The latest:

Another 1,000 military health workers are deploying to six U.S. states beginning next week to help hospitals overwhelmed by a surge in Omicron-related COVID-19 cases, the White House said on Thursday.

Teams of seven to 25 military doctors, nurses and other personnel will begin arriving in Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island to support emergency rooms and free hospital staff for other care, a White House official said.

“The No. 1 request continues to be staffing,” Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswelll told CNN, adding that other states would likely need reinforcements of military and other federal doctors and nurses to help with COVID-19 and other care as the Omicron variant envelops the country.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has deployed federal surge teams since July to battle COVID-19. In December, Biden directed Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to ready another 1,000 medical forces and sent more than 100 federal medical personnel to Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wisconsin.

The president is also directing the U.S. government to procure an additional 500 million COVID-19 tests to help meet surging demand across the country. The order comes on top of another 500 million tests that the White House pledged would be available to Americans in January.

People with children sign up to receive rapid COVID-19 tests at a Long Beach public health department testing site in the parking lot of a former Boeing aircraft factory on Monday in Long Beach, Calif. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations reached a record high this week after steadily increasing since late December, according to a Reuters tally, while Omicron overtook Delta as the dominant variant.

In New Jersey, for example, the number of people hospitalized as of Wednesday was 6,089. That compares with a state record of 8,270 on April 15, 2020. 

The increase has strained health systems and forced several states to postpone elective surgeries. Omicron not only drives up caseloads but also sidelines staff hit by their own COVID-19 infections or exposures to the virus.

Several states have already declared emergencies to loosen regulations and free up funding to cope with the surge.

To date, the U.S. has seen more than 844,000 reported deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracking tool, with more than 63.2 million cases.

-From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 11:05 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Quebec’s proposed unvaccinated tax raises legal, ethical, political concerns: 

Quebec’s proposed unvaccinated tax raises legal, ethical, political concerns

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among the chorus of voices saying they need more details before they can support Quebec’s plan to implement a tax on residents unvaccinated against COVID-19. 2:43

With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.

For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.

You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.

In Central Canada, health officials in Quebec on Thursday said COVID-19 hospitalizations had risen to 2,994, an increase of 117. The number of people in intensive care, the province’s health ministry said, stood at 272.

The province also reported 45 additional deaths, as well as 8,793 new lab-confirmed cases.

Premier François Legault, who recently appointed a new public health director, is expected to hold a news briefing later Thursday.

Health officials in Ontario on Thursday reported 35 additional deaths linked to COVID-19. Total hospitalizations stood at 3,630 — an increase of 182 — with 500 people in the province’s intensive care units, according to data from the province’s public health dashboard. The province, which along with many others has limited access to PCR testing, reported an additional 9,909 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The update came a day after province’s education minister and top doctor offered some information about the planned return to classrooms on Monday after a period of remote learning.

In Atlantic Canada, officials in Prince Edward Island on Thursday announced that students will be learning remotely for at least another week. 

Newfoundland and Labrador officials are expected to offer details on when students will be back in classrooms at a briefing later Thursday. 

“I know remote learning is not ideal, but we want to make sure that heading back can be done safely and effectively,” Premier Andrew Furey said at a briefing on Wednesday. Health officials in the province said Wednesday that hospitalizations stood at seven, with three people in intensive care.

The province, which did not report any additional deaths on Wednesday, also recorded 731 additional lab-confirmed cases — though health officials noted that more than 200 of those results were from tests sent out of province over the holidays.

In New Brunswick, hospitalizations increased by six to 94, health officials said Wednesday, with 10 people in intensive care units. The province also saw one additional death and 359 additional lab-confirmed cases. 

“The rate of people hospitalized and in ICU continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated,” a statement from the province said. 

Nova Scotia health officials on Wednesday reported one additional death and cautioned that the health system in the province is facing extreme strain.

“There are 60 people in hospital who were admitted due to COVID-19 and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit,” a statement from the province said. “That includes five people in ICU.”

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, cautioned that the situation in Nova Scotia is as serious as it’s ever been.

“If I sound concerned, it’s because I am, deeply,” he said.

Across the North, Nunavut‘s top public health doctor said in a statement Thursday that the territory will lift some COVID-19 restrictions as of next Monday.

“The strict public health restrictions since the end of December have been effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, as the territory reported 12 additional cases.

Health officials in Yukon and the Northwest Territories had not yet provided updated information for the day.

In the Prairie provinces, hospitalizations in Manitoba hit a pandemic high, health officials said on Wednesday. There were 454 COVID-19-related cases in hospital — up 36 in one day. The number of people in ICU stood at 46, and there were three additional deaths. The province also reported 1,478 additional lab-confirmed cases. 

In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe said Wednesday that he won’t impose additional COVID-19 restrictions, even as the province expects increased strain on health systems as Omicron spreads. Health officials in the province on Wednesday said hospitalizations held steady at a total of 121, with nine people in ICU. The province, which on Wednesday had no additional deaths to report, saw 1,084 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Alberta on Wednesday said COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 40 to reach 748, with 82 people in the province’s intensive care units. The province, which reported 15 additional deaths from Jan. 7 to Jan. 12, also recorded 6,789 additional lab-confirmed cases.

In British Columbia, health officials on Wednesday reported six COVID-19 deaths. The province also said there were 500 people in hospital — an increase of 31 — including 102 in intensive care. The province reported an additional 2,859 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 11:50 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

An Ivory Coast fan wearing a protective mask reacts as he watches the Africa Cup of Nations soccer match between Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast on a big screen in Abidjan on Wednesday. (Luc Gnago/Reuters)

As of early Thursday morning, roughly 317.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking database. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.

In Africa, Ivory Coast soccer fans watching the Africa Cup of Nations are being greeted at dedicated fan zones with rapid tests, masks and COVID-19 vaccines, an initiative of the Health Ministry to spur vaccination.

Soccer is the West African country’s favourite sport and thousands of fans have flocked to the “Cup of Nations villages” in the commercial capital Abidjan where the matches are projected on giant screens.

Masks are required within the fan zones, and stands have been set up for awareness-raising about COVID-19. Rapid tests and vaccines are also being offered at mobile clinics.

“We came with vaccines and more, to sensitize the population about the wearing of masks and compliance with protective measures,” said Serge Yao Djezou, COVID-19 manager for the health ministry at the fan zone in Yopougon, a suburb of Abidjan.

Abidjan is the center of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ivory Coast, where cases have surged in recent weeks due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Meanwhile, Africa’s top public health body said it was in talks with Pfizer about securing supplies of its antiviral COVID-19 pills for the continent, the latest to join the race for a drug seen as a potential game changer in fighting the virus.

“We are in really close discussions with Pfizer to see what can be done to make the drugs available on the continent and accessible on the continent, that is, the Paxlovid drugs,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea will begin treating coronavirus patients with Pfizer’s antiviral pills on Friday, health officials said, as concern mounts over the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant. At least 21,000 of the pills arrived on Thursday to be distributed to some 280 pharmacies and 90 residential treatment centres, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

In the Americas, the Biden administration on Wednesday announced a new set of measures to keep classes open in the U.S., including doubling COVID-19 testing capacity in schools with 10 million more tests, as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly through the United States.

In Europe, French teachers walked off the job on Thursday over what they say is the government’s failure to adopt a coherent policy for schools to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and protect pupils and staff against infection.

Teachers and school personnel take part in a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on Thursday during a strike to protest against the government’s change in policy on COVID-19 in schools. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, British officials said Thursday the self-isolation period for people in England who test positive for COVID-19 will be reduced from next week to five full days, instead of seven.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said that early signs indicate that the rate of hospitalization from the coronavirus in the country is starting to slow. Currently, those infected can be released from self-isolation after seven days if they test negative on both days six and seven.

Javid urged people to continue to self-test for the virus, so that “we can restore the freedoms to this country while we’re keeping everyone safe.”

The U.K. saw record numbers of daily confirmed infections over Christmas and into the new year, topping 200,000 cases on some days, as the more transmissible omicron variant spread rapidly. Industries from retail to education, and infrastructure like public transport and postal services, have been severely disrupted because scores of workers had to isolate and could not go to work.

Javid told lawmakers that although hospitals will “remain under significant pressure” over the coming weeks — with almost 17,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in England — the current wave of the pandemic has not seen an increase in intensive care patients. Official data showed “encouraging signs” that cases were falling in London and eastern England, he added, but infections were rising elsewhere in the country.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday reported two additional deaths and 5,362 confirmed cases of COVID-19

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 10:50 a.m. ET

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