(AL JAZEERA): Canada is facing a “very serious third wave” of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday, as the country’s most populous province is struggling to respond to growing infections and hospitals, and the rapid spread of coronavirus variants.
During a news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau warned that hospitals are increasing, intensive care units are filling, and coronavirus variants are spreading.
“Around the world, countries are facing a very serious third wave of this pandemic and currently Canada is as well,” he said.
“Even if the sun is shining and the weather is warming, COVID-19 is not done with us yet.”
Canada has reported at least a million COVID-19 cases and more than 23,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to an account from Johns Hopkins University.
Recent increases in outbreaks and hospitalizations in several provinces – including the most populous, Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia on the west coast – have prompted calls for tougher public health measures to halt the spread of the virus.
BC health officials have reported cases of the first-discovered coronavirus variants in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
“We know a lot of that is the variation[s], and it seems to be a more transferable strain and it also seems that people are getting sick with some of these variations, ”said Dr Gerald Da Roza, head of medicine at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, BC, at CBC News.
“Some people say it’s the busiest we’ve been in 15 years,” he said.
The Quebec government announced Tuesday night that it is tightening restrictions in so-called red zones, including the province’s largest city, Montreal, in the midst of an increase in infections.
Ontario Crisis In the meantime, Trudeau told reporters he plans to speak to Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Tuesday.
Ontario has seen a surge in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks and enforced limited lockout measures over the weekend. On Tuesday, it reported 3,065 new cases as the seven-day average of new infections reached 2,862.
The situation has renewed a campaign for the province to grant paid sick leave, as many workers deemed essential during the pandemic have failed to take time off when ill, say advocates of promote the spread of the virus.
Andre Picard, a health columnist at the Globe and Mail newspaper, said the latest modeling data estimates that Ontario could see as many as 6,000 new COVID-19 infections every day – up from 2,500 now – and 800 ICU patients by the end April.
Picard criticized the province’s measures, questioning why “relatively low-risk activities such as eating outdoors are stopped, while high-risk activities such as large church services can go ahead” and retail stores remain open.
“As the third wave of the pandemic continues to rise, we seem to have learned nothing from the previous two waves,” he wrote.
Vaccinations are slow
The Ford government has also faced widespread criticism for failing to give COVID-19 vaccines quickly, despite high supplies and widespread demand.
While the Canadian federal government approves and secures coronavirus vaccines, it is up to each province to set the rules about how the injections are given and to whom.
CBC News reported that on average 72,543 injections are given in Ontario every day, despite the ability to receive as many as 150,000 shots at arms. In total, the province issued more than 2.6 million injections on Monday night.
At a separate news conference on Tuesday, Ford said the province would expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, targeting people with underlying health conditions and their caregivers, as well as geographic hot spots that have seen outbreaks.
He also said Ontario was “completing plans to vaccinate workers in locations where we see cases”.
“Last week I said that we are fighting a new, rapidly evolving enemy. The game is changing and we need to shift our response to stay ahead of this virus, ”said Ford.
The spread of variations has prompted concerns from doctors and other healthcare workers, who say younger people are getting sick and needing to go to hospital.
Last week, more than 150 intensive care physicians in Ontario wrote an open letter to the provincial government, urging it to put in place stricter public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus – and of the new variants in particular.
“We see younger patients on ventilators – many are parents of school-age children. We see whole families ending up in our ICUs. We only care for people who have contracted COVID-19 at work, or who have followed all the rules and gone out for goods, ”they wrote.
“The impact of this virus has been disproportionate, infecting those at highest risk of exposure, often from lower income and racial communities. The current measures and framework do not work to contain the spread of this virus. “
The situation also prompted a federation of high school teachers on Tuesday to call on Ford to mandate schools in districts that have seen increasing numbers of cases immediately move to distance learning.
The Toronto Star newspaper reported that all schools in Toronto – Canada’s largest city – would be closed on Wednesday due to the surge in infections.
A similar school was ordered closed Monday for the Peel region, an area home to about 1.5 million people west and northwest of Toronto, where students will have access to distance learning for at least two weeks.
“With increasing incidence and the presence of fluctuations of concern, we need to break the chains of transmission and keep our schools safe,” said Dr Lawrence Loh, Peel Region Health Medical Officer, in a statement.