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

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Some organizers of the convoy protest in Ottawa, which began as opposition to mandatory vaccination for cross-border truckers, said Wednesday they plan to remain “for as long as it takes.” Meanwhile, officials are calling for cooler heads to prevail after police said an assault occurred at a trucker blockade at the Canada-U.S. border in southern Alberta.

The latest:

Some organizers of a convoy protest around Parliament Hill, which began as opposition to mandatory vaccination for cross-border truckers, said Wednesday they plan to remain “for as long as it takes.” Meanwhile, officials in southern Alberta called for calm after police said an assault took place at a trucker blockade at the Canada-U.S. border.

In Ottawa, the protest has included vehicles parked and honking on roads leading to Parliament Hill since Friday. In recent days there have been reports of Ottawa residents feeling anxious and fearful amid the ongoing protest.

Police have announced three arrests for offences they say are related to the ongoing protests.

The scope of the road closures and size of the area city officials say to avoid have dropped since Saturday, when police estimated crowds of between 5,000 and 18,000 people, but both still take up swaths of residential and business districts. Many businesses have chosen to close.

On Wednesday, some protest organizers said they have empathy for the city’s residents, but insisted there’s no other way to end all COVID-19 public health mandates across Canada.

“Our message to the citizens of Ottawa is one of empathy,” wrote Chris Barber, who said he’s a senior convoy leader, in a Wednesday morning news release.

“We understand your frustration and genuinely wish there was another way for us to get our message across, but the responsibility for your inconvenience lies squarely on the shoulders of politicians who have [preferred] to vilify and call us names rather than engage in respectful, serious dialogue.”

The news release also said the protesters plan to remain “for as long as it takes.”

Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has called on protesters to end their demonstration in near the village of Coutts after police said some breached police barriers to join it Tuesday. Later, a head-on collision occurred, followed by an assault, police said.

“This kind of conduct is totally unacceptable,” Kenney said during a news conference in Edmonton. “Without hesitation, I condemn those actions and I call for calm.”

Police officers prepare to approach a line of vehicles blocking a Canada-U.S. border crossing in Alberta on Tuesday afternoon.(David Rae/CBC)

The protest of trucks lined up in front of the border checkpoint — the primary conduit for the approximately $6 billion in trade between Alberta and the U.S. — has halted all traffic at that location of Highway 4 since Saturday. The demonstration is tied to the nationwide protest over the federal vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, which took effect last month.

The crash and alleged assault occurred after the RCMP announced earlier Tuesday that the Mounties would be clearing the roadblock outside the border crossing in Coutts, a village about 300 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

No arrests were made.

Kenney called for people to stay away from the area while the RCMP carried out their action against the blockade.

What’s happening in the rest of Canada

In Atlantic Canada on Wednesday, New Brunswick reported a record 165 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 16 people in the province’s intensive care units. The province also saw four additional deaths and 381 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador reported 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations, down five from the previous day’s record high, with nine people in ICU. Health officials also reported four additional deaths and 248 new lab-confirmed cases.

Prince Edward Island, where public schools resumed in-person classes on Monday, reported there are 15 people in hospital due to COVID-19. Of those, two people were in intensive care. There were also 238 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

In Nova Scotia, a news release from the province said there were 92 people receiving care in designated COVID-19 units in hospital, including 13 in intensive care. There were also six additional deaths related to COVID-19 and 395 new lab-confirmed cases.

Quebec on Wednesday reported 2,730 COVID-19 hospitalizations, including 204 in intensive care. The province also reported 3,816 new cases of COVID-19 and 50 deaths.

The update comes a day after Premier François Legault announced he is scrapping a proposed tax on unvaccinated Quebecers, now saying it is more important to build bridges and extend a hand to people who refuse to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Ontario on Wednesday reported there were 2,939 people with COVID-19 in the province’s hospitals, with 555 patients with COVID-19 requiring intensive care, continuing a downward trend. The province also reported 72 additional deaths and 3,909 new lab-confirmed cases.

Manitoba is planning to relax COVID-19 restrictions once the current public health orders expire next week, Premier Heather Stefanson said at a Wednesday news conference. New rules to take effect on Feb. 8 will allow for larger private gatherings and will allow for higher capacity in public spaces for people who are fully vaccinated.

The update came as the number of people in the province’s hospitals with COVID-19 set a new record for the third day in a row, rising to 744 — including 54 in ICU. The province also reported seven more deaths and 526 new lab-confirmed cases.

Saskatchewan also reported a record number of people in hospital with COVID-19 — 372 — on Wednesday, including 40 in ICU. There were four additional deaths and 611 new lab-confirmed cases. The premier has said he wants to end the province’s proof of vaccine program by the end of the month.

Health officials in Alberta and British Columbia had yet to provided updated COVID-19 figures.

In the North, Nunavut reported 22 new lab-confirmed cases on Wednesday, while Yukon and the Northwest Territories had not yet reported updated figures.

What’s happening around the world

Sandie Bushnur, a hospital sitter who provides patient companionship, observation, and surveillance, sits bedside a COVID-19 patient Tuesday in the Telemetry extended intensive care unit at St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, Calif.(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 382.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood nearly 5.7 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate fell to its lowest in nearly three weeks on Wednesday, while a steady rate of daily infections raised hopes the worst of an outbreak fuelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant may have passed.

In the Middle East, Turkey has recorded 110,682 new COVID-19 infections in 24 hours, its highest daily figure of the pandemic, health ministry data showed on Wednesday. In late December, daily cases stood at about 20,000 but have since surged due to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Data also showed 217 people died due to COVID-19 in the same 24-hour period.

COVID-19 infections and deaths in the Americas are still increasing, but the rise in infections seems to be slowing down in places hit earliest by the Omicron variant, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

Most of the seven million new cases reported in the past week were in North America (some four million new infections), while Chile and Brazil posted record numbers of daily cases, and deaths have more than doubled in Cuba, the Bahamas and Antigua and Barbuda, the regional health agency said.

Meanwhile, Pfizer on Tuesday asked the U.S. to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children under five, potentially opening the way for the very youngest Americans to start receiving shots as early as March.

In Europe, the Kremlin continues to hold off from imposing nationwide restrictions as Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged a “difficult” COVID-19 situation that has seen infection records for two weeks straight. The state coronavirus task force reported 141,883 new infections on Wednesday — a massive spike from the daily 15,000 cases recorded in early January.

A subset of the omicron variant, BA.2, has been also discovered in Russia. The BA.2 subset is widely considered stealthier than the original version and some scientists worry it could also be more contagious.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Tuesday reported 1,085 new cases of COVID-19 and 195 additional deaths. The country has now reported more than 3.6 million cases and more than 95,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

With files from The Canadian Press, Reuters and The Associated Press

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