VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian Pacific Coast province of British Columbia is closing bars, nightclubs and gyms because of the omicron coronavirus variant.
Starting at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centers and dance studios will have to close, and all seated events will be reduced to 50% capacity. Indoor gatherings, including weddings, are being cancelled.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday the risk posed by omicron is “fundamentally different” than other variants and it more easily infects those who are vaccinated or have had COVID-19.
She said the province is seeing “explosive outbreaks,” with a large number of people being exposed at the same time. There’s also been a spike in cases among those aged 18 to 35.
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The French-speaking province of Quebec announced Monday that it is closing bars, cinemas, gyms and spas because of a record number of coronavirus cases.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
— Biden pivots to home tests to fight omicron surge as Christmas nears
— Omicron casts a new shadow over economy’s pandemic recovery
— Parents, schools face another reckoning over pandemic
— Explainer: Boosters key to fight omicron, lot still to learn
— Feeling powerless, families bring elderly home in pandemic
— Britain to give financial support to businesses hurt by the omicron surge
Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
NEW YORK — The NHL will withdraw from the Winter Olympics after the regular-season schedule was disrupted by coronavirus outbreaks, a person with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
As a result, men’s hockey tournament at the Olympics will go on without NHL players for the second consecutive time.
The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because an announcement had yet to be made on the NHL pulling out of Beijing.
The league informed the players’ association on Tuesday that it was retaining its right to withdraw from Olympic participation because there was a material disruption to the season, and the union was not going to dispute the decision, the person said.
— By John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Amid a surge in coronavirus hospitalizations in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced $100 million in emergency funding Tuesday to ramp up hospital and nursing home staffing and make more testing, treatments and vaccines available.
“As I have been warning for the past few weeks, we are entering another pivotal moment in the fight against COVID-19,” Hogan said.
Hogan said he’s also mobilizing the Maryland National Guard to provide support personnel to expand testing sites and hours.
The emergency funding includes $50 million to stabilize hospital staffing and another $50 million to expand the availability of COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccines at hospitals and nursing homes, Hogan said. The state also will provide $30 million for schools to purchase testing resources, he said.
Hogan, who is working from home after testing positive for the coronavirus himself on Monday, made the announcement via video. He said he was only experiencing cold-like symptoms, something he attributes to getting vaccinated. He urged others to do the same.
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans is shortening parade routes for the upcoming Mardi Gras season because there are fewer police officers, medics and other first responders to handle the crowds, officials said Tuesday.
The city canceled Mardi Gras parades this past February because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2020 parade crowds are considered a big reason that New Orleans was an early pandemic hot spot.
“The big news and the best news is that Mardi Gras is returning to the city of New Orleans and to the world in 2022,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
Weeks of Carnival season parades lead up to Fat Tuesday, which will be on March 1.
Cantrell also noted that “if things go wrong in our city,” she might have to change its plans for Carnival and Mardi Gras. But she said she is confident the city can make it through the omicron variant, flu season and the holiday season.
With 80% of its residents fully vaccinated, New Orleans is a national leader, she said.
LINCOLN, Neb. — The last Nebraska community still requiring masks is dropping its mandate.
Lincoln Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez said in a news conference Tuesday that a health order requiring indoor masking will expire at the end of the day Thursday.
The county reinstated the mask requirement in August amid the delta surge. No other city or county in the state has required masks in indoor settings over the past four months, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports.
Lopez said the county has made “critical progress” over the past year in battling the virus, helped largely by the vaccine. Even without the requirement, she said masks are “strongly” recommended in schools and at indoor sporting events, theaters, gatherings of groups indoors, including church and faith-based services.
LIMA, Peru — Some Latin American countries are beginning to reimpose coronavirus restrictions to avoid the spread of the omicron variant over the holiday season despite seeing few reported cases so far.
Ecuador and Peru on Tuesday announced some capacity limits at public places, like restaurants and movie theaters. Both countries have more than 60% of their population fully vaccinated.
Peruvian authorities closed land borders to visitors and imposed a curfew from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Anybody over 18 years old will have to show proof of being fully vaccinated to fly or take an intercity bus within the country.
Peru has officially reported 12 cases of the omicron variant.
In neighboring Ecuador, authorities suspended mass events and said anybody over 12 will have to present a vaccination card to enter to enter public offices. Restaurants and movie theaters will limited to 50%. capacity.
Ecuador has reported 22 cases of the omicron variant.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma health officials announced Tuesday they have detected the state’s first confirmed case of the omicron COVID-19 variant.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health didn’t release any information about where the case originated or whether the person had been vaccinated.
“Oklahoma was among the last states to confirm the presence of omicron. Federal health officials said Monday that omicron is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of infections last week.
SEATTLE – University of Washington officials said Tuesday they will use remote learning during the first week of the winter quarter in January because of growing concerns about the rapidly spreading omicron variant.
The university told students, staff and faculty that most classes will be held online Jan. 3 through Jan. 9 as they track infections.
Several other schools across the country are taking similar measures in the face of the variant, including DePaul, Harvard and Stanford universities.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Citing a nursing shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, West Virginia will use $48 million in federal stimulus funding to aggressively recruit and train nurses over the next four years, Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday.
Justice said about 1,700 nurses declined to renew their state licenses last year. He said 68% of those who left the field cited being “just plain tired“ and ”pushed to the very limit” from the strains of the pandemic.
The Republican governor said nursing programs will be expanded next fall at three colleges. The funding comes from $126 million remaining to be spent by the state from the federal CARES Act.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Anchorage School Board has reversed the superintendent’s decision to make masking optional when students return from winter break and will instead keep the current mask requirement in place until at least Jan. 15.
Board members cited the rapid rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19 for the move.
Superintendent Deena Bishop announced last week that masks would be optional in the school district starting Jan. 3. In a letter to parents, she cited low transmission rates in the school district and the municipality.
LAS VEGAS — Health officials in Nevada are charting jumps in key coronavirus measurements, including more than 3,800 new cases of COVID-19 in Clark County during the last week.
The Las Vegas area surpassed 6,400 deaths attributed to the coronavirus since the pandemic began, or 77% of the more than 8,300 people who have died statewide.
The Southern Nevada Health District on Tuesday reported 974 new cases and 15 deaths in Clark County since Monday. State health officials on Monday also confirmed three new cases of the fast-spreading omicron variant — including two in Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County. That’s five omicron cases in Nevada since the first one was detected last week.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island’s pandemic death toll has surpassed 3,000, prompting Democratic Gov. Daniel McKee to order state flags at all state facilities and buildings to be flown at half-staff as a solemn sign of respect.
McKee said in a statement Tuesday: “We’ve lost 3,000 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandparents, friends, and neighbors who will be missed — especially during this holiday season.”
He urged the unvaccinated to get a shot, and the vaccinated to get their boosters and for people to wear a mask in public places.
Flags will remain at half-staff until sunset on Wednesday.
BARCELONA, Spain — Despite vaccination rates that make other governments envious, Spain and Portugal are facing the hard truth that with the new omicron variant running rampant, these winter holidays won’t be a time of unrestrained joy.
Portugal on Tuesday announced a slew of new restrictions over Christmas and the New Year, making working from home mandatory and shutting discotheques and bars beginning Saturday night. A negative test result must be shown to enter cinemas, theaters, sports events, weddings and baptisms until at least Jan. 9.
Portugal will impose exceptional measures for Christmas and New Year, including having a negative test result to enter restaurants and public celebrations.
That is happening despite almost 87% of Portugal’s population being fully vaccinated, due to the omicron variant, which is racing across Europe.
Meanwhile, Catalonia, home to the northeastern city of Barcelona, is prepared to become the first Spanish region to reinstate serious limitations. One in four of everyone hospitalized in Spain with COVID-19 is in Catalonia.
JERUSALEM — A government advisory panel of health experts has recommended that Israel begin administering a fourth shot of the coronavirus vaccine to protect against the fast-spreading omicron variant.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday he had already instructed health officials to begin preparations.
The campaign is to begin with people over 60 and health care workers. But based on past vaccination efforts, it could quickly include other segments of the population.
Bennett’s office said the campaign, which still requires bureaucratic approvals, is expected to begin in the coming days.
Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate its population early this year and then carried out the world’s first booster campaign over the summer.
CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday the nation’s third-largest city will require proof of coronavirus vaccination at restaurants, bars, gyms and other indoor venues, as the rapidly spreading omicron variant drives a spike in COVID-19 infections.
Lightfoot said the requirement will take effect Jan. 3, and will apply to places where food and beverages are served — including sport and entertainment venues — and to fitness centers. It doesn’t apply to people getting take-out, who stay in a businesses for 10 minutes or less.
Lightfoot said the measure is necessary because of a surge in cases and hospitalizations, with Chicago seeing numbers at levels similar to those before vaccines were available. Chicago is reporting an average of about 1,700 cases per day, up from about 300 per day just weeks ago, she said.
On Monday, Illinois reported about 12,330 new COVID-19 cases — the highest daily total in more than a year. Much of that increase has been driven by the omicron variant, prompting fears of a winter surge.
ATLANTA — Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Tuesday reinstated a mask requirement inside stores and other businesses in the city due to rising COVID-19 infections and the emergence of the extraordinarily contagious omicron variant, which has quickly become the dominant version of the virus in the U.S.
People who fail to wear a mask indoors could face a fine of $50 for a second offense. Bottoms had lifted the previous mask mandate last month.
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