What you need to know about the Omicron wave today

Check here for the latest news and stories on COVID-19 as it happens A pedestrian walks past signs advertising COVID testing on Toronto’s Queen Street. Photo by Peter J Thompson/National Post The rapid spread of the COVID-19 variant Omicron across Canada and the world brings more restrictions, concerns — and breakthroughs daily. Advertisement This advertisement…
What you need to know about the Omicron wave today

Check here for the latest news and stories on COVID-19 as it happens

A pedestrian walks past signs advertising COVID testing on Toronto’s Queen Street. Photo by Peter J Thompson/National Post

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 variant Omicron across Canada and the world brings more restrictions, concerns — and breakthroughs daily.

Check here for the latest news and stories on the outbreak as it happens.

5:16 p.m.

North American stock markets moved lower as the technology sector was hurt by comments from the dovish Federal Reserve’s vice chair nominee that interest rates have to increase soon to fight inflation.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 102.04 points to 21,292.96.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 176.70 points at 36,113.62. The S&P 500 index was down 67.32 points at 4,659.03, while the Nasdaq composite was down 381.58 points at 14,806.81.

The Canadian dollar traded for 80.10 cents U.S. compared with 79.94 cents U.S. on Wednesday.

— The Canadian Press

2:56 p.m.

Expired coronavirus disease vaccine vials are seen at a dump site in Abuja, Nigeria. Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images

Hundreds of millions of vaccine doses purchased by wealthy countries are at risk of going to waste, a new analysis shows, while large parts of the world remain unprotected amid the spread of the omicron variant.

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About 240 million doses purchased by the U.S., Canada, U.K., Japan and the European Union are expected to go unused and expire by March, London-based analytics firm Airfinity Ltd. said Thursday in a report.

The number of potentially wasted doses could climb to 500 million by that point if other countries receiving donated doses don’t have enough time to administer them, it said.

— Bloomberg

12:30 p.m.

Life can come at you fast, especially in the inflationary aftermath of the COVID crisis.

“When we started the year, we were anticipating no real changes in interest rates until later in the year, but the strength of inflation is such that it might be earlier,” Chris Fowler, chief executive of Canadian Western Bank, told the Financial Post’s Larysa Harapyn on Jan. 13. “We were thinking a couple of interest rate increases late in the year. Now we’re looking at maybe up to five interest-rate increases this year, starting as early as the spring. That will start to move the interest-rate environment back to what we would call ‘normal.’”

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The U.S. consumer price index (CPI) surged seven per cent in December from a year earlier, the biggest increase since the early 1980s, while Canadian inflation is testing five per cent, which hasn’t happened since the early 1990s. The central banks of both countries have accelerated their plans to remove stimulus. At the start of last year, policy-makers assumed inflation would burn itself out fairly quickly. Now they aren’t so sure.

“It will be a challenge,” Fowler said. “We haven’t seen inflation at this level for quite some time. If it stays, we will absolutely see increases in interest rates.”

For more from Fowler, including how the pandemic has forced changes on the way Canadian Western Bank works, go to the FP’s YouTube channel here .

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— Kevin Carmichael

12:20 p.m.

Case counts are no longer considered a reliable metric to assess the spread of COVID-19 after many provinces reduced access to PCR testing. Hospitalizations are being given more weight instead.

Here is a roundup of hospitalizations in major provinces for Jan. 13, with the increase from the previous day in parentheses.

British Columbia:

500 hospitalized (+4)

102 in ICU (+5)

Alberta:

748 hospitalized (+40)

82 in ICU (+2)

Ontario:

3,630 hospitalized (+182)

500 in ICU (-5)

Quebec:

2,994 hospitalized (+117)

272 in ICU (+9)

— Bianca Bharti

12:00 p.m.

Cucumbers are the perfect gateway vegetable for young children. Green, crunchy, but not too hard to chomp down upon, the cucumber is capable of opening doors in a youngster’s palate. Drawing them to other green things, be they Granny Smith apples, avocados or that Everest of taste many children seem reluctant to climb: the mixed salad.

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In sum, a long, happy, lifetime love of vegetables can be nurtured by a long, skinny, English cucumber, which is a grocery staple in our two-kids-10-and-under household, as well as the source of much financial distress, when one takes the time to examine their grocery bill.

Care to guess how much three organic cucumbers run you these days? (Answer: $8.97.) How about a large avocado ($1.99), or that 454-gram bag of baby carrots ($3.49)?

Average hourly wages have increased by 2.7 per cent year-over-year, according to Statistics Canada, which is good news for cucumber lovers. Although it is not quite good enough to absorb the 6.4 per cent price increase the vegetable has registered compared to this time last year.

The price of English cucumbers is up 6.4 per cent compared to this time last year. Photo by Thomas Bregardis/AFP/Getty Images

Higher shipping costs and supply chain traffic jams have slammed everything from mushrooms to broccoli to frozen beef, which sells for 15.4 per cent more than it did a year ago, according to Statistics Canada.

Meanwhile, on the home front, it is nearing lunchtime, and the clatter of kids coming downstairs to the basement, where this journalist spends the day holed up, means it is time to have at those $2.99-a-piece cucumbers. Thinly sliced, of course. No word yet on salad.

— Joe O’Connor

11:44 a.m.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has tested positive for COVID-19.

In a tweet today he said he was feeling fine and would work from home for the next five days while self-isolating.

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I tested positive this morning for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test.

I’m feeling fine, but will be self-isolating and working from home for the next five days. pic.twitter.com/RCXIbzp5nj

— Scott Moe (@PremierScottMoe) January 13, 2022

10:18 a.m.

The coronavirus loses most of its ability to infect shortly after being exhaled, says a new study.

The virus loses 90 per cent of its contagion capacity 20 minutes after becoming airborne and most of that loss happens in the first five minutes of it hitting the air, says the study from the University of Bristol’s Aerosol Research Centre.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, reinforces the theory that the virus is mainly transmitted over short distances and gives support to social distancing and masks as means to curb the virus.

— Bloomberg

Women wearing kimono and protective masks make their way to Coming of Age Day celebration ceremony in Tokyo this week. Photo by REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

9:55 a.m.

Ontario Chamber of Commerce is calling on the provincial government to let businesses know now if they can reopen on Jan. 26.

“We implore the government to immediately clarify if Ontario will be moving out of Stage 2 of its Roadmap to Reopen plan so employers, workers and families can plan accordingly,” said Rocco Rossi, Ontario Chamber of Commerce CEO.

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The province announced on Jan. 3 that because of the Omicron outbreak driving up COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, schools would move online until at least Jan. 17 and restrictions would be placed on businesses until at least Jan. 26.

Restaurants were closed for indoor dining, museums, zoos and other such attractions were closed, as were gyms, indoor recreation facilities, cinemas and indoor concert venues. Retail stores and personal care services were capped at 50 per cent capacity.

“Businesses, particularly small businesses, have suffered greatly over the last two years and continue to face unprecedented challenges amid a prolonged crisis,” said Rossi.

— Financial Post

9:10 a.m.

Ottawa has backed down from its decision requiring all truckers crossing the Canadian border to be vaccinated against COVID-19, under pressure from industry and opposition politicians.

The border agency said that unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated Canadian truck drivers arriving at the U.S.-Canada border will remain exempt from pre-arrival, arrival and post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements.

However, truckers from the United States will still need to be vaccinated or they will be turned back at the border from Jan. 15, a CBSA spokesperson said.

— Reuters

Additional reporting by Canadian Press, Reuters and Bloomberg

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