Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are being deployed to Nova Scotia and Ontario to help respond to surges in COVID-19 cases, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said help is also being offered to Alberta.
On Tuesday, Nova Scotia announced a provincewide shutdown as the government tries to put the brakes on a surge in cases driven by variants of concern. The province recorded a third straight day of record-setting new cases, with 96 on Tuesday.
Nova Scotia is trying to avoid Ontario’s experience in the third wave where a lockdown came too late to prevent intensive care units from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Ontario has urgently asked for more medical staff from other provinces and the federal government to help over-stretched hospital resources.
The support from the Canadian forces is being targeted to where the need is greatest. In Ontario a so-far unconfirmed number of members of the Canadian Forces will be deployed to the province’s hospitals and in Nova Scotia, 60 Canadian Forces members will work in the province’s testing centres.
Ontario’s daily new case count is levelling off while Nova Scotia has repeatedly reported record new numbers. However, Nova Scotia is testing a much higher proportion of its population than Ontario and on Tuesday reported a 1-per-cent test positivity rate compared with Ontario’s 10-per-cent positivity rate.
Two weeks ago, Ontario said it urgently needed 620 medical professionals, such as nurses and respiratory therapists, to help in its overwhelmed intensive care units. But with many other provinces also contending with surges in cases, there is little slack in the system and the number of staff being offered so far from the federal government and some provinces falls well short of Ontario’s request.
The federal government said Tuesday that nine intensive care nurses from the Canadian Forces will be sent to Ontario, in addition to the three teams of medical staff that were announced on Monday. The number of people on each of the multipurpose medical assistance teams was not disclosed on Tuesday; they typically have 12 people per team, the Forces said on Monday.
“Sending men and women in uniform to help in Ontario is a serious step. We are doing this because the situation requires it,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The government hasn’t announced the timing of the deployment.
The Canadian Red Cross is also prepared to send 13 nurses with ICU experience to Ontario, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said, adding that 30 other people are also available. He did not specify their expertise, nor say when they would be sent to the province.
Another 62 federal employees are also available to Ontario if needed, Mr. Blair said. The staff are nurses who volunteered to help, the minister’s spokesperson James Cudmore said.
On the weekend, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which encompasses Fort McMurray, declared a state of emergency as the coronavirus spreads out of control in northern Alberta. Local leaders are asking the federal government and the province for more vaccines.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Tuesday that the per-capita distribution of vaccines, that the premiers agreed to, remains in place. Mr. Trudeau has previously said that the premiers would have to agree to any change to the vaccine distribution strategy; so far no premier has called for a change to how the vaccines are allocated to provinces.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said the increases in overall supply will help all provinces and it’s up to each province to allocate the vaccines between regions.
Mr. Trudeau said Ottawa is “standing ready” to help Alberta, but he did not specify what resources could be provided. Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said the province has not asked the federal government for support.
In Ontario, the first out-of-province aid arrived on Tuesday. Six nurses and three physicians from Newfoundland and Labrador will work in Toronto’s University Health Network. Mr. Blair said the number of nurses from Newfoundland and Labrador will increase to 14 in the weeks ahead.
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