Skip to main content

A nurse stands outside a COVID-19 testing centre at Women’s College Hospital, in Toronto, on April 9, 2021.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario hospitals were given the green light Wednesday to gradually resume non-urgent surgeries as COVID-19 infections decline across the province.

The chief medical officer of health said he was rescinding an emergency order issued April 20 that made hospitals temporarily stop the procedures during an onslaught of cases.

Dr. David Williams said daily COVID-19 rates, hospitalizations and intensive care admissions appear to be trending downward, giving some hospitals the capacity to restart non-urgent surgeries.

“While these numbers remain high and we continue to see demand for health services related to COVID-19, we are beginning to see available capacity among community and hospital partners in some areas of the province,” he said in a memo.

“It is therefore important to make use of this available capacity to limit the long-term impacts on patients awaiting non-urgent care.”

Ontario’s hospitals came under intense pressure during the third wave. In addition to postponing non-urgent procedures, hospitals also transferred patients between facilities and staff were redeployed to handle a surge in cases. Some medical staff flew in from other provinces to help.

The province has seen case numbers and hospitalizations decline in recent weeks as public health measures, including a stay-at-home order, remain in place and vaccination rates rise.

Ontario reported 1,588 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 19 more deaths linked to the virus.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the resumption of non-urgent procedures won’t be immediate.

“This is dependent on hospital capacity and does not mean that surgeries or procedures will resume at this time, and the resumption will not be uniform across the province,” Alex Hilkene said in a statement.

Last week, Ontario’s fiscal watchdog said it will take the province approximately three and a half years to clear the surgical backlog from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table issued a new report Wednesday saying the province has seen a nearly 13 per cent increase in the number of deaths during 2020 compared to average death rates seen in the three years prior.

It said “excess deaths” include infection from COVID-19 as well as causes that are likely related to the pandemic, but not due to the virus itself. The group arrived at the findings using cremation figures.

Quebec Minister says he’s confident Montreal will reopen at same time as other regions

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé says he’s confident Montreal will reopen at the same time as the rest of the province.

The reopening plan his government presented Tuesday says the “majority” of regions should move to the orange pandemic-alert level at the end of the month, but the regions were not defined.

Dubé made the comments as he announced that Quebecers can get vaccinated at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve racetrack, which hosts the F1 Canadian Grand Prix and is popular with cyclists.

The vaccination site at the track will be open to cyclists and for drive-through vaccinations on separate weekends in May and June.

Earlier today, Quebec reported 584 new cases of COVID-19 and eight more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one within the past 24 hours. Health officials say hospitalizations dropped by 18, to 466, and 113 people were in intensive care, a drop of five.

Officials say 71,485 doses of vaccine were administered Tuesday, for a total of 4,543,365, and about 50.5 per cent of Quebecers have received at least one dose of vaccine.

U.S. border agency says COVID-19 vaccinations are not essential for entry purposes

Canadians attempting to drive across the American border solely for a COVID-19 vaccination, even with a doctor’s referral, would be denied entry, the U.S. border agency said on Wednesday.

Unlike the Canadian government, Customs and Border Protection said it does not consider a vaccine essential for entry purposes.

“Travel for the sole purpose of obtaining a vaccination is not permissible under current travel restrictions,” an agency spokesman said. “If a person is entering the U.S. for legitimate travel reasons, as allowed under current restriction guidelines, and receives a vaccine incidental to their trip, it is not part of the overall admissibility determination.”

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed in light of the pandemic to all non-essential travel.

Earlier this week, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it considered driving to the States in a private vehicle for a COVID-19 vaccination on referral from a licensed health-care provider to be an essential medical service.

As a result, the agency said such travellers would fall under a quarantine exemption on return if they could show proof of having had the shot and the trip was solely for that purpose.

Health Canada did say the decision on whether entry into the U.S. is allowed would fall to American border authorities.

Shaun Horton said he tried to travel to New York on Wednesday from Niagara Falls, Ont., for a vaccination appointment just inside the U.S. but was turned back. He said the border agent did not want to see his doctor’s letter confirming that the vaccine was medically necessary.

Horton, an airline pilot in Canada, said he wanted the vaccination because he’s not allowed to wear a mask while the aircraft is in operation. He said he and his co-workers are tested prior to work.

“The officer advised that entry solely for the COVID-19 is not an acceptable purpose as Canada has access to a vaccine, regardless of the supply issues,” Horton told The Canadian Press.

However, David Musyj, head of Windsor Regional Hospital in Windsor, Ont., said there have been many examples of crossings for a vaccine allowed to happen.

“That is why this is so political and needs some clarity and leadership,” Musyj said. “We will keep trying to get vaccines into Canada.”

Youth aged 12 and older in Peel Region eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting tomorrow

Youth aged 12 and older in Peel Region can book COVID-19 vaccines starting tomorrow.

The mayor of Brampton, Ont. – one of the three communities in Peel – announced the expansion today.

Mayor Patrick Brown says youth in that age band who live, work or attend school in Peel Region will be eligible for Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

Youth aged 12 to 15 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian to their appointments.

Lambton Public Health opened vaccine access to that age group yesterday, and health units in Guelph and Chatham-Kent are asking youth to pre-register.

Ontario has said it plans to expand access to all youth aged 12 and older starting the week of May 31.

Ontario’s opioid crisis worsened during the pandemic, report says

A new report says Ontario’s opioid crisis has worsened dramatically during the pandemic.

Researchers with the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network say opioid-related deaths are up nearly 80 per cent from February to December in 2020.

Researcher Tara Gomes says the homeless population and those who were unemployed have been hit particularly hard by fatal opioid overdoses.

She says it is alarming because opioid-related deaths continue to increase unabated.

Last year, 2,426 people died from opioids – a 60 per cent increase from 2019 when there were 1,517 opioid-related deaths.

When zeroing in on the pandemic from March to December, deaths increased by more than 75 per cent compared to the year before.

Alberta reports more than half of people over 12 have received first COVID-19 shot

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw in Edmonton.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the province has reached a COVID-19 vaccination milestone, with more than 50 per cent of the population over the age of 12 getting at least one shot.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says new case numbers are dropping but the province’s positivity rate is still a concern, because it has been high for several weeks.

She notes that the positivity rate is 11.4 per cent, much higher than the 1.5 per cent it was last May.

Hinshaw says that difference shows why public health measures are still needed.

There were 877 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday for a total of 20,013 active cases. A total of 691 people were in hospital, with 187 of those patients in intensive care. Another four Albertans died.

Alberta students, except in north, to return to in-person classes after long weekend

Alberta’s education minister says all kindergarten to Grade 12 students, other than some in northern Alberta, can return to schools following the May long weekend.

Adriana LaGrange said Wednesday that students in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, will learn from home for an extra week due to continued high COVID-19 case counts in the area.

Those students are expected to return to in-person learning on May 31.

“The education system reset we announced in May has been very successful,” LaGrange said. “It has helped to alleviate the operational pressures tied to the rise of COVID-19 cases in our communities.

“However, it is prudent to extend at-home learning for schools within the region of the Municipality of Wood Buffalo.”

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said it’s safe for children to return to school.

“I am confident that we can all work together to keep cases falling in young Albertans,” she said.

“I know that in-person learning is critically important for many kids’ educational and social development, and can provide a sense of normalcy in these unusual times.”

Nova Scotia reports two COVID-19 related deaths, extends lockdown to mid-June

Nova Scotia is extending its lockdown until at least the second week of June as officials reported two more COVID-19 related deaths Wednesday and 83 new cases of the virus.

Premier Iain Rankin also announced that schools would remain closed to students for the rest of the academic year as online learning continues.

“We need to follow these restrictions, so they will remain in place,” Rankin told reporters. “If we do that then we will be able to be in a better place in mid-June.”

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said the province is making progress as daily case numbers have been slowly dropping. However, Strang said the number of cases is still too high and they are being found throughout the province, placing pressure on the health system.

“That’s why we are continuing the restrictions,” he said. “We need to get our case numbers much further down before we can begin slowly reopening.”

Health officials said a man in his 60s died in the province’s eastern zone and a woman in her 60s died in the Halifax area, bringing the total number of deaths since the pandemic began to 74.

Wednesday’s new virus cases included 59 in the Halifax area, 19 in the province’s eastern zone, three in the western region and two in the northern zone.

Two cases in the eastern zone involve a resident and a worker at Harbourstone Enhanced Care, a long-term care facility in Sydney, N.S., while a third case involves a staff member of My Cape Breton Home for Seniors in North Sydney, N.S.

Officials said staff and residents in the affected units of both facilities are being tested, and residents are being cared for in their rooms.

The province has 1,262 known active cases of COVID-19, with 101 people in hospital, including 20 in intensive care.

P.E.I. reports five new cases of COVID-19

Prince Edward Island reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

In a news release, chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison said three new cases involve people in their 20s who are close household contacts of a previously reported infection linked to the Leaps and Bounds Childcare Centre in Charlottetown.

The other two cases involve people in their 30s who recently travelled to the Island from outside Atlantic Canada. All five individuals are self-isolating and being followed daily by public health.

The province has 14 active reported cases of COVID-19.

Details on vaccinating youth in B.C. will be revealed Thursday

The British Columbia government is preparing to vaccinate youth aged 12 to 17 and will roll out its plan shortly.

Premier John Horgan is joining Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry for the COVID-19 news conference on Thursday.

A joint statement Wednesday says young people can register to receive their vaccine online and details on how they will be vaccinated will come on Thursday.

The statement also says anyone who was immunized before April 15, prior to the online system launching, will need to register because while the system has their vaccine information, it may not have contact details.

B.C. recorded eight more deaths for a total of 1,658 fatalities since the pandemic began.

There were 521 new cases, with 340 people in hospital, 118 of whom are in intensive care.

COVID-19 patients transferred to Ontario as Manitoba intensive care beds fill up

Manitoba has a record number of people in intensive care and has transferred three COVID-19 patients to northwestern Ontario to free up bed space.

Two virus-infected patients were in intensive care but listed as stable when they were sent Tuesday to Thunder Bay some 600 kilometres away. A third was sent Wednesday.

The government would not rule out more transfers in the coming days as the province faces a third wave of the pandemic.

“The compounding effect of multiple days of admissions well over the norm and far beyond what we experienced during wave two has placed extreme strain on our staffing resources,” Shared Health, the body that co-ordinates clinical care in Manitoba, said in a written statement Wednesday.

“Yesterday, this combination of continued high admissions, no ICU patients that were sufficiently recovered for a move to a medicine ward, and an increase in the number of very sick patients in our medical wards at risk of needing to be transferred into ICU placed our critical-care capacity at significant risk.”

Health officials had warned in recent days that intensive care bed space was being stressed and that the province was fast approaching the peak of the second wave, when 129 beds were occupied. Before the pandemic, capacity was 72.

On Wednesday morning, the number of people in intensive care reached 131.

Yukon considers easing COVID gathering restrictions to up to 100 people outdoors

Yukon officials are looking at further easing restrictions on both indoor and outdoor social gatherings, allowing people to get together for cultural events as well as weddings and funerals.

Premier Sandy Silver told a news conference Wednesday that officials may soon allow up to 20 people to gather indoors and as many as 100 outside with physical distancing and masks.

More than 76 per cent of the territory’s eligible residents have their first shot while about 67 per cent of those have also had second dose.

Fully vaccinated people in the territory can look forward to returning to full-capacity restaurants starting May 25.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says as more Canadians receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, they can look forward to a summer of small outdoor gatherings such as barbecues, camping and picnics. She says in the fall, as more receive their second dose, Canadians can expect a return to indoor work, recreational activities and get-togethers.

The Canadian Press

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.