COVID updates, Dec. 10: 'Not a good idea' to have holiday gatherings of 20 people, Njoo says – Montreal Gazette

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer says he’ll gather with only about 10 others. On Dec. 23, Quebec will double to 20 the number of people who can get together in private homes.
Updated throughout the day on Friday, Dec. 10. Questions/comments: ariga@postmedia.com
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I’m off Monday but one of my colleagues will be here with another live blog.
I’ll be back Tuesday morning.
You can follow all our coverage via the coronavirus page.
My previous COVID-19 live blogs are available here.
From The Canadian Press:
Marci Ien, minister for women and gender equality and youth, has gone into self-isolation after attending an in-person event on Sunday where she might have come in contact with several COVID-19 cases.
Johise Namwira, a spokesperson for the minister’s office, said in a statement that Ien attended the Giants of Africa gala on Sunday and was later notified by organizers that an attendee tested positive for COVID-19.
Namwira said Ien was notified on Thursday that there may have been more COVID-19 cases linked to the event.
She said that Ien immediately followed “all appropriate protocols.”
Her office said the minister was tested twice on Monday, Tuesday morning and Thursday evening, with all tests returning a negative result.
Ien attended question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday as well as an in-person event by Equal Voice, an organization that works to elect more women in Canada.
On Wednesday, Ien was physically present in question period and later met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other ministers to speak with a human-rights activist.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Masai Ujiri, Toronto Raptors president, said Thursday he tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the gala and being notified of positive COVID-19 tests among guests.
Ujiri said in a statement that the gala complied with all current public health advice, such as requiring proof of vaccination, and wearing masks when not eating or drinking.
When asked in a news conference whether he has come in recent contact with Ien, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos did not directly answer the question but said everyone, including parliamentarians, needs to be following public health advice.
From forced quarantines to massive fines, some Windsorites are learning that even unwitting breaches of Canada’s rigid border rules can prove costly and painful.
On a return trip from Costa Rica, Gael Fisher and her companion were fined a combined $12,510. Their transgression: taking the right COVID-19 test in the wrong place.
Read our full story.

Quebec is slowly rolling out third doses, with those 60 and older eligible as of early January and no timeline for other age groups.
Ontario, which has been more active on the booster front, today announced it’s about to offer them to all adults.
Here’s a story from The Canadian Press: 
Ontario will expand COVID-19 vaccine booster eligibility to all adults early in the new year in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Ontarians 18 and older will be able to book their third dose starting Jan. 4, provided it’s been at least six months since they received their second shot.
Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore made the announcement Friday as part of a suite of measures meant to prevent the holiday season from becoming “a super-spreader event.”
The province also “strongly” advises residents to limit gatherings over the holiday season and urges employers to make every effort to allow employees to work from home.
Ontario is grappling with a surge in cases, reporting 1,453 new diagnoses on Friday — the highest daily case count since May 23.
The province announced it is extending its vaccine certificate program until further notice, instead of in mid-January as was initially planned.
The proof-of-vaccination system will also be updated on Jan. 4 so that the certificate equipped with a QR code is the only version accepted.
“Individual rights and freedoms can only flourish when we also protect the well-being of society as a whole. This is often misunderstood.
“People opposed to COVID-19 restrictions have their favourites among the 30 articles of the Declaration. For example, they commonly refer to Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
“Conspicuously overlooked is Article 29, which adds crucial context. Article 29 recognizes there will be times like this when reasonable limits on individual freedoms are necessary for the collective good. Protecting the public from a deadly pandemic is certainly important to our global health and to our shared humanity.”
Read the full opinion piece, by Isha Khan, CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Marie-Claude Landry, chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
In Quebec, up to 20 people can get together in private homes for Christmas and New Year’s gatherings, starting Dec. 23. In Ontario, the upper limit is 25.
But Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, says he thinks the number should be closer to 10.
“If you have a family gathering, try and keep it small,” he told reporters at a press conference today.
With cases rising in both provinces and experts worried about the dangers of the new Omicron variant, Njoo was asked what a reasonable number would be for the size of a holiday get-together.
“That’s difficult to answer because it’s a personal opinion,” Njoo answered.
“What I can tell you is that with the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, we have good communication and close collaboration.”
Officials in both provinces are watching the epidemiological situation closely, he added.
“I don’t know, it may be something that the provinces could perhaps adjust in the days or weeks ahead,” Njoo added, referring to the size of gatherings in homes.
“For me personally it’s not a good idea to have a gathering of 20, 25 people. Maybe (instead) have something more intimate… for me personally in my family, maybe 10 people or something like that.”
Njoo urged Canadians to base their decisions on their local epidemiological situation.
He said people gathering should be vaccinated and those eligible for it should get a booster shot, adding that it’s also a good idea to occasionally open a window to improve air circulation.
Njoo added: “Maybe there’s a discussion to be had about people, even fully vaccinated, still wearing their face mask indoors.”
Premier François Legault says he’s not concerned about Quebec’s soaring case counts because he considers hospitalizations stable.
A reporter asked how high hospitalizations would have to reach for Quebecers to be concerned.
“I won’t give you the number but at (256), we’re still in a zone that’s under control,” Legault responded. “We’re very far from the United States and France.”
He added later: “Vaccination rates are higher in Quebec (and) are giving good results so far but we have to continue to be careful.”
Legault was speaking at a press conference about the end of the National Assembly session.
With cases at a level not seen in 11 months, Legault was asked if he was too optimistic when, in October, he said the worst of the pandemic is behind us.
“Life continues, but we must remain prudent,” the premier said. “We can’t take anything for granted. The battle against the virus continues. We have to continue to adjust measures as (governments) are doing around the world.”
From The Canadian Press:
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says a resurgence of COVID-19 is forecast for Canada and it could speed up even more if the Omicron variant replaces Delta.
New federal modelling shows that if Omicron does not predominate over Delta, Canada could see between 2,900 and 15,000 daily cases by mid-January, depending on the effect of public health measures.
Tam says if it’s assumed the Omicron variant is three times more transmissible than Delta and becomes dominant, then Canada could see 26,600 daily cases by then.
Over the past week, there was an average of over 3,300 new cases being reported daily across Canada, and Tam is urging a high degree of caution during the coming holiday season.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says Canada’s capacity to test all non-U.S. international travellers at airports has increased but remains limited.
He says as of Nov. 30, airports could administer 11,000 tests per day and that number has risen to 17,000 a day.
Full capacity would be 23,000 daily tests and Duclos did not say when that would happen.
Duclos also announced that 35 million rapid tests will be delivered to provinces and territories this month.
Montreal’s public health department today urged people who have been to a Kirkland gym and a LaSalle community centre to get tested because they are “associated with cases linked to the Omicron variant at the beginning of December.”
People who have been at the following locations and times are being asked to get tested.
Buzzfit Kirkland gym, 3240 Jean-Yves St. in Kirkland
Henri-Lemieux Cultural and Community Centre, 7644 Édouard St. in LaSalle
“Even if you are adequately vaccinated and have no symptoms, we recommend that you get tested for COVID-19 at one of the following two screening centres: on the grounds of the Jewish General Hospital or at the CLSC Parc-Extension,” the public health department said.
“For the moment, these are the only centres whose laboratory is able to detect the omicron variant in Montreal.”
The department said if “it is not possible for you to go to one of (these) two testing centres, you can also get tested at another testing centre and mention that you have potentially been exposed to the Omicron variant.
“We also ask those affected by this call for screening to pre-register for their appointment on the Quebec.ca/coronavirus site and to provide information relating to their potential exposure to the Omicron variant in the form.”
As of yesterday, 14 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in Montreal, the department said.
Of those, five “could have been acquired while travelling outside of Canada; the remainder acquired it in Canada, suggesting limited local transmission.”
The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa and Botswana in November and has been named a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.
“More data on this variant is needed to rule on its transmissibility, virulence or vaccine efficacy,” the public health department said. “However, early data indicates that it is possibly 2-3.5 times more transmissible than the Delta variant and that there is an increased risk of re-infection.
“Due to these uncertainties, Montreal is adopting an approach aimed at suppressing all transmission of the Omicron variant in its territory. This approach saves time to better understand this virus, to vaccinate more people, and to better prepare the health care system for a possible Omicron wave.”
APPEL AU DÉPISTAGE VARIANT OMICRON⚠️

Même adéquatement vacciné et sans symptômes, si vous avez fréquenté ces lieux nous vous recommandons de vous faire dépister pour la COVID-19 au CDD situé sur le terrain du stationnement de l’hôpital général juif ou au CDD de Parc-Extension. pic.twitter.com/UKP0c57ElK

The surge in cases continues in Quebec, with the province reporting 2,013 new infections of COVID-19 today.
That’s the highest number of cases in one day since Jan. 16.
Hospitalizations are holding steady, with 26 entering the hospital and 25 discharged yesterday.
Testing continues to ramp up.
And the number of people vaccinated has hit a 15-week high thanks to the inoculation of a growing number of children age five to 11.
In addition, six new deaths were reported.
Some other key statistics from Quebec’s COVID-19 update:
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Quebec has reported 462,246 cases and 11,603 deaths linked to COVID-19.

Comparaison Québec/Ontario dans les écoles:

17 novembre jusqu’au 9 décembre pic.twitter.com/B86s1ZUUqM
As Quebecers hang in limbo wondering if and when they’ll become eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot, some experts are wondering why the province is taking so long to lay out a clear plan.
Read our full story, by Katelyn Thomas.
From the Bloomberg news agency:
After months of warnings that vaccinations would ward off a COVID-19 disaster, the U.S. is sailing toward a holiday crisis.
Cases and hospital admissions are rising amid a season of family gatherings. Most victims have shunned inoculations. The situation is especially dire in the chilly Northeastern states, but doctors in many places report a grimly repetitive cycle of admission, intensive care and death. There are shortages of beds and staff to care for the suffering.
“We’re in desperate shape,” said Brian Weis, chief medical officer at Northwest Texas Healthcare System in Amarillo, the state’s worst hot spot.
In 12 states and the nation’s capital, the seven-day average of admissions with confirmed COVID-19 has climbed at least 50 per cent from two weeks earlier, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data. The areas with the largest percentage upticks were Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Vermont and Rhode Island.
A little more than 60 per cent of the U.S. population is considered fully vaccinated, generally meaning two shots, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. That still leaves a large pool of highly susceptible people capable of pressuring hospitals.
In the most recent CDC data, from September, unvaccinated people had about 14 times the risk of dying from COVID-19 after adjusting for age — a major factor in Covid outcomes.
In some states in the Midwest and Northeast, COVID hospitalizations are mirroring last year’s seasonal pattern, said Pinar Karaca-Mandic, one of the leaders of the COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project at the University of Minnesota.
“The winter coming, people are being more indoors,” she said. During last year’s surge, “everyone was unvaccinated,” Karaca-Mandic said. While most Americans are inoculated now, they’re also isolating less than last year.
The Ontario government is expected to announce today that it will extend its vaccine certificate rules and make changes to the program, The Canadian Press reports.
A senior government source says the rules requiring vaccine certificates won’t start to lift in January, as initially scheduled under the province’s plan.
Instead, the measures will stay in place as they are until further notice.
The province has previously said its timeline for loosening restrictions could be reviewed based on COVID-19 indicators.
The source says the proof-of-vaccination system will also be updated so that the certificate equipped with a QR code is the only version accepted.
The source says the province is also moving ahead with a plan to have medical exemptions for COVID-19 shots verified by public health units.
Quebec is expanding eligibility for a third COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Here’s what you need to know about the province’s booster plan.
Expect more government bailouts of transit systems, as a recovery to pre-pandemic ridership levels is taking longer than expected, experts say.
The Société de transport de Montréal is planning a $1.1-million charm offensive to entice people back onto the bus and métro.
Read our full story, by Jason Magder.
Here’s the rate of case growth per 100,000 people over the past seven days, via the federal government’s latest epidemiological update.
Quebec’s vaccine passport is mandatory for people 13 and older who want to access services and activities deemed non-essential by the provincial government, including bars, restaurants, gyms, festivals and sporting events.
Quebecers can use a smartphone app to prove their vaccination status or simply carry their QR code on paper.
The app is available from Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
We have published two guides to the passports – one looks at how to download and set up the app, and another answers key questions about the system, including how, when and why.
You can find more information on the Quebec government’s website – one page has details on how the system works, and another has a list of the places where a vaccine passport will be required.
Local health authorities have set up mass vaccination sites across Montreal.
You can book appointments via the Clic Santé website or by phone at 1-877-644-4545.
Quebecers can also visit walk-in AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccine clinics.
Here are the nuts and bolts of getting vaccinated, by Katherine Wilton. Her guide includes the age groups targeted, how to book appointments, and addresses of vaccination centres.
We are regularly updating our list of what services are open, closed or modified in Montreal and Quebec, including information on the curfew and other lockdown measures.
You can read it here.
Montrealers can be screened at test centres across the island.
For other parts of Quebec, check out this page on the Quebec government’s site.
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ariga@postmedia.com
Read my previous live blogs here.

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