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Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

FDA Places Strict Limits On Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that it is limiting the emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for individuals 18 and older. The vaccine is now available for adults who don’t have access to other vaccinations and for adults who aren’t able to receive the other Covid-19 vaccine for personal medical reasons. 

The FDA released a statement in which they detailed the changes and why they’re being made. They explained that the change is being implemented due to the rare risk of a dangerous clotting condition known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receiving the vaccine. 

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“We’ve been closely monitoring the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and occurrence of TTS following its administration and have used updated information from our safety surveillance systems to revise the EUA,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the statement. 

“We recognize that the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine still has a role in the current pandemic response in the United States and across the global community. Today’s action demonstrates the robustness of our safety surveillance systems and our commitment to ensuring that science and data guide our actions.”

The agency also confirmed that the updated authorizations apply to booster doses as well. The FDA also emphasized that the benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks for certain individuals as well. 

In their statement, they wrote that individuals who had a severe allergic reaction to an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), have personal concerns over mRNA vaccines, or don’t have access to mRNA vaccines should definitely receive the J&J jab. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 18.7 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the US, and of all the Americans who are currently fully vaccinated, about 7.7% got the J&J vaccine. 

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The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee issued their own statement on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, saying it “makes a preferential recommendation for the use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines over the Janssen adenoviral-vectored COVID-19 vaccine in all persons aged  ≥ 18 years in the United States.”

Both the CDC and FDA have made these statements mainly due to TTS concerns. When rare clotting events began appearing in the initial periods of vaccination in the US, Johnson & Johnson made a statement emphasizing their commitment to giving Americans a safe and effective vaccine. 

“The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority. We are aware of an extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of individuals who have received our COVID-19 vaccine. … We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public.”

The FDA released data that showed around 60 cases of TTS since the J&J vaccine began its distribution, nine of those unfortunately were fatal. 

The FDA emphasized, however, that the risk for TTS is extremely rare. Current data shows that there’s about three cases of TTS for every million doses administered. 

Symptoms of TTS can appear within one to two weeks after vaccination, and they include shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, neurological symptoms like headaches or blurred vision, and red spots appearing under the skin at the site of vaccination.

China’s Covid Cases Continue To Surge, Shanghai Begins Lockdown Procedures 

Shanghai has begun to phase in lockdown measures for its citizens as an Omicron-fueled wave of new Covid-19 cases is spreading rapidly throughout mainland China. The country is currently experiencing its second highest caseload since the beginning of the pandemic two years ago. 

According to city officials, the eastern side of the Huangpu River, which divides Shanghai, will be under lockdown between Monday and Friday, which will be followed by similar restrictions across its western side in the coming week. Massive covid testing is also taking place across the city. 

Shanghai alone is the home for over 25 million people, making it one of the leading hotspots in a nationwide outbreak of Covid-19 that began in the beginning of the month. 

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Earlier this month, President Xi Jinping urged his officials to “minimize the impact of the virus on the economy and reflect on the zero-Covid policy.” 

Shanghai ruled out locking down the city as a means of protecting the economy. However, a record 3,450 asymptomatic cases were reported within the city last week, accounting for nearly 70% of China’s current Covid-19 cases. 

China’s National Health Commission on Monday reported “5,134 new asymptomatic cases for the previous day, and 1,219 local confirmed infections. Although the case numbers remain relatively insignificant in a global context, they are China’s highest since the first weeks of the pandemic.”

The city government said in a public notice on Sunday that “the two-part lockdown is being implemented to curb the spread of the epidemic, ensure the safety and health of the people and root out cases of infection as soon as possible.”

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The eastern half of Shanghai, known as Pudong, will be locked down until April 1st as residents undergo mass testing procedures. The western half of the city, known as Puxi, will be locked down until April 5th for the same procedure. 

Shanghai’s public security bureau said it was “closing cross-river bridges and tunnels, and highway toll booths concentrated in eastern districts until April 1st. Areas to the west of the Huangpu River will have similar restrictions imposed.”

A member of the city’s pandemic taskforce had over the weekend vowed Shanghai would “not shut down. A lockdown in Shanghai, the country’s major financial and trading hub, would impact the entire national economy and the global economy. 

“If Shanghai, this city of ours, came to a complete halt, there would be many international cargo ships floating in the East China Sea.”

“It seems clear that the authorities have been trying to rely on targeted measures to the maximum extent possible, but clearly they now feel they cannot afford to wait any longer in Shanghai,” said Thomas Hale of Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government.

“Overall, we’re now seeing more [Chinese cities] using restrictive measures than any other time since 2020.”

Vietnam Coronavirus

 CDC Adds Vietnam to List Of Highest-Risk Travel Destinations 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added Vietnam to it’s Level 4 risk category for travel this week. Level 4 is the highest-risk level when it comes to traveling during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

There are currently nearly 140 places within the Level 4 category of risk; which is more destinations than all other levels combined. In the beginning of 2022 about 80 places were on the list. 

The CDC places a location at “Level 4: Very High Covid-19 Risk” when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered within 28 days. 

Vietnam has become the only destination to be added to the list within recent weeks. Previously, the nation was listed at Level 3 for “high risk.” Global case numbers in general have been declining since peaking in late January, but experts are continuing to caution that the pandemic is nowhere near over. 

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New Zealand has had relatively few Covid cases due to strict pandemic protocol restrictions. Recently, however, the nation has recorded record numbers of cases in the past week. The country remains at “high risk” on Level 3 after moving up from Level 2 last week. 

The CDC advises avoiding all travel to countries deemed Level 4. The CDC does not include the US in its list of advisories, but the nation is currently coded at Level 4. Mexico, Canada, France, Peru, Singapore, and Spain are some of the other countries that have remained at Level 4 for over a month. The United Kingdom has remained there since July 2021. 

The Level 3 “high risk” category applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents within 28 days. Comoros, Hong Kong, São Tomé and Príncipe were added to the category this week. 

Hong Kong went from Level 1 to Level 3 this week, it previously was on Level 1 since May 2021. Hong Kong is currently dealing with their worst Covid-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, and is planning on testing its entire population in March. 

Destinations at a Level 2 are considered “Covid-19 moderate,” meaning they have around 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 residents within 28 days. 

This week, 10 destinations moved down to Level 2, including Uganda, Ghana, Republic Of Congo, Montserrat, Rwanda, Togo, Lesotho, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Liberia. 

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To be considered “Level 1: Covid Low” a destination must have less than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over 28 days. Nigeria was the sole destination that moved to Level 1 this week. There are only 5 other locations considered Level 1, including China where the 2022 Winter Olympics were hosted. 

Finally, the CDC also has a risk level for “unknown” risk due to a lack of information and Covid data. These are typically smaller remote places, or places with ongoing warfare/civil unrest. 

Transmission rates are “one guidepost for travelers’ personal risk calculations,” according to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

“We are entering a phase in the pandemic where people need to make their own decisions based on their medical circumstances as well as their risk tolerance when it comes to contracting Covid-19,” Wen said.

“You should interpret Level 4 to mean this is a place with a lot of community transmission of Covid-19. So if you go, there is a higher chance that you could contract the coronavirus,” said Wen.

“Some people will decide the risk is too high for them, other people will say, ‘Because I am vaccinated and boosted, I am willing to take on that risk. So this really needs to be a personal decision that people weigh understanding that right now the CDC is classifying the different levels based on community transmission rates, and basically only that. They’re not taking into account individual circumstances,” Wen explained. 

You can review the CDC’s risk levels for any global destination on its travel recommendations page.

UK Fighting against Covid-19

UK To Roll Out Additional Covid-19 Vaccines For Vulnerable People And Elderly 

The UK announced this week that it will be rolling out an additional Covid-19 vaccine for the elderly and clinically vulnerable populations. Adults over the age of 75, nursing home residents, and anyone who’s immunocompromised will be given an extra dose of a Covid vaccine in the spring. 

Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) said the rollout is a part of a “precautionary strategy for 2022,” adding that individuals over the age of 18 will be offered Pfizer/BioNTech or the Modernas vaccine for the spring dose, while 12 to 18-year-olds will be given Pfizer/BioNTech exclusively. 

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“An extra booster shot will be given 6 months after an eligible individual’s most recent dose. For older people in the U.K., this will be the fourth vaccine dose they have been offered. For people with a severely weakened immune system, it will be the fifth vaccine shot they have been offered. The bulk of the population has been offered three shots, two vaccinations and one booster,”  the JCVI said.

“There remains considerable uncertainty with regards to the likelihood, timing and severity of any potential future wave of Covid-19 in the U.K.”

“There may be a transition period of a few years before a stable pattern, such as a regular seasonal wave of infection, is established,” the JCVI said.

A majority of the UK’s oldest, and most vulnerable, adults received their most recent Covid vaccine in September or October. The JCVI noted that “the immunity this group gained through their booster shot may wane substantially before the fall, when we plan to roll out a wider booster program.” 

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Details on the fall program have not been published yet. 85% of those aged 12 and older in the eligible population of UK residents have received their two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and two-thirds of that group has received a booster shot.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also preparing to announce and end to all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England, a move which many medical professionals have criticized. 

Most of England’s Covid restrictions have already been lifted. The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus is one of the few requirements still in place. 

Johnson is also planning to announce that access to free Covid tests will be scaled back, even though the nation recorded 25,696 new cases this Sunday alone. About 508 individuals per 100,000 people are currently infected with Covid-19 in England. 

“Thanks to our COVID-19 vaccination rollout, we are already the freest country in Europe. It has saved countless lives, reduced pressure on the National Health Service, and is allowing us to learn to live with the virus,”  U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement on Monday.

Australia Will Reopen Borders To Vaccinated International Travelers 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this week that Australia will open its borders up fully for vaccinated international travelers starting later this month. The decision was made after Prime Minister Morrison met with the government’s national security committee. 

“The National Security Committee and Cabinet has decided today that Australia will reopen our borders to all remaining visa holders on the 21st of February,” Morrison said.

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Australia has remained mostly closed since early 2020 when the pandemic began. Through travel program collaborations with New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, they’ve been able to slowly start reopening their borders for vaccinated travelers. 

As it currently stands, citizens, permanent residents and their families, as well as international students, backpackers, and migrant workers are allowed to enter the country if they can provide proof of two doses of an approved Covid-19 vaccine. Tourists will have to abide by the same rules as well. 

“The condition is you must be double vaccinated to come to Australia. That’s the rule. Everyone is expected to abide by it. State-based caps on quarantine will continue and those caps will still be determined by state and territory governments,” Morrison explained. 

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Morrison went on to explain how visa requirements are different from the vaccination requirements being put in place for entry into the nation: “Your visa is one thing, but your entry into Australia requires you also to be double vaccinated and I think events earlier in the year should have sent a very clear message I think to everyone around the world that that is the requirement to enter into Australia.”

Morrison also explained that one of the biggest goals with the reopening it to help the travel industry recover within the country: “I know the tourism industry will be looking forward to that, and over the next two weeks they’ll get the opportunity both for visitors to be coming and for them to be gearing up to welcome international visitors back to Australia.”

Currently about 80% of eligible adults in Australia are fully vaccinated, a majority of which occurred after Tourism Australia released an ad campaign titled “Our Best Shot For Travel” across all online and physical news platforms to encourage citizens to get their inoculations so they could return to some level of normalcy when it comes to traveling. 

As of February 7th, Australia has over 2.7 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, of which there were also around 4,200 deaths. 

New Proposed Bill Would Require All California Schoolchildren To Be Vaccinated Against Covid-19 

California State Senator Richard Pan will be proposing a bill this week that would overturn a loophole in the state’s requirement over children receiving their Covid-19 vaccinations. 

The bill will add Covid-19 vaccines to California’s list of required vaccinations for children attending K-12 programs. This bill would also override Governor Gavin Newsom’s scaled back mandates from last year. 

We need to make sure schools are safe so that all parents are comfortable sending their children to school, and we want to keep schools open.”

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This legislation marks the second major vaccine bill announced this year from a work group of Democratic lawmakers who are focused on increasing vaccination rates, while combating the spread of misinformation. 

Last Thursday Senator Scott Wiener introduced a bill that would permit children 12 and over to choose to be vaccinated without a parent’s consent or knowledge. Both bills are likely to be met with opposition from groups who are against vaccine mandates in general. 

California currently requires all students at public and private universities to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations, however, this mandate won’t be enforced until the US Food and Drug Administration fully approves the shot for children ages 12 and older. 

Currently the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is fully FDA approved for individuals aged 16 and older. Once the vaccine is fully approved, however, parents could still opt their children out of being vaccinated due to personal beliefs. 

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“We should be having conversations about what’s best for our children and what’s best for the safety of schools,” Pan said.

Pan’s bill will require all students from kindergarten to 12th grade to be vaccinated against Covid-19. By adding the Covid-19 inoculations to the state’s list of required vaccines for students, parents would need a full medical exemption to skip those doses. 

The bill would also allow the California Department of Public Health to mandate vaccines without requiring the state to offer personal belief exemptions for individuals who still haven’t been vaccinated. 

“The evidence clearly shows that vaccines help reduce the spread of infection, which will reduce transmission in schools and protect those who are medically vulnerable. The vaccine will also help reduce COVID-related absences, and reduce the likelihood that schools will need to be closed for outbreaks,” wrote the superintendents at LA Unified, the state’s largest school district, in a letter to legislative leaders.

France Now Legally Requires Vaccine Pass From Citizens 

The French government passed a bill this weekend that legally requires citizens to be vaccinated against Covid-19 if they want access to cultural events, theme parks, restaurants, bars, and other public places where social gathering is normalized. 

The bill was passed on Sunday, and will likely begin to be enforced on Friday January 21st. Initially, European countries were using the EU Digital Covid Certificate to allow EU citizens to travel freely within EU countries; similar to the vaccine passes we have on our phones in America depending on where you live. 

Previously any citizen who is fully vaccinated, who has had Covid-19, or who can show proof of a negative Covid test was able to travel across EU borders freely. Each state within the EU, however, is responsible for their own system when it comes to vaccination requirements. 

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The French government has now made it a legal requirement to have a Vaccine Pass in order to go to public spaces or travel in or out of the country; a negative Covid-19 test will no longer be enough. 

The French senate voted in favor of the vaccine passes this past Sunday, which was the final government body that had to approve the bill before it can be made into law, which is expected to happen this Friday. 

90% of French people over the age of 12 are already vaccinated, so this new law will not impact them. Anyone who is not vaccinated, however, will be prohibited from eating out, going to theaters, or traveling long distances. 

There are a couple of exceptions to the new bill as well. Children between the ages of 12-16 will only be required to use a Health Pass; which is what most vaccinated EU citizens are currently using. This means kids within that age bracket can continue to use a negative test to stay up-to-date on their requirements. 

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Unvaccinated individuals will still have access to long-distance buses and trains if there is an “imperative reason of a family or health nature,” according to the bill. A negative test result will be allowed in the case of a dying relative or similar health emergency in which travel is required. 

The vaccination pass will not be required in hotels and holiday cottages unless the owners decide to enforce it. Owners have the right to refuse business to anyone and can make it a requirement as well for any traveler trying to stay at their establishment. Any communal spaces within these hotels, such as bars or restaurants, will be required to check for Vaccine Passes regardless. 

France defines an individual as “fully vaccinated” once their at least one week away from their second dose of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca vaccine, or one month away from their single Janssen dose. 

If the most recent vaccine dose was over 7 months ago, the individual must get a booster in order to maintain their Vaccine Pass and keep it active. 

For individuals living outside of France, a vaccine is required to enter the country. Travelers arriving from a non-EU country are also required to provide a negative Covid-19 test in addition to being vaccinated. 

Two Positive Covid Tests

US Government To Begin Shipping ‘Free’ At-Home Covid Tests To Citizens 

A new federal law now states that health insurance companies in the US must pay for at-home Covid test kits. Customers will be able to be reimbursed for up to eight tests per month per individual, or receive them for free at participating pharmacies; meaning under this new law a family of five could get up to 40 free tests per month. 

Individuals with health insurance will be able to receive their free at-home tests directly from the federal government starting Wednesday January 19th by going to COVIDTests.gov to request their supply. Kits will begin shipping out within seven to 12 days. 

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“This program will ensure that Americans have at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests available in the weeks and months ahead — in addition to the number of other ways they can get tested,” the White House said on Friday

“The administration is quickly completing a contracting process for the unprecedented purchase of 1 billion at-home, rapid tests to distribute as part of this program.” 

The US Postal Service will be delivering kits throughout the continental US through First-Class Package Service, according to the government. Any shipments made to Alaska, Hawaii, and other US territories will be sent via Priority Mail. 

President Biden announced Thursday the government was “doubling the number of available free tests to 1 billion and providing 5 million PCR tests for free to schools per month.” 

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Colorado, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Washington, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon,  and New Hampshire. Washington, DC, is making at-home tests available for pickup at area libraries while other cities, such as New York and Boston, are distributing them to local health clinics,” according to the White House. 

In another plan announced by President Biden, health insurance companies are now required to reimburse Americans for eight at-home antigen tests per person per month. If an individual is required to undergo testing due to an underlying health condition, or other factors, there will be no limit implemented on the amount of tests covered. 

For those without insurance, Biden announced that there would be “thousands of locations” where Americans can pick up free Covid-19 test kits to use at home, rather than needing to go get tested at a facility. 

Those without insurance are also able to access free testing kits at community health clinics, and other local participating sites. The Department of Health and Human Services has also provided an online search tool for Americans needing to find a community-based Covid-19 testing site.

Omicron Could Infect 50% Of Europeans Within Next Two Months

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that a west-to-east “tidal wave” of new Omicron infections could infect more than half of Europe’s population within the next two months. The WHO stated that the wave of infections could potentially shut down multiple health systems across Europe which would leave more individuals at risk for infection. 

The WHO’s Europe director, Hans Kluge, said that the region has already recorded more than 7 million new cases of Covid within the first week of 2022, which is two-times the amount of infections when compared to two weeks ago. More than 1% of the European population is catching Covid each week within 29 countries, according to WHO’s data. 

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Kluge also explained how the Omicron variant has been reported in 50 out of Europe’s 53 states, and was becoming the dominant strain in western Europe.

“At this rate, more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks. We’re deeply concerned, as we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated,” Kluge explained. 

Kluge explained that Omicron cases have specifically “exploded” in Denmark, where the current Covid-19 hospitalization rate for unvaccinated patients is six times higher than for those who are fully vaccinated. 

“While vaccines provide good protection against severe disease and death, rising hospital admissions are still challenging health systems and service delivery in many countries … and threaten to overwhelm them in many more.”

The WHO warned that countries in Europe that have yet to be impacted by Omicron have a small window of time to protect themselves and their most vulnerable citizens. 

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Kluge explained how every country’s government should be mandating high-quality masks in every closed and indoor space, as well as ensuring individuals have their full vaccine series and booster doses when applicable. 

“Where the Omicron surge has begun, the priority should be to avoid and reduce harm among the vulnerable, and minimize disruption to health systems and essential services.”

“This means prioritizing vulnerable people for primary course and booster doses, advising them to avoid closed, crowded spaces, and offering the possibility to work remotely wherever possible until the infection surge passes,” Kluge said.

He continued to explain how PCR testing should be prioritized for critical workers and individuals more at risk for severe disease, and rapid tests should be sent out at a larger rate. 

Keeping schools open had “important benefits for children’s mental, social and educational wellbeing, so we’re urging governments to review protocols on testing, isolation and quarantine of classroom contacts to minimize disruption to learning,” Kluge explained.

Canadians Warned To Avoid Nonessential International Travel Amid Omicron

Canada issues a travel advisory this week, asking its citizens to avoid all nonessential international travel as the Omicron variant continues to spread around the world. 

“We see the situation abroad, and we’re afraid and concerned with what could happen to Canadians who would choose to go abroad in the next few weeks.”

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“The situation abroad is already dire in many places, and it’s going to get worse very quickly. So we are afraid for what could happen to them if they chose to travel. And once they have left Canada, there is very little we can do to help them,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, Canada’s health minister.

Canadian government officials also warned that other restrictions will likely be announced in the coming days/weeks to better protect their citizens from infection. 

The US-Canada border is still open, and those who are travelling by land between the two nations don’t need to provide a negative Covid-19 test as long as their trip is less than 72 hours and they’re vaccinated. 

Canada is also allowing foreigners to enter the country for business and leisure, as long as they’re vaccinated and provide a negative Covid-19 test upon entry. 

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The current travel advisory is set to last for at least four weeks, and Canadian officials said that imposing stricter measures in the coming days is still a likely option.

“We are constantly reassessing so when we feel we need to change our policies, we will announce it as quickly as possible, but for now, we are monitoring it and assessing it,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra during the news conference.

Despite high levels of vaccination in Canada, public health officials are still worried as Canadians remain vulnerable to the Omicron variant, and are preparing for an increase in cases within the coming weeks. 

“I know the rising threat Omicron poses is not something any of us want to be dealing with, especially now just before the holidays. I know we are all tired, we are all tired of Covid. But I think we all also understand that after 21 months of fighting this virus and doing a pretty good job as a country, that making hard decisions quickly and behaving carefully pays off,” said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland when announcing the travel advisory.