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A look at the latest COVID-19 developments in Canada

A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada:

— Statistics Canada says the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an average seven-month decline in national life expectancy, the largest decrease recorded since 1921 when the vital statistics registration system was introduced. The federal agency released preliminary data showing national life expectancy, which is estimated on an annual basis, was 81.7 years for those born in 2020 — down from 82.3 the year before. The drop was greater for men, at more than eight months, than for women, at nearly five months, and the largest declines in the country were observed in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. 

— The timing of the Omicron outbreak in Canada may have hurt the uptake of pediatric vaccines at a time when kids need them most. Child-sized doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine were approved for children aged five to 11 on Nov. 19, 2021, and many provinces began injections the following week, just as the first cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant showed up in Canada. Vaccine hesitancy expert Kate Allen warned early on that parents would be slower to vaccinate their five- to 11-year-olds than they were to vaccinate themselves or even their older kids, since parents tend to be more cautious when it comes to young children. But the vaccine rate is even lower than she expected. In the two months since they were approved, only 51 per cent of children in that age group have had at least one dose. That's compared to more than 72 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds who got at least one jab two months after most provinces began to offer them.

— More than 300 Ontario schools reported staff and student absences of more than 30 per cent by the end of last week, after students returned for in-person learning following the latest pandemic-related shutdown. But the data includes all absences, not just those that might be related to COVID-19, making it tough to gauge the impact of the Omicron variant on Ontario's school system. Some schools reported high absences due to the weather or technical errors. Data was also missing for about 1,400 of the province's 4,844 schools.

— The Quebec government says a new "positive approach" to persuade people to get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine will complement the punitive measures so far imposed to increase vaccination rates. But Quebecers shouldn't expect anything dramatically different, junior health minister Lionel Carmant said. "We want to use the same technique, intensify it, increase the visibility to have further success," Carmant said. A pop-up vaccination clinic will open in downtown Montreal this week, while a telephone line will be set up and staffed by medical professionals to field calls from residents seeking information about the vaccines, he said.

— Premier Scott Moe and his Saskatchewan Party government are staying away from additional measures to try to contain the spread of the Omicron variant, despite acute care hospitalizations nearing record levels. Moe says the virus is not going away and society needs to learn to live with COVID-19 as it does with other diseases. Saskatchewan has a mask mandate and requires proof of vaccination or negative tests in many settings, but Moe says he won't introduce more measures because he doesn't believe they would have a significant benefit.

— Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping says an emergency response crisis in southern Alberta last week highlights the need to do more to alleviate stress in a network dangerously strained by COVID-19 and other factors. Copping referred to four emergency calls coming in simultaneously in Airdrie, on Calgary’s northern outskirts, which forced one medically fragile boy with a broken leg to be taken to hospital by fire truck because ambulances weren't available. “This was an extraordinary situation — a rush of urgent calls on a busy day in the middle of winter at a time when we are likely approaching the peak of pressure on the system from the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Copping said. Copping said health officials scrambled to fill the gaps. Supervisors were put in front-line positions and inter-facility transfers of non-urgent patients were paused and firefighters trained in paramedic care stepped up.

— British Columbia officials say there are 64 health-care facilities across the province that have COVID-19 outbreaks. A statement from the Health Ministry says they include six new outbreaks, most of them in long-term care, but also in hospitals and assisted-living facilities. The province reported 4,997 new infections of COVID-19 over a three-day period starting Friday, although officials have warned that the number of cases may be up to five times higher because B.C. has reached its testing capacity. Of the active cases, they say 987 people are in hospital and 129 in intensive care.

— The head of a St. John's shelter for people experiencing homeless said it was dealing with its first COVID-19 outbreak of the pandemic, while health officials reported a record number of patients in hospital with the disease. The Gathering Place sits adjacent to the massive Basilica Cathedral, at the top of a steep street leading up from the St. John's harbour. The facility offers meals, dental services, a barber shop, a place to socialize, and a 30-bed emergency shelter for those who need somewhere to sleep. Paul Davis, the centre's executive director, said there were 17 cases of COVID-19 among Gathering Place guests as of Monday afternoon. The outbreak bloomed from a single case confirmed on Friday night, he said. 

— Barring any advice to the contrary from public health officials, schoolchildren will return to in-class learning on Jan. 31, New Brunswick's education minister said. "I know that families, students, teachers and the whole province are anxiously awaiting the return to in-person learning for our students," Dominic Cardy said. "We know that distance learning is not an ideal situation for most of our students and families, but it was necessary to slow the transmission of Omicron and to allow the health system to remain functional." Classes were initially scheduled to reopen last Friday, but that was bumped to Jan. 31 when the province imposed a 16-day lockdown to reduce COVID-19 transmission. Cardy said the extension of online learning also gave more school staff time to get booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

— Nova Scotia is reporting an additional five COVID-19-related deaths, as well as 15 new hospital admissions due to the disease. Officials say three of the new deaths were reported in the central zone, while the two others were in the western region. With the latest deaths, a total of 131 people in the province have died after contracting COVID-19. Officials say there are 92 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital in a designated unit, including 14 people in intensive care.

— There have been two more deaths due to COVID-19 in Prince Edward Island, bringing the total death count on the Island to eight. The two latest deaths involve people between the ages of 60 and 79 years old. Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer, also announced the Island has 157 new cases of novel coronavirus and 219 recoveries, bringing the number of active cases to 2,422. There are nine people in hospital being treated for the illness, including two people in intensive care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2022.

The Canadian Press