Canadians should ‘hunker down’ to slow Omicron spread, Trudeau says

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Provinces respond differently to Omicron as Trudeau tells Canadians to hunker down'
COVID-19: Provinces respond differently to Omicron as Trudeau tells Canadians to hunker down
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians on Wednesday to “hunker down” to slow the spread of Omicron as he was self-isolating after staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Different provinces are responding in various ways to the rise in cases, Mike Le Couteur has the details – Dec 22, 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reminding Canadians to be cautious this holiday season as the country’s Omicron COVID-19 case count continues to rise.

At a virtual COVID-19 update on Wednesday, Trudeau urged Canadians to “hunker down in the coming weeks” to slow the spread of the virus.

“We know what to do, we know how to wear masks, we know how to keep our distances, we know how to reduce our contact numbers, and if we do that well, over the next couple of weeks we’re going to see a better winter, and especially a better spring than otherwise,” he said.

“I know nobody wants to be in this situation right now, but Canadians have shown we’re there for our neighbours, we’re there for our most vulnerable, we’re there for our front-line health-care workers … we know that as long and dark as winters can be, spring is coming and spring will be better if we hunker down in the coming weeks.”

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At the update, Canada’s chief public health officer told reporters the country has seen more than 2,360 confirmed Omicron cases to date.

“In less than a week, we’ve seen a rapid acceleration of epidemic activity in locations across Canada,” said Dr. Theresa Tam.

“While Delta is still spreading in many areas, Omicron is increasingly responsible for a rapid rise in case counts.”

Last week, Canada averaged just over 5,000 new COVID-19 infections a day. On Tuesday, Canada logged just over 11,000 new infections, Tam said.

Tam warned by the beginning of January, infections in Canada could be even higher unless the spread is slowed.

Trudeau’s recommendation came in contrast to U.S. President Joe Biden’s advice a day earlier, who said that families could safely enjoy the holidays with friends and loved ones if they are fully vaccinated, and especially if they have a booster shot.

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“If you are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well, you should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as you planned it,” Biden said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, though, made a distinction between the two countries.

“Canada is not the United States. And I think all of us know that very profoundly. And our countries have taken very different approaches in the fight against COVID,” said Freeland.

“I think we are aware of and proud of the sovereign choices our country makes.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: More than 2,300 confirmed Omicron cases in Canada to date, Tam says'
COVID-19: More than 2,300 confirmed Omicron cases in Canada to date, Tam says

She pointed out that Canada has the second-lowest mortality rate from COVID-19 among G7 countries. Canada recorded last week the 30,000th death from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the U.S. has a death rate three times higher than Canada’s.

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“Had we had the same death rate as we have seen in the United States, we would have had 60,000 more people dying of COVID-19 in Canada,” Duclos said.

Top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci also echoed Trudeau’s more cautious tone on Wednesday, warning against holiday gatherings of over 40 people — even for those fully vaccinated or boosted.

“There are many of these parties that have 30, 40, 50 people in which you do not know the vaccination status of individuals. Those are the kind of functions in the context of Omicron that you do not want to go to,” Fauci said at a White House briefing.

To help those affected by new pandemic restrictions, Canada announced Wednesday it is expanding eligibility for its Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, allowing any worker to apply for the support if their workplace has been slapped with capacity-limiting restrictions of 50 per cent or more.

The announcement comes after provinces across the country have hit bars, restaurants and other workplaces with new restrictions — but no lockdowns — to try to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

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Eligible workers can receive $300 — $270 after taxes — for each one-week period until May 7, 2022. The expanded eligibility, however, only applies until Feb. 12, 2022.

To get the benefit, you’ll also need to have lost 50 per cent or more of your income as a result of these capacity limits, according to the government.

Bill C-2, which brought this new benefit to life, became law last Friday. The benefit is the government’s latest temporary income support for Canadians who can’t work because of the pandemic. It follows past programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB).

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: How is the Omicron wave is impacting Santa tourism'
COVID-19: How is the Omicron wave is impacting Santa tourism

Furthermore, Trudeau announced Wednesday he is self-monitoring for the virus after three members of his staff, and three members of his security team, tested positive.

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“So far, the recommendation is that I self-monitor, that I do rapid tests, that I do testing regularly — so far it’s all been negative,” he said.

Since COVID-19 arrived in Canada in January 2020, the country has seen 1,907,771 infections and 30,085 deaths. Out of Canada’s total population, 76 per cent are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

— with files from Global News’ Rachel Gilmore, Eric Stober, The Canadian Press and Reuters

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