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A Pfizer COVID-19 Paxlovid pill.thomas hansmann.fotograf/The Associated Press

Officials in Quebec and Ontario expressed hope on Monday that the peak of the current wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations could soon be behind them, while other provinces braced for new hardships.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford told Ottawa radio station CFRA that his government may announce a plan to reduce COVID-19 restrictions in the coming days, even as the province set a new daily record for hospitalizations.

“There’s no one that dislikes these lockdowns more than I do. I actually despise them,” the premier said in the interview, adding that he would follow the advice of the chief medical officer of health.

The government announced on Jan. 3 that restrictions would be imposed on businesses until at least Jan. 26, because the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus was driving up COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

Toronto medical officer of health Eileen de Villa told reporters Tuesday the rate of infection in the city may have plateaued or started to decline, although she said the situation continued to put a strain on hospitals.

“While we continue to see widespread transmission of COVID-19, the most recent data show there are reasons for cautious optimism,” she said.

Ontario reported a record 4,183 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday, including 580 people in intensive care, while Quebec saw 89 more deaths and a 36-patient rise in hospitalizations, for a total of 3,417.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said daily hospitalizations appeared to be rising less rapidly compared with prior weeks, even though the number of patients has not yet peaked.

“We’re still in the storm,” he told reporters in Montreal.

He said some 12,000 health-care workers remained off the job because of COVID-19, down from 20,000 earlier this month.

The government lifted the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew on Monday, but Dube said it was still too early to consider lifting any other restrictions.

In contrast to Quebec and Ontario, health officials in Saskatchewan warned that the peak of the current wave in the province may still be weeks away.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said health-care services and surgeries may be affected in the weeks ahead, when a tide of COVID-19 hospitalizations and absenteeism among workers is expected to hit. Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab warned that hospitalizations would likely climb until mid-February.

Prince Edward Island, meanwhile, announced it was reducing gathering sizes and closing gyms and restaurant dining rooms to stem the growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The new restrictions, which include continued online learning for schools, will be in place until at least Jan. 31.

Also Tuesday, Nunavut reported its fifth death of the COVID-19 pandemic and the first of the current wave driven by the Omicron variant.

More students in Quebec and Ontario headed back to class on Tuesday, after the scheduled return to in-person learning was delayed Monday by a winter storm. While some Ontario students had returned to the classroom on Monday, the plan was set back for many parts of the province when heavy snow halted school bus services.

Many students in Quebec returned to in-person learning Tuesday morning for the first time this year. Officials have said students will have to be masked and will be given increased access to rapid tests.

Even as hospitalizations climb, there is hope that Health Canada’s approval of Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 treatment could help ease some of the burden in the months to come.

Clinical trials showed treatment with Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19 by 89 per cent when the medications were started within three days of the beginning of symptoms and by 85 per cent when started within five days.

Dube said Tuesday that the treatment’s approval was “good news,” but he said vaccination remains Quebec’s best tool to fight COVID-19 in the short term. The province said Paxlovid would be initially reserved for people who are immunosuppressed – regardless of vaccination status – because of limited supply.

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