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The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
10:13 p.m. (updated): Ontario reached a grim COVID-19 milestone on Christmas Day as the province reported more than 10,000 confirmed cases of the virus for the first time during the pandemic, according to data released by Public Health Ontario on Saturday.
The public health agency reported 10,412 cases and four more deaths on Saturday. There have been 687,336 confirmed cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Read the full story here: Ontario records more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases for the first time during the pandemic
9:30 p.m.: The New York City fire department (FDNY) faced a shortage of EMS crews over the holiday, stretching the department thin as it struggled to respond to a surge of emergency calls made worse by the Omicron wave.
Roughly 19% of the city’s more than 4,000 EMS workers were out sick Saturday, Christmas Day, up from the typical rate of about 5%, an FDNY spokesman said.
The shortage — caused in part by crews isolating with COVID-19 cases — comes as the city’s daily number of cases continued a record breaking streak.
Read the full story here: New York City faces shortage of EMS crews on Christmas as Omicron wave sickens city
9:00 p.m.: Airlines continued to cancel hundreds of flights Saturday because of staffing issues tied to COVID-19, disrupting holiday celebrations during one of the busiest travel times of the year.
FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, noted nearly 1,000 canceled flights entering, leaving or inside the U.S. Saturday, up from 690 flights scrapped on Friday. Over 250 more flights were already canceled for Sunday. FlightAware does not say why flights are canceled.
Delta, United and JetBlue had all said Friday that the omicron variant was causing staffing problems leading to flight cancellations. United spokesperson Maddie King said staffing shortages were still causing cancellations and it was unclear when normal operations would return. “This was unexpected,” she said of omicron’s impact on staffing. Delta and JetBlue did not respond to questions Saturday.
Read the full story here: Flight cancellations snarl holiday plans for thousands
8:50 p.m.: Australia’s most populous state reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Sunday and a sharp jump in hospitalizations while thousands of people were isolating at home after contracting the virus or coming into contact with someone who has.
New South Wales reported 6,394 new infections, up from 6,288 a day earlier. Case numbers in the state have surged over the past two weeks but hospitalizations have lagged behind new infections.
More than 70 percent of cases in some Australian states are the omicron variant of the coronavirus but New South Wales does not routinely carry out genome testing to identify the variant. State Health Minister Brad Hazzard indicated Sunday that omicron is widespread.
“We would expect that pretty well everybody in New South Wales at some point will get omicron,” Hazzard said. “If we’re all going to get omicron, the best way to face it is when we have full vaccinations including our booster.”
Health officials reported 458 active cases in hospitals across the state, up sharply from 388 the day before. There were 52 people in intensive care in New South Wales.
Victoria, the country’s second most populous state, reported 1,608 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths on Sunday, with 374 people in hospitals, including 77 in intensive care.
More than 30,000 people in Victoria spent Christmas isolating at home, unable to celebrate with family or friends. Of those, about half were reported to be active cases who contracted the virus in the days leading up to Christmas.
Doctors and pharmacists in New South Wales have said they are running short of vaccine doses amid a rush for shots spurred by concern over the omicron variant.
6:25 p.m.: Before receiving her COVID-19 booster shot Christmas Day, Keyvan Csullog handed out Tim Horton’s giftcards to staff who volunteered to work the holiday at a city-run North York vaccination clinic.
“It’s the least I can do for them giving up their personal time to help us,” Csullog said Saturday after rolling up the sleeve of her red-and-white Christmas sweater to receive her third dose at the Mitchell Field Community Centre.
She brushed off the inconvenience of getting jabbed on a holiday. “This is one of those things, give up that time on the couch or your pyjamas to do something important for yourself and others.” It’s “a little blip at lunchtime then you go back home and spend it with family.”
Located at 89 Church Ave., east of Yonge Street and about halfway between Sheppard and Finch Avenues, the centre was one of two Team Toronto COVID-19 vaccination clinics operating Christmas Day as the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to circulate and the COVID-19 case count climbs in Ontario. The other vaccination clinic open on Christmas was at the Thorncliffe Park Community hub.
Both will be running again Boxing Day.
Read the full story here: What’s a better present than Christmas Day booster shots? We talk to people getting holiday jabs in Toronto
6:00 p.m.: Florida on Christmas Day saw its largest single-day increase of newly reported COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. The record breaks the previous one set on Christmas Eve.
“Omicron is 10 [times] more potent at causing reinfection than previous variants — protection from prior infection is not as good as protection from triple” vaccination, Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, told the Miami Herald on Friday.
The state reported 32,850 COVID-19 cases on Friday, according to Saturday’s report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on Miami Herald calculations of CDC data. The previous record was broken with Christmas Eve’s report of 31,758 cases.
Read the full story here: Florida sets another new record for single-day case COVID increase
4:55 p.m.: Three members of the global K-pop phenomenon BTS have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Big Hit Music, the group’s management company.
The company said that RM, 27, and Jin, 29, tested positive Saturday after returning to South Korea from the United States this month. The day before, Big Hit Music announced that Suga, 28, who returned from the United States on Thursday, discovered that he was infected while in quarantine and after taking a PCR test.
All three received their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine in August, the company said. Suga, the stage name for artist Min Yoon-gi, had tested negative before travelling to the United States, the company said. RM (Kim Nam-joon) and Jin (Kim Seok-jin) initially tested negative upon returning to South Korea.
Read the full story here: Two more members of K-pop band BTS test positive for coronavirus
4:21 p.m.: Another three players entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Saturday, making the Raptors the team ravaged most by COVID-19 in the entire league.
Isaac Bonga, Khem Birch and Justin Champagnie were added to the group that’s our for reasons related to COVID, which includes Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa, OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr., Malachi Flynn and Scottie Barnes.
That’s 10 players in protocols — an astonishing 62.5 per cent of a 16-man roster of fully vaccinated players.
Read the full story here: Raptors up to 10 on NBA’s longest COVID-19 list
4:00 p.m.: Quebec is reporting 9,206 new COVID-19 cases, and four more deaths.
The province’s open data portal says Christmas Day saw 825 fewer cases than Friday.
Quebec has reported 530,002 positive cases since the start of the pandemic.
There have been a total of 11,664 deaths related to COVID-19.
Officials have said in recent days the daily numbers are likely an underestimation because the province’s testing centres are overwhelmed and can’t keep up with demand.
Details on COVID-19-related hospitalizations and vaccinations will be released next week as the provincial government said it won’t be sharing daily numbers during the holidays.
12:25 p.m.: Christmas Day for many Canadians this year means fewer people gathered around a twinkling tree tearing open presents, but others say COVID-19 hasn’t changed their holiday plans.
12:10 p.m.: Christmas arrived around the world Saturday amid a surge in COVID-19 infections that kept many families apart, overwhelmed hospitals and curbed religious observances as the pandemic was poised to stretch into a third year.
Yet, there were homilies of hope, as vaccines and other treatments become more available.
Pope Francis used his Christmas address to pray for some of those vaccines to reach the poorest countries. While wealthy countries have inoculated as much as 90 per cent of their adult populations, 8.9 per cent of Africa’s people are fully jabbed, making it the world’s least-vaccinated continent.
10:30 a.m.: The daily number of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario won’t be available today because of the Christmas holiday, but will resume on Sunday.
8:46 a.m.: So long eggnog, shrimp cocktail and pet-shaped sugar cookies.
It’s been a less merry holiday scene at the White House this year under COVID-19’s shadow. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden have replaced the packed parties and overflowing buffet tables of the past with food-free open houses, face masks and testing for the unvaccinated.
Beyond the impact on Biden’s first Christmas in office, the virus and its variants largely put the kibosh on the entire White House social scene for 2021, starting with an inauguration that positioned flags in place of people on the National Mall.
“I think it’s been really tough on them,” said Philip Dufour, who was Vice President Al Gore’s social secretary. He noted that many events were not held while the president and first lady did others over Zoom.
Major social events scrubbed from the calendar included the White House ball for the nation’s governors and the Easter Egg Roll, the second straight year that springtime ritual has been cancelled.
The Democratic president also has yet to toast a foreign counterpart at a glitzy White House state dinner because he has yet to invite a world leader for a state visit. In fact, months passed before Biden was able to welcome a foreign leader to the Oval Office for even lower-key talks.
Still, the White House managed to pull off some events despite the pandemic, such as bill-signing and Medal of Honour ceremonies. The Bidens also hosted large receptions for Hanukkah and for artists recognized by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
But the pandemic’s biggest blow to the calendar came at Christmas, forcing the White House to overhaul its holiday entertaining — and trim the guest list.
8:45 a.m.: Christmas Day for many Canadians this year means fewer people gathered around a twinkling tree tearing open presents, but others say COVID-19 hasn’t changed their holiday plans.
Several provinces have been reporting record-high daily infection counts and health officials have urged people to cut back on gatherings.
They say the fast-spreading Omicron variant is driving the spike.
Quebec reported a record of just over 10,000 cases on Christmas Eve, and Ontario broke its highest count with nearly 9,571.
British Columbia announced a new high of 2,144 infections and Manitoba broke its record with 742.
Nunavut, with eight infections in several communities, ordered a full lockdown in the territory.
8:45 a.m.: Air carriers scrapped more than 1,600 U.S. flights for one of the busiest travel weekends in the year, stranding passengers during the Christmas holiday, as surging COVID infections led to crippling aircrew shortages.
The global tally of dropped flights exceeded 5,400 trips for Friday through Sunday, according to data tracker FlightAware.com. China Eastern had the most cancellations, and the most-affected airport was in the Chinese city of Xi’an, where the Beijing government cracked down under its COVID Zero policy after an outbreak.
Delta Air Lines Inc.’s 479 cancellations for the holiday weekend led the U.S. industry, FlightAware data showed, closely followed by United Airlines Holdings Inc., with 474 flights erased from its holiday itineraries. JetBlue Airways Corp. chopped 50 flights on Friday, or 7% of its schedule, and plans at least 120 cancellations on Saturday, according to FlightAware.
For Christmas Day specifically, some 820 U.S. flights have been scrapped so far.
The travel snarls underscored the reach of the omicron COVID variant that is driving U.S. case counts higher, increasing nearly sixfold in only a week to become the dominant domestic strain. United said in an email Thursday that a jump in omicron was limiting the availability of flight crews and ground personnel. Delta attributed its disruptions to a mix of reasons, including COVID.
8:45 a.m.: Australia’s two most populous states reported a surge in COVID-19 infections, with New South Wales registering the most new cases in a 24-hour period since the start of the pandemic.
8:45 a.m.: Hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, marked Christmas on Saturday without homes, adequate food and water, electricity and cellphone connections after a powerful typhoon left at least 375 people dead last week and devastated mostly central island provinces.
Elsewhere, New Zealanders are celebrating Christmas in the warmth of mid-summer with few restrictions, in one of the few countries in the world largely untouched by the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Australia is marking the holiday amid a surge of COVID-19 cases, worse than at any stage of the pandemic, which has forced states to reinstate mask mandates and other measures.
And adding more pain for travellers, airlines around the world cancelled hundreds of flights as the omicron variant jumbled schedules and drew down staffing levels.
According to FlightAware, there are more than 3,900 cancelled flights on Friday and Saturday, with close to half of the cancellations by Chinese airlines. About 30% of affected flights — more than 1,100 — were to, from or within the U.S. This is still a small fraction of global flights. FlightAware says it has tracked more than 100,000 arrivals in the past 24 hours.
8:45 a.m.: Pope Francis prayed Saturday for an end to the coronavirus pandemic, using his Christmas Day address to urge health care for all, vaccines for the poor and for dialogue to prevail in resolving the world’s conflicts.
Amid a record-setting rise in COVID-19 cases in Italy this week, only a few thousand people flocked to a rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square for Francis’ annual “Urbi et Orbi” (”To the city and the world”) Christmas address. Normally, the square would be packed with tens of thousands of holiday well-wishers.
At least they could gather this year. Italy’s 2020 holiday lockdown forced Francis to deliver a televised address from inside the Apostolic Palace to prevent crowds from forming in the square. Although Italy this week counted more than 50,000 cases in a single day for the first time, the government has not ordered another lockdown.
The pope’s Christmas Day speech gives him an opportunity to draw a global audience’s attention to conflicts big and small. This year was no different. Francis lamented ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, newly flaring tensions in Ukraine and Ethiopia, and an “unprecedented crisis” in Lebanon.
“We have become so used to them (conflicts) that immense tragedies are now being passed over in silence; we risk not hearing the cry of pain and distress of so many of our brothers and sisters,” he said from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica as Swiss Guards stood at attention in the square below.
Francis warned of the pandemic tendency to withdraw and isolate, urging instead dialogue to try to resolve the world conflicts. He prayed in particular for those most affected by the virus, including women and children who have suffered increased abuse during lockdowns.
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