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Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Friday

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Nepal’s capital shut schools, ordered citizens to carry vaccination cards in public, banned religious festivals and instructed hotel guests to be tested every three days as it battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak.

People waited for hours in a long queue in Kathmandu, Nepal, to get vaccinated earlier this week as COVID-19 cases surged.(Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters)

The latest:

Nepal’s capital shut schools, ordered citizens to carry vaccination cards in public, banned religious festivals and instructed hotel guests to be tested every three days as it battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak.

The chief government administrator of Kathmandu issued a notice on Friday saying all people must carry their vaccination cards when they are in public areas or shop in stores.

Nepal, however, has only fully vaccinated just over 40 per cent of its population, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. The notice did not say how unvaccinated people will be able to pay utility bills or shop for groceries.

The government says it has enough vaccines in stock, but a new wave of COVID-19 cases propelled by the Omicron variant has created long lines at vaccination centres, with many people unable to receive shots.

All public gatherings and meetings will be banned and cinemas and theatres will be closed. Gymnasiums, pools and other sporting venues will also be shut. No public religious festivals or events will be allowed, the notice said. It did not say how long the restrictions would last.

A girl receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at her school in Kathmandu last week. Classrooms are being closed in the face of rising Omicron cases.(Niranjan Shrestha/The Associated Press)

Authorities also halted in-person classes at all schools and indefinitely postponed university examinations.

Wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing in public will be mandatory. Only 20 customers at a time will be allowed in shopping malls and department stores, and all must carry vaccination cards. Employees will be given regular antigen tests to be allowed to work. Restaurants and hotels can remain open, but employees must wear face masks and other protection.

The government is also limiting road traffic, with bans on alternating days for vehicles with odd or even licence plates.

The Health Ministry reported a record 12,338 new cases on Thursday and 11,352 on Wednesday, compared to a few hundred daily cases last month.

Nepal had full lockdowns in 2020 and again from late April to Sept. 1, 2021.

What’s happening across Canada

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador students will be back in classrooms next week, officials said Thursday at a COVID-19 briefing. Students will have to take two rapid tests before returning to school. One of the tests is to occur 72 hours before they return and the other on Tuesday morning, before classes begin.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, who reported two additional deaths and a total of 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations, said Thursday that at this time, “the benefits of being in school for children outweigh the risks of COVID-19.” The province also reported an additional 360 lab-confirmed cases.

In Nova Scotia, health officials reported three additional deaths on Thursday. In an update posted online, the province said there were 85 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID-19 and receiving specialized care, including 12 people in ICU. The province also reported an additional 696 lab-confirmed cases.

New Brunswick on Thursday said in its COVID-19 update that total hospitalizations had increased to 124, including 12 people in intensive care units. The province also reported an additional three deaths and 488 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In Prince Edward Island, health officials on Thursday said in a statement there were 10 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including two in intensive care. Three other people were in hospital who were positive for COVID-19.

The province, which has now seen a total of three recorded COVID-19 related deaths, also reported an additional 249 cases.

In Central Canada, Quebec cannot begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions because the situation in the province’s hospitals remains too fragile, Premier François Legault said.

“The situation will continue to be difficult for the next few weeks. I understand that we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault says. “We are currently at the limit in our hospitals.”

Quebec on Thursday reported 3,411 hospitalizations, with 285 people in intensive care. The province also reported 98 additional deaths and 6,528 lab-confirmed cases.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Thursday announced plans to begin a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions over a period of months. Ford’s update came after Health Minister Christine Elliott said this week that the rate of new admissions to hospital has begun to slow.

There will be 21 days between each reopening step, if health trends don’t become concerning.

The province’s COVID-19 dashboard on Thursday reported 4,061 hospitalizations, with 594 in intensive care units. The province also reported 75 deaths, though officials noted those deaths occurred over a period of 19 days and were reported Thursday as part of a data cleanup. Health officials also reported an additional 7,757 lab-confirmed cases.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba health officials on Thursday said a total of 665 people were in hospital with COVID-19, including 50 in intensive care units. The province also reported seven additional deaths and 851 new lab-confirmed cases.

Saskatchewan on Thursday reported 215 hospitalizations, with 23 people in intensive care units. According to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard, there were no additional deaths and 1,158 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Six of Saskatchewan’s largest unions representing 113,000 front-line workers are demanding more safety measures to blunt the rise of hospitalizations

In Alberta, health officials on Thursday said there were 1,131 people in hospital with COVID-19 — the highest level the province has seen during the pandemic — with 108 in intensive care units. The province also reported eight additional deaths and 3,527 additional lab-confirmed cases.

To prepare for a swell of hospitalizations, the government said it is building additional bed capacity, maximizing the workforce with nursing students and opening COVID-19 community clinics.

Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said the number of patients receiving care for COVID-19 has increased by about 40 per cent over the last week. Admissions to intensive care have jumped by about 18 per cent.

There are also more health-care staff having to isolate than in previous waves, she added. About five per cent of AHS staff are off sick at any given time and between 18 and 20 per cent of shifts are being missed daily due to challenges related to the pandemic.

“It has been a long two years, but now is not the time to let your guard down,” said Yiu.

Across the North, the Northwest Territories on Thursday reported 136 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, while Yukon saw 38 additional cases and Nunavut saw 35 additional cases. There were no additional deaths reported in any of the territories on Thursday.

In British Columbia, a COVID-19 update posted by provincial officials on Thursday showed 891 people were hospitalized, including 119 people in ICUs. The province also reported 15 additional deaths, as well as 2,150 additional lab-confirmed cases.

What’s happening around the world

As of early Friday morning, more than 342.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.

In Europe, health ministers in the European Union will try to find a common line on Friday over a potential fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, amid a surge in cases sparked by the Omicron variant.

Meanwhile, Russia reported a new record number of confirmed infections in the past 24 hours.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the vast mining state of Western Australia is cancelling plans to reopen its borders on Feb. 5, citing health risks from a surge in the Omicron variant in eastern states.

In Africa, the World Bank has approved a loan of $750 million US to South Africa linked to COVID-19, aiming to help protect the poor and support economic recovery from the pandemic. South Africa’s health ministry on Thursday reported 3,962 additional cases of COVID-19 and 139 additional deaths, though officials noted a data cleanup was contributing to the increased death figures.

In the Middle East, Israel will ditch mandatory quarantine for children exposed to COVID-19 carriers, the government said on Thursday, citing a need to relieve parents and schools as case numbers spiral due to the fast-spreading but low-morbidity Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that as of Jan. 27, children will instead be required to take twice-weekly home antigen tests for the virus and, if they prove positive or feel unwell, absent themselves from school until they recover. The home kits will be supplied free of charge, he said.

In the Americas, President Joe Biden will urge U.S. mayors to use more of their state and local COVID-19 aid funds to expand their workforces, a White House official said, an effort partly aimed at easing economic bottlenecks and inflation.

With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press and Reuters

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