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As Canadian leaders urge ‘prudence’ and ‘caution’ during holidays, vaccinated Americans told they can ‘safely celebrate’


Chrystia Freeland ‘strongly’ pushed back against the suggestion her government’s current COVID-19 messaging sounded worried, if not panicked

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OTTAWA — U.S. President Joe Biden is offering a message of comfort to fully vaccinated Americans during the Christmas holidays, while the Trudeau government is instead urging “prudence” and “caution” and exhorting Canadians to restrict gatherings as much as possible.

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“I know some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with your family and friends. The answer is yes, you can, if you and those you celebrate with are vaccinated, particularly if you’ve gotten your booster shot,” Biden told Americans during a speech Tuesday.

“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. You know, you’ve done the right thing.  You could enjoy the holiday season,” he continued, adding that unvaccinated people have “good reason to be concerned” about getting sick.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Liberals ministers and Canadian public health officials had a very different tone during a press conference on Wednesday, where they announced further financial assistance for businesses affected by increasingly strict restrictions in many provinces as COVID-19 cases dramatically rise.

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Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam exhorted Canadians to keep holiday gatherings “as small as possible,” ideally only involving family and close friends. She and others at the press conference also encouraged everyone to get their first, second or booster shot as quickly as possible.

With daily national COVID-19 cases doubling in the last week to hit 11,300 on Tuesday, Tam also warned that the “national trend” of severe illnesses has shifted in the wrong direction.

On Wednesday, Quebec announced a record number of new cases (6,361) due to the Omicron variant, as well as 30 new hospitalizations, but no new COVID-19 patients in the ICU.

On the same day, Ontario recorded 4,383 new cases, a small increase in hospitalizations (eight patients) and ICU patients (three patients), and nine new deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

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On Wednesday, the Trudeau government announced measures to support Canadians and businesses in the face of more provincial lockdowns. Ontario has cut in half capacity limits in many public spaces including restaurants and bars, and Quebec recently shut down schools, bars and movie theatres and will limit gatherings to six people starting Dec. 26.

Asked about the contrast between Canadian officials’ messaging and that of the U.S. president, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she “strongly” pushed back against the suggestion her government’s current COVID-19 messaging sounded worried, if not panicked.

“That is totally not the case. Quite the contrary. I think Canadians should be reassured by the fact that we are ready for this as a country,” Freeland said.

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

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos added that Canada had a lower COVID-19 death rate than many other countries, including the United States, thanks to public health measures from governments of all levels.

“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.

During the press conference, Trudeau revealed that three of his office staff as well as three members of his protective detail had recently tested positive for COVID-19.

He added that daily rapid tests have come up negative for him, and that he is limiting social contacts to a bare minimum for the time being all the while monitoring for symptoms. He said that public health told him that isolating was not required in his case for the time being.

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He also acknowledged Canadians’ overall weariness towards the pandemic nearly two years after it began, and promised that the federal government was doing everything it could to end it. That includes ensuring there are enough booster shots for all Canadians, as well as more than 110 million rapid tests ready for distribution to provinces by the end of the year.

“We need to follow public health guidelines to keep loved ones safe and to support our health care workers. I know people are tired, people don’t want to be in this Omicron situation. I get it,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

“None of us want to be here. We’re tired of COVID and we want it to just go away. But we know it’s not going to just go away unless we all do our part.”

Trudeau and Tam also pushed back against the feeling shared by many Canadians facing increasing pandemic restrictions that it’s back to square one in the fight against COVID-19.

“We have more and better tools in our toolbox, including vaccines and booster doses, better knowledge of transmission and enhanced guidance on individual protections, as well as more testing options and improved clinical management and treatments for the coming weeks,” Tam said.

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