Canada was expected to surpass 400,000 cases of COVID-19 infections on the weekend with new record numbers posted by Quebec, Ontario, and Saskatchewan during the week raising a growing alarm among politicians and health care professionals.
Ontario reported another 1,780 cases of COVID-19 and 25 more deaths from the illness on Friday and numbers were also “rising alarmingly” in Alberta, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
“We will do whatever is necessary to help all provinces and territories deal with these outbreaks and get the situation under control,” Trudeau told reporters Friday. “Across the country, cases are too high, and hospitals are filling up.”
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said there were over 69,255 active cases of COVID-19 across the country and more than 12,407 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic.
Over the past week, laboratories across Canada have tested an average of about 74,600 people daily, with 7.4 per cent testing positive, she said.
“With continued rapid growth of the epidemic over many weeks in a growing number of health regions across Canada, the troubling rise in the number of people experiencing severe illness continues,” Tam said.
“Over the past week there have been on average close to 2,500 individuals with COVID-19 being treated in Canadian hospitals, including almost 500 in critical care, and 87 deaths reported each day.”
Tam said if Canada stays on the same trajectory, the latest longer range modelling forecasts show the country could reach 10,000 cases daily by January.
Trudeau said Health Canada regulators “are working around the clock” to conduct an independent review of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already been approved by the U.K. health regulators.
“Let’s also remember that Canada’s deal with Pfizer is just one of many,” Trudeau said. “We also have agreements with six other promising vaccine manufacturers, including Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford.”
The independent federal committee charged with deciding who should be the first Canadians to be vaccinated against COVID-19 released on Friday its final directive recommending that long-term care home residents and seniors over the age of 80 get priority access to the first batch of shots.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said the initial, limited quantity of vaccine doses should be reserved for people who are most at risk of contracting the virus and developing severe symptoms.
The National Operations Centre, which will be managing and tracking the distribution of vaccines once they are authorized, is working closely with the provinces and territories every day, Trudeau said.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, a former NATO commander in Iraq, is leading vaccination logistics at the new centre in the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“The Canadian Armed Forces is already holding simulation tests of this distribution plan with a series of exercises and run-throughs,” Trudeau said.
“Freezers have been purchased, and dry ice contracts for cold shipping are being put in place. When vaccines get authorized and shipped, we will be ready.”
With files from John Paul Tasker of CBC News