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Today’s coronavirus news: Truckers group denounces protest plans; Ontario reporting 3,797 people are hospitalized; Omicron spreads in New Zealand, PM cancels wedding – Toronto Star

People line up at a COVID-19 vaccine clinci in Brampton on Jan. 16.

Meanwhile, German officials say they will likely keep their current pandemic measures in place.

By Star staff and wire services

Sun., Jan. 23, 20227 min. read

Article was updated 31 mins ago

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Sunday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

2:09 p.m.: A Canadian federation of provincial trucking groups is speaking out against planned protests by unvaccinated truckers opposed to a vaccine mandate for cross-border travel.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance issued a statement on Saturday saying it does not support and “strongly disapproves” of protests staged on public roads, highways and bridges.

Alliance President Stephen Laskowski says because both Canada and the United States have cross-border vaccination rules in place, truckers “must adapt and comply.”

A website run by protest organizers says convoys of demonstrators are slated to hit the road from British Columbia today, while similar groups from across the country are expected to convene in Ottawa for a mass protest on Jan. 29.

The Liberal government announced in November that all Canadian truckers looking to cross the border from the United States would need to be vaccinated in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine, a policy that came into effect on Jan. 15.

Read more about an unvaccinated trucker here.

1:00 p.m.: Police fired water cannons and thick clouds of tear gas in Brussels on Sunday to disperse protesters demonstrating against Belgian COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions that aim to curb the Omicron variant.

The protest drew tens of thousands of people, some travelling from France, Germany and other countries to take part. Protesters yelled “Liberty!” as they marched and some had violent confrontations with police. Video images showed black-clad protesters attacking a building used by the European Union’s diplomatic service, hurling projectiles at its entrance and smashing windows.

Anti-vaccination demonstrators also marched in Barcelona.

The protests followed demonstrations in other European capitals on Saturday that also drew thousands of protesters against vaccine passports and other requirements that European governments have imposed as daily coronavirus infections and hospitalizations have surged due to Omicron.

In Brussels, white-helmeted police riot officers repeatedly charged after protesters who ignored instructions to disperse. Nearly 77 per cent of Belgium’s total population has been fully vaccinated, and 53 per cent have had a booster dose, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Belgium has seen over 28,700 virus deaths in the pandemic.

12:12 p.m.: New Zealand’s government is warning businesses to be prepared for labour shortages and supply disruptions as Omicron takes hold.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has urged companies to ensure business continuity plans are in place and pledged government support, but warned that the impact of the variant could be severe. Modelling for the nation of five million showed that in a scenario of 25,000 daily cases there could be 350,000 workers a day self-isolating, he said.

“What we see from overseas is the supply side of the economy is where the big impacts have been,” Robertson told reporters Sunday in Wellington. “We’re working very hard to make sure we don’t see disruption but inevitably there will be some.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tightened COVOD-19 restrictions effective from 11:59 p.m. Saturday after evidence that Omicron had begun circulating in the community. The “red” setting includes gathering limits and social distancing requirements but unlike the government responses to previous outbreaks, there is no national or regional lockdown, which means business remain open and people can travel.

Robertson said the government will provide payments for businesses to pay workers who are required to self-isolate at home and unable to work because they are infected or are close contacts of confirmed cases.

Robertson has less than $4 billion in New Zealand dollars remaining in a $62-billion economic support fund set up in 2020 to respond to the pandemic. The nation has low debt and sufficient fiscal headroom to provide more money if needed, he said: “We can afford it, and really we can’t afford not to do it.”

11:04 a.m.: Two men are facing criminal charges after a protest against COVID-19 restrictions turned ugly outside Fredericton City Hall in New Brunswick.

The Saturday rally attracted 400 people even though the Fredericton Police Force had urged organizers not to go ahead with the event.

Police Chief Roger Brown issued a statement saying the protest was peaceful, aside from a small group of people who tried to incite violence. He says the two men who were arrested are facing multiple charges, in addition to fines for failing to comply with the province’s Emergency Measures Act.

Police say several other tickets were issued to organizers and participants.

10:15 a.m.: Ontario has administered over 30 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including boosters, Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted Sunday morning.

10 a.m.: Ontario is reporting the 3,797 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 (please note not all hospitals report on weekends), 604 are in ICUs (including 375 on ventilators) and 56 additional deaths. The province’s seven-day average (51.9/day) for deaths is above 50 for only the third time in the pandemic.

There are at least 5,833 new cases of COVID-19.

Read more here.

7:55 a.m.: Germany will likely keep its current pandemic measures in place, the country’s regional leaders said ahead of a meeting Monday with Chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss the situation.

“Tightening of the corona measures is not on the horizon and that is good news for the current state of affairs,” Lower Saxony premier Stephan Weil told the RND media group before the summit. North Rhine-Westphalia’s regional leader Hendrik Wuest also said relaxing current measures isn’t on the table.

7:55 a.m.: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is postponing her wedding after announcing new COVID-19 restrictions Sunday following the discovery of nine cases of the Omicron variant in a single family that flew to Auckland to attend a wedding.

The so-called “red setting” of the country’s pandemic response includes heightened measures such as required mask wearing and limits on gatherings. The restrictions will go into effect on Monday.

Ardern stressed that “red is not lockdown,” noting that businesses can remain open and people can still visit family and friends and move freely around the country.

“Our plan for managing Omicron cases in the early stage remains the same as delta, where we will rapidly test, contact trace and isolate cases and contacts in order to slow the spread,” Ardern told reporters.

But her own wedding plans are on hold.

The 41-year-old prime minister was planning to tie the knot next weekend.

“I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic and to anyone who’s caught up in that scenario, I am so sorry,” she said.

New Zealand had been among the few remaining countries to have avoided any outbreaks of the Omicron variant, but Ardern acknowledged last week that an outbreak was inevitable given the high transmissibility of the variant.

The country has managed to contain the spread of the delta variant, with an average of about 20 new cases each day. It has seen an increasing number of people arriving into the country and going into mandatory quarantine who are infected with Omicron.

7:55 a.m.: People in a Beijing district with some 2 million residents were ordered Sunday to undergo mass coronavirus testing following a series of infections as China tightened anti-disease controls ahead of the Winter Olympics.

The government told people in areas of the Chinese capital deemed at high risk for infection not to leave the city after 25 cases were found in the Fengtai district and 14 elsewhere.

The ruling Communist Party is stepping up enforcement of its “zero tolerance” strategy aimed at isolating every infected person as Beijing prepares to open the Winter Games on Feb. 4 under intensive anti-virus controls.

On Sunday, Fengtai residents lined up on snow-covered sidewalks in freezing weather for testing.

The Chinese capital must “take the most resolute, decisive and strict measures to block the transmission chain of the epidemic,” a city government spokesman, Xu Hejian, told a news conference.

“In principle, personnel in risk areas shall not leave Beijing,” Xu said.

Nationwide, 56 new confirmed infections were reported in the 24 hours through midnight Saturday. The National Health Commission said 37 were believed to have been acquired abroad.

China has reported 4,636 deaths out of 105,603 confirmed cases and seven suspected cases since the pandemic began.

7:55 a.m.: British Columbia’s Education Ministry says graduation assessments for students in grades 10 to 12 will not take place this month due to COVID-19.

The ministry says in a statement that staffing issues have significantly affected the administration of the assessments.

The ministry says it will provide an exemption to Grade 12 students graduating early in the school year.

It adds that is has worked with post-secondary institutions to ensure that admissions will not be affected by these changes.

The ministry says the news may cause concern for students and promised that all Grade 12 students will graduate on time, both for early graduation and June graduation, as long as all other graduation requirements are met.

The exams will be pushed to a later date, currently scheduled for April and June.

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