The latest:

More than 1,600 volunteers have signed up after New Brunswick issued a call to the public for assistance amid a growing wave of COVID-19 that has sparked concern over the strained health-care system, the province says.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard asked for paid and unpaid volunteers to help with the clinical and non-clinical pandemic response as the Omicron variant is causing both increased hospitalizations and staff absences.

In an update Wednesday, the province said more than 1,600 New Brunswickers have already stepped up.

Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre is shown in Moncton, N.B., on Jan. 14. The province’s health-care system is feeling the strain as the Omicron variant causes both increased hospitalizations and staff absences. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)

The province says training and personal protective equipment will be provided. Clinical work includes administering vaccines and COVID-19 tests and personal support work, while non-clinical work includes clerical support, customer service and food preparation and delivery.

New Brunswick on Wednesday reported four new COVID-19 deaths, while the number of hospitalizations was at a record high 123, with 11 in ICU.  The province, which is one of many jurisdictions in Canada that now restrict access to PCR testing, also reported an additional 498 lab-confirmed cases.

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, hospitals in Nova Scotia are at 100 per cent capacity and facing “an extremely delicate balance,” the province’s chief medical officer of health says.

At a COVID-19 update Wednesday, Dr. Robert Strang urged those are have not been vaccinated — about 70,000 Nova Scotians — to do so, and also stressed the importance of getting a booster once eligible.

The province reported three new deaths from COVID-19. There were 83 people hospitalized due to the virus, including 12 in ICU. There were 527 new lab-confirmed cases.

Prince Edward Island on Wednesday moved into tight new restrictions — including closing gyms and restaurant dining rooms — and extended remote learning until the end of January as officials try to slow the spread of COVID-19.  

This comes as the island reported one additional death and a total of 10 COVID-19 hospitalizations, including three in intensive care.  The province also reported an additional 304 lab-confirmed cases.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a decision by education officials on sending the province’s students, teachers and staff back to schools next week has been pushed to Thursday from Wednesday.

The province on Wednesday reported that COVID-19 hospitalizations had risen to 18, with four in ICU. There were also an additional 511 lab-confirmed cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

— From CBC News, last updated at 7 p.m. ET

What’s happening elsewhere in Canada

WATCH | Omicron cases expected to peak this month in Ontario: 

Omicron expected to peak this month in Ontario, health minister says

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says the rate of hospital admissions for COVID-19 is beginning to stabilize, offering a ‘glimmer of hope’ that the latest wave is reaching its peak. 1:20

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, Ontario health officials reported an additional 60 deaths on Wednesday, as the province’s health minister held a COVID-19 briefing alongside the province’s top doctor.

Health Minister Christine Elliott reported a total of 4,132 hospitalizations, with 589 in ICU. A total of 5,744 additional lab-confirmed cases were reported in Ontario on Wednesday, which was the first day back in classrooms for many students after a winter storm delayed the shift to in-person education.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday that for the first time in weeks, the number of people in the province’s hospitals and intensive care units is “increasing at a slower pace.”

Elliott said she sees a glimmer of hope, but cautioned that February will pose a challenge — especially for hospitals.

Quebec’s COVID-19 update on Wednesday showed 88 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 3,425, with 285 people in intensive care units. The province also reported an additional 6,123 lab-confirmed cases.

“In all likelihood, the number of cases has already peaked,” Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s interim public health director, told reporters on Tuesday. “We’re starting to see the rise in hospitalizations slowing down, which is a very good sign, even if the situation in hospitals remains very fragile.”

A man has a paper checked by an SAQ employee at an outlet in Montreal on Tuesday. In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, vaccine passports are mandatory to enter liquor and cannabis stores. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In the province’s north, all 14 communities in Nunavik are now at the highest COVID-19 alert level — red —  as health officials said there is community transmission in more than half of the region’s communities. Under the updated measures, schools and daycares can reopen but all non-essential public places must be shut down and visits to other people’s homes are not allowed.

Elsewhere in the North, Nunavut reported 20 new lab-confirmed cases on Wednesday, while the Northwest Territories reported 138 new lab-confirmed cases and Yukon added 35.

N.W.T.’s chief public health officer on Tuesday said restrictions on gatherings were being extended until the end of the month. A statement from Dr. Kami Kandola said additional recommendations are being made for Inuvik and Fort Smith, including a call for work-from-home where possible, because of community transmission.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba on Wednesday reported 12 additional COVID-19-related deaths. Hospitalizations rose to 631, with 50 in intensive care. There were 919 additional lab-confirmed cases, with the five-day positivity rate now at 33.1 per cent.

Saskatchewan reported no new COVID-related deaths on Wednesday. The total number of hospitalizations rose to 199, with 21 people in ICU. The province also reported an additional 1,223 lab-confirmed cases.

WATCH | Here’s how patients might access Pfizer’s antiviral pill: 

How might patients access the COVID-19 antiviral pill?

Infectious diseases specialists Dr. Susy Hota and Dr. Isaac Bogoch talk about how people might be able to access the new COVID-19 antiviral pill, Paxlovid, and how it could impact the health-care system. 4:09

Meanwhile, Alberta reported one new COVID-related death on Wednesday and 1,101 total hospitalizations, including 108 in intensive care. There were 3,837 new lab-confirmed cases.

The update comes a day after the province’s chief medical officer of health said COVID-19 hospitalization rates are rising to levels not seen since mid-October when Alberta’s health-care system was grappling with the fourth wave.

In British Columbia, the province reported 895 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, including 115 people in intensive care. Thirteen additional deaths were reported, along with 2,387 new cases.

— From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 8:05 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

WATCH | Strict COVID-19 testing at Beijing Olympics: 

China’s COVID-19 testing threshold could keep some athletes from Olympics

With just days before hundreds of athletes, coaches and staff depart for the Beijing Winter Olympics, CBC News has learned that China’s COVID-19 testing threshold is so high, it may prevent some athletes from competing — even if they’ve been previously cleared of the virus. 2:54

As of Wednesday evening, more than 337 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.

In the Americas, the Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the Omicron variant over cloth face coverings.

Meanwhile, New Mexico became the first state in the country to ask National Guard troops to serve as substitute teachers as preschools and K-12 public schools struggle to keep classrooms open amid surging COVID-19 infections.

Brazil reported 204,854 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, breaking the country’s previous record for the second day in a row, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

WATCH | The dos and don’ts of mask layering: 

What you need to know about layering masks

If you don’t have access to an N95 mask, or an equivalent, layering masks can be a good option — but that’s only if they’re being worn correctly. Dr. Anna Wolak, a family physician and member of Masks4Canada, breaks down the dos and don’ts of mask layering, as well as some hacks to help your masks fit better. 3:22

In Europe, Portuguese voters with COVID-19 or those in isolation due to exposure to the rampant virus will be allowed to leave home to cast their ballots in a snap election on Jan. 30, the government said on Wednesday. 

Austria, Slovenia and Croatia reported record new daily infections Wednesday, while new cases and deaths fell in neighbouring Italy.

Meanwhile, doctors and medical workers in Poland fear the country’s health-care system may not be able to cope with the latest surge of COVID-19 infections. More than 30,000 new cases in 24 hours were reported Wednesday, and health authorities are expecting the figure to almost double in the next week.

Doctors treat COVID-19 patients connected to ventilators at the hospital of the Ministry of Interior and Administration in Warsaw on Wednesday. Doctors and medics are expecting a huge strain on the health-care system from the rising fifth wave of COVID-19 infections. (Czarek Sokolowski/The Associated Press)

In Africa, South African-American businessman Patrick Soon-Shiong opened a new vaccine plant in Cape Town on Wednesday, intended to help his local NantSA company make COVID-19 shots and address the continent’s deadly dearth of manufacturing capacity.

Algeria’s leader on Wednesday ordered all elementary and high schools closed for 10 days because of surging COVID-19 infections in the North African country and authorities tightened entry requirements at airports.

In the Asia-Pacific region, New Zealand said Tonga had agreed to receive two of its ships carrying aid and supply following a volcanic eruption and tsunami, despite concerns about importing a COVID-19 outbreak that would make matters worse. Tonga is one of the few countries to be free of the coronavirus. Vaccination against the virus is as high as 90 per cent among Tongans.

Shari Marco, 93, receives a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in a retirement home in Netanya, Israel, on Jan. 5, after the government approved a second booster shot for the immunocompromised, people over 60 years and medical staff. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

In the Middle East, Israel will continue to offer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot despite preliminary findings that it is not enough to prevent Omicron infections, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday. A preliminary study published by an Israeli hospital on Monday found that the fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third but “probably” not enough to fend off the highly transmissible Omicron.

— From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 8:10 p.m. ET

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By MD Abdullah

Abdullah is a former educator, lifelong money nerd, and a Plutus Award-winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. Her background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson. She is the author of four books, including End Financial Stress Now and The Five Years Before You Retire.

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