Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday
More provinces have reduced isolation requirements for people who test positive for COVID-19 Friday in an effort to lessen staffing shortages as the Omicron variant continued to drive diagnoses at record rates.
British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick are the latest to reduce to five the number of days that people with two doses of vaccine must isolate if they test positive for the virus.
"With rapid increases in numbers, we're facing some challenges," said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s chief medical officer.
"The illness that we're seeing, particularly in health-care workers, is starting to have impacts on our health-care system and our long-term care system."
Those who are still symptomatic after five days must continue to isolate until they feel better, and those who become asymptomatic have to wear a mask around others for an extra five days — rules also brought into force by Alberta and Manitoba on Friday.
Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the province is also requiring people who test positive from a rapid antigen test to self-isolate.
The changes come as the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus continues to drive high case counts across the country. Manitoba reported a single-day high of 1,494 new cases on Friday, as well as five new deaths. B.C. reported 3,795 new cases and three new deaths.
Early research suggests the Omicron variant causes less severe outcomes than previous strains. But experts say the sheer number of cases — caused by Omicron's high transmissibility — threaten to overrun the health-care system because more people will be hospitalized and more health workers will be infected.
New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said her province is also experiencing staffing shortages in the health-care system due to Omicron. "We expect the situation will become even more challenging as we live through this latest wave of COVID-19," she said.
In response to the surging COVID-19 case numbers, the province's hospitals are moving to urgent and emergency services only. That means people in New Brunswick can expect to see "non-urgent and elective surgeries, procedures and lab services cancelled," Shephard said.
During the same news conference, Premier Blaine Higgs announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 using a rapid test and was waiting for confirmation via a more accurate PCR test. He said he was experiencing only mild symptoms.
New Brunswick reported a record 682 cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Due to the influx of new infections, the province announced it will limit access to its PCR tests starting Tuesday to only those considered at highest risk of the virus, including people who live in congregate-care settings and members of the general public who are 50 or older.
New Brunswick is also pushing back the resumption of in-person learning by 11 days, with students to learn virtually until Jan. 21.
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