Large parts of Canada are starting to hunker down, with new restrictions and lockdowns coming into effect as another wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the Omicron variant saw thousands of new cases across the country over the weekend.
Quebec and Nova Scotia set new records for their daily case counts on Sunday while Ontario reported 4,177 additional infections, 800 more than the previous day.
Other parts of the country were also experiencing a surge in new cases unseen since before the summer as the Omicron variant, identified by the World Health Organization as a potential concern only last month, became increasingly entrenched in Canada.
And while hospitalizations have remained steady in Ontario and some other parts of the country, a recent spike in the number of severe cases in Quebec has added to concerns the rest of the country could soon follow.
In response to the growing wave, several provinces have started to re-impose tighter public health restrictions only days before the start of the holiday season, many of which apply to both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
In Ontario, new limits on indoor gatherings came into effect Sunday as the provincial government struggled to get escalating case counts under control while similar restrictions were set to come down in British Columbia and Quebec on Monday.
Similar restrictions were set to come down in British Columbia and Quebec on Monday.
Quebec reported 3,846 new cases on Sunday, setting an all-time high for the province’s daily tally for the second time in three days, while the number of hospitalizations and people in intensive care because of COVID-19 continued to increase.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, head of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table, had warned Thursday that while hospitalizations in his province had remained fairly steady, he expected a spike in two to three weeks.
“It does cause serious disease,” Brown said in discussing the science table’s latest modelling. “Hospital rates have risen in South Africa where it first took hold. It’s not just a case of the sniffles.”
A Quebec government health-care research institute also said Thursday that it expects more than 700 non-ICU hospitalizations in the province, and more than 160 people in intensive care, within two to three weeks.
However, the institute said it was less confident than usual in its projections because its data on the Omicron variant was based on a single study conducted in South Africa, which has a significantly lower vaccination rate than Quebec.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia, which imposed new restrictions starting Friday, also reported a new daily record of new infections on Sunday with 476 cases while New Brunswick said it had 108 new cases and Newfoundland and Labrador reported 61 cases.
N.L.’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, said there were 127 active reported cases of COVID-19 in the province, though nobody is in hospital due to the virus.
Education Minister Tom Osborne nonetheless said schools would close for the holiday break beginning Tuesday rather than Thursday and students are to prepare for possible online learning when classes resume on Jan. 4.
N.L. Premier Andrew Furey said everyone has seen the spread of Omicron in other parts of the country and wants to avoid the same situation in his province.
“The spectre of a surge is on our doorstep and we need to address it now before we suffer the same fate. I know it couldn’t come at a worse time,” he said.
The sudden onset of a fifth wave of COVID-19 has pushed testing capacities in many parts of the country to the limit, with long waits for tests and public health officials warning people with symptoms to self-isolate even if they haven’t been tested.
1/3 <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> key concerns 🇨🇦 : I know we are all weary, this is a concern, but we must all hold on tight to our protections for ourselves & each other. As all storms run out of wind and rain, so too will this one. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/SundayThoughts?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#SundayThoughts</a> <a href=”https://t.co/HLhQvy2BUy”>https://t.co/HLhQvy2BUy</a>
Michelle Hoad, chief executive officer of the Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario, said a pre-existing shortage of technicians combined with the sudden explosion of new cases and tests due to Omicron has pushed already overtaxed labs to the limit.
“The sudden surge in testing now is showing all the cracks in our system,” Hoad said.
“And it is not just a problem in Ontario, it’s across the entire country. So this shortage of medical lab technologist is a problem in every single province and territory.”
The fifth wave has also sparked a rush for booster shots as the Omicron variant has caused a surge of infections among both vaccinated and unvaccinated Canadians.
Ontario’s science advisers have said two doses of COVID-19 vaccine are only 35 per cent effective against the variant three months after being administered, while a third dose bumps efficacy up to 75 per cent.
The province on Monday will open booster eligibility to all residents aged 18 or over who received their second dose at least three months ago. Other provinces are also expanding their booster campaigns to protect against Omicron.
What’s happening around the world
As of Sunday, more than 274.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.
In Europe, tens of thousands of Vienna residents turned out Sunday night to participate in a “sea of lights” commemoration for the more than 13,000 Austrians who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.
In Asia, Sri Lanka will require the showing of a COVID-19 vaccination certificate compulsory for entry to public places starting from Jan. 1, in a renewed attempt to prevent another spike in infections.
In Africa, South Africa will donate just over two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to other African countries to boost the continent’s COVID-19 vaccine drive, the government said.
In the Americas, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro had a “direct and relevant” role in spreading disinformation about the country’s electoral process during live streams on social media, a federal police document reviewed by Reuters said.