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Good evening, here are the COVID-19 updates you need to know tonight.

Top headlines:

  1. Ontario investigating four more possible Omicron COVID-19 cases, Quebec confirms first case
  2. As Omicron pops up in Canada and several other countries, the danger of vaccine inequity comes into focus
  3. The World Heath Organization is sounding the alarm over the Omicron variant, saying the global risk is “very high”

In the past seven days, 20,048 cases were reported, up 14 per cent from the previous seven days. There were 151 deaths announced, up 5 per cent over the same period. At least 1,412 people are being treated in hospitals.

Canada’s inoculation rate is 17th among countries with a population of one million or more people.

Sources: Canada data is compiled from government websites, Johns Hopkins and COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group; international data is from Johns Hopkins University.

Coronavirus explainers: Coronavirus in maps and chartsTracking vaccine dosesLockdown rules and reopening

Photo of the day

A shopper faces partly empty shelves in a supermarket that are a result of protests over COVID-19 restrictions in Shoelcher, Martinique, today.RICARDO ARDUENGO/Reuters

Coronavirus in Canada

  • Four additional individuals in Ontario – two in Ottawa and two in Hamilton – are awaiting results of whole genome sequencing to determine if they have the Omicron variant. The province’s first two positive cases of the variant were detected after random testing earlier at a Montreal airport. Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore said the province is working on a plan to accelerate booster doses to certain at-risk groups in the province and expects an announcement this week. There were 788 new cases of COVID-19 today in the province.
  • A single case of the Omicron variant has been confirmed in Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dubé said at a press conference. The government has contacted 115 travellers who have recently been to southern African countries to perform another PCR test and isolate themselves. The province is reporting 756 new cases of COVID-19 today and two more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

In Southern Manitoba, towns divided between the vaccinated and unvaccinated are trying to find ways to join together in the ways they’re used to, helped by their community and church leaders.

  • In Winkler, Man., stores and restaurants have become battlegrounds between weary employees and protesters. The people are sometimes dismissed as backwards, or worse, in some areas of the province. But locals say they feel this is an unfair characterization of their spirit.
  • Residents know their low vaccination rate make them provincial pariahs, but they say reasons are complicated and in many cases stem from deeply held religious beliefs.

Omicron-tailored shots: BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron in case their existing shots are not effective against the new coronavirus variant, the companies said.

Word of the year: Merriam-Webster has declared its 2021 word of the year – vaccine.

Coronavirus around the world

Coronavirus and business

The postponement of the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference this week all but guarantees months of deadlock on fishing subsidies and a bid to spread COVID-19 vaccines more widely.

  • The conference was postponed late on Friday after new Swiss travel restrictions meant many planned face-to-face meetings could not happen. A new date hasn’t been set.
  • But WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said negotiations should not stop and that delegations in Geneva should seek to close as many gaps as possible. “This new variant reminds us once again of the urgency of the work we are charged with,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

Also today: Canadians were expected to see the biggest drop in gasoline prices since 2009 amid COVID-19 variant concerns. Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy, said the national average price could drop to about $1.32 a litre but begin to rise again midweek.

And: Omicron COVID-19 variant has rattled oil markets, but the impact could be limited.

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Sources: Canada data are compiled from government websites, Johns Hopkins University and COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group; international data are from Johns Hopkins.

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