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Today’s coronavirus news: Canada’s public health leaders navigate choppy waters as pandemic drags on; Djokovic back in detention in Australia

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The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

8:55 a.m.: As demand for mental health-care skyrockets in Canada, the pandemic has fuelled a front-line crisis few are talking about: psychiatrist burnout, with “extraordinary” rates of exhaustion in an overtaxed profession, one says.

Read the full story on the Star.

8:53 a.m.: As she waits for word on when she may be able to get into surgery, Cassandra Di Maria worries the cancer inside her is growing.

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The 30-year-old Woodbridge resident has Stage 4 colon cancer and stopped chemotherapy in October after 17 rounds of treatment. She was expecting to undergo an operation to remove a tumour from an ovary as well as spots, including on her liver.

After the operation, Di Maria planned to focus on her recovery and organize her wedding, scheduled for later this year.

Then Omicron came to Canada, filling hospitals to the brim with COVID-19 patients, and dealing a vicious blow to Di Maria’s hopes of leaving her cancer in the past and moving on with her life.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jeremy Nuttall.

8:51 a.m.: For the past nearly two years getting sick hasn’t been just getting sick. The pandemic spectre has loomed over us all. Now, governments and policy-makers are struggling to adapt to a version of COVID-19 that is both more transmissible and less deadly.

Many Canadians are now joining Club Omicron, if you will — those who have gone through the Omicron variant and come out the other side.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex McKeen.

8:50 a.m.: It felt like there was light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. The Delta variant had been suppressed due to the vaccine rollout. And another dark winter was not expected.

Until Omicron.

The new vastly more infectious variant, capable of partially evading immunity from vaccines and previous infections alike, rolled over the planet. The most vulnerable were once again at heightened risk. Children, the most resistant to the novel coronavirus, were now getting sick in larger numbers.

Schools closed. Restaurants were shuttered. Infection rates soared and hospitals were overrun.

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Ontarians — from parents to teachers to restaurateurs to doctors — are left grappling with unknowns, waiting for the punishing Omicron wave to release its grip. Here are five of their stories.

Read the full story from Torstar’s Grant LaFleche.

8:45 a.m.: If Omicron hit you over the holidays this year, you may now be wondering, is there a potential silver lining to this misery? Are you now protected from getting it again?

There’s still a lot of unknowns about the variant that was only first detected in November. Experts say you should have some protection after an infection, but it will vary a lot and it’s not clear how long it will last.

They stress that it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a third dose of the vaccine, as that’s what gives everyone the best chance against a severe outcome.

Read the full story from the Star’s May Warren.

8 a.m.: Concerned but not giving up, President Joe Biden is anxiously pushing ahead to prod people to get COVID-19 shots after the Supreme Court put a halt to the administration’s sweeping vaccinate-or-test plan for large employers.

At a time when hospitals are being overrun and record numbers of people are getting infected with the Omicron variant, the administration hopes states and companies will order their own vaccinate-or-test requirements. And if the presidential “bully pulpit” still counts for persuasion, Biden intends to use it.

While some in the business community cheered the defeat of the mandate, Biden insisted the administration effort has not been for naught. The high court’s ruling on Thursday “does not stop me from using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy,” he said.

The court’s conservative majority all-but-struck down the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirement that employers with 100 or more employees require their workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or tested weekly. However, it did leave in place a vaccination requirement for health care workers.

Meanwhile, the White House announced Friday that the federal website where Americans can request their own free COVID-19 tests will begin accepting orders next Wednesday. Those tests could provide motivation for some people to seek vaccination, and the administration is looking to address nationwide shortages. Supplies will be limited to just four free tests per home.

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8 a.m.: China said the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was confirmed in infections in Shanghai and Guangdong province, adding additional pressure on authorities to contain the highly contagious strain ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Two patients were in Zhongshan and Zhuhai in south China’s Guangdong province, National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said in a briefing in Beijing. A case in Shanghai reported on Thursday was also confirmed to have been infected with Omicron, he said, without giving details.

Beijing confirmed one Covid-19 case on Saturday evening, CCTV reported, citing the local health authority. The report didn’t specify the strain. The Winter Olympics start Feb. 4 in Beijing.

8 a.m.: Novak Djokovic was back in immigration detention Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia for being unvaccinated for COVID-19 was moved to higher court.

A Federal Court hearing has been scheduled for Sunday, a day before the men’s No. 1-ranked tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion was due to begin his title defence at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year.

Djokovic and his lawyers had a morning meeting with immigration officials and, by mid-afternoon, Australian media reported the tennis star was taken back into detention. Television footage showed the 34-year-old Serb wearing a face mask as he sat in a vehicle near an immigration detention hotel.

He spent four nights confined to a hotel near downtown Melbourne before being released last Monday when he won a court challenge on procedural grounds against his first visa cancellation.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday blocked the visa, which was originally revoked when he landed at a Melbourne airport on Jan. 5.

Deportation from Australia can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although that may be waived, depending on the circumstances.

Djokovic has acknowledged that his travel declaration was incorrect because it failed to indicate that he’d been in multiple countries in the two-week period before his arrival in Australia.

8 a.m.: The abrupt departure of Quebec’s public health director last week was further evidence of the rocky road being navigated by the country’s chief medical officers as the Omicron wave pushes the pandemic fight toward a third year.

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Quebec’s Dr. Horacio Arruda, who had been public health director since 2012, cited criticism about the government’s handling of the latest wave as he abruptly resigned Monday after 22 months overseeing the province’s pandemic response.

“Recent comments about the credibility of our opinions and our scientific rigour are undoubtedly causing a certain erosion of public support,’’ Arruda wrote in a letter offering his resignation.

It was a far cry from March 2020, when Arruda was among the group of top provincial health officers on the job when the pandemic hit. Arruda and the others, including B.C.’s Dr. Bonnie Henry, Alberta’s Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Nova Scotia’s Dr. Robert Strang, rose to prominence almost overnight, offering reassuring voices in a time of crisis.

“In the beginning, when we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and there was a great deal of uncertainty, the chief medical officer played an incredibly useful role, as they are intended to do — to be the public face of government and explain what is going on,” said Patrick Fafard, a University of Ottawa professor of public and international affairs who has been studying the role of the country’s medical officers.

“Their status in media terms or public opinion has declined — some of that is inevitable, but it’s also because of the tensions and contradictions in the role.”

Fafard said while the medical officers play an advisory role, each province views the role differently. In an extended pandemic, when the scientific evidence is evolving quickly, they’ve had to reconcile diverging views and governments that don’t make decisions based on science alone. They are often left to explain the policies, even though the decisions ultimately lie with the politicians.

Most of those on the job in 2020 remain in place, with the exception of Arruda and Ontario’s Dr. David Williams, who had been subject to criticism before he retired last year.

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