COVID-19 live updates: Worse resurgence for Canada if Omicron replaces Delta; Alberta reports two more Omicron cases; surgery backlog at a ‘peak’

Watch this page throughout the day for updates on COVID-19 in Edmonton

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With COVID-19 news changing every day, we have created this file to keep you up-to-date on all the latest stories and information in and around Edmonton.

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As Alberta continues to navigate the unpredictable waves of COVID-19, we’re looking to hear your stories on this evolving situation.

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10:59 a.m.

COVID-19 resurgence forecast for Canada, worse if Omicron replaces Delta: Tam

The Canadian Press

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Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam. Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/File

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says a resurgence of COVID-19 is forecast for Canada and it could speed up even more if the Omicron variant replaces Delta.

New federal modelling shows that if Omicron does not predominate over Delta, Canada could see between 2,900 and 15,000 daily cases by mid-January, depending on the effect of public health measures.

Tam says if it’s assumed the Omicron variant is three times more transmissible than Delta and becomes dominant, then Canada could see 26,600 daily cases by then.

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Thursday

Two more Omicron cases; surgery backlog at a ‘peak’; NDP proposes take home tests for students

Hamdi Issawi

The omicron variant of COVID-19, first identified in South Africa, has been detected in locations from Australia to Germany and Canada, showing the difficulties of curtailing new strains.
The omicron variant of COVID-19, first identified in South Africa, has been detected in locations from Australia to Germany and Canada, showing the difficulties of curtailing new strains. Photo by Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

While Alberta sees marginal improvements on the fight to drive down the fourth wave of COVID-19, the latest variant of concern is establishing a foothold in the province.

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In a series of tweets Thursday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said the province saw no new COVID-related deaths in the past 24 hours, but two more cases of the Omicron variant have cropped up, which makes for a total of 19.

“There has also been a possible case in an individual who attended an elementary school in Edmonton Zone while infectious,” Hinshaw said. “This is not a confirmed Omicron case, but out of an abundance of caution, we have notified the school.”

Hinshaw added that the school will in turn notify those who may have been exposed, and that they will have access to rapid tests.

“It is recommended that anyone who receives a notification letter go for testing and monitor for symptoms,” Hinshaw said.

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Alberta also reported 333 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, and a total of 4,094 active cases in the province, which works out to 46 fewer cases since Wednesday.

There were 368 Albertans hospitalized with the disease, five fewer than the day before, and 70 patients in intensive care, two more than Wednesday.

On Twitter, Hinshaw noted that, upon review, one COVID-related death reported Wednesday in a 20-year-old was unrelated to the disease, which decreases the province’s death toll by one for a total of 3,271.

Meanwhile, Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said at an unrelated announcement Thursday the province’s current surgical waitlist, which includes both postponed procedures and those newly required, had levelled off to 81,600 people, which is about 14,000 above pre-pandemic levels.

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In early November, Copping had said during the first weeks of the fourth wave, an estimated 15,000 surgeries had been postponed.

“So this appears, at this point in time, to be the peak,” Copping said Thursday, adding that the province had levelled off its surgery backlog to pre-pandemic levels by August.

“It shows that our system is resilient, that we did recover from the first three waves,” added Copping, who also offered sympathy to those Albertans who have been affected by delayed procedures.

At a Thursday press conference, the Opposition NDP also called on the government to release some of its rapid tests in storage available for school-aged children.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said every Alberta student should be given five rapid tests over the holiday season so that families can make informed decisions and reduce the spread of COVID-19 before making plans.

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“Knowing if you’re positive for COVID-19 before going to see your grandparents on Christmas Eve could give families time to plan so that they don’t actually bring the virus into homes of those who are most at risk,” Hoffmans said. “And in a few weeks’ time, students will be returning to classrooms, and widespread rapid testing will help ensure that they’re not bringing COVID back into schools after the holidays.”

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Thursday

Alberta COVID-19 committee mulls ‘modest relaxation of measures’ ahead of Christmas

Jason Herring, Calgary

A family takes in holiday lights during the annual Legislature Light-Up hosted by Premier Jason Kenney in Edmonton, on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. The event kicks off Celebrate the Season at the Alberta Legislature.
A family takes in holiday lights during the annual Legislature Light-Up hosted by Premier Jason Kenney in Edmonton, on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. The event kicks off Celebrate the Season at the Alberta Legislature. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

A “potential modest relaxation” of COVID-19 public health measures is on the table for the Christmas season, according to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

The provincial government’s COVID-19 cabinet committee met Wednesday to review the state of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the province and consider making what Kenney described as “relatively minor” changes to guidelines surrounding gatherings with about two weeks until Dec. 25. Another meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

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Under current public health laws, private indoor gatherings are restricted to a maximum of two households and 10 fully vaccinated people, with no restrictions for those under age 12. Indoor social gatherings are not allowed for those eligible for the vaccine who remain unimmunized.

Kenney expressed doubt Albertans will be willing to continue following those rules over the holidays.

“As people start to gather as families over Christmastime, I think we have to be mindful of the tolerance level of the public to continue to comply with some pretty strict measures that we have in place,” Kenney said.

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Thursday

Ottawa failed to protect temporary foreign workers during the pandemic despite warnings: Auditor General

Christopher Nardi, National Post

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Temporary workers remove suckers from the apple trees at Brooyman’s Farms Ltd. just outside of Port Stanley, Ontario.
Temporary workers remove suckers from the apple trees at Brooyman’s Farms Ltd. just outside of Port Stanley, Ontario. Photo by Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia

Canada is failing to properly protect foreign temporary workers during the pandemic, namely because 88 per cent of workplace inspections by the federal the government did little to ensure worker’s safety during the pandemic, says the auditor general.

“Overall, we found that the Employment and Social Development Canada’s inspections—whether they targeted quarantine, outbreaks or basic living conditions—provided little assurance that the health and safety of temporary foreign workers were protected during the 2020 and 2021 growing seasons”, Auditor General Karen Hogan said in a statement Thursday.

Every summer, thousands of Canadian agricultural employers hire tens of thousands (54,000 in 2019) foreign workers to fill jobs in both agriculture and horticulture operations such as planting, harvesting crops and raising animals.

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Employers are required by law to respect a series of requirements to ensure that the workers have acceptable living and working conditions while they are in Canada, and ESDC is responsible for inspecting employers to ensure compliance.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ottawa added a series of obligations to employers such as a mandatory 14-day quarantine to all arriving temporary foreign workers as well as new health and safety requirements for both work and living spaces.

ESDC’s inspections became all the more important as several media reported significant and sometimes fatal COVID-19 outbreaks amongst workers in both 2020 and 2021.

But Hogan’s audit found that inspections by ESDC were chock full of “significant” quality and rigor problems and basically did nothing to verify whether employers actually followed the government’s requirements to protect temporary foreign workers coming to work in Canada’s agricultural sector since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Thursday

Canada still couldn’t ensure 36 per cent of incoming travellers were following quarantine rules one year into pandemic: AG

Christopher Nardi, National Post

All international travellers arriving in Canada from anywhere other than the U.S. will be tested upon arrival and will have to quarantine until the results are clear. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
All international travellers arriving in Canada from anywhere other than the U.S. will be tested upon arrival and will have to quarantine until the results are clear. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Canada still could not track one third of incoming travellers to ensure that they were following quarantine rules by last June and then failed to contact over 1,100 people who tested positive at the airport to make sure they were isolating, according to an auditor general report.

“Though the Public Health Agency of Canada improved its results, this is not a success story”, Auditor General Karen Hogan said in a statement. “The Agency’s inability to confirm whether more than a third travellers complied with quarantine orders remains a significant problem.”

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This is Hogan’s second audit of PHAC’s ability to enforce and track a series of border measures imposed during the pandemic, such as obligatory quarantining for 14-days upon entry into Canada and mandatory testing both on and post-arrival during the minimum three-day stay at a quarantine hotel that was imposed beginning last February.

It was published Thursday as part of four new investigations into the federal government’s performance on a series of COVID-19-related programs, such as border rule enforcement, protection of temporary foreign workers during the pandemic and ensuring access to food if shortages were to have occurred since Feb. 2020.

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Thursday

Pfizer CEO recommends four shots of vaccine to boost immunity against Omicron

Bloomberg News

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A vial and syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer and Biontech logo in this illustration taken Jan. 11, 2021. The vaccine presents a “significant oppotunity” to make profits after the pandemic is over, executive says.
A vial and syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer and Biontech logo in this illustration taken Jan. 11, 2021. The vaccine presents a “significant oppotunity” to make profits after the pandemic is over, executive says. Photo by Dado Ruvic / Reuters

The CEO of Pfizer said a fourth shot of the vaccine may be needed sooner than expected to neutralize the Omicron variant after preliminary research found that the variant could bypass antibodies generated by the vaccine.

The statement comes after Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE conducted initial lab studies which found that a third shot successfully fought the variant, results that will accelerate booster-shot drives around the world and may lead to use of new strain-specific vaccines.

Company researchers observed a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies that fight the variant, compared with the original strain of the virus, in people who got just two shots. However, boosting with an additional shot of the vaccine restored protection to a level similar to the initial two-dose regimen, the vaccine partners said in a statement.

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The lab findings indicate that two doses of the vaccine “may not be sufficient” to protect against infection with the omicron strain, the companies said. Along with stimulating the booster push, that may increase the likelihood that an omicron-targeted shot may ultimately be required. Pfizer said this would be ready by March.

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Thursday

Virus behind COVID-19 spreads quickly and mutations make it unpredictable: experts

The Canadian Press

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Putting an end to the COVID-19 pandemic will mean priming the immune systems of everyone on Earth but the virus is spreading quickly and may take years to “settle down,” says an infectious disease specialist.

ust as some scientists started to voice the idea that COVID-19 might have reached the peak in its evolution with Delta and people began taking steps to learn how to live with the virus, a new variant struck. Omicron has been identified in several parts of the world.

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Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, said while vaccines are extremely important, strong political leadership and policy is what will help bring COVID-19 under control, a strategy reinforced by the emergence of the Omicron variant.

“I’m just guessing here, but what’s likely going to happen is this virus is not going to go away for a long, long, long time,” he said in an interview.

Prof. Mark Brockman, a virologist at Simon Fraser University, said COVID-19 takes over human cells and instructs them to make more viruses. Sometimes errors or typos occur in the duplication process, producing new variants.

“There’s been so many people around the world who have been infected with the virus, that we’ve given it a lot of opportunity to make mutations, and even very, very rare mutations,” he said.

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Coronaviruses don’t mutate as quickly as others, Brockman said, noting hepatitis C and HIV change much more readily.

But that slower rate of evolution is offset by worldwide infections, giving the virus millions of chances to become more transmissible, he noted.

“It has been a little bit surprising at the population level that the variants have arisen and spread so, so easily or so quickly,” Brockman said.

“We hadn’t anticipated that the virus would have spread so quickly, so widely to so many people.”

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Letter of the day

Where is all the sand for icy sidewalks?

Crews use a wheelbarrow full of salt along a 17 Street sidewalk near Tamarack Way NW, in Edmonton Thursday Dec. 9, 2021. Photo by David Bloom
Crews use a wheelbarrow full of salt along a 17 Street sidewalk near Tamarack Way NW, in Edmonton Thursday Dec. 9, 2021. Photo by David Bloom Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia
A cautious pedestrian makes their way along an ice covered sidewalk near 17 Street and Tamarack Way NW, in Edmonton Thursday Dec. 9, 2021. Photo by David Bloom
A cautious pedestrian makes their way along an ice covered sidewalk near 17 Street and Tamarack Way NW, in Edmonton Thursday Dec. 9, 2021. Photo by David Bloom Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Freezing rain first thing Wednesday morning, melting during the day then refreezing in the evening, driveways and public sidewalks becoming skating rinks. Thankfully, we’re hovering around the perfect temperature for sand and small gravel to be spread to add traction and even aid in a bit of melting.

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So off I went to my local community league to fill a bucket from the big green box of sand that the city provides for just such an occasion. Except it was empty. No problem, I just went to the next community hall, then the next and the next; nothing. In all, I visited six community leagues all with empty bins.

By this time, I was close enough to the City of Edmonton’s Southeast Yard where they have piles of sand and gravel and two huge green bins on the street side of their yard for the public to pull up and load that I decided to cut my losses and travel there. When I arrived to the bins, piles of sand and gravel only metres away in the yard — guess what I found? Yep, no sand in the bins!
The City of Edmonton, operating ineptly and inefficiently since 1906.

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Trevor Quigley, Edmonton


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Wednesday

Alberta reports six new cases of Omicron variant

Hamdi Issawi

A sign reading “Masks Still Required” is seen at the Majesty and Friends store in Edmonton, on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. After a city council vote today, as of Sept. 3, wearing a mask or face covering will be mandatory in all indoor public places including publicly accessible areas of businesses, retail shops & City facilities as Edmonton faces rising COVID-19 cases. Photo by Ian Kucerak
A sign reading “Masks Still Required” is seen at the Majesty and Friends store in Edmonton, on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. After a city council vote today, as of Sept. 3, wearing a mask or face covering will be mandatory in all indoor public places including publicly accessible areas of businesses, retail shops & City facilities as Edmonton faces rising COVID-19 cases. Photo by Ian Kucerak Postmedia

Alberta’s latest COVID-19 statistics report six more cases of the new Omicron variant, for a total of 17 in the province.

On Wednesday, the province reported two more cases of the new variant in the Calgary Zone, for a total of 10 in the area, one in the Central Zone, and three in the North Zone for a total of four in the area.

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The Edmonton Zone still has only two reported cases of the Omicron variant.

Alberta also reported 388 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and a total of 4,619 active cases in the province, which works out to 35 more infections since Tuesday.

The number of Albertans hospitalized with the virus remains steady at 373, which includes 68 in intensive care — eight fewer than Tuesday.

Seven more people died from the disease, raising the provincial death toll to 3,272.

As of Wednesday, 89.1 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 84.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Of the 391,430 Albertans aged five to 11, 18.5 per cent have received their first dose.

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Wednesday

COVID-19 wastewater monitoring project expanding as Alberta universities team up to test in more communities

Stephanie Babych, Calgary

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University of Calgary researchers check monitoring equipment as they track traces of COVID-19 in the wastewater system in Calgary on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.
University of Calgary researchers check monitoring equipment as they track traces of COVID-19 in the wastewater system in Calgary on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A COVID-19 wastewater monitoring program that researchers have used to track case trends since earlier this year is expanding to include data from many more Alberta communities that is accessible to the public.

The University of Calgary and the University of Alberta have partnered up to combine their research and monitor the wastewater of about 3.2 million people, about three-quarters of Alberta’s population. Through a $3.4-million grant from the provincial government, the joint research team will be providing data about the presence of COVID-19 in certain municipalities through wastewater samples to Alberta’s health agencies and an online tracker tool.

“This is built on a very strong foundation that has shown locally a very, very high correlation between COVID-19 occurrence in the community and SARS-CoV-2 levels in the wastewater,” said Dr. Michael Parkins, the project co-lead and associate professor at the Cumming School of Medicine in Calgary.

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“On average, testing wastewater gives us a six-day warning signal of what’s to come.”

The wastewater allows researchers to see localized trends of COVID-19 cases, even if people are asymptomatic.

“It doesn’t discriminate between those who are tested and those who are not tested, those with symptoms and those without,” said Parkins. “It captures everybody in the neighbourhood.

“Given climbing vaccination rates, we expect over time to see more asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic infections … This is a mechanism that works around that and continues to assess what’s going on across an entire community.”

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Wednesday

Johnson imposes tougher COVID-19 restrictions in England to contain Omicron

Reuters

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference for the latest COVID-19 update in the Downing Street briefing room, in London, Dec. 8, 2021.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference for the latest COVID-19 update in the Downing Street briefing room, in London, Dec. 8, 2021. Photo by Adrian Dennis /Pool via REUTERS

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed tougher COVID-19 restrictions in England on Wednesday, ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use vaccine passes in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Undermined by accusations that his staff partied at Downing Street during a Christmas lockdown last year, Johnson said Omicron was spreading rapidly and he had no choice but to move to “Plan B” to buy time and get more booster shots into arms. While still a long way from the full lockdowns that hammered the economy earlier in the pandemic, the new measures could cut visitors to restaurants, cafes and shops in city centers in the run up to Christmas and deal a fresh blow to Britain’s finances.

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“While the picture may get better, and I sincerely hope that it will, we know that the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalizations and therefore, sadly, in deaths,” Johnson told a news conference.

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Wednesday

Curling Canada cancels Continental Cup in Fredericton due to COVID-19

Reuters

Three-time Brier winner and world champion Brad Gushue says he has been “blindsided” by the World Curling Federation’s decision to approve drastic rule changes that will be in place on a trial basis at major events in 2022.
Three-time Brier winner and world champion Brad Gushue says he has been “blindsided” by the World Curling Federation’s decision to approve drastic rule changes that will be in place on a trial basis at major events in 2022. Photo by Ian MacAlpine /Postmedia Network

The Continental Cup scheduled for next month in Fredericton, New Brunswick has been cancelled due to the Omicron coronavirus variant and isolation requirements for European teams headed to the Beijing Olympics, Curling Canada said on Wednesday.

The event, billed as the curling version of golf’s Ryder Cup, would have seen Team Canada face Team Europe in a series of traditional four-player, mixed doubles, skins games and more from Jan. 20-23.

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Curling Canada said tougher travel restrictions for visitors to Canada made it impossible to hold the event especially given the Europeans would be hard-pressed to satisfy the isolation requirements ahead of the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Olympics.

“The travel restrictions, as well as the proximity in date to the Winter Olympics, were going to prevent most, if not all, of the European teams to attend, and that would affect the integrity of the competition,” Curling Canada Chief Executive Officer Katherine Henderson said in a news release.

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Wednesday

Omicron threat may be countered with extra dose of vaccine, earliest studies show

Bloomberg News

Federal panel NACI has updated its guidance on booster shots
Federal panel NACI has updated its guidance on booster shots Photo by File photo /POSTMEDIA

The earliest studies on omicron are in and the glimpse they’re providing is cautiously optimistic: while vaccines like the one made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE may be less powerful against the new variant, protection can be fortified with boosters.

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Research from South Africa, Sweden and Germany shows that omicron does, as feared, cause a loss of immune protection — but potentially not a complete one. In a South African study of blood plasma from people given two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, there was a 41-fold drop in levels of virus-blocking antibodies compared with the strain circulating at the start of the pandemic.

German researchers backed up South African results, finding as much as a 37-fold drop in antibodies against omicron versus the delta variant, virologist Sandra Ciesek said in study results posted early Wednesday on Twitter. A separate study from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute was more optimistic, finding the decline in antibodies against omicron was only slightly worse than for delta, the strain currently causing most COVID-19 cases worldwide.

The results offer early, as yet incomplete insight into how potentially damaging the spread of Omicron could be. The studies are small, so their findings aren’t conclusive. And the data aren’t the full story, because antibody levels are only one piece of the immune system’s response against the virus. So-called “killer” T cells also play an important role in protection against severe disease, and that’s harder to measure in a lab.

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Wednesday

Health minister says reports of wretched conditions in quarantine hotels ‘unacceptable’

Christopher Nardi, National Post

All international travellers arriving in Canada from anywhere other than the U.S. will be tested upon arrival and will have to quarantine until the results are clear. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
All international travellers arriving in Canada from anywhere other than the U.S. will be tested upon arrival and will have to quarantine until the results are clear. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Canada’s health minister is demanding the Public Health Agency of Canada ensure quarantine hotels “correctly” accommodate travellers after reports of unacceptable conditions such as rotten food, no laundry service and a lack of diapers for children.

“I have indeed been informed of unacceptable hotel conditions in certain places where we receive people who are arriving from countries we’ve identified (for quarantine). So I’ve asked public health to do the work that needs to be done, such as ensuring that standards are achieved by service providers,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters Tuesday.

But more than one week since his government announced that all passengers (except those from the U.S.) coming into Canada must obligatorily take a COVID-19 test upon arrival, the minister still could not say when all airports would be able to offer that service.

“It is moving quickly,” he said. “We know that capacity increased by 60 per cent last week and I am told that it has increased considerably in the last days. So, things are going well but we still have a long way to go.”

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