Canada has officially logged more than two million reported cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic as health-care workers brace for a possible post-holiday spike driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
The government of Canada’s health website says the total case count was 2,000,976 as of Boxing Day. The website wasn’t updated over the holiday period.
As high as the official figures are, health care analysts have said the real number of infections is likely far higher. Several provinces have asked people to get tested only if they have symptoms as hospitals and centres have reached their testing limits.
Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba each reported thousands of additional cases Monday, prompting renewed concern over their beleaguered health-care systems’ ability to handle an influx of sick patients.
Linda Silas, head of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said the “big bump” is usually seen two weeks after exposure to the virus, and expressed worries that holiday gatherings could lead to hospitals becoming overwhelmed with new cases.
“We are all bracing for that with fear, and with our fingers and toes crossed,” she said in an interview Monday.
Quebec’s health minister urged people to reduce contacts after the province saw hospitalizations climb by more than 140 over a four-day period. Quebec reported 8,231 cases.
Christian Dubé said on Twitter that 320 people were admitted to hospital while 179 were released between Dec. 22 and 26. He noted that admissions were rising, with 93 people entering hospital on Boxing Day alone.
Ontario reported 9,418 new cases of COVID-19, which was down slightly from the record-breaking numbers on Christmas Day.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 480 people were in hospital because of COVID-19 while ICU numbers rose to 176.
Nova Scotia health authorities reported an outbreak at the Halifax Infirmary site of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.
They did not give details on how many patients have tested positive but said fewer than five had been “impacted.” Nova Scotia recorded 581 COVID-19 cases.
Manitoba reported eight new deaths in people with COVID-19 since the last report on Christmas Eve as well as 2,154 new cases, including 675 identified Monday.
The province said in a news release that approximately 75 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Manitoba were now suspected to be due to the Omicron variant.
Silas said the variant could exacerbate the existing nursing shortage, particularly if infected nurses are not given time to stay home and recuperate.
All Canadian families should be sent free rapid tests to help curb spread, she suggested.
Earlier Monday, Manitoba said it would make take-home, self-administered rapid tests available at provincial testing sites.
Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon said in a statement that most symptomatic and fully vaccinated people who go to testing sites will receive a rapid test to take at home, and will only be asked to return for a PCR if the result is positive.
The changes will be “introduced incrementally,” she said.
“Making take-home, self-administered rapid tests available to symptomatic Manitobans who seek a COVID-19 test will help manage the potential demand of tests when the Omicron variant of concern becomes more prominent,” Gordon said.
The Canadian Press