By Gordon Lambie
The Federal Government officially encouraged Canadians to avoid international travel on Wednesday in a move to try to limit the spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, and to prevent Canadians from getting stranded abroad.
“Now is not the time to travel” said Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos during an afternoon press conference.
The shift is not a formal border closure, but rather a travel advisory marking he return to a recommendation that people in the country avoid non-essential trips.
The news comes as many governments are considering reimplementing restrictions due to the rise of the new variant and the uncertainty about what risks it poses.
In Quebec, several media reported that Premier Francois Legault is considering walking back the government’s plan to raise capacity for private gatherings to 20 vaccinated people as of Dec. 23. Although for the moment the province’s recommendations continue to focus on vaccination, Health Minister Christian Dubé began to reimplement measures that had previously been relaxed on Tuesday with the reintroduction of a work-from-home recommendation.
The Province of Quebec reported 2,386 new cases of COVID-19, the highest single-day total in months. This brought the total number of people infected since the start of the pandemic to 471,742, with 15,974 active cases.
The number of hospitalizations increased by 16 to 309, with 73 people in intensive care, and the province also reported four new deaths, for a total of 11,622 overall.
In Sherbrooke, although the police are on patrol at local bars and restaurants to make sure that masking and passport rules are being respected in the lead up to Christmas, inspector Patrick Roy said that he has the impression that people are generally following the rules at this point in the pandemic.
“There will always be people who challenge the rules, but the majority of people understand, Roy said, encouraging people to, “enjoy yourselves in the ways that you can within the limits of the regulations.”
The inspector said that the Sherbrooke Police have issued around 2,200 fines at this point for different infractions of the public health measures, but that the majority of those came much earlier in the pandemic.
Wednesday’s report from the Eastern Townships brought news of 317 new cases from Monday and Tuesday of this week, bringing the number of active cases in the region back up to 1,611.
The number of hospitalizations in the region increased by one to 34, seven of whom were in intensive care. There were also three new deaths recorded in the community, although the total only increased by two, to 388, as one death previously reported was found to not be linked to the virus.
The regional first-dose vaccination rate for the 5–11-year-old age range in the Townships has reached 45.7 per cent, although that coverage ranges widely between sub-regions. Whereas 51.1 per cent of the target group have received a first shot in Sherbrooke, only 26.7 per cent can say the same in the Des Sources region. Des Sources is also the region of Quebec with the highest rate of infection across the entire province at the moment and has a lower rate of vaccination across almost all age groups.
Provincewide, the first-dose coverage for 5-11-year-olds is 45 per cent.