Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario set to announce fourth dose of vaccine for nursing home residents; B.C. delays classes as COVID-19 cases rise across Canada

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

6:20 a.m.: If you’re planning to host a New Year’s Eve party, health experts urge you to make it virtual or outdoors.

Omicron, which is extremely contagious and estimated to have already infected hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario, has made indoor gatherings far too risky — even for double-vaccinated groups with negative rapid test results.

Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 science table, said it is likely about five per cent of Ontarians currently have COVID and are infectious. That’s more than 725,000 people, or one in every 20 people.

By the time New Year’s comes around, he said there will be about a one in three chance that if you meet with 10 people, one of them will be infected.

Read the full story from the Star’s Ben Cohen.

6:20 a.m.: The province will start rolling out fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses to long-term-care residents who will become eligible three months after receiving a booster shot, the Star has learned.

The move, to be announced Thursday, comes as the province sees record-high COVID-19 cases because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

“This is one of the many measures the government is putting in place to protect long-term-care residents and staff,” a government source told the Star.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kris Rushowy.

6:15 a.m.: England’s National Health Service is building temporary structures at hospitals around the country to prepare for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients as the highly transmissible omicron variant fuels a new wave of infections.

The U.K. reported a record 183,037 confirmed new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, 32% more than the previous day. While early data suggests omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than earlier variants, public health officials think the sheer number of infections could lead to a jump in hospitalizations and deaths.

In response, the NHS will begin setting up “surge hubs” this week at eight hospitals around England, each with the capacity to treat about 100 patients. Staff are preparing plans to create as many as 4,000 “super surge” beds should they be needed, the NHS said Thursday.

“We do not yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital treatment, but given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out before we act, and so work is beginning from today to ensure these facilities are in place,” NHS England medical director Stephen Powis said in a statement.

The number of people in England hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to 10,462 on Wednesday from 7,366 on Dec. 24, government figures show. Wednesday’s number was the highest since March 1. The figure is still well below the peak of 34,336 recorded on Jan. 18.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted implementing new restrictions on business and social interactions during the holiday season, instead emphasizing an expanded vaccine booster program to control the spread of Omicron.

6:15 a.m.: Las Vegas isn’t cancelling or scaling back plans for New Year’s Eve gatherings.

More than 300,000 visitors are expected in town for events including a New Year’s Eve fireworks show on the Las Vegas Strip that was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic

Thousands of ticketholders also are expected at a multi-stage outdoor music event beneath a canopy light show at the downtown casino pedestrian mall.

In announcing Wednesday that the show will go on, Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft said: “If you’re sick, stay at home. If you’re indoors, wear a mask.”

Las Vegas regional health officials reported 2,201 new coronavirus cases — the most in one day since last Jan. 11. New cases and deaths in Las Vegas have been trending up.

6:15 a.m.: Mexico’s health safety council has approved the use of Cuba’s three-dose Abdala coronavirus vaccine.

The council said Wednesday that it has sufficient evidence the vaccine is safe and effective.

The approval for emergency use does not necessarily mean the Mexican government will acquire or administer the Abdala vaccine in Mexico. Mexico has approved 10 vaccines for use, but has made little use of some, like China’s Sinopharm.

Cuba has approved Abdala for use domestically and begun commercial exports of the three-dose vaccine to Vietnam and Venezuela.

6:15 a.m.: Montenegro has tightened virus rules amid a surge in infections and fears of fast-spreading omicron variant.

Starting Thursday, all gatherings are banned indoors or outdoors in the European country, including weddings, parties and conferences. Bars and restaurants were ordered to close at 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve and 10 p.m. after the holidays.

Authorities also limited the number of people allowed into shopping malls and religious objects to one per 10 square meters (108 square feet) and said COVID passes are required for cinemas, museums and theatres.

For sports events, spectators are banned indoors and outdoor venues are limited to one-fourth capacity. Face masks are obligatory everywhere.

Authorities have said that numbers of new infections have risen and the tightened rules are needed to prevent them from spiralling out of control. Some 1,500 new infections were reported on Wednesday in the nation of 620,000 people.

Montenegro has also tightened entry rules for visitors and urged people to spend the upcoming holidays just with their immediate family.

6:15 a.m.: Chinese officials promised steady deliveries of groceries to residents of Xi’an, an ancient capital with 13 million people that is under the strictest lockdown of a major Chinese city since Wuhan was shut early last year at the start of the pandemic.

China’s Commerce Ministry has contacted nearby provinces to help ensure adequate supplies of everyday necessities, a ministry spokesperson said Thursday.

State broadcaster CCTV aired a story Thursday showing building staff assembling free grocery deliveries for the residents of an apartment complex in Xi’an.

The deliveries included a box of 15 eggs, a 2.5-kilogram (5.5-pound) bag of rice and some green vegetables. Residents could also expect either some chicken or pork, it said.

Still, some people complained in comments below the segment shared on Weibo, a social media platform, that they have not received the same deliveries in their communities. Many worried if they will be able to obtain fresh vegetables and meat.

6:15 a.m.: Residents and tourists in Paris will be required to wear face masks outdoors starting Friday as France sees a surge of COVID-19 infections fuelled by the omicron variant.

The Paris police prefecture said the mask rule will apply to people ages 12 and over, although individuals will be exempt while riding bicycles or motorcycles, travelling in vehicles and doing exercise.

Those who do not comply face fines of 135 euros ($153).

Masks already are mandatory in shops, public facilities and office buildings and on public transportation in France.

The French government announced measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus this week, when France reported a daily record of 208,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

6:15 a.m.: Provinces across the country are amending or extending health restrictions as the Omicron variant continues to cause record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Quebec said yesterday that vaccinated health-care staff who test positive for COVID-19 could be allowed back on the job after seven days if they have no symptoms, and that workers who are exposed to COVID outside their homes no longer automatically need to isolate.

Manitoba and Ontario have said they were considering similar measures to avoid overwhelming their own health systems.

British Columbia says it will bring back students in January in a phased approach, with staff and students whose parents are health workers, as well as those who need extra support, returning to class on Jan. 3 or 4. All other students will go back to school on Jan. 10.

Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec set new case records Wednesday, with the latter reporting more than 13,000 infections, 10 more deaths and a 102-person rise in COVID-19-related hospitalizations. Ontario reported 10,436 new infections and three deaths.

Alberta more than doubled its active case count in a week, while recording its highest single-day increase of new infections.

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