young infants.
This winter, health officials have warned of what has been dubbed a tripledemic of influenza, RSV and continued COVID-19 cases, adding to the pressure on over-burdened health services.
Read the full story here.
China to stop testing chilled, frozen foods for COVID from Jan. 8
China’s meat trade on Friday cheered the imminent end of testing and disinfecting chilled and frozen foods for COVID-19, more than two years after Beijing started the controversial practice, adding substantial costs to the trade.
The State Administration for Market Regulation will stop testing chilled and frozen foods for COVID-19 from Jan. 8, according to a notice seen by Reuters and confirmed by the agency.
It will also no longer require all imported chilled and frozen foods to enter centralized warehouses for disinfection and testing before they reach the domestic market.
The dropping of measures follows a similar announcement from the customs authority on Wednesday that it will stop testing cold-chain food arriving at the country’s ports.
Indonesia lifts all COVID curbs, shifts to endemic approach
Almost three years after officials announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Indonesia, the country’s leader said Friday they are lifting all coronavirus-related restrictions nationwide.
President Joko Widodo said Indonesia’s COVID-19 situation is under control after observing improvements over the past 10 months, allowing the country to abandon the large-scale social restrictions on crowds and people’s movement it had adopted in April 2020.
However, Widodo called on people to remain careful and alert as “the pandemic has not ended completely.” He told a news conference at the presidential palace in the capital, Jakarta, that the use of masks in crowds and closed spaces should continue, though it wouldn’t be required.
— Associated Press
Canada not following lead of US, others, in requiring COVID tests for travellers arriving from China
As the United States and other nations impose new mandatory COVID-19 testing rules on travellers of flights originating in China, Canada is choosing instead to watch and wait.
Cases of the novel coronavirus are surging in China after Beijing opted to end its zero-COVID policies mandating strict quarantines and lockdowns, as well as tight restrictions on its borders.
Now with China preparing to reopen its borders early in the new year, officials around the world are concerned floods of potentially infected travellers could soon be disembarking at their airports.
But Canada won’t be among the six nations intending to impose extra measures on travellers arriving in this country on flights originating in China.
In a statement, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it is “closely monitoring” the situation and will advise of any changes via a travel health notice.
—Bryan Passifiume, National Post
The three respiratory viruses that had been causing chaos in the fall in Quebec hospitals — COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus — are all on the decline, the province’s public health research institute said Thursday.
It’s unclear, however, whether gatherings during the holidays will lead to a resurgence of one or more of them.
Institut national de sante publique du Quebec reported 1,952 new cases of influenza for the seven days ending Dec. 24. That number included 1,943 cases of influenza A and nine cases of influenza B.
The data represents a 31 per cent drop compared with the 2,837 cases of influenza reported in the seven days ending Dec. 17. As well, the test positivity rate dropped over the same period to 17 per cent from 22 per cent.
Earlier this month, Quebec public health director Dr. Luc Boileau expressed concern about a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, but so far, the number of COVID-19 patients has also been on the decline.
—The Canadian Press
U.S. to impose mandatory COVID-19 tests for travellers from China
The United States will impose mandatory COVID-19 tests on travellers from China, U.S. health officials said on Wednesday, joining India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan in taking new measures after Beijing’s decision to lift stringent zero-COVID policies.
The officials told reporters that beginning on Jan. 5, all air passengers two years old and older will require a negative result from a test no more than two days before departure from China, Hong Kong or Macao.
Passengers who test positive more than 10 days before a flight can provide documentation of recovery in lieu of the negative test result, the federal officials said.
In an abrupt change of policy, China this month began dismantling the world’s strictest COVID regime of lockdowns and extensive testing, putting its battered economy on course for a complete re-opening next year.
Read the full story here.
How COVID lockdowns messed with our brains, increasing anxiety and depression
Israeli neuroscientist Alon Chen can change the mood, the “mental state” of an animal. “We can make a mouse more or less anxious, more or less depressed-like, by changing the activity of specific brain areas or nerve cells,” says Chen, president of the Weizmann Institute of Science.
COVID has also manipulated human brains, not as much through any direct effects of the virus, but, Chen suspects, through the emotional toll three years of living with the pathogen has taken. Chen was in Toronto recently to raise awareness and philanthropic support for the Weizmann Institute, where scientists recently succeeded in growing synthetic mouse embryos using stem cells taken from skin, and not eggs and sperm.
In an interview with the National Post’s Sharon Kirkey, Chen talked about why the human brain remains an enigma, what happens to our brains when exposed to a chronic stressor like COVID and why the need for better treatments for anxiety and depression is “immense.”
Read the full Q&A here.
— Sharon Kirkey, National Post
Canadians fined at least $15M for breaking COVID quarantine rules in 2022, data shows
Canadians who were caught violating federal COVID-19 quarantine rules racked up at least $15 million in fines this year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, but it’s not clear how much of that will actually be paid.
The agency provided data to the House of Commons in the fall in response to a request from Conservative MP Eric Duncan.
This year saw the widespread lifting of Canada’s COVID-19 health restrictions. Until October, travellers were required to follow testing and quarantine rules, depending on their vaccination status, and upload their public health information through the ArriveCan app.
Read the full story here.
— The Canadian Press
What are B.C.’s current public health measures?
MASKS: Masks are not required in public indoor settings though individual businesses and event organizers can choose to require them.
Masks are also encouraged but not required on board public transit and B.C. Ferries, though they are still required in federally regulated travel spaces such as trains, airports and airplanes, and in health care settings.
GATHERINGS AND EVENTS: There are currently no restrictions on gatherings and events such as personal gatherings, weddings, funerals, worship services, exercise and fitness activities, and swimming pools.
There are also no restrictions or capacity limits on restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs; and no restrictions on sport activities.
CARE HOMES: There are no capacity restrictions on visitors to long-term care and seniors’ assisted living facilities, however, visitors must show proof of vaccination before visiting. Exemptions are available for children under the age of 12, those with a medical exemption, and visitors attending for compassionate visits related to end-of-life.
Visitors to seniors’ homes are also required to take a rapid antigen test before visiting the facility or be tested on arrival. Exemptions to testing are available for those attending for compassionate visits or end-of-life care.
How do I get vaccinated in B.C.?
Everyone who is living in B.C. and eligible for a vaccine can receive one by following these steps:
• Get registered online at gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated to book an appointment in your community.
• Or, if you prefer, you can get registered and then visit a drop-in clinic in your health authority.
• The system will alert you when it is time to go for your second dose.
• The same system will also alert you when it is time for your booster dose.
Where can I get a COVID-19 test?
TESTING CENTRES: B.C.’s COVID-19 test collection centres are currently only testing those with symptoms who are hospitalized, pregnant, considered high risk or live/work with those who are high risk. You can find a testing centre using the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s testing centre map.
If you have mild symptoms, you do not need a test and should stay home until your fever is gone. Those without symptoms do not need a test.
TAKE-HOME RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS: Eligible British Columbians over the age of 18 with a personal health number can visit a pharmacy to receive a free take-home test kit containing five COVID-19 rapid antigen tests.
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