Canada eases border measures amid new COVID-19 variant

A protester hauls away a wagon of garbage in front parked trucks as demonstrators continue to protest the vaccine mandates on Feb 17, 2022 in Ottawa, Canada. (DAVE CHAN/AFP)

OTTAWA / ROME / LONDON / LOS ANGELES – Border measures were eased in Canada on Friday as fully vaccinated travelers no longer need pre-arrival COVID-19 testing to enter Canada either by land or air.

Vaccinated people could still be subject to random molecular tests when they arrive in Canada. If they are randomly selected, they are not required to isolate, unless the result returns positive, according to a previous announcement by the Health Ministry.

Announcing these measures in March, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the health authorities would continue to adjust them as the epidemiological situation in Canada and abroad evolves.

Currently some places in Canada have entered a so-called sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic driven by the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron although it's unclear how severe it will be and whether the rest of the country will follow.

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The Public Health Agency of Canada warned Friday new variants will continue to appear. "We must remain vigilant and take all available measures to limit spread," the PHAC said in a daily update report.

According to the data released by the PHAC on Friday, the number of total COVID-19 cases in the country reached 3,484,560, with 159,270 active cases and 37,626 deaths. 

Britain

The prevalence of COVID-19 among people in England rose to its highest since the pandemic began in 2020, data from Britain's Office for National Statistics showed on Friday.

One 1 in 13 people were believed to have the coronavirus in the week ending March 26, the fourth consecutive increase and higher than 1 in 16 recorded in the previous week. The ONS estimated 4.1 million people in England had COVID-19.

The reading came on the day that free testing for COVID-19 ended for the general public. A self-test kit costs now typically around 2 pounds ($2.63), while a PCR test at a lab could cost between 40 and 90 pounds.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has cautioned that ending free testing could mean fewer people get tested when they have symptoms.

The government has said healthcare workers, social care staff and the most vulnerable will still get tests without any charge.

A man takes pictures without wearing a face mask, at the Roman Forum in Rome on Feb 11, 2022, as the obligation to wear a mask against coronavirus outdoors is lifted in the country.
(VINCENZO PINTO / AFP)

Italy

Italy on Friday began to phase out its COVID-19 restrictions, ending a state of emergency public authorities declared more than two years ago that allowed it to bypass bureaucracy and swiftly impose rules via decrees.

A new phase is beginning … This does not mean that the pandemic is over. There is no 'off' button that magically makes the virus disappear.

  Roberto Speranza, Italian Health Minister

The state of emergency was introduced on Jan 31, 2020, but Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government announced plans in March to return to normal after deciding not to extend it. It officially ended on Thursday.

"A new phase is beginning … This does not mean that the pandemic is over. There is no 'off' button that magically makes the virus disappear," Health Minister Roberto Speranza told the newspaper la Repubblica.

Italy was the first Western country to be clobbered by the disease and it has registered 159,383 deaths, the eighth highest tally in the world, and more than 14.6 million cases.

Daily infections have risen again in Italy since the beginning of March, as they have in many other European countries, but they have stabilized in the last week, according to data from the think tank Gimbe.

The government has lifted attendance limits for outdoor and indoor sports venues, along with a requirement that anyone over the age of 50 should be vaccinated to enter their place of work.

The vaccination requirement will be kept until Dec 31 for workers in healthcare.

Rules have been eased for travelers to Italy, one of the world's top tourist destinations.

However, visitors still need to show COVID-19 health certificates and to complete a passenger locator form.

The health pass obligation for outdoor restaurants and local or regional public transport has already been removed. Masks will remain mandatory indoors until April 30.

US

A new study suggested the risk for cardiac complications was significantly higher after SARS-CoV-2 infection than after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination.

The study, published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, analyzed electronic health record data from 40 US health care systems from Jan 1, 2021 to Jan 31, 2022.

Researchers found the risk for cardiac outcomes was significantly higher after SARS-CoV-2 infection than after first, second, or unspecified dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccination for all other groups by sex and age, said the study.

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These findings support continued use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines among all eligible persons aged over five, it said.

Cardiac complications, particularly myocarditis and pericarditis, have been associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection and mRNA COVID-19 vaccination. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome is a rare but serious complication of SARS-CoV-2 infection with frequent cardiac involvement, according to the study.