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Ontario reports record COVID-19 cases as more politicians cop to foreign travel

The COVID-19 fallout from the festive season continues to emerge, with several provinces reporting spikes in infections as more jet-setting politicians are taken to task for flouting public health warnings discouraging non-essential travel.

Ontario reported an all-time high of 3,363 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, beating the previous single-day record of 3,328 cases set during the province's last report on Thursday.

The province also reported 2,476 diagnoses from New Year's Day, for a total of 5,839 new infections in 2021. But officials say that tally may be off after a data problem led to under-reporting in Toronto.

The province also logged 95 more deaths in the past two days, according to officials. There are 1,003 hospitalizations in Ontario, with 322 patients in intensive care units, and 220 people on ventilators.

Meanwhile, Rod Phillips' resignation from his role as Ontario's finance minister Thursday over a controversy surrounding his Caribbean vacation has set off a cascade of revelations about political officials' foreign getaways.

Two more members of Alberta's legislature have joined the growing cohort of lawmakers who have admitted to travelling abroad while their constituents were urged to stay home for the holidays.

A spokeswoman for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Jeremy Nixon and Tanya Fir, both representing Calgary-area ridings, took trips to the U.S. in recent weeks.

Christine Myatt said in an email Saturday that Nixon is cutting his trip to Hawaii short and will return home on the "earliest available flight."

Fir has posted an apology on Facebook on Friday after returning from a vacation to the U.S. to visit her sister.

The disclosures came as Alberta's chief medical officer of health tweeted Saturday that there were an estimated 900 new COVID-19 cases recorded in the province on New Year's Day.

Kenney said Friday he was aware of several legislature members and senior officials who had holidayed outside the country, including his own chief of staff and Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard.

He issued a new directive ordering members of his United Conservative caucus to not leave Canada unless it's for government business, but said those who previously travelled wouldn't be punished.

The federal NDP wasn't quite forgiving to Manitoba member of Parliament Niki Ashton, who was stripped of her cabinet critic positions after travelling to Greece to visit her ill grandmother.

Dr. Maria Sundaram, a Toronto-based epidemiologist at the health-care research agency ICES, said while she normally doesn't endorse shaming people as a public health strategy, she believes politicians must be held to a higher standard, because their actions set an example for the public they serve.

"There are some leaders out there who are really practicing what they preach and that is really reassuring and really motivating," Sundaram said.

"Unfortunately, there are others who haven't quite adhered to the policies that they've espoused for others and that really damages trust and it really damages our ability to keep going."

Manitoba officials reported 11 deaths from COVID-19 over the past two days, and said 326 new cases of the virus have been identified since Thursday morning.

The province said the five-day test positivity rate is 10.4 per cent. There are 239 patients with active COVID-19 in Manitoba hospitals, 36 of whom are in intensive care.

Two Atlantic provinces, meanwhile, reported double-digit increases in COVID-19 cases.

Health authorities in New Brunswick said there were 10 new cases of COVID-19 in the province Saturday.

In Nova Scotia, officials said there were 13 new COVID-19 infections, with 11 confirmed on New Year's Day and two confirmed Saturday.

Five of the new cases have been linked to a private school in the Halifax area, where two cases have previously been identified.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2021.

—with files by Jacob Serebrin in Montreal. 

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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