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Canada surpassed 15,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, and at least one infectious disease expert says the sombre milestone should be a wake-up call to anyone who thinks the dangers of the disease are overhyped.

Quebec reported 37 deaths Monday, pushing Canada past 15,000. Health officials in that province said seven deaths took place in the past 24 hours, 27 occurred between Dec. 21 and Dec. 26, and three were from unspecified dates.

Alberta followed later in the day, announcing that 112 people died over the course of the holidays between Dec. 23 and Dec. 27, with a high of 30 deaths on Dec. 23 and a low of 17 on Christmas.

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More than 1,000 people have now died in Alberta since the pandemic began.

“This tragic milestone is more than a number or statistic,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement.

“It represents more than 1,000 mothers, wives, fathers, husbands – empty spaces around the table that can never be filled. Each one means that there is a family that is grieving, a friend who has lost someone they loved, a child who lost their parent, a partner who lost their true love.”

Reaching more than 15,000 deaths in the nine months since the pandemic began highlights just how serious COVID-19 is, said Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the infectious diseases division at Queen’s University in Kingston.

Canada had earlier surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths on Oct. 27 and passed the 5,000 mark on May 12.

“We are seeing exactly what’s being seen around the world, which is that there are substantially large numbers of deaths from this virus. It’s not the flu,” Dr. Evans said in an interview on Monday.

“I would hope that it would reinforce to these people who are saying that it’s a big hype,” he said. “It’s not a hype. People are dying from this. This is a deadly disease.”

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Quebec also reported 2,265 new cases of COVID-19 – the second day in a row the province recorded more than 2,200 new infections.

“The situation is critical in hospitals,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé tweeted Monday, urging Quebeckers to respect a provincewide lockdown over the holiday period.

The province has 1,124 COVID-19 hospitalizations, including 150 people in intensive care, and officials warned that many hospitals were full.

Manitoba reported 107 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and nine additional deaths linked to the virus, increasing the provincial total to 654 deaths since the pandemic began.

Nunavut reported one new infection in Whale Cove, a community that went into lockdown on Christmas Eve. The territory now has nine active cases of COVID-19.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, while New Brunswick said one new infection was detected in the Fredericton area.

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After a break in reporting, authorities in Nova Scotia also said they had identified 13 new cases of COVID-19 since Dec. 25. The new infections are all linked to close contact with a previous case or to travel outside of Atlantic Canada.

Officials in N.L. said one of the new infections related to international travel, while the other is a man who returned from working in Alberta.

The province had 19 active cases of COVID-19 with one person in hospital.

New Brunswick had 33 active cases, including three hospitalizations.

“Non-essential travel is very risky right now,” New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said in a statement.

“We are seeing more travel-related cases and transmission to household members when self-isolation measures are not strictly adhered to,” Dr. Russell said, calling on people who need to self-isolate to do so for the full 14 days as per public-health directives.

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Ontario was not reporting new COVID-19 case numbers on Monday after registering 2,005 new infections on Sunday, as well as 18 more deaths.

Meanwhile on Monday, Alberta became the third province in Canada to report a case of a more contagious strain of the virus.

Provincial Medical Health Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said that person started showing symptoms after returning from the United Kingdom, where the variant was first seen, and did everything correctly in terms of isolating upon their return.

Cases of the new variant have also been detected in the Toronto area, Ottawa and on Vancouver Island in B.C.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said while early data suggest the new variant may be more transmissible, there is no evidence the variant causes more severe symptoms or impacts vaccine effectiveness.

B.C. didn’t update its numbers Monday, but three regional health authorities reported new outbreaks in assisted-living and long-term care facilities.

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With files from Denise Paglinawan in Toronto, Sarah Smellie in St. John’s and Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton.

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