Canada is having its worst COVID-19 surge ever, with modelling showing that the country’s most populous province could soon suffer an unprecedented rate of up to 18,000 new cases per day if nothing changes.
The country set a new daily record on Thursday after it reported 9,564 new infections. Rates haven’t been this high since the pandemic first hit in 2020, and for the first time ever, Canada surpassed the U.S.—which has recorded the most COVID-19 deaths in the world—in daily COVID-19 case rates. The current “third wave” is marked by three of the world’s most concerning variants—B117, B1351, and P1—which are deadlier and more infectious.
P1, linked to a traveller from Brazil, could also threaten vaccine efficacy. Canada has had one of the worst outbreaks of the variant outside of Brazil, and had more than double the number of cases than the U.S. as of Monday, despite having a tenth of the population.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) issued a statement on Friday calling for “extraordinary measures” as the pandemic surpasses its “critical point.”
“As the third wave of the pandemic wreaks havoc on the health care and public health systems, health care providers, and patients, we are at a critical juncture where a truly national approach to combatting COVID-19 will make the difference between more or fewer lives saved,” said CMA president, Dr. Ann Collins.
CMA is asking for further restrictions, and for Canada to readjust its vaccine rollout, so that doses go to hardest hit areas across the country. Right now, the federal government delivers doses to provinces on a per capita basis.
Several Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, are matching or surpassing their new daily COVID-19 infection records. The situation is so bad that Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce even more restrictions on Friday in an effort to avoid daily rates rising to 18,000 new infections per day. He has already imposed a stay-at-home order, banned dine-in service, and non-essential shopping is prohibited.
Ontario’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe told CTV News that the province’s situation is “dire.”
"I have been providing updates to Ontarians for over a year now and at some of the previous press conferences I referred to the situation as worrisome and even scary. What is truly scary is when I used those words before our rates and trends were nowhere near where we find ourselves today," Yaffe said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered to deploy the Red Cross in Ontario to support vaccine deployment on Friday. At the same time, Ontario sent a letter asking for “urgently needed” help from provinces and territories as it struggles with overloaded ICUs. The province is asking for 620 health care workers, including 500 ICU and CCU nurses, CTV News reported.
Other premiers have also implemented restrictions, including strict curfews in Quebec, to manage worsening outbreaks elsewhere. Even Nunavut, a territory heralded around the world for largely staving off the pandemic, reported a COVID-19 case in Iqaluit on Thursday. The capital city immediately implemented a strict lockdown.
It’s clear that Canada’s vaccine rollout is losing the race against COVID-19 after a confusing and bumpy start. Inoculation campaigns are speeding up, though, and Canada has administered at least one dose to more than one-fifth of the population. (Only about 2 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated.)
News of blood clots forming following AstraZeneca vaccine doses have resulted in vaccine hesitancy, but this week, Canada’s public health authority said the vaccine is safe for all ages, and is asking the national vaccine authority to open it up for people below 55. Despite the fact that experts overwhelmingly agree the vaccine is safe, people are still avoiding the shot. Canada’s vigilant and nimble responses to post-vaccine blood clot news are also proof that individual safety is being prioritized, experts say.
Given the urgency of getting people immunized, experts are urging everyone who is able to take whatever dose they’re offered, as soon as it’s offered.
“It’s important to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” University of British Columbia epidemiologist, Dr. Stephen Hoption Cann, told VICE World News previously, while pointing to the U.K. and Israel, where successful vaccine campaigns have resulted in sharp drops in new cases.
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