Ontario reported a drop in COVID-19-related hospitalizations on Saturday, but the numbers remained high in the country’s most populous provinces, which have been hit hard by the pandemic’s Omicron-driven fifth wave.
Despite drops of 88 and 56 hospitalizations in Ontario and Quebec, respectively, there were still more than 7,300 virus-related hospitalizations between the two provinces.
There was also an uptick in patients requiring intensive care, with Ontario reporting 600 patients in ICUs while Quebec had 275 patients listed — in both cases a rise of 10 patients compared with the previous day.
During a briefing on Friday, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said despite signs of stability in patient numbers in some provinces, the toll on hospitals remains heavy, and many hospitals across Canada are under intense strain.
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More than 10,000 people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals across Canada each day in the past week, surpassing peak daily numbers in all previous waves of the pandemic.
Federal health officials said on Friday that daily case counts, positivity rates and wastewater surveillance show early indications that the pandemic’s Omicron-driven wave has peaked nationally, but the volume of cases is resulting in more hospitalizations and deaths.
Among the provinces reporting data on Saturday, Ontario recorded 47 deaths linked to COVID-19, while Quebec added 68 deaths.
Provinces reporting on Saturday encouraged people to get their booster shot. Tam acknowledged on Friday that might eventually mean a discussion with provinces and territories about what being fully vaccinated entails.
Federal officials have changed their own terminology, referring to a third dose as being “up-to-date” on vaccinations. Many provinces require full vaccination to access certain non-essential businesses, travel and other activities.
Tam noted that globally and across Canada, the numbers of those who’ve received a third dose vary.
For example, in Quebec, which recently opened up third-dose eligibility to all adults, about 39 per cent have received the added dose. The province’s health minister said it intends to expand its vaccine passport to require a third dose once more people have had a chance to get it.
In New Brunswick, about 61 per cent of those aged 50 and older have received a booster dose.
“We know that people who are fully vaccinated and have a booster dose have much better protection against serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said in a statement on Saturday.
While the more transmissible Omicron variant has made clear the necessity for the booster, Tam said it’s not time to have a discussion about changing the definition.
“But we will be re-examining those kind of policies going forward,” she said.
What’s happening across Canada
In British Columbia, due to record-high hospitalizations, COVID-positive patients in hospitals are being placed in the same room with double-vaccinated people who do not have the virus, provincial health officials said.
In the Prairies, a northern First Nation in Manitoba is facing criticism for its lockdown measures after a group of mothers left to buy groceries on Thursday and an attempt was made to prevent them from returning to the community. In Saskatchewan, the chief medical health officer says COVID-19 hospital numbers could go up to as high as 300 to 500 or more in the next few weeks due to the high Omicron infection rate. And in Alberta, a group of Calgary moms is fundraising in an effort to supply 115,000 school staff members in the province with N95 masks.
In Ontario, the head of the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table is calling on the government to change the definition of the term “fully vaccinated” from two doses to three, even though Premier Doug Ford said this week his government wasn’t yet planning to do so.
In Quebec, hundreds of restaurant owners are considering reopening in defiance of public health measures.
In the Atlantic provinces, the test positivity rate in Newfoundland and Labrador dropped from 21.4 per cent on Friday to 15.8 per cent on Saturday; Prince Edward Island registered its fifth COVID-19 death since the start of the pandemic, and New Brunswickrecorded its sixth; and Nova Scotia says there are 82 people in designated COVID-19 hospital units, including 11 people in intensive care.
In the North, Northwest Territories health officials say that its modelling suggests the peak of the Omicron wave “may have already passed mid-January” in the territory, Yukon has confirmed its 16th virus-related death and Nunavut reported 35 new cases and a weekly test positivity rate of 30.2 per cent.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday, more than 347.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.58 million.
In Europe, thousands of people gathered to protest vaccine passports and other requirements imposed by governments in hopes of ending the coronavirus pandemic. Demonstrations took place in Athens, Helsinki, London, Paris and Stockholm.
In the Americas, the world-famous Carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro will be held in late April rather than the final weekend of February, as the number of coronavirus cases in Brazil spikes and the Omicron variant spreads across the country.
In the Asia-Pacific region,the prime minister of Samoa has placed the small island nation into a 48-hour lockdown after 15 passengers on a flight from Australia tested positive for COVID-19.
In Africa, the World Bank has approved a loan of $750 million US to South Africa linked to COVID-19, aiming to help protect the poor and support economic recovery from the pandemic, the National Treasury said.
With files from CBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters
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