China has ordered inhabitants of the southern city of Baise to stay home and suspended transportation links amid a surge in COVID-19 cases at least partly linked to the Omicron variant.
Classes have been suspended, non-essential businesses closed and mass testing of residents ordered. Restaurants are only permitted to serve takeout. Traffic lights have been switched to red only to remind drivers to stay home.
As of Tuesday, 135 cases had been reported in the city — at least two of them found to be Omicron, health authorities said.
The city has become the latest to be placed under lockdown in keeping with China’s “zero-tolerance” approach to the pandemic. The policy requires strict measures be applied even when only a small number of cases have been found.
A major concern is preventing outbreaks during the ongoing Beijing Winter Olympic Games. No new cases were reported in the Chinese capital on Tuesday.
More than 30 athletes at the Beijing Olympics are in isolation facilities after testing positive for the coronavirus, organizers said Tuesday. The average stay in isolation is seven days.
Baise has an urban population of about 1.4 million, with another three million in the large surrounding rural area that abuts the Vietnamese border.
The first cases in Baise were reported Saturday at the tail end of the Lunar New Year holiday, when many Chinese travel vast distances to their hometowns. For the third year running, the government asked people to remain in place to avoid a major spread, although such calls had only a slight effect on the numbers of trips taken.
Despite the occasional regional outbreak, China has largely brought the pandemic under control through lockdowns, mass testing, case tracing, mask mandates and other strict measures. Almost 85 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, although questions have been raised about the efficacy of Chinese vaccines, particularly against the Omicron strain.
Chinese health authorities say the continuing emergence of outbreaks despite the high vaccination rate justifies the continued implementation of “zero-tolerance” policies and the quarantining of travelers arriving from abroad.
At the same time, lockdowns imposed in December and January on millions of residents of northern and central cities have been lifted.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 8:25 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.
For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.
You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.
In Atlantic Canada, the head of Nova Scotia’s cancer care program is warning that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are causing serious backlogs in the health system that could take years to clear.
“Even if COVID suddenly disappears tomorrow, it will take years to catch up with the backlog and to rebuild the system,” Dr. Helmut Hollenhorst said. Staff availability and lack of intensive care unit beds have been an issue in the most recent wave, he said Monday. Provincial health officials on Monday reported three additional COVID-19-related deaths and said 91 people were being treated in designated COVID-19 units in hospital — including 12 in ICU.
Meanwhile, in Prince Edward Island, health officials said Monday that they expect to see fewer delayed surgical procedures this week. The province, like many others, had delayed some procedures amid the Omicron wave as it faced a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We are seeing some reduction in pressure on our ICU and emergency department, which has allowed our surgical teams to reinstate some surgical capacity,” Dr. Michael Gardam, CEO of Health PEI, said in a statement. Gardam said health officials will be monitoring the situation daily and decisions about postponed procedures “will be made closer to the surgery date, rather than a week in advance.”
In Central Canada, promoters of Quebec’s most popular festivals want the government to let them know what COVID-19 health orders they’ll face this summer, fearing the restrictions are affecting the city’s international reputation.
Premier François Legault is expected to make additional announcements about how restrictions will be eased at a briefing at 1 p.m. ET.
In Ontario, where visitor restrictions for long-term care eased slightly this week, health officials on Monday reported 2,155 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 486 people in intensive care. Not all hospitals report data from the weekends, but the numbers showed a drop from 2,983 hospitalizations and 555 patients in intensive care a week earlier. The COVID-19 dashboard from the province also showed 11 additional deaths.
In the Prairie provinces, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is expected to hold a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday.
Alberta-based airline WestJet said Monday it is cancelling 20 per cent of its flights in March as it faces more uncertainty around COVID-19 restrictions.
Health officials in Alberta said Monday that hospitalizations stood at 1,542, a slight decrease from the province’s last report on Friday. The province, which said the number of people in ICU stood at 118, also reported 39 additional deaths over a period of three days.
In the North, Yukon health officials on Monday reported two additional COVID-19 related deaths, with no additional hospitalizations.
In British Columbia, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday that the province makes decisions around how to handle COVID-19 based on data, not on protests. Dix, speaking to CBC’s Stephen Quinn, said policies are “constantly reviewed” in the face of the changing pandemic.
Some of the measures currently in place in the province are set to expire in the middle of February, Dix said.
“What we’re seeing right now is a decline in test positivity,” Dix said, adding that the province has seen a decline in hospitalizations in the last week.
“We’re seeing some signs of relenting,” he said of the pandemic. “But … we have to be cautious about that.”
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 8:30 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Tuesday morning, more than 397.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.7 million.
In the Americas, Novavax Inc. said Monday that U.S. government funding for its COVID-19 vaccine had been expanded to cover a late-stage study in adolescents with a booster component.
In Africa, Ugandan authorities are seeking to legally mandate vaccines in draft legislation aimed at boosting the East African country’s drive to inoculate more people against COVID-19. The bill, which is subject to changes as it faces scrutiny by a parliamentary health committee, proposes a six-month jail term for failure to comply with vaccination requirements during disease outbreaks. Alfred Driwale, a public official who leads Uganda’s vaccination efforts, said he supports the proposed changes to the country’s public health law.
Attempts by Ugandan officials in recent months to enforce limited mandates have been unsuccessful. A vaccine requirement for people using public transport failed to be implemented amid opposition from operators.
According to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, roughly five per cent of Uganda’s population is fully vaccinated.
In Europe, Germany’s health minister on Tuesday decried calls from the main opposition party to suspend the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health workers, saying this would send a dangerous signal that authorities are caving to anti-vaccine protests.
Parliament in December approved the legislation that will require staff at hospitals and nursing homes to get immunized against the coronavirus, with the main centre-right opposition Union bloc among those supporting it. Under the new law, those workers will need to show they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 by mid-March. But in recent weeks, some local officials have complained that they lack the resources to implement it and the rules are unclear.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee said on Tuesday that a total of six new COVID-19 cases were detected among games-related personnel on Feb. 7.
The COVID-19 pandemic will not end with the Omicron variant and New Zealand will have to prepare for more variants of the virus this year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday in her first parliamentary speech for 2022.
In the Middle East, health officials in Iran on Tuesday said 114 people had died from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, with 38,757 additional cases reported.
-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 8:30 a.m. ET