The number of COVID-19 infections in Canada is soaring to record-breaking heights, prompting governments in some coronavirus-battered parts of the country to impose new restrictions, while others cling to reopening plans they hope will salvage their economies.
British Columbia has enacted two weeks of sweeping constraints in the Lower Mainland, including barring household gatherings of any size, while Manitoba has expanded its “red-zone” restrictions, and Peel Region, west of Toronto, has put in place the strictest anti-COVID-19 rules in Ontario.
Peel’s Medical Officer of Health announced the changes, which include closing banquet halls and prohibiting wedding receptions until next year, on the same day as Premier Doug Ford’s government loosened restrictions in regions that meet virus-control targets that some infectious-disease doctors and epidemiologists have warned are too lax.
The fall resurgence of the pandemic has exposed a divide between politicians willing to order the partial closing of businesses and those, such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who have instead appealed to individual citizens to control the virus through voluntary good behaviour.
But neither approach has produced a sustained drop in new cases. Every province from Quebec to British Columbia reported record or near-record single-day case tallies over the weekend. At the same time, physicians in hot spots say the rising tide of COVID-19 infections is straining hospitals and leading to more nursing-home outbreaks.
The Manitoba government has promised an independent investigation into two private long-term care homes in Winnipeg that have seen outbreaks of COVID-19, one of which had to call paramedics to help deal with sick and dying residents.
“We’re in a world of hurt,” Anand Kumar, a Winnipeg critical-care and infectious-diseases doctor, said Sunday after Manitoba announced 441 new cases, its second-highest one-day count. “We’re being pushed pretty hard now. If we see 450 average [daily cases] for a week or two, we’re going to be overloaded. They’re going to be screaming for help.”
Canada is now averaging 44 COVID-19 deaths a day – the most since the second wave began, but significantly fewer than at the spring peak.
In Quebec, where indoor dining, bars, gyms and theatres have been closed in some regions since the end of September, a record 1,397 new cases were reported Sunday, the fifth day in a row of tallies exceeding 1,000.
Ontario also reported its highest case count on Sunday, with 1,328 new cases, the vast majority of them in the Greater Toronto Area. Canada’s most populous province has now logged an average of 1,064 cases daily in the past week, more than twice the average at the peak of the first wave, when testing was limited.
“All of us have been looking at this with trepidation,” said Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious-diseases physician at Trillium Health Partners, a hospital network in Mississauga.
Dr. Chakrabarti said his biggest concern is that the number of new COVID-19 infections, admissions to hospital and deaths in the GTA has inched upward through October and early November, despite the province shuttering indoor dining, gyms and most indoor sports in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto beginning Oct. 9, and a week later in York Region.
Rather than extend the suite of restrictions known as “modified Stage 2,” the Ontario government last week unveiled a new colour-coded framework that permitted a limited amount of indoor dining, drinking and exercising to resume in Ottawa and York Region on Saturday.
The province granted Toronto’s request to stay at modified Stage 2 for another week.
The provincial government turned down a similar request from Peel Medical Officer of Health Lawrence Loh, who responded by issuing directives of his own. “The reality is that COVID-19 is growing quickly out of control in the region of Peel," Dr. Loh said in an interview Sunday. "Regardless of what is opened or closed out there, everyone needs to limit their close contact to their immediate household and their essential supports.”
Faring worst in Peel is the city of Brampton, where the positive-test rate is now 11 per cent, and its weekly rate of new cases is 170 per 100,000. Two local hospitals, run by William Osler Health System, were treating 54 confirmed and 37 suspected COVID-19 patients on Sunday. The hospitals had to transfer more than 20 patients to other GTA hospitals to make room.
"The fact that we put a call out for help to our whole region, that almost never happens,” said Naveed Mohammad, the president and chief executive officer of William Osler.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said the biggest source of outbreaks in his city is industrial settings such as food processing plants, warehouses and manufacturing plants. Workers often bring the virus home to large, multigenerational households, he added.
“The real support and resources we need we’re still not getting,” he said. “We’ve had a pending application for over a month now for an isolation centre and we don’t have it.”
Thierry Bélair, a spokesman for federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, said the minister’s office has been working with Peel public-health officials and “can confirm the federal government will be funding the opening of a self-isolation site with $6.5-million."
In British Columbia, where the COVID-19 positivity rate has reached 4.9 per cent, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry held a rare weekend news conference to discuss the “dangerously high and rapid increase of COVID-19 cases” and announce a host of new, time-limited orders targeting the Lower Mainland.
Effective immediately, residents of the harder-hit Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health regions are not to have social gatherings with anyone outside of their immediate households, indoors or outdoors, though people who live alone can still maintain one or two close contacts. Funeral and wedding receptions, group physical activities such as spin classes, yoga and indoor sports where physical distancing cannot be maintained, and party buses and limousines, are all suspended.
Bars and restaurants are allowed to remain open so long as they “religiously” follow COVID-19 safety precautions, Dr. Henry said, but the ban on social gatherings applies to these establishments.
Dr. Henry is also strongly recommending, though not ordering, only essential travel into or out of the two health regions.
Alberta, which had a record 919 new cases on Saturday and 727 on Sunday and has among the highest rates of new infections, active cases and hospitalizations in the country, has declined to implement similar restrictions.
A 15-person limit on gatherings in place in Calgary and Edmonton was expanded last week to other communities with high infection rates, but the province is continuing its reliance on voluntary measures. That includes Mr. Kenney asking residents of Calgary and Edmonton to stop holding social gatherings at home.
“We’ve seen other jurisdictions indiscriminately violating people’s rights and destroying livelihoods,” Mr. Kenney said Friday. “Nobody wants that to happen here in Alberta.”
With reports from The Canadian Press
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