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In today’s Morning Brief, health authorities are likely soon going to have to rely more on hospitalization numbers as the main indicator of the extent of the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

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The most accurate measure of Omicron’s spread may be in how many are hospitalized

As demand drastically increases for COVID-19 testing across the country, experts say it will quickly become harder to get an exact picture of Omicron case counts in Canada.

And that means health authorities are likely soon going to have to rely more on hospitalization numbers as the main indicator of the extent of the impact of the new coronavirus variant.

“This is such a hyper-contagious disease that it was completely foreseeable … that the rate of spread would overwhelm the testing capacity that we have, as is already happening,” said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

COVID-19 case counts have never been perfect, but now with Omicron’s highly contagious nature, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing has been maxed out in some provinces as people rush to get tested.

With some areas expected to limit who can get tested, health experts say that will lead to an undercount in cases. Others say case counts become less important if symptoms are milder, and that tracking hospitalizations, death counts and the strain on the already maxed-out health-care system is more important at this time. 

WATCH | Why experts say COVID-19 numbers are much higher than recorded: 

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Coronavirus numbers much higher than recorded, say experts

While most provinces have made rapid tests more widely available, PCR tests are still considered the gold standard of COVID-19 testing, with the main advantage being that the tests are much more sensitive and highly accurate.

But with PCR test sites clogging up in some provinces due to high demand right before the holidays, case counts aren’t being fully captured. That’s what’s happening in Ontario, according to one doctor. 

“Typically in Ontario, if things are quite OK and the surveillance works, we assume that we detect roughly 40 per cent of the cases. But what we see now is that the surveillance system starts to struggle,” said Dr. Peter Jüni, the scientific director of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table.

He estimates Ontario is now detecting about 30 per cent of the COVID-19 cases. That means if there are 3,000 confirmed cases, the actual number could be closer to 10,000 cases. Read more on this story here.

Canadian women play starring role in unforgettable year of sports history

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Canada’s women’s soccer team pose with their medals after beating Sweden in the gold-medal game at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. (Andre Penner/The Associated Press)

(Andre Penner/The Associated Press)

Canada’s women’s soccer team pose with their medals after beating Sweden in the gold-medal game at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. From the soccer team’s golden game to Penny Oleksiak in the pool to hockey redemption and a surprising march to a tennis Grand Slam final, here are the sports performances by Canadian women that wowed us this year.

In brief

British Columbia’s top doctor issued a stark dose of reality to people in her province Tuesday: it is very likely over time, Dr. Bonnie Henry said, that almost everyone in B.C. will be exposed to the coronavirus. “It is inevitable now that most of us in the province will be exposed at some point, the way this virus is being transmitted,” she said. But as she announced further restrictions going into effect immediately in the province to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, she said that how people conduct themselves will greatly influence how the virus affects them. “We are now transitioning to reducing those social gatherings to as low as possible … to try and reduce that risk of exposure.” Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is asking Albertans to reduce their social contacts by 50 per cent through the holidays and refrain from workplace holiday parties. As of Dec. 24, the province is also bringing in new restrictions, including reducing capacity limits on venues that seat more than 500 people, lowering table capacity in bars and restaurants to no more than 10 per table, and stopping alcohol sales in those venues at 11 p.m. Read more here

WATCH | Provinces tighten COVID-19 restrictions in attempt to slow down Omicron: 


Provinces tighten COVID-19 restrictions in attempt to slow down Omicron

When Canada’s Catholic bishops announced a $30-million fundraising campaign to support reconciliation projects for residential school survivors earlier this year, they promised to release additional details in November. But now, just as millions of Catholics prepare for Christmas mass this weekend, CBC News has learned the national campaign hasn’t yet started. An official with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) says they’re still working on a detailed plan. First Nations leaders, survivors and advocates interviewed say they’re disgusted, but not surprised. “For God’s sake, look at their history. Why do people expect anything different from them?” said Chief Byron Louis, of the Okanagan Indian Band in B.C. The CCCB first pledged to raise $30 million in September, following the discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada. Read the full story here.

The federal government is moving to ban plastic grocery bags and Styrofoam takeout containers in Canada. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault released draft regulations yesterday outlining how the manufacture, sale and import of these items, along with plastic cutlery, stir sticks, straws and six-pack rings, will be stopped by the end of 2022. Exports of the products will still be permitted. There will be some exceptions for single-use plastic flexible straws to accommodate people with disabilities and medical requirements. Click here for the full story

Carbon pricing and the pressure to reduce global warming is sparking competition in Alberta to secure space underground to stash away harmful greenhouse gas emissions generated by oil and gas operations, agriculture and other industries. Enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities has returned to the province more than a dozen years after former premier Ed Stelmach committed $2 billion to kick-start the nascent industry. To this day, the number of CCS facilities can be counted on one hand, but that could soon change. The provincial government has begun accepting proposals to set up CCS hubs throughout Alberta. The hub operator will be chosen to look after injecting carbon emissions underground, in what could be described as underground carbon landfills, and ensure the gases are safely deposited. At the same time, the federal government is developing an investment tax credit to incentivize more CCS construction to help reduce the country’s emissions. Read more on this story here.

In a year defined by COVID anxiety and lowered expectations, it can be difficult to recognize success. But despite massive business closures, delayed releases and an incredibly difficult time for the arts in general, artists across television, music and film were not only able to survive 2021 — but topple records, revive franchises and even help reinvent the conventional path to fame. From superstars like Simu Liu and The Weeknd, to lesser known up-and-comers adapting to a new kind of industry, Canadians helped lead that charge. Click here as CBC News highlights some of the Canadian artists who made headlines and defined the times in 2021.

Now for some good news to start your Wednesday: The company that owns the Vancouver Canucks has made the best of a bad situation, and donated truckloads of food to local charities after two games were postponed over the weekend. The food — which was originally intended to feed about 37,000 hockey fans — risked going to waste. Instead, Canucks Sports and Entertainment donated it to the B.C. division of the Salvation Army and the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. The shipment was a welcome surprise at the food bank. “We got a few pallets of produce, we got some buns, we got some pre-cooked meals — things like hamburgers, hot dogs, mashed potatoes, green beans. Anything that would have been served at the Canucks games,” said Alex Beyer, operations manager with the food bank. His organization doesn’t provide prepared meals for people, but they work with more than a hundred other charities that do — and they were happy and able to distribute the meals. Read more on the food donation

Opinion: Boycott the Olympics? How about sending a new team of athletes instead?

The team of Olympic Athletes for Human Rights would make clear that the global community celebrates sport, but it is not willing to ignore human rights on one of the world’s biggest stages, writes Michael Luba. Read his column here.

Front Burner: A pre-holiday Omicron update

Omicron is spreading rapidly in Canada. Barely two weeks after the first cases of the coronavirus variant were identified in Ontario, it became the dominant strain in the province, and experts say that will soon be the case across the country. Even as Canada is reporting some of the highest daily case counts seen throughout the whole pandemic, some doctors say the real numbers could be several times higher because of the difficulties many people face in accessing tests. 

Today, Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, explains the latest research on Omicron from around the world — and how that research can help inform your choices around holiday gatherings.


22:17A pre-holiday Omicron update

Today in history: December 22

1938: A coelacanth, a fish thought to have been extinct for 65 million years, is caught off the coast of South Africa.

1973: The Canadian magazine quotes author Pierre Berton as saying, “A Canadian is somebody who knows how to make love in a canoe.”

1981: The bill to amend and patriate the Canadian Constitution is tabled in the British House of Commons.

1990: Lech Walesa, co-founder of the Solidarity trade union, is sworn in as Poland’s first directly elected president.