Ontario reintroduces 50% capacity restrictions amid Omicron surge - YAHOO FINANCE
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a series of new restrictions on Friday, reducing social gathering limits and capacity limits in indoor settings like restaurants and bars, as the provinces grapples with a wave of the Omicron variant.
The province will apply a 50 per cent capacity limit in indoor settings including restaurants, bars, gyms, retailers including grocery stores, shopping malls, personal care services and other indoor recreational amenities. Ontario will also reduce social gathering limits to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
Restaurants and bars will also be required to stop selling alcohol by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m. The number of customers allowed to sit at a table will also be limited to 10 people.
The new restrictions will not apply to venues being used for weddings, funerals or other religious ceremonies. The new restrictions go into effect at midnight on Sunday.
"Nothing will stop the spread of Omicron, it is just too transmissible. What we can do and what we're doing is slowing it as much as possible to allow more time for shots to get into arms," Ford said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.
"This variant is unlike anything we've seen. If we don't take every single precaution we can, the modelling tells a scary story."
The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in Ontario, and will soon replace the Delta variant as the dominant strain in the province. Ontario's Science Advisory Table warned on Thursday that increasing vaccinations will not be enough to slow down the virus, and that strong additional public health measures with strong booster campaigns are needed to blunt the Omicron wave.
Ford added that the decision to limit social gatherings particularly during the holiday season, was "an extremely difficult one to make." He also acknowledged the toll the measures will have on businesses during what is often a crucial period, particularly for retailers.
"That's why Ontario joins Quebec's call for the federal government to expand supports for businesses and workers, and we're prepared to do our part as well," Ford said.
Groups representing small businesses in Canada have already expressed opposition to a new wave of capacity restrictions. Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said in an interview many businesses are unlikely to survive another round of restrictions.
"Lockdowns and even capacity restrictions should be an absolute last resort," Kelly said.
"I think it's very easy for people who have just had to deal with the inconveniences of COVID-19 restrictions to recommend moving back to restrictions. But if your income has dried up, if you are living hand-to-mouth, if your business and entire future was failing as a result of these restrictions, there may be different attitudes. But that's what our members are facing."
Kelly urged the province – as well as the federal government – to reverse the scaling back of COVID-19 support programs, given the new restrictions and concern about the Omicron variant.
"We desperately need to get some additional supports in place at this moment," he said.
"Just the noise that the government and public health officials are making about Omicron is already causing severe economic damage... this has giant economic consequences."
Ontario Chamber of Commerce president Rocco Rossi echoed Kelly's concerns and said Ontario's restrictions "should be met with targeted relief and proportionate support programs, loan forgiveness, and extensions on payment terms, particularly for small businesses who are still struggling at this time."
"While we appreciate the rapid rise of Omicron was unexpected as we were all looking forward to Ontario’s reopening, we call on the Government of Ontario to reduce uncertainty in the business community and develop a long-term plan outlining how the province intends to support those impacted by new public health measures," Rossi said in a statement.
"Given the rapidly shifting backdrop, clarity and transparency on specific metrics that inform the government’s decision to impose or ease restrictions are paramount for business confidence and continuity.”
Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the government is looking at providing targeted support but provided no additional detailers, saying the province will "have something to say in the very near future."
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.
Omicron cases doubling in 1.5 to 3 days in areas with local spread, WHO says - CNBC
- The omicron coronavirus variant has been reported in 89 countries, the World Health Organization said on Saturday.
- The number of cases is doubling in 1.5 to 3 days in areas with community transmission,
- Omicron is spreading rapidly in countries with high levels of population immunity.
Members of the public queue for Covid-19 vaccinations and booster jabs at St Thomas’ Hospital on December 14, 2021 in London, England. Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images
The omicron coronavirus variant has been reported in 89 countries and the number of cases is doubling in 1.5 to 3 days in areas with community transmission, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday.
Omicron is spreading rapidly in countries with high levels of population immunity, but it is unclear if this is due to the virus’ ability to evade immunity, its inherent increased transmissibility or a combination of both, the WHO said in an update.
The agency designated omicron a variant of concern on Nov. 26, soon after it was first detected, and much is still not known about it, including the severity of the illness it causes.
“There are still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron,” the WHO said. “More data are needed to understand the severity profile and how severity is impacted by vaccination and pre-existing immunity.”
It added, “there are still limited available data, and no peer-reviewed evidence, on vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to date for Omicron”.
The WHO warned that with cases rising so rapidly, hospitals could be overwhelmed in some places.
“Hospitalizations in the U.K. and South Africa continue to rise, and given rapidly increasing case counts, it is possible that many healthcare systems may become quickly overwhelmed.”
Pfizer executives say Covid could become endemic by 2024 - CNBC
- Covid could become an endemic disease by 2024, Pfizer executives said.
- Endemic means the coronavirus will not disappear but rather will become a vaccinated-protected ailment like the flu.
- The timing could vary from place to place, with some regions moving to an endemic model in the next year or two, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer said.
In this article
Alejandro Brown receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from a healthcare worker at a drive-thru site at Tropical Park on December 16, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle | Getty Images
Covid will become an endemic disease as early as 2024, Pfizer executives said Friday, meaning the virus will transition from a global emergency to a constant presence causing regional outbreaks across the world — much like the flu.
“We believe Covid will transition to an endemic state, potentially by 2024,” Nanette Cocero, global president of Pfizer Vaccines, said during an investor call Friday.
Covid-19 would reach the endemic level when populations have enough immunity from vaccines or from prior infections to keep transmissions, hospitalizations and deaths under control even as the virus circulates.
“When and how exactly this happens will depend on the evolution of the disease, how effectively society deploys vaccines and treatments, and equitable distribution to places where vaccination rates are low,” Pfizer chief scientific officer Mikael Dolsten said. “The emergence of new variants could also impact how the pandemic continues to play out.”
The timing of Covid’s transition to an endemic state could vary from place to place, according to Dolsten.
Pfizer CEO: Three Covid shots against omicron variant equivalent to two targeting original strains
“It seems like over the next year or two, some regions will transition to an endemic model while other regions will continue in pandemic mode,” Dolsten said.
The comments from Pfizer executives come as the U.S. battles a surge of Covid cases led by the delta variant, while the omicron strain quickly spreads. The seven-day average of new hospital admissions for Covid jumped 4% from the prior week, Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday in a White House briefing.
Stockpiling vaccines and Covid treatments such as Pfizer’s oral antiviral pill could become more commonplace as the disease becomes endemic, Angela Hwang, group president of the Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group, said.
Pfizer expects countries will prioritize annual revaccination, Cocero said.
The return-to-office date is ‘history,’ business and health experts say - CNBC
The latest developments around Covid could very well kill the return-to-office date as we know it, business and health experts say.
“These RTO dates are now history,” Nick Bloom, a Stanford Graduate School of Business professor who researches remote work, tells CNBC Make It. “Everything is completely off.”
Covid-19 caseloads are rising again throughout the country. Meanwhile, research about the new omicron variant indicates it’s highly contagious and a cause for concern. Health experts warn that rising caseloads, coupled with holiday travel plans, will likely lead to a surge in cases in the coming weeks that will overwhelm hospital systems.
Given how fast the state of the virus is changing, Bloom says any workplace reopening update “less than a week old is outdated. The whole concept of return-to-office dates doesn’t make much sense.”
He says many firms are now pulling out of the idea of setting a new return-to-office date altogether, as Google did when it delayed its office re-openings previously set for January. Lyft, an outlier, announced it will not require people to return in-person until 2023.
But for most employers, Bloom says CEOs should scrap any plans to bring workers back to offices in January and communicate that they’ll revisit the idea mid-month after the holiday travel season. From there, if low Covid caseloads and rates of transmission permit it, they might consider reopening in early February with an optional return, and scale up to a full return through the end of March.
Some workers will need a longer lead time to plan their return, such as parents in charge of school or caregiving responsibilities, and people who’ve moved away but plan to return.
An extended return timeline has another benefit: Employers planning to issue a vaccination requirement must give employees enough time to get vaccinated, says Dr. Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health. Even those who have received their full dose may have trouble scheduling a booster shot, which is now recommended as a means of slowing the spread of the Covid variants.
“I’m a firm believer that we should not be allowing people who are unvaccinated to enter public spaces, including the workplace,” Halkitis says. “If I’m going into an office, I want to go to to an office where I know people must be vaccinated.”
Businesses must also be flexible and consider workers who have children in schools and day cares, where outbreaks can lead to caregiving challenges, and those who have kids under 5 who are too young to be vaccinated.
Rather than rush to set a new return date, leaders should be using this period of uncertainty to set expectations, says Kate Bullinger, CEO of the management consultancy United Minds, which advises Fortune 500 clients on organizational change. “It’s impossible to predict what the winter will bring,” she says. Instead, she advises leaders commit to continually assessing the situation, health guidelines and employee sentiment, using all three to communicate any updates on a return timeline.
From a human behavior standpoint, Halkitis adds employers should take time granted with new return-to-office delays to make sure they’re considering not just when, but also how, workers want to return, especially regarding how much time they’ll be expected in-person versus when they can work from home.
A trickier question is what firms should do if they’ve already welcomed people back in-person for months. Bloom recommends employers send workers back home for the holidays around the weeks of Christmas and the New Year, if they haven’t already, to slow the spread — and concerns — of the virus.
CEOs may be reticent to pull back on plans or project an air of uncertainty, Bloom says. But refusing to give space to the virus’s spread and people’s concerns could do more harm than good. “They say the hardest three words for a CEO to say are ‘I don’t know,’” Bloom says, “but those have to be used, because you’re dealing with adults who have their own information.”
“We saw what happened when leaders projected false confidence in May or June 2020,” Bloom says, “but we’ve all learned the best policy is just being honest with employees.”
TikTok is getting into the restaurant business - BLOOMBERG
It was just a matter of time before TikTok Inc. got into the restaurant business.
On Dec. 17, the video-sharing platform announced a partnership with Virtual Dining Concepts to launch delivery-only TikTok Kitchen locations across the country, starting in March. Food and recipe videos have become a key part of the site’s programming, with clips racking up millions of views. The company recently reported that more than 1 billion people worldwide use the platform monthly.
Virtual Dining Concepts has successfully backed celebrity and non-celebrity restaurants, most notably MrBeast Burger, which has been a breakout hit since it was launched in fall 2020 by YouTube star Jimmy Donaldson. MrBeast sold 1 million burgers in three months, and there are now 1,500 locations in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.
Co-founder Robert Earl says about 300 TikTok restaurants are planned across the country for the launch, with more than 1,000 expected by the end of 2022. He foresees success on par with MrBeast. “Look, you have a platform with a billion viewers monthly who are constantly engaged, as the numbers show,” says Earl. “It’s the first time there’s a brand like this out there—an audience of hundreds of millions of people.”
Among the restaurants that TikTok Kitchen will operate out of are national chains Earl owns, including Buca di Beppo and Bertucci’s.
The TikTok Kitchen menu will be based on the app’s most viral food trends, including baked feta pasta, which was ranked the most-searched dish of 2021 by Google. Also planned for the opening menu are pasta chips—cooked pasta shapes that are cheese coated and air-fried—as well as a smash burger and corn ribs made from peeling off sections of corn and coating them with spices and Parmesan. Earl says prices will be “comparable to other Virtual Dining Concept brands.” A MrBeast burger starts at US$6.99.
The menu will change quarterly to start. If a dish starts going viral, says Earl, there will probably be opportunities to add it to menus. Whether such dishes as the baked feta pasta remain constant offerings remains to be seen.
In a release, TikTok said it would devote its profits from the restaurants to the creators of the menu dishes and to support promising culinary talents on the platform. “I’m doing it as a business, TikTok are doing it for development of that category. It’s an investment in their business,” says Earl.
It isn’t clear how TikTok will determine the authorship of certain viral dishes—which sometimes belong to more than one person—or what revenue it expects to generate and distribute. The names of the dish creators will not be on the TikTok Kitchen menus, and the company did not respond to requests for comment.
In the meantime, Earl says MrBeast is planning to do something unusual in the world of virtual restaurants: Open a brick-and-mortar spot. The location has not yet been announced.
Omicron ‘spreading at lightning speed’ in Europe amid global concerns over ‘tidal wave’ of infections - INDEPENDENT UK
US health officials have warned that a “tidal wave” of Omicron is likely to crash upon the country’s hospitals as France said the new coronavirus variant is now suspected to be responsible for up to 10% of new confirmed cases in the country.
“GET BOOSTED NOW. Tidal wave of Omicron likely coming to a hospital near you soon,” Dr Tom Frieden, former chief of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tweeted.
A Reuters tally suggested that hospitalisations for Covid-19 jumped 45 per cent over the last month and confirmed cases have increased 40 per cent to a weeklong average of 123,000 new infections a day.
Markets have been hit by Omicron fears all week (Yui Mok/PA)
- PA Wire
New York reported a record 21,000 people testing positive for Covid-19 on Friday for the previous day. The US is looking at a grim winter with several cancellations of holiday events as public health officials warned that Omicron is likely to become the dominant coronavirus variant in the country.
The National Football League rescheduled three weekend games and the National Hockey League added another game to its recent list of postponements. In New York City, Radio City Music Hall announced it has canceled all remaining dates of the Rockettes’ annual Christmas Spectacular “due to increasing challenges from the pandemic.”
The Omicron variant is “spreading at lightning speed” in Europe, warned French Prime Minister Jean Castex as health Minister Olivier Veran said he expected authorities to give the green light to vaccinations of children aged 5 to 11 starting early next week.
His comments came on Friday as France imposed stringent travel restrictions on people coming to the country from the United Kingdom, where prime minister Boris Johnson has warned that the Omicron variant is “a very serious threat to us now”. The UK reported nearly 15,00 Omicron cases.
Mr Veran said he hoped that voluntary vaccination for all children could start on 22 December. Elsewhere in the world, the Omicron infections continued to rise, with India reporting 111 cases after the highest single-day jump of 24 cases on Friday. The Indian government’s Covid task force warned of 1400,000 daily infections in a grim prognosis of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, Egyptian and Ukrainian health authorities said they identified their country’s first cases of the highly transmissible variant. Three people were found to have the variant among 26 travellers who tested positive for coronavirus at Cairo International Airport, the health ministry said in a statement.
Omicron’s extraordinary level of infectiousness means it could cause many additional deaths, the top US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, told CNBC on Friday.
“When you have a larger number of people getting infected, the total amount of hospitalisations is going to be more. That’s just simple math,” Fauci said.
Canada's Trudeau says Omicron spike 'scary,' Ottawa to lift Africa travel ban - REUTERS
By David Ljunggren and Ismail Shakil
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday said a spike in cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant was "scary," while the country's top medical official made clear the healthcare system could soon be swamped.
COVID-19 case numbers are rapidly increasing in Canada, with several of the 10 provinces reporting big jumps as Omicron replaces Delta as the dominant variant.
"I know the record numbers we're seeing in parts of the country are scary - but I also know we can get through this," Trudeau tweeted, urging Canadians to get vaccinated and keep their distance from other people.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos earlier urged provinces to impose more public health measures, and said Canada would once again require people returning home after foreign trips of less than 72 hours to produce a negative test. Tour operators say the measure is onerous and deters travel.
"We're not in a popularity contest here," Duclos said, describing the situation as "dramatic and critical."
Chief medical officer Theresa Tam said that if Omicron did become the dominant variant, "the sheer number of cases could inundate the health system in a very short period of time".
Duclos also said Canada would lift a ban on travelers from 10 African countries that was imposed last month and reiterated government advice that residents avoid international travel.
Critics said the ban on people who had recently been to South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and seven other nations made no sense given the rapid spread of Omicron.
"While we recognize the controversial nature of such a prohibition, we believe it was a necessary measure to slow the arrival of Omicron in Canada and buy us some time," Duclos said.
Britain made a similar announcement on Tuesday, citing community transmission of Omicron.
The provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which together make up around 60% of Canada's population, this week both reimposed restrictions on public gatherings.
In its second installment of curbs announced this week, Ontario said Friday that the capacity limit on indoor public places such as restaurants, gyms, and shopping malls would be capped at 50% from Sunday.
The province also put a limit of 10 people for informal social gatherings indoors and 25 people outdoors.
"I know this is not the situation any of us wanted to be in, especially during the holiday season, but it's clear Omicron will not take a holiday," said Ontario's chief medical officer Kieran Moore.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Aadditional reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru, Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Alistair Bell)
Top African cardinal in Vatican abruptly offers resignation - sources - REUTERS
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Cardinal Peter Turkson, seen by some as a candidate to become the first African pope in about 1,500 years, has abruptly offered his resignation from a key Vatican department, sources familiar with the matter said on Saturday.
Turkson, 73, from Ghana, has been a key adviser to Pope Francis on issues such as climate change and social justice, and is the only African to head a Vatican department.
According to the Vatican sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the pope has yet to decide whether to accept the resignation.
Turkson heads a large Vatican department known as the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. It was formed in 2016 to merge four offices that dealt with issues such as peace, justice, migration, and charities.
One source said Turkson, who is about two years shy of the mandatory retirement age of 75 for bishops, had become "fed up" with internal disputes.
Another source said Turkson had told staff he would say more after the pope made his decision.
His departure would leave the Vatican with no African heading a major department, following the retirement of Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea earlier this year.
Turkson's department underwent an external review headed by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago at the pope's request earlier this year.
His offer to resign follows two high-level departures from the department over the summer, one because of retirement and another sudden and unexplained.
The Catholic Church had several popes of north African origin early in its history, the last in the 5th century.
Even if he leaves his Vatican post, until he turns 80 Turkson would still be eligible to enter a conclave of cardinals to elect the next pope after Francis dies or retires, according to Church rules.
Turkson's decision to offer his resignation was first reported by the conservative Italian blog messainlatino.it.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Potter)
Virus Cases Surge in Biggest Australia State as Rules Eased - BLOOMBERG
Bloomberg) -- Australia’s most-populous state reported a record 2,482 Covid-19 coronavirus cases Saturday, a day after easing international arrival rules for vaccinated travelers.
The infections in New South Wales are the highest daily caseload for any Australian jurisdiction since the beginning of the pandemic. The omicron variant likely accounts for the majority of the latest cases and people should get booster shots as soon as they’re eligible, NSW Health said in a statement.
Still, in a state of more than 8 million people, only 206 people are hospitalized with Covid-19. Twenty-six are in intensive care and one death was recorded. The vaccination rate for New South Wales is almost 95% of those aged 16 and over.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday that living with the virus is not about case numbers, what matters is hospitalizations, ICU admissions and the number of people on ventilators.
“We’ve been planning for this. We planned to live with the virus,” Morrison said at a press conference on the island state of Tasmania. “We didn’t plan to remain shut in.”
New South Wales on Friday eased rules for international travelers and aircrew arriving in Sydney. They will no longer need to isolate for 72 hours and will only have to test negative after arrival, the state government said in a press release.
At least 100 recent high school graduates celebrating the end of the year in Byron Bay have been ordered to isolate after a virus case was detected, Nine News reported late Friday. The students have been banned from entering the popular beach town and are only allowed to leave a locked-down camping ground if they are going home.
The neighboring state of Victoria, meanwhile, is also scrapping isolation requirements for international arrivals, after reporting 1,504 new infections and seven deaths on Saturday. Some 384 people were hospitalized, with 84 in intensive care.
South Australia reported 73 infections, the highest daily caseload recorded in the state, while Queensland detected 31, after the state relaxed its hard border almost a week ago.
(Adds case numbers in other states in last paragraph.)
Netherlands set to announce 'strict' Christmas lockdown - media - REUTERS
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Dutch government is expected to announce on Saturday a "strict" Christmas lockdown that would see everything but essential stores close amid fears over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, Dutch media reported.
The government is meeting on Saturday with its health experts who have recommended the closure of all non-essential shops, schools, bars, restaurants and other public venues.
National broadcaster NOS and news agency ANP cited government sources saying a press conference announcing the new measures, which would come just days after a partial lockdown was extended, would be held at 7 p.m. (1800 GMT).
Health ministry spokesperson Axel Dees declined to comment on any proposed measures or the timing of any press conference.
On Tuesday, the government ordered that the 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. closure of bars, restaurants and most stores, introduced in late November, would continue until Jan. 14.
Prime Mininster Mark Rutte said then that Omicron could be the dominant coronavirus variant in the Netherlands by January.
The most recent figures from the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) published on Tuesday showed 105 people infected with the variant, but experts say the actual figure is likely much higher.
On Friday the institute reported 15,433 new COVID-19 cases, down around 25% from a week earlier - but still above the peak of any previous wave.
The feared new wave of Omicron infections would further burden the country's strained healthcare system which is already postponing most routine care and cancelling all but urgent operations in order to cope with COVID-19 patients.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Mark Potter)