Promising pandemic signs in Ontario, Quebec as urgency shifts to N.S., Alberta

·4 min read

Canada's most populous provinces showed promising signs of containing their COVID-19 cases Thursday, as pandemic urgency shifted to surges in Alberta and Nova Scotia, and efforts to vaccinate teenagers before the next school year.

Ontario reported 3,424 new cases Thursday and 26 more deaths linked to the virus. While that's an increase from 2,941 reported Wednesday, the province's seven-day average dropped to 3,369 from a record-high 4,348 on April 19.

The slight levelling off came as the province said it had administered a record 141,000 vaccines Wednesday, while over in Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dube noted declines in case counts, hospitalizations and test positivity rates were pushing his province "in the right direction."

Hospitalizations there dropped by eight, to 580, and 144 people were in intensive care, a decrease of eight.

Eyes remained on Nova Scotia, however, where an alarming upswing pushed daily counts to a pandemic-high of 182 on Thursday, following a 175-case tally a day before.

Alberta meanwhile, reported 2,271 cases on Wednesday, as the province waited to see whether new containment measures announced early this week would make a difference.

Vaccine strategy and lockdown measures are playing a role in Ontario's dropping daily average, infectious disease doctor Zain Chagla said in an interview.

And promising provincial data on vaccine effectiveness may give other jurisdictions hope things can turn around quickly, especially if inoculations are prioritized to those who need them most.

"The big thing now is vaccinating people in places where density of transmission is high," Chagla said.

"So having that mentality of, we're not only vaccinating to a particular age but scaling vaccines in populations that have been hit hard throughout this pandemic."

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, said "vaccines alone are not the silver bullet" to easing spread in Alberta, which has seen skyrocketing infection rates and a health-care system that's "beginning to be overloaded."

He said "strong public health measures" are also necessary.

Nova Scotia, which was mostly spared by COVID-19 in earlier stages of the pandemic, added new restrictive measures last week, including a $2,000 fine for anyone caught leaving their counties for non-essential reasons.

Premier Iain Rankin said he was "frustrated" by his province's rising case numbers.

"I don't know what more I can say to Nova Scotians to make sure they take this issue seriously," he said.

Quebec reported 907 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, along with seven more deaths attributed to the virus.

Nunavut reported 12 new cases, all in the 8,000-population capital of Iqaluit, with chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson saying house parties were to blame.

Data released by Public Health Ontario this week showed how effective Canada's approved COVID-19 vaccines have been.

The agency found that from Dec. 14, 2020 — the beginning of the rollout — to April 17, only 2,223 people tested positive for COVID-19 out of almost 3.5 million people vaccinated with at least one dose in Ontario.

Ontario says it expects 65 per cent of adults to have their first dose by the end of May, and eligibility could soon open to teenagers following Health Canada's authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab in 12- to -15-year-olds on Wednesday.

Other provinces are making similar plans.

The Northwest Territories said it would open vaccine eligibility for teens starting Thursday, while Alberta will allow booking up from that age range as of Monday.

Manitoba said it will start vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds on May 21.

Dube said he's waiting for details on a formal plan but said youth between the ages of 12 and 17 can expect to be offered a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June and be fully vaccinated by the time they return to school in September.

Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, said vaccinating teenagers marks an important step in Canada's rollout.

"Just having adults immunized is not enough to get to that herd immunity point," Banerji said.

While kids are less likely to suffer severe disease from a COVID infection, Banerji said they have played a role in spreading the virus.

Canada achieved a new milestone in its vaccination program this week, surpassing the vaccination rate in the United States for the first time.

The Our World in Data project, which tracks vaccinations around the world, says the United States injected doses at a rate of 6.4 doses for every 1,000 people on Wednesday. Canada injected 6.6 doses for every 1,000 people.

Canada had vaccinated more than 14.5 million people with at least one dose as of Thursday, which represents 41 per cent of the adult population.

Njoo said he believes there's a "new energy" and "new optimism" around the country's rollout.

"The overall goal has always been to vaccinate as many eligible Canadians as soon as possible," he said. "So I think we're on track and I think it bodes well for the summer."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting