Today’s coronavirus news: Private meeting ban now in effect in Quebec, curfew begins at 10pm; New Years Eve silenced by Omicron

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

8:15 am: New coronavirus infections soared again in Australia on Friday to a record high of more than 32,000, just days after surpassing 10,000 for the first time.

Experts say the explosion is being fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant and a recent relaxation of restrictions in Sydney and other areas.

More than 15,000 of the new cases were reported in Sydney. Another 5,000 cases came from other parts of the state of New South Wales, while nearly 6,000 were confirmed in the state of Victoria, home to Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne.

While hospitalizations and deaths have risen due to the increase, they have so far not reached the comparative levels seen in previous outbreaks. And many cities plan to push ahead with New Year’s Eve celebrations, including the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge fireworks display and the Sydney Opera House.

8:15 am: Hong Kong has confirmed the first cases of community transmission of the omicron variant of COVID-19, linked to an airline crew member who had returned from the United States and had lunch in a restaurant two days later.

Two other people eating at the Moon Palace restaurant on Monday were infected. One was the father of the Cathay Pacific crew member, and the other was a construction worker dining 10 meters (30 feet) away.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan said at a press conference Friday that city leader Carrie Lam had expressed strong dissatisfaction with the airline’s president and its chief executive that some of the staff had violated a rule. of self-isolation for 3 days after their return. The Secretary of Health described his actions as “irresponsible.”

Cathay Pacific said in a statement that five crew members had recently tested positive for omicron and that some had not followed the regulations. He apologized and said they would be disciplined.

Hong Kong has registered 81 cases of omicron. The rest were among people who had come from abroad.

8:15 am: Pope Francis canceled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the life-size nativity scene set up in St. Peter’s Square to discourage large crowds.

Meanwhile, major Italian cities scrapped their traditional December 31 open-air concerts as Italy battles a record spike in coronavirus cases.

Francis continues his traditional vespers service on December 31 inside the basilica and will celebrate New Year’s Day Mass as scheduled.

The Vatican has largely followed Italy’s lead in imposing crowd restrictions. Many Italian cities are opting for the broadcast of concerts or theatrical productions where public access can be controlled to verify health passes.

Additionally, the city of Naples has banned the use of fireworks in an attempt to prevent crowds from forming in a city known for its explosive December 31 festivities.

8:14 am: Pakistan’s planning minister says his country has achieved a goal of fully vaccinating 70 million people by the end of 2021.

Friday’s announcement comes as Pakistan recently stepped up its vaccination campaign as the new omicron variant spreads.

Planning Minister Asad Umar took to Twitter to thank the healthcare workers who worked to reach the goal.

Since last year, Pakistan has administered 155 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, fully vaccinating more than 70 million in the South Asian nation of around 220 million people. It brings the vaccination rate to 44%.

Pakistan has so far relied mainly on Chinese vaccines, although it has also received millions of doses of vaccines under the COVAX scheme.

8:13 am: Have a good trip to 2021. May 2022 bring new hope.

That was a common sentiment when people around the world began to welcome the new year.

In many places, New Year’s celebrations were silenced or canceled for the second year in a row due to a surge in coronavirus infections, this time fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Even before the omicron strike, many people were happy to say goodbye to the second year of the pandemic.

But so far, at least, the rise in omicron hasn’t resulted in the same levels of hospitalizations and deaths as previous outbreaks, especially among vaccinated people, offering a glimmer of hope for 2022.

New Zealand was one of the first places to celebrate the new year with a display of discreet lights projected onto Auckland landmarks such as the Sky Tower and Harbor Bridge. That replaced the traditional fireworks display. While there has yet to be a community spread of omicron in New Zealand, authorities still wanted to discourage crowd gathering.

Neighboring Australia, however, was pushing ahead with its celebrations despite an explosion of virus cases. Some fireworks were launched early in the evening to give younger children a preview of the centerpiece of the festivities, the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge fireworks display and the Sydney Opera House.

Hours before the celebrations began, Australian health authorities reported a record 32,000 new virus cases, many of them in Sydney. Due to the increase, the crowds were much smaller than in the years before the pandemic, when up to 1 million revelers were crowding inside Sydney.

Because of where the international date line is located, countries in the Asia-Pacific region are among the first to usher in each new year.

8:10 am: With the relentless rise of the Omicron variant now pushing the number of COVID-19 cases to new highs almost daily, Canada’s governments are fighting back with tighter pandemic restrictions.

The rapid increase in COVID cases has prompted some provinces to modify their back-to-school plans by extending the holidays. In Ontario, the resumption of face-to-face classes will be delayed until Wednesday, in Alberta until January 10 and in Quebec until at least January 17.

Nova Scotia has announced that starting Monday, people 30 and older will be eligible for booster shots, while in Ontario, publicly funded PCR testing is restricted only to high-risk individuals who are symptomatic or with risk of serious illness.

Meanwhile, a new study from Public Health Ontario suggests that those infected with the highly transmissible Omicron variant are significantly less likely to be hospitalized or die compared to those with Delta. Still, the Public Health Agency of Canada noted Thursday that an average of 1,892 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day this week, which is 23 percent more than last week.

8 am: The ban on private gatherings is now in effect in Quebec and the COVID-19 curfew is set to begin at 10 p.m.

Prime Minister Fran├žois Legault announced the new restrictions at a press conference last night in Montreal.

Legault says the province’s hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed as the number of COVID-19 patients continues to rise and hospitalizations related to the disease doubled in a week.

Legault also ordered restaurants to close their dining rooms and said face-to-face classes at schools, universities and colleges will not resume until at least January 17.

Places of worship were also ordered closed, with the exception of funerals, which will be limited to 25 people.

The curfew prohibits people from being outside, with certain exceptions, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and Legault says the province will report more than 16,000 new cases of COVID-19 today.

Quebec is the only province that uses a curfew as part of its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, a previous curfew was in effect from January 9, 2021 to May 28.

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