Over half a million Canadians have now been infected with the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began nearly a year ago — and health officials are warning that number will likely skyrocket over the course of the winter.
As of Friday evening, 501,189 cases have been confirmed across the country to date, including 6,248 that were reported over the past 24 hours.
Canada has averaged over 6,600 new cases per day for the past seven days, an infection rate nearly four times what was seen during the first peak of the pandemic in May.
It took just over two weeks for the national case total to grow from 400,000 to 500,000, while only one month separates the current milestone from the 200,000 mark.
The surging infections has led to a steady increase in both hospitalizations and deaths with just a week before Christmas.
Canada’s death toll hit 14,154 Friday after 114 more people died. The country is averaging over 100 deaths per day, with the rate steadily increasing throughout December.
Federal pandemic modelling released late last week suggests cases will grow even more throughout the holiday season, with hospitalizations and deaths likely to follow.
Tam calls on provinces to impose tougher rules now
The country could see another 70,000 cases and 800 more deaths by Christmas Day, the modelling suggests, with daily cases reaching well above 12,000 by January unless further public health measures are introduced.
Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday she believes many provinces should take that step “as soon as possible.”
“I think the indicator that is most troubling is the hospitalizations and intensive care occupancy,” she told reporters, “because that’s related to something that happened at least two weeks ago” — before infections surged even further.
Over 3,400 people are now receiving care in hospital nationwide, with some provinces warning their health-care systems are nearing capacity. The number is well above what was seen during the spring wave, when roughly 2,500 hospitalizations were being reported.
Doctors in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec — which accounts for just under a third of Canada’s hospitalizations alone — have sounded alarms about the surge in patients, with Ontario’s doctors advocating for stricter lockdowns.
Ontario did extend lockdown measures in the Toronto and Peel regions Friday into the new year, and Premier Doug Ford hinted at even more restrictions Monday after he meets with hospital leaders this weekend.
Overnight Friday, Alberta health officials confirmed they were sending critically ill adult COVID-19 patients to Edmonton’s main children’s hospital due to dwindling capacity in other intensive care units. Children in critical care at the hospital were being moved to another unit to make way for the adult patients.
When should world leaders get vaccinated?
New restrictions have been introduced in Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta in recent weeks, while other provinces like British Columbia and Manitoba have extended existing measures.
The arrival of the first vaccine against COVID-19, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, has brought a glimmer of hope to the worsening situation. Thousands of people across the country have already received the first of two necessary doses during the first week of inoculations.
Yet it’s a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Pfizer’s vaccine cannot be shipped to rural or remote areas due to its need to be stored at extreme freezing temperatures, requiring specialized equipment for shipping and storage. And it’s only being administered to health-care workers and at-risk populations first before being rolled out to the general public later next year.
Health Canada is close to approving a second vaccine, made by Moderna, that does not need to be frozen. That vaccine should fill the gaps left by Pfizer once it’s given the green light, which is expected to come before the end of the year.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that Canada is set to receive 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of January, with 125,000 doses of the vaccine arriving every week.
Four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine should arrive in Canada by the end of March, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said at a separate press conference Friday. That’s enough to vaccinate two million people.
Canada should also see doses of the Moderna vaccine begin to arrive before the end of December, pending regulatory approval, with more to come in the first few months of 2021.
But that promise of a future vaccine won’t help you if you become ill with COVID-19 while you wait for your turn, Trudeau said.
“Getting a vaccine in a week or in a month won’t do you any good if you catch COVID-19 today,” Trudeau said. “That’s why we need to keep working to halt the spread of COVID-19. So please continue to follow public guidelines.”
–With files from Global’s Rachael D’Amore
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.