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A man wears a protective face mask as he walks past the emergency department of the Royal Columbian Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on April 3, 2020.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

A new report finds emergency department visits dropped by 25 per cent in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information found 318,000 fewer visits took place in March 2020, compared to March 2019.

The drop was even more pronounced in the last week of March, when visits dropped by 49 per cent. This coincided with travel restrictions and the closure of schools and daycares across much of Canada.

The largest reduction in visits was among less urgent patients, down 29 per cent across Canada.

But seriously ill or injured patients, such as those who required resuscitation, were also down by 14 per cent.

Analysts say the numbers confirm anecdotal reports that there have been fewer emergency hospital visits for issues other than COVID-19.

“When we compare to last year, it’s clear that many Canadians avoided visiting emergency departments in the initial weeks of the pandemic, which may have had serious consequences for some patients,” Greg Webster, CIHI’s director of acute and ambulatory care information services, said Monday in a release.

The data revealed there were 20,427 visits on March 31, 2020 compared to 40,803 visits on March 31, 2019.

The findings are based on more than 80 per cent of emergency department visits reported to CIHI.

WHO Europe's regional director Hans Kluge on Thursday urged people to prepare to live with the COVID-19 virus, and not rely on a vaccine to bring an end to the pandemic.


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