The World Forum - May 26th, 2024

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Canada overtakes U.S. in new COVID-19 cases for first time


For the first time since the pandemic began, Canada has passed a grim milestone, with more new Covid-19 cases per capita than the U.S.

There have been roughly 22 new recorded cases per 100,000 people in the country over the past seven days. Ontario is being hit the hardest with hospitals coming under increasing strain, especially in Toronto, the country’s largest city.

Ontario has ordered all but emergency surgeries cancelled across most of the province, for the first time since March 2020. Patients scheduled for cancer, cardiac and brain surgeries are being told to wait as intensive care units fill with Covid-19 patients. Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children has opened an overflow unit to treat adults.

Toronto recorded 1,296 new cases on Monday and could see 2,500 new Covid-19 cases a day by the end of the month, at the current rate, health officials warned Monday.

About 1,300 patients have been moved to hospitals across the province to handle the onslaught of critical cases, Smith said. Hospitals are struggling to secure supplies of tocilizumab, a cancer drug that has improved survival rates for Covid, he said. And the UHN network may soon exceed its capacity to offer extracorporeal membrange oxygen, or ECMO, to Covid patients, an artificial heart and lung technology that can be used when a ventilator is insufficient.

Hospitals in Northern Ontario will likely need to cancel scheduled surgeries soon, Smith said, so that Covid patients can be transferred from the south to the north of the province. Within the next week, he expects his staff will be redeployed — ideally on a volunteer basis — to areas of most need.

On Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford bowed to pressure to close schools for in-person learning until data shows the outbreak is easing, a decision that will add to pressure on working parents at a time when people are already exhausted by the 13 months of pandemic-related restrictions, coupled with a fits-and-starts vaccine roll-out.

Friction between beleaguered health officials, desperate businesses and exhausted residents has been on the rise across Canada. This past weekend, Quebec police used tear gas on a handful of protesters after hundreds took to the street in defiance of an 8 p.m. curfew, with a handful setting fire to garbage and shattering windows, CBC News reported.

On Monday, the speaker of Alberta’s legislature apologized for publicly protesting new government restrictions. In neighbouring British Columbia, health officials said that the number of patients in critical care had risen to a record high.

But nowhere has the tug-of-war between competing interests been more apparent than in Ontario, where Ford has struggled to contain the virus without ostracizing business leaders. Delays in securing vaccines, evolving information about the safety of the AstraZeneca dose, and the more infectious nature of new variants have added to his challenges, resulting in shifting tactics and messaging. Complex colour-coded lockdown restrictions — is which “gray” represents a higher threat than “red” — have been accompanied long lists of vaccine “phases,” detailed reopening “stages” and frequent modifications and amendments.

Nationwide, CFIB members have incurred an average of almost C$170,000 in additional debt as a result of Covid-19, according to a March survey. In Ontario, that figure is closer to C$208,000. Even with federal assistance, many business owners are running up credit-card debt, tapping mortgages, and draining bank accounts, the survey showed.

Health officials knew it was always going to be a race to get people vaccinated before the third wave caught hold, Smith said. Having lost that contest, Canada should be imposing more “rigorous” measures, including restricting regional, interprovincial and international travel for the next four to six weeks to contain the spread of more infectious variants until vaccination efforts take hold.