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

Top headlines:

  1. Ontario to expand eligibility of COVID-19 boosters for adults 50 and older amid rising case counts, sources say
  2. Omicron’s genome shows it is carrying several mutations first seen earlier in the pandemic, along with many more new ones. What remains to be determined is how sick it makes people and how quickly it can spread
  3. Air travellers could wait up to three days in isolation for on-arrival COVID-19 test result in Canada, the federal government announced Wednesday

In the past seven days, 20,673 cases were reported, up 14 per cent from the previous seven days. There were 134 deaths announced, down 10 per cent over the same period. At least 1,569 people are being treated in hospitals.

Canada’s inoculation rate is 16th 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 Nigeria civil servant is given the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, in Abuja, Nigeria, today. Nigeria has detected its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in a sample it collected in October, weeks before South Africa alerted the world about the variant last week, the country's national public health institute said Wednesday.Gbemiga Olamikan/The Associated Press

Coronavirus in Canada

  • Ontario is poised to announce expanded COVID-19 booster shot eligibility to people 50 and older amid growing concerns over rising case counts and waning immunity. There were 780 new cases of COVID-19 today and six more deaths due to the virus.
  • Workers of the Cargill meat packing plant in Alberta – which was the site of one of Canada’s largest outbreaks of COVID-19 – have been given a new collective agreement offer from the company. Most of the negotiations have focused on wages and health and safety issues. And, the pandemic sent the province’s economy into a tailspin, and was projected to have a serious, catastrophic impact on its finances. But the economic recovery is suddenly looking optimistic, according to the government’s latest quarterly fiscal update, released yesterday.
  • Quebec is reporting a spike in COVID-19 cases today, with 1,196 new COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, Montreal is preparing a “suppressive” approach to COVID-19 infections involving the Omicron variant, including aggressive protocols for isolating cases and tracing contacts.

It could take weeks or months to determine the impacts of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron.

  • A glance at the genome of Omicron shows it is carrying several mutations first seen earlier in the pandemic, along with many more that are new. It’s this combination of old classics and novelty that has sparked concern and pre-emptive measures such as travel bans, though it’s not clear yet exactly what all those mutations portend.
  • But it’s all the other mutations that currently hang over the response to Omicron and have left experts hoping for the best while preparing for the worst in terms of the potential effects on transmission, disease severity or vaccine effectiveness.

Boosters in Ontario: On Thursday, Ontario expected to announce expanded COVID-19 booster-shot eligibility to people 50 and older amid growing concerns over rising case counts and waning immunity.

Quarantine for air travellers: Travellers arriving in Canada from outside the United States can expect to isolate for up to three days as they wait for their on-arrival COVID-19 test results, the federal government said Wednesday, as it tries to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Omicron-specific booster shot: Moderna could have an Omicron booster shot ready as soon as March, the company’s president said today.

Coronavirus around the world

Coronavirus and business

Ontario’s COVID-19 relief program for small businesses handed out more than $210-million to firms that did not qualify, according a new report from the province’s Auditor-General. The province has made no attempt to recoup the money, the audit says.

  • The province’s relief program for small businesses offered two payments of $10,000 to $20,000 each to eligible companies with fewer than 100 employees. To be eligible, companies had to have been required to close down and suffered a revenue decline of more than 20 per cent.
  • The audit says 74 per cent of the businesses that received the grants took in, collectively, $714-million more than they lost, because the minimum payment was $10,000.

Also today: With hybrid offices likely a long-term reality, organizations both large and small are making virtual meetings more seamless and professional.

And: 84 per cent of Canadian workers experienced burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, survey finds.

More reporting

  • History says expect strong December for U.S. stocks, despite Omicron variant and Federal Reserve worries
  • As the travel and hospitality sector slowly recovers from the pandemic, investors and developers are keeping a keen eye on hotel properties across North America

Information centre

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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