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An ICU health-care worker shown inside a negative pressure room cares for a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator at the Humber River Hospital in Toronto in December 2020.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

A small spike in COVID-19 cases in northwestern Ontario Indigenous communities is a “wake-up call” for the area, a public health physician said Saturday as the province reported 2,063 new cases of the illness and 73 more deaths.

Dr. John Guilfoyle with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority said Saturday that eight total active cases recently detected across five First Nations communities – Poplar Hill, Webequie, Pikangikum, Lac Seul and Nibinamik – appear to have been contained, according to contact tracing and testing so far.

Guilfoyle described the containment as good news, but said the situation is a reminder that taking precautions is more important than ever, especially given that cases were reported in four communities in a single day this week.

“This is really a wake-up call that the virus is close to our communities,” Guilfoyle said in a Saturday video update.

“To get cases in four communities in one day is absolutely new, and this is a pattern we don’t want to see repeated.”

He reminded people to stick to essential travel and continue following public health guidance by physically distancing from one another, wearing masks and staying within social bubbles. He noted such measures are more important than ever as a new and potentially more infections virus variant emerges in the province.

The variant known as B.1.1.7 that first emerged in the U.K. last year has been detected in health units across the province since it was first discovered in the Toronto area just over a month ago. Provincial health officials have said current research suggests the new strain is more infectious and potentially causes more severe illness.

As of Saturday, the province had confirmed 57 cases of the U.K. variant, with cases reported in new regions including Halton and Waterloo.

Public health officials in the Kingston, Ont., and Barrie, Ont., areas have said they suspect the actual number of U.K. variant cases is higher than the confirmed total.

In Barrie, an outbreak driven by the variant that began in a long-term care home has since infected well over 200 people. The region’s top doctor said this week he’s confident every case in the outbreak is the U.K. strain.

Ontario reported a provincewide total of 2,063 additional cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, and 73 more deaths linked to the virus.

Of 1,273 people hospitalized as of Saturday, the province said 353 patients were in intensive care and 216 were on ventilators.

The province reported 9,373 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered Friday, for a total of 336,828 across the province.

Guilfoyle also spoke to the importance of inoculations on Saturday, as the Sioux Lookout area prepares to roll out vaccine deliveries in several communities next week.

“The vaccination is key, it will protect you,” he said. “It is a lot better to get the vaccine than it is to get COVID.”

Elsewhere:

  • Quebec is reporting over 1,300 new cases of COVID-19 today and 46 additional deaths linked to the virus, including 14 within the past 24 hours. Public health authorities say the number of hospitalizations declined by 54 over the past 24 hours to 1,163. The number of people in intensive care declined by eight from the previous day to 201. The Health Department says 2,086 doses of vaccine were administered on Friday for a total of 238,143 doses. It says Quebec has received 238,100 doses of vaccine from the federal government, but was able to administer more because some vaccine vials contain an extra dose.
  • Also in Quebec, Premier François Legault says he plans to announce changes to Quebec’s COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday. Legault wrote in a Saturday-morning Facebook post that he hopes to be able to relax some restrictions, particularly those around retail stores, if the situation permits. Legault wrote that the changes would come into effect after Feb. 8. Businesses designated “non-essential” have been closed across Quebec since Dec. 25 and the province has been under an 8-p.m.-to-5-a.m. curfew since Jan. 9.
  • In Alberta, there were 383 new cases Saturday. The Alberta Government has now learned that its only other vaccine supplier (Moderna) is also reducing its shipments to Canada. However, the vaccine shortage isn’t deterring the province, as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Friday the government’s plans to ease the province’s COVID restrictions.
  • A council of top doctors in Ontario is urging the government to reopen schools before restrictions are relaxed for other sectors in the province. The chair of the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health has written to the provincial health and education ministers, asking for deployment of extra measures including getting children back into classrooms.
  • Nova Scotia is reporting three new cases of COVID-19. The province is now dealing with 11 active cases. All of the new infections are related to travel outside the Atlantic region. Since the pandemic began, Nova Scotia has recorded 1,580 cases, 1,504 recoveries and 65 deaths. Premier Stephen McNeil issued a brief statement Saturday thanking residents for helping slow the spread of the virus.
  • Manitoba is reporting two new deaths in people with COVID-19. The province says in its daily pandemic update that a man in his 80s in the Winnipeg region died in connection with an outbreak at Holy Family Personal Care Home. The other death was a man in his 90s, and was linked to an outbreak at Heritage Life Personal Care Home in the Southern Health region. The update says 166 new cases were identified as of 9:30 Saturday morning. Data shows Manitoba’s five-day COVID-19 test-positivity rate is 7.3 per cent provincially and 4.4 per cent in Winnipeg.
  • Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting 12 new cases of COVID 19 and the virus-related death of one person in their 80s with underlying health conditions. The latest death brings the province’s total number of COVID-related fatalities to 18. As for the new cases, more than half of them were reported in the Edmundston area of northern New Brunswick, which is currently in the midst of a full lockdown. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick has risen to 1,230, which includes 928 recoveries and 283 active cases.
  • Eight more people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Saskatchewan have died, and the province is reporting 258 new cases. The government says in its daily COVID-19 update that the province’s seven-day average of new daily infections is 244, which works out to 19.9 new cases per 100,000 people. The update says there are more than 2,500 cases that are considered active in the province.