Canada’s Fourth Wave of COVID Could Be Biggest Yet, Experts Say

Cases are rising all over the country and experts worry it’ll only get worse when children go back to school in September.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
Healthcare workers putting on PPE to help COVID-19 patient
Healthcare workers don personal protective equipment as they prepare to enter the room of a patient suffering from COVID-19. (Photo by Cole Burston / AFP) (Photo by COLE BURSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada’s fourth wave of COVID-19, led by the Delta variant largely infecting the unvaccinated, is well underway—and experts say it could be the worst yet, even as the majority of Canadians are fully vaccinated.

Cases are rising across the country, especially in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec. In early July, for example, Edmonton, Alberta, had fewer than 200 active cases, but as of Tuesday, the city had nearly 2,500. The worry is that the province could end up reporting up to 2,500 new cases per day by mid-September if nothing changes.  

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“We’re in big trouble,” Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency physician in Calgary, told Global News.

Meanwhile, Ontario just logged the fourth day in a row with more than 600 new infections per day, and according to projections, the province could see up to 7,000 new cases per day by October—compared to the peak in April when 4,700 cases were recorded in a single day. 

B.C., desperate to get things under control, has announced a vaccine passport system that will ban unvaccinated people from participating in several activities, including weddings, indoor exercise, and concerts. It follows Quebec, the only other province in Canada to introduce the measure. 

“It is urgent to reduce transmission and expand vaccination coverage to avoid overwhelming B.C.’s medical system,” says a new report, published by BC COVID-19 Modelling Group, a team monitoring pandemic trends in the province. “For the past five weeks, infections throughout B.C. have been growing exponentially.”

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The highly infectious Delta variant is at the heart of the fourth wave, and Canadians could see active cases double quite quickly, especially since there are few public health restrictions across the country right now.  “With each week you’re going to see increasing cases,” Craig Janes, director of the school of public health sciences at the University of Waterloo, told Global News. 

About two-thirds of Canadians are fully vaccinated, but experts say that figure needs to jump to 90 percent before the country can beat the fourth wave. A chorus of experts, including health journalists and doctors, have asked governments to consider vaccine passports. But many governments, especially those with a conservative, libertarian bent such as Alberta and Ontario are against implementing them. 

Many private companies and universities have stepped in instead to mandate vaccinations among their employees and students. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made vaccines mandatory for federal workers. 

“Governments need to embrace all strategies to get at that more persistent percentage of vaccine uptake,” University of Calgary professor Lorian Hardcastle, who specializes in health law and policy, previously told VICE World News.

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People are also worried that children under 12, currently ineligible for vaccination, are most at-risk. In the U.S., hospitals are bracing themselves for back-to-school season as more and more children infected with the Delta variant require urgent medical care—and experts worry it’ll only get worse.

"We certainly know that kids can get infected, we know that they can transmit this infection and if we compare kids to older adults they just tend to not get as sick," infectious disease expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV. "Of course, a small but very real percentage of children can get really sick and can land in hospital."

There are also reports of children getting so-called “long-haul” COVID, or infections that result in lingering symptoms. By getting vaccinated, adults can limit opportunities for children to be exposed to COVID-19.

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