Covid-19: Canada raises the alarm when cases outnumber those in the United States

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The number of coronavirus infections in Canada’s largest province has hit an all-time high, with hospitals warning that they are nearing capacity.

According to a panel of experts, infections in Ontario could escalate by 600% by June if public health efforts are inadequate and vaccination rates do not improve.

For the first time since the pandemic started, Canada had more cases per million than the United States last week.

About 22% of Canadians have already taken their first vaccine dose. In the United States, the figure is 37%.

Ontario is also enacting stringent new regulations, including:

  • a six-week stay-at-home directive
  • Non-essential travel limits, including border checkpoints
  • in collaboration with the neighbouring provinces of Quebec and Manitoba
  • new police powers to arrest and question people who flee their homes
  • construction of non-essential items is halted

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will assist Toronto, the country’s largest city, which is located in Ontario and has been hard hit by the recent surge.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to assist. Discussions on additional healthcare providers are underway, and we are prepared to step up “On Friday, he said.

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Why has it suddenly got worse?

New variants, especially the UK version, B1.1.7, are responsible for more than two-thirds of infections in Ontario.

Despite advances in vaccines, the advisory panel cautioned that the number of new cases in Ontario could reach 30,000 every day – in a region with 14 million inhabitants, or 38% of Canada’s total population.

On Friday, Ontario recorded 4,812 new cases, marking the province’s third consecutive day of breaking records since the pandemic started.

Hospital admissions and the number of patients in critical care have set new highs in Ontario, with 1,955 and 701 patients, respectively.

Aisles shut to customers in a Walmart in Ontario, Canada, where stores are not allowed to sell non-essential items during a stay-at-home order.  Aisles are closed to shoppers in an Ontario Walmart, where retailers are not permitted to sell non-essential goods during a stay-at-home order. AFP photo

The best-case outcome, according to the advisory group, will reduce new cases to about 5,000 each day, but only with far stricter public health policies than those currently in effect.

That will also necessitate a vaccine rate of 300,000 per day, which is three times the actual rate.

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The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario warned doctors last week that they would have to start making choices on who to send to intensive care units because units were nearly full.

Adalsteinn Brown, co-chairman of Ontario’s advisory group, claimed that the province’s hospitals could no longer operate normally.

“Adults are being admitted to our children’s hospitals. This has never existed before in Ontario. It’s never happened before in Canada.”

A field hospital is now being built in the parking lot of one of Toronto’s major hospitals.

How is the vaccination campaign going?

Following a sluggish launch, the rate of vaccination is now speeding up. Canada was able to stock up on vaccine doses, but the rollout was lagging behind that of other industrialised countries until recently.

At least one vaccination dosage has already been administered to nine million Canadians.

On Friday, there was mixed news: Moderna said it would slash its next shipment to Canada by nearly half, to 650,000 doses, but Pfizer said it would deliver an extra eight million doses after reaching a new agreement with the Canadian government.

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Unlike other European countries, Canada has not discontinued the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, but still recommends it only for patients above the age of 55 when the risk of blood clots is measured. According to Canadian health authorities, the chance of contracting Covid-19 greatly outweighs the risk of unusual blood clots.

The Canadian Medical Association has advocated for a collective solution, with services shared across regional and federal borders to reach the most vulnerable regions.

-BBC

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