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Today’s coronavirus news: Experts hopeful about Omicron’s end; More provinces preparing to loosen restrictions in coming weeks

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Wednesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

6:40 a.m. Beijing reported three new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as officials said the virus situation was under control with the Olympic Games set to open later in the week.

The three cases reported in the 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday all involved people under some sort of quarantine.

“The current pandemic situation in the capital is overall controllable and it’s headed in a good direction,” said Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the city government, at a daily press briefing. “Beijing is safe.”

The Chinese capital has been on high-alert as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics starting Friday.

6:37 a.m. Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Parade will return this year, depending on the continued Ontario government’s reopening plan, according to the a news release.

St. Patrick’s Parade was among the first to cancel its event when the pandemic arrived in early 2020. The parade was cancelled again in 2021.

The event is set to take place on Sunday, March 20.

6:05 a.m. RCMP say more officers have been called in to help with an illegal blockade at a United States border crossing in southern Alberta, now in its fifth day.

Mounties were prepared to make arrests Tuesday at the Coutts crossing but backed off when there were safety concerns.

Cpl. Curtis Peters says some vehicles left peacefully but others, including tractors, sped through police roadblocks to join the blockade.

He says there was a head-on crash and a person involved then assaulted another person.

Peters also says some protesters have harassed the local mayor and his wife by showing up at their home and taking photos through their windows.

5:45 a.m. 5:38 a.m. Just one member of the Canadian team in Beijing was in COVID-19 protocols on Wednesday, down from three members a day earlier.

The 414-member Canadian delegation includes athletes, coaches and team staff.

The individual is in protocols that “impact their ability to fulfil their role at Games,” the Canadian Olympic Committee said in a statement.

“We are managing each one on a case-by-case basis and to respect the privacy of the people involved we will not be sharing names at this time,” the COC’s statement said. “Part of our strategy was to arrive early to allow time for confirmation testing and, if necessary, the Medical Expert Panel process to unfold.”

5:35 a.m. On Ontario’s first days of reopening, dozens of moviegoers around Toronto rushed to sit in a theatre again, nibbling on buttered popcorn and snacks as they caught the latest Spider-Man film.

Others took the opportunity to revisit the gym after a month-long hiatus, or to take their toddlers to see the famed jellyfish at Ripley’s Aquarium.

“You really get the sense that there’s a mood right now where people want to be in that snap-back stage,” said Steve Joordens, a University of Toronto psychology professor, as he reflected on the lifting of restrictions. “They want to say, ‘let’s just go back and live the way we were before.’ ”

By now, the excitement of reopening is a familiar feeling for most, as the province moves to gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions yet again. But this stage of reopening is different: the threat of the Omicron variant remains potent, and official case counts are high even with limited testing and contact tracing, forcing some to tread with caution.

Read more from the Star’s Nadine Yousif.

5:30 a.m. The Ottawa Police Service says it has charged two men following demonstration-related investigations as the anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate protest continues to keep the capital at a standstill.

Police say 37-year-old Andre Lacasse was charged on Sunday with carrying a weapon to a public meeting, while 29-year-old Matthew Dorken was charged with mischief under $5,000.

Ottawa residents frustrated with the incessant blare of truck horns, traffic gridlock and harassment by some members of the protest have questioned how police have handled the demonstration.

5:25 a.m. More provinces say they are preparing to loosen COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks, despite virus-related hospitalizations remaining high.

British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said gathering restrictions will begin to slowly be eased later this month.

Even as Alberta reported a record 1,585 people in hospital with the virus, Premier Jason Kenney said he is optimistic the province will be able to relax some public health measures and remove its vaccine passport program by the end of February, providing hospital pressures decline.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced yesterday that gyms and spas, which have been closed since Dec. 20, will be able to reopen on Feb. 14. He also said he is scrapping a plan to tax people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, saying the plan has proven to be divisive at a time he wants to bring Quebecers together.

After allowing restaurant dining rooms to reopen Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he will continue with plans to further ease restrictions on Feb. 21 and March 14, despite a warning from the province’s scientific advisory panel.

5 a.m. Experts say the Omicron wave appears to be cresting but it’s difficult to predict what lies ahead.

Professor Bernard Crespi, an evolutionary biologist at Simon Fraser University, says Omicron broke through people’s health defences, while its quick spread left a higher degree of natural immunity. He says that means it will be difficult for the next variant to get a foothold because people either have immunity or have been vaccinated.

However, Crespi says there’s always a possibility that the next variant will spread like Omicron and we’ll end up with more hospitalizations and deaths. He says the transition from pandemic to fully endemic, with something like the common cold, could take anywhere from a few years to perhaps dozens or hundreds of years.

Doctor Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, says the impact of the next variant can be blunted by a combination of vaccinations, masking and other public health guidelines, just as it was done with Omicron.

Doctor Nelson Lee, interim director of the Institute for Pandemics at the University of Toronto, says he believes the virus that causes COVID-19 will transition to an epidemic with seasonal waves like the flu.

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