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Canadian provinces cut COVID isolation for those vaccinated

Western provinces of Alberta and British Columbia shorten self-isolation period while Quebec imposes nighttime curfew.

Two Canadian provinces have shortened the self-isolation period for vaccinated individuals who test positive for COVID-19, as the country grapples with a surge in cases linked to the Omicron variant.

Alberta and British Columbia in western Canada are halving the required self-isolation period for vaccinated people with COVID-19 to five days, as Canadian provinces try and adapt to workforce challenges.

Unvaccinated people who contract the virus will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days.

“We are making these changes to help prevent disruptions in the Alberta workforce, especially for those who deliver services that Albertans count on,” Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping announced on Friday. The changes will take effect on Monday.

Alberta has also paused regular reporting of coronavirus data for the New Year holiday period.

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British Columbia will now offer a booster dose of a coronavirus vaccine to all pregnant women six months after their second dose, the province’s top doctor also said on Friday. BC reported a record 4,383 cases on Friday, a jump of nearly 50 percent from Wednesday.

In Canada, provincial governments are responsible for administering health care, meaning rules around quarantine periods, capacity limits and other responses to the pandemic vary considerably across the world’s second-largest country.

Meanwhile, Canada’s second-most populous province of Quebec reported 16,461 new coronavirus cases on Friday. The mainly French-speaking province will enact a daily, nighttime curfew starting at 10pm local time (3:00 GMT), among other restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the virus and protecting Quebec’s strained healthcare network.

“It is an extreme action to take because the situation is extreme,” Premier Francois Legault said.

Also beginning at 5pm (22:00 GMT) on Friday, Quebec restaurants also will be limited to providing takeout or delivery service, while most indoor private gatherings are banned. Gyms, bars and other entertainment venues have been closed since early last week.

In addition, schools at all levels across Quebec will not reopen to in-person classes until at least January 17. Places of worship cannot open except to hold funerals, which will be limited to 25 people.

People queue to pick up coronavirus antigen test kits, as the latest Omicron variant emerges as a threat in Toronto, Canada, on December 22 [File: Cole Burston/Reuters]

In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, classes had been scheduled to resume on Monday but that was pushed back to Wednesday. Ontario has also eased its isolation rules for vaccinated individuals who contract COVID-19 to five days.

Starting on Friday, Ontario is limiting eligibility for publicly funded PCR tests to high-risk individuals who are symptomatic or risk serious illness from the coronavirus. This includes hospital and long-term care home staff and residents, and people who live in Indigenous communities.

Ontarians who have COVID-19 symptoms but are not eligible for a publicly funded test should assume they are infected and follow the new, five-day self-isolation guidelines, health officials said.

In Ontario, like other provinces, anyone 18 and older is eligible for a third coronavirus booster shot three months after receiving a second dose.

In a New Year’s message, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged eligible Canadians to get a booster shot to stem the rising tide of Omicron infections.

“With the threat of new variants, vaccination remains our best line of defence against COVID‑19, and we will need to keep working together in 2022 to put this pandemic behind us,” Trudeau said late on Friday.

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