COVID-19 live updates: NHL, NHLPA pulling out of Beijing Olympics; Boosters opened up for those over 18; Kenney, Copping, Hinshaw to provide Tuesday afternoon update

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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What’s happening now

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Share your COVID-19 stories

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

  • Have you or a loved one had a surgery rescheduled or cancelled in recent weeks?
  • Are you someone who has decided to get vaccinated after previously being skeptical of the vaccines?
  • Have you changed your mind about sending your children back to school in person?
  • Have you enrolled your children in a private school due to COVID-19?
  • Are you a frontline health-care worker seeing new strains on the health system?
    Send us your stories via email at edm-feedback@postmedia.com


1:37 p.m.

NHL and NHLPA and pulling out of Beijing Olympics due to COVID surge: report

Deborah Stokes, National Post

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A general view ice hockey test event match between team BAF and team BSG at the Wukesong Sports Center on November 8, 2021 in Beijing, China. The championship is part of Experience Beijing test events, held in preparation of the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
A general view ice hockey test event match between team BAF and team BSG at the Wukesong Sports Center on November 8, 2021 in Beijing, China. The championship is part of Experience Beijing test events, held in preparation of the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The NHL and NHLPA have come to an agreement to not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament in Beijing,  multiple sources have told ESPN .

As of Dec. 21, the NHL has postponed 50 games because of COVID outbreaks on teams and has paused its season through Christmas. The surge in COVID cases was cited by ESPN as the reason for pulling out.

The NHL has until Jan. 10 to opt out of Olympic participation without financial penalty. A formal announcement from the league is expected within the next 24 hours, according to ESPN.

More to come


12:03 p.m.

Boosters opened up to those over 18; Kenney, Copping and Hinshaw to provide COVID-19 update Tuesday afternoon

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Photo by Jim Wells/Postmedia

Alberta is opening COVID-19 vaccine boosters to all Albertans aged 18 and older to help tamp down the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, the government announced Tuesday morning, prior to an afternoon update from the premier, health minister and chief medical officer of health.

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All Albertans aged 18 and older who received their second COVID-19 vaccine at least five months ago can now book a third dose, says the Tuesday morning press release.

“Third doses are especially important to protect against the Omicron variant. Vaccines continue to be our best protection against COVID-19 and with the highly transmissible Omicron variant, I encourage all eligible Albertans to book their first, second and third doses as soon as they are eligible,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, in a statement before the 3:30 p.m. address where she will be joined by Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Jason Copping.

Pfizer will be offered to Albertans 18 to 29 years of age for booster purposes, says the news release, adding that there is a slightly increased risk of myocarditis in younger Albertans from Moderna, especially in males, but all individuals are much more likely to experience myocarditis from COVID-19 infection than the vaccine.

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Albertans aged 18 and older at five months or more from their second dose can book appointments for third doses online with participating pharmacies or AHS by using the Alberta vaccine booking system or by calling AHS at 811.

The update comes as Alberta reported on Monday a total of 1,925 new COVID-19 cases, broken down as 627 on Friday, 764 on Saturday, and 577 on Sunday.

There were 872 newly-confirmed Omicron variant cases also reported in the province — soaring to 1,045 from 173 in three days.

There are 342 Albertans hospitalized with COVID-19, including 69 patients in intensive care.

Six more deaths raised the provincial death toll to 3,292.

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9:07 a.m.

Biden to send 500 million free tests, filling Omicron shortage

Bloomberg News

U.S. President Joe Biden at the G20 summit on Sunday, where he urged oil producing nations to pump more oil. The invitation did not, unfortunately, extend to us.
U.S. President Joe Biden at the G20 summit on Sunday, where he urged oil producing nations to pump more oil. The invitation did not, unfortunately, extend to us. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

President Joe Biden will send 500 million free coronavirus tests to Americans’ homes beginning next month and dispatch the military to shore up overwhelmed hospitals as the U.S. confronts a resurgent pandemic.

Biden will announce new measures to try to curb the virus on Tuesday, the day after the CDC said the omicron variant first identified in southern Africa now accounts for most new U.S. cases. He aims to boost testing, hospital care and vaccinations without any new lockdowns or closings.

He’ll also deliver a stark warning to the unvaccinated, a senior administration official said, telling them that they risk serious disease or death while assuring Americans who’ve gotten their shots that they can safely gather with their families over the holidays.

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In the speech, the president will again seek to reassure Americans that his administration can combat yet another resurgence of the virus, the second of his presidency. But he confronts a perception that the government was caught flat-footed as cases began to mount earlier this month and Americans began complaining that test kits, crucial to control transmission, had become scarce.

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8:55 a.m.

Canadian divorce courts come down hard on anti-vaccine parents who deny COVID-19 pandemic

Joseph Brean, National Post

A Toronto vaccination clinic on Nov. 26, 2021.
A Toronto vaccination clinic on Nov. 26, 2021. Photo by Peter J Thompson /National Post

In a pandemic, conflict about vaccinating children can be “significantly polarizing,” according to a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta.

That is especially true when the opposing parties are parents with shared custody asking a court to break their deadlock.

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The Alberta judge’s mid-December decision to let a mother vaccinate her two children without the consent of their anti-vaccine father illustrates what has become the usual judicial response.

One parent wants to vaccinate their child in a pandemic. The other denies the pandemic even exists. One parent follows provincial public health advice. The other claims pandemic information from the government is propaganda, and demands to put the pandemic on trial.

It is becoming a common conflict, in which Canadian judges have recently come down just as hard on vaccine denialists as they regularly do on other conspiracy theorists who present misinformation to courts, such as Freemen on the Land. A string of recent rulings favour public health advice against pseudolegal challenges that sometimes even cite Nazi atrocities of human experimentation to a degree that one Saskatchewan judge called “offensive.”

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8:15 a.m.

NHL to shut down early for Christmas due to multiple COVID outbreaks

Reuters

On Sunday the NHL announced cross-border games would be postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. Three Edmonton Oilers games were postponed through the Christmas break.
On Sunday the NHL announced cross-border games would be postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. Three Edmonton Oilers games were postponed through the Christmas break. Photo by Andy Devlin /USA TODAY Sports, file

Christmas will come early for NHL teams.

The league was due to have no games from Friday through Sunday for a holiday break, but all games scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday are postponed and team facilities will be closed those days, too, due to COVID-19 outbreaks at multiple teams, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association announced Monday night.

The last three games to be played ahead of the reported early shutdown were the Minnesota Wild at the Dallas Stars on Monday night and two games Tuesday: Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning at Vegas Golden Knights.

The latest move postpones five games slated for Thursday, bringing the total to 49 NHL games pushed back due to COVID issues.

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The Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs previously had their schedules halted by the league through Sunday. Games involving teams crossing the United States-Canada border also had been postponed.

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Monday

Alberta reports 1,925 new cases over three days as new Omicron cases soar

Lisa Johnson

Syringes with needles are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words “Omicron SARS-CoV-2” in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021.
Syringes with needles are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words “Omicron SARS-CoV-2” in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021. Photo by DADO RUVIC /REUTERS

Alberta reported 721 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday — the highest daily count since late October — as Omicron variant cases jumped to more than 1,000.

In Monday’s updated numbers, the province counted a total of 1,925 new COVID-19 cases over the previous three days, including 627 on Friday and 577 on Sunday, with test positivity rates of more than six per cent each day. Saturday’s number represents the highest new daily cases since Oct. 20, when there were 764 confirmed, according to the latest statistics.

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There were 872 newly-confirmed Omicron variant cases reported in the province on Monday — soaring to 1,045 from 173 in three days.

The number of Albertans hospitalized due to COVID-19 dropped to 342, including 69 patients in intensive care, a total decrease of 20 patients in hospital since Friday’s numbers.

The province reported six more deaths, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 3,292. Active cases in the province rose to 5,652, the majority of which are in the Calgary zone, at 2,924, while in the Edmonton zone there are 1,630.

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Monday

COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta: Here’s what you can do over the holidays

Anna Junker

Adorned with a mask, one of the, what looks like a toy soldier from the Nutcracker on display at the Federal Building in Edmonton, December 13, 2021. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia
Adorned with a mask, one of the, what looks like a toy soldier from the Nutcracker on display at the Federal Building in Edmonton, December 13, 2021. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia Photo by Ed Kaiser /20094656C

As provinces across the country tighten restrictions on gatherings and limit capacity in stores, bars, and sporting events ahead of the holidays, the Alberta government adjusted the province’s public health measures to allow for less stringent gatherings.

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On Dec. 15, Premier Jason Kenney announced more than two families are able to gather over the holidays and there are no longer additional gathering restrictions on those unvaccinated against COVID-19.

With COVID-19 cases counts rising once again, along with uncertainty over the Omicron variant, here is what Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions allow you to do this holiday season.

You can have a small indoor gathering

There is a limit of 10 adults per indoor gathering, with no limits on the number of households that can be included. Children 17 and under do not count in the 10-person limit and there are no restrictions on the unvaccinated being able to gather.

You can have a larger private outdoor social gathering

Outdoor social gathering capacity remains at 20 people, regardless of vaccination status and physical distancing between households is required.

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You can attend a place of worship

Restrictions for places of worship have remained unchanged since September. Capacity is limited to one-third of fire code occupancy, masks are mandatory and physical distancing is required between households.

You can enjoy an indoor theatre or concert event

If the facility is participating in the restrictions exemption program, individuals 12 and older will be asked for proof of vaccination, a privately paid for negative rapid test taken within 72 hours, or documentation of a medical exemption. If an operator is not part of the REP, capacity is limited to one-third of fire code occupancy and attendees must be with household members only, or two close contacts if they live alone.

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You can travel within Alberta and other provinces, but advised not to leave the country

Alberta has not issued any travel advisory, however, the federal government is advising Canadians avoid non-essential travel outside the country due to the risk of the Omicron variant. The UCP government caucus are have been told that they will not be permitted to travel internationally at this time, while NDP Leader Rachel Notley has said her MLAs are also cancelling their travel plans.

You can watch New Year’s Eve fireworks

In Edmonton, New Year’s Eve fireworks are returning to Sir Winston Churchill Square and are set to go off at midnight until 12:10 a.m. on Jan. 1. While there won’t be any live entertainment this year, the city’s Christmas tree, art installations, and an ice rink are available to enjoy. Masks are required to be worn when inside.

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Monday

Edmonton Oilers close training facility through Christmas break; Nurse Lagesson added to COVID protocol

Bruce McCurdy

Truth is Nurse, who is very much in the running for a Canadian Olympic team spot on the left side of Jon Cooper’s defence, will see the ice crack before he does
Truth is Nurse, who is very much in the running for a Canadian Olympic team spot on the left side of Jon Cooper’s defence, will see the ice crack before he does Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

Neither the Edmonton Oilers nor their top affiliate Bakersfield Condors are currently scheduled to play a game until a week from today, but that doesn’t stop the bad news from streaming in:

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Defencemen Darnell Nurse and Darnell Nurse are the latest Oilers to join the ever-growing COVID protocol list, which now includes 7 players and head coach Dave Tippett. Previous announcements trickled in one at a time last week, involving Ryan McLeod , Devin Shore , Ryan Nugent-Hopkins , Duncan Keith and Jesse Puljujarvi . Then on Sunday came the announcement that the Oilers’ three remaining games before Christmas had been postponed due to a decision by the NHL (and perhaps other authorities) to temporarily stop cross-border travel. With some 8 teams already ruled out of action, just 10 of 35 scheduled games this week remain on the slate. That dwindling number can only go down from here, and probably will.

Defencemen Darnell Nurse and Darnell Nurse are the latest Oilers to join the ever-growing COVID protocol list, which now includes 7 players and head coach Dave Tippett. Previous announcements trickled in one at a time last week, involving Ryan McLeod , Devin Shore , Ryan Nugent-Hopkins , Duncan Keith and Jesse Puljujarvi . Then on Sunday came the announcement that the Oilers’ three remaining games before Christmas had been postponed due to a decision by the NHL (and perhaps other authorities) to temporarily stop cross-border travel. With some 8 teams already ruled out of action, just 10 of 35 scheduled games this week remain on the slate. That dwindling number can only go down from here, and probably will.

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How this closure will affect the ongoing testing process, and by extension the dates that players who might test positive in future might be available to return, is unknown. Suffice to say that a return by Dec 27 is already in doubt and likely not in the competitive interests of the team.

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Monday

Alberta Health working ‘as fast as we can’ to restock COVID rapid test after busy first weekend

Jonny Wakefield

OTTAWA – DEC. 16, 2021 –Elizabeth Mavor tries out the new rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 that are being distributed for free.Julie Oliver/POSTMEDIA
OTTAWA – DEC. 16, 2021 –Elizabeth Mavor tries out the new rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 that are being distributed for free.Julie Oliver/POSTMEDIA Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia

Alberta Health says it is racing to restock pharmacies and clinics with free COVID-19 rapid tests after the initial rollout saw some Albertans go home empty handed.

Premier Jason Kenney announced plans last week to distribute half a million COVID-19 antigen test kits as a means of mitigating spread over the holiday season.

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The province started its rollout Friday, distributing tests to 700 pharmacies in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer and 140 Alberta Health Services sites in smaller communities.

The distribution program had a rocky start in some areas, with pharmacies in Edmonton and Calgary reporting long lineups to claim the coveted kits.

Some locations ran out of tests on the first day of distribution.

In an email Monday, Alberta Health spokeswoman Lisa Glover said they are “resupplying and (expanding) as fast as we can get supply from the federal government.”

“On top of the 2.5 million tests (500,000 kits) distributed initially, we have two million more tests on hand that will be distributed in the coming days, and another one million additional tests (200,000 kits) with confirmed shipping dates later this month.”

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Monday

Royal Caribbean says 38 passengers test positive for COVID-19 on ship

Reuters

The Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas, is seen moored in the Port of Miami on Aug. 1, 2021.
The Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas, is seen moored in the Port of Miami on Aug. 1, 2021. Photo by DANIEL SLIM /AFP via Getty Images

Royal Caribbean Group said on Monday 48 people on its Symphony of the Seas cruise ship tested positive for COVID-19, fueling concerns that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus could put a damper on a recovery in the cruise industry.

The cruise operator said it had 6,091 guests and crew members on board the ship, which ended a week-long cruise in Miami on Saturday after setting sail on Dec. 11.

The passengers who tested positive were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, Royal Caribbean said in a statement, adding that six guests were disembarked earlier in the cruise and transported home.

Royal Caribbean said 95% of the community on board were fully vaccinated, while 98% of those who tested positive were also fully vaccinated.

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Symphony’s future itineraries are not impacted, it added.


Monday

Pfizer-funded talks contained untrue negative information about rival COVIDvaccines, experts say

Tom Blackwell, National Post

Experts told the National Post that the first two disadvantage statements in a Powerpoint slide shown to Canadian health professionals were untrue with respect to “non-replicating” viral-vector vaccines made by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, China’s CanSino and others.
Experts told the National Post that the first two disadvantage statements in a Powerpoint slide shown to Canadian health professionals were untrue with respect to “non-replicating” viral-vector vaccines made by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, China’s CanSino and others. Photo by Screenshot

Pfizer Inc. funded presentations to Canadian health professionals earlier this year that claimed rival COVID-19 vaccines could cause cancer and were inappropriate for immunocompromised people, claims that experts say were not true.

The pharmaceutical giant stresses that it had no input into the online tutorials and no intention to sabotage competitors, but at least one prominent scientist has said the presentations spread the kind of misinformation that fuels vaccine hesitancy.

The talks given to groups of pharmacists, doctors and other health workers between at least February and July of this year discussed the various COVID vaccines, though with a focus on Pfizer’s mRNA shot, one of the most effective, safe and widely used today.

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A slide in the Powerpoint presentations listed two advantages for a different type of vaccine — which uses “viral vector” technology — and six disadvantages. The first claimed disadvantage was a risk that they could cause “chromosomal integration” and “oncogenesis” — turning healthy cells into cancerous ones. The second was that they could not be used on immunocompromised people.

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Monday

Moderna says third dose of COVID-19 vaccine boosts Omicron immunity

Bloomberg News

An empty vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine among empty vials of different other vaccines at a vaccination center in Rosenheim, southern Germany.
An empty vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine among empty vials of different other vaccines at a vaccination center in Rosenheim, southern Germany. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP /Getty

A third dose of Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine increased antibody levels against the omicron variant, results the company described as reassuring while it works on a shot tailored to the new strain.

A 50 microgram booster dose – the authorized amount, which is half the dose used for primary immunization – saw a 37-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies, the company said in a statement Monday. The company also tested a 100 microgram dose, which increased antibody levels 83-fold compared with the primary two-dose course.

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The results add to a growing body of evidence that three shots will be needed to neutralize the fast-spreading omicron. Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said earlier this month that a third shot of their vaccine restored protection to a level similar to the initial two-dose regimen against the original virus.

The data are “reassuring,” Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said in a statement. “To respond to this highly transmissible variant, Moderna will continue to rapidly advance an omicron-specific booster candidate into clinical testing in case it becomes necessary in the future.”

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Letter of the day

Covid protocol puts Edmonton Oilers in penalty box. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes)
Covid protocol puts Edmonton Oilers in penalty box. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes) Malcolm Mayes

Consider the humble broom for snow clearing

I look forward to not setting an alarm on the weekend and being awakened by the sound of birds chirping in the neighbourhood trees. In winter, my alarm is … the sound of the electric, or gas — more horsepower, more noise! — leaf blowers as they make multiple passes of neighbours’ sidewalks until the clouds of snow they throw up diminish sufficiently to clear most of the overnight skiff of snow.

After my coffee, I will go out with my push broom and make one silent run up and down my sidewalk to accomplish the same task. (If the accumulation of snow starts to approach the point where the heavy artillery of snow blowers replace the leaf blowers, I will resort to my, not quite silent, shovel for that up-and-down pass.)

The push broom. Cheaper. Silent! More efficient. Can we stop the insanity?

Joe Yurkovich, Edmonton

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Letters Welcome

We invite you to write letters to the editor. A maximum of 150 words is preferred. Letters must carry a first and last name, or two initials and a last name, and include an address and daytime telephone number. All letters are subject to editing. We don’t publish letters addressed to others or sent to other publications. Email: letters@edmontonjournal.com


Sunday

Oilers games postponed until after Christmas due to COVID-19 concerns

Lisa Johnson

CP-Web. EDMONTON, AB – OCTOBER 04: Edmonton Oilers’ home arena Rogers Place is seen from the interior ahead of the home opener against the Calgary Flames on October 4, 2017 in Edmonton, Canada.
CP-Web. EDMONTON, AB – OCTOBER 04: Edmonton Oilers’ home arena Rogers Place is seen from the interior ahead of the home opener against the Calgary Flames on October 4, 2017 in Edmonton, Canada. Photo by Codie McLachlan /Getty Images

COVID-19 concerns have forced the Edmonton Oilers to postpone its next three games until after Christmas, including a scheduled Monday night tilt against the Anaheim Ducks.

Citing concerns about crossing the border and the “fluid nature” of federal travel restrictions, the NHL announced Sunday all cross-border games would be postponed until after the holiday break, with some fans expressing disappointment on social media for having to cancel their plans.

The Oilers tweeted that the team is in “the process of communicating with all ticket holders” for Monday’s postponed game.

Last week, the number of active cases rose in Alberta from 4,016 to 4,431 with three straight days of increases from Wednesday through Friday. By Friday, the province had 173 known cases of the Omicron variant, up from 30 at the beginning of the week.

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The Oilers were scheduled to travel to California to close out their pre-Christmas schedule with a back-to-back against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday and the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.

The news comes after the Oilers had five players out of the lineup under COVID-19 protocol for a Saturday game in Seattle, along with head coach Dave Tippett.

In a joint Sunday statement with the players’ association, the NHL said postponed games will be rescheduled, but there were no new dates as of publication deadline Sunday night.

“Although there has been a recent increase in positive COVID test results among players, coaches and hockey staff, there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness,” the statement said.

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Sunday

‘It was chaos:’ Edmonton-area couple struggles to return from South Africa amid Omicron discovery

Hamdi Issawi

Sonia Poulin, and husband Carsten Brehm at their home west of Edmonton after they struggled to get back from South Africa recently due to the Omicron variant and the affect it has had on flights out of several African countries.
Sonia Poulin, and husband Carsten Brehm at their home west of Edmonton after they struggled to get back from South Africa recently due to the Omicron variant and the affect it has had on flights out of several African countries. Photo by Ed Kaiser /20094709A

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An Edmonton-area woman who struggled to return from South Africa after the emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant is warning travellers leaving Canada to do so with caution, because they may have to find their own way home.

On Nov. 26, Parkland County couple Sonia Poulin and her husband Carsten Brehm arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, to begin their return trip after wrapping up a walking safari in Kruger National Park for Poulin’s 50th birthday.

While in the bush for about three nights, they were unplugged from the latest news surrounding the discovery of the Omicron variant until that day, Poulin said, when the United Kingdom had suspended flights from several south African countries and both the U.S. and European Union (EU) were working toward similar measures.

Unsuccessful attempts to confirm their return flight with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines prompted the couple to rush to the airport in an effort to ensure their flight to Amsterdam the following day was secure, Poulin said, but the scene they encountered at the airport was far from reassuring.

“It was chaos — real chaos — at the airport,” Poulin told Postmedia in a phone interview. “People were going from one airline counter to another trying to see if there was a spot left. People were crying and screaming. I have never lived this in my entire life, and I’ve travelled to more than 100 countries.”

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Sunday

Canada’s vaccine mandate for foreign crews a headache for European airlines

Reuters

Bloomberg Best of the Year 2020: A member of the cabin crew wearing a protective face mask checks cabin seating ahead of the flight on-board a passenger aircraft operated by Wizz Air Holdings Plc at Liszt Ferenc airport during the Covid-19 pandemic in Budapest, Hungary, on Monday, May 25, 2020
Bloomberg Best of the Year 2020: A member of the cabin crew wearing a protective face mask checks cabin seating ahead of the flight on-board a passenger aircraft operated by Wizz Air Holdings Plc at Liszt Ferenc airport during the Covid-19 pandemic in Budapest, Hungary, on Monday, May 25, 2020 Photo by Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

European airlines are walking an increasingly fine line to meet both foreign inoculation and local privacy requirements, as more countries require flight crews to be vaccinated against COVID-19, carriers say.

Canada is slated on Jan. 15 to end an exemption that allowed entry of unvaccinated foreign flight crews, joining others that have vaccine mandates for pilots and passengers alike.

That’s creating a logistical headache for European carriers, who are unable to ask for their employees’ vaccination status since they are bound to strict data protection laws in Europe, a spokesperson for the trade group Airlines For Europe (A4E) said.

“Carriers will need to find workarounds in order to comply with the Canadian entry requirement,” A4E spokesperson Jennifer Janzen said by email.

U.S. carriers like United Airlines require their cabin crew to be fully vaccinated, while rivals like American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have delayed the effective date of vaccine mandates until 2022 for employees.

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Sunday

Some rural Albertans say they were left behind during rapid test rollout

Dylan Short, Calgary

Shauna Mondin, nursing student, gives COVID-19 rapid tests at Bow View manor in Calgary, Alberta on March 1, 2021. Premier Jason Kenney announced half a million rapid antigen tests will be made available for free to Albertans starting Dec. 17.
Shauna Mondin, nursing student, gives COVID-19 rapid tests at Bow View manor in Calgary, Alberta on March 1, 2021. Premier Jason Kenney announced half a million rapid antigen tests will be made available for free to Albertans starting Dec. 17. Photo by Leah Hennel /AHS

Albertans living outside of the province’s major urban centres are saying they were left behind by the government’s rollout of take-home rapid test kits.

Friday marked the first day Albertans could receive a kit of rapid tests free of charge from pharmacies and local health centres. The government shipped over 500,000 kits to pharmacies in Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary as well as health centres in other communities.

The launch of the program saw a large turnout across the province, with people in rural areas of the province saying their communities received only a very limited supply.

Eric Langshaw Power said he went to the health centre in Canmore shortly after it opened to find they had already distributed their entire supply. After speaking to a friend, he said he was told that there was a large lineup outside the centre before it opened and only some of the people who arrived for the initial rush were able to grab a kit.

He, along with his wife, then went to pharmacies around town to find out if they could get any there. They were told they would have to wait for the next shipment.

“We’re reconsidering what we are going to do (for the holidays),” said Langshaw Power. “The recommendations from the experts are saying don’t plan on get-togethers, other than a few people. So you’ve got to sort of weed through who you think that you want to see over the holidays.”

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Saturday

Omicron might yet cancel Christmas: COVID-19 restrictions, travel rules tighten across Canada

Ryan Tumilty, National Post

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic and the omicron variant, in Ottawa, on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic and the omicron variant, in Ottawa, on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Photo by Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

With COVID-19 cases surging, the federal government took more steps to tighten travel rules Friday and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos warned there may still be more changes before Christmas.

Across the country, provinces also began reimposing restrictions, limiting the size of gatherings and events.

“Friends, I know you’re all tired,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told a press conference. “Over the last 20 months, you’ve been asked to sacrifice so much. We’ve all dug so deep. And now we need to dig a little deeper. We’ll get through this.”

But Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, warned that to dig deeper, many will need to change their plans for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

“It’s clear Omicron won’t take a holiday,” he said.

On Friday, Duclos announced that a current exemption to testing requirements, which allows people on short trips of less than 72 hours not to have to get tested, would be closed. The government announced earlier this week it was advising against all non-essential travel.

The minister said the government understood the problems created by uncertain travel rules, but he said there could be more changes before Christmas and Canadians should stay home.

“Now is not the time to travel. We know how difficult it is for Canadians to have to postpone their travel to visit families or friends or to take a break abroad,” he said.

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Saturday

Experts urge extra caution as Omicron cases rise in Alberta

Dylan Short, Calgary

Tyson Usman cross country skis across the pedestrian bridge from Rundle Park on his way to the ski trails at Gold Bar Park on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia
Tyson Usman cross country skis across the pedestrian bridge from Rundle Park on his way to the ski trails at Gold Bar Park on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia

Events are starting to be postponed or cancelled in Calgary and forecasters are calling for caution as active COVID-19 cases and Omicron cases appear to be on the rise in Alberta.

Alberta has recorded three straight days of active COVID-19 case increase as Wednesday, Thursday and Friday saw infections rise to 4,430 from 4,016, according to numbers posted on the provincial governments website Wednesday. This past week also saw the number Omicron variant cases rise to 173 on Friday, up from 30 that had been identified at the start of the week.

Tyler Williamson, a biostatistician at the University of Calgary, said the rise was an upturn and implications of the increase are still unknown at this point. He said the blip could be an indicator a plateau that followed a large decrease in cases is over in Alberta given what is happening around Canada in relation to the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

“The implications of this slight upturn are still uncertain,” said Williamson. “I think we need to be very careful over these next few days. By careful, I think we need to watch things closely and be ready to adjust our activities accordingly.”

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