Canada’s second wave of the novel coronavirus is worsening as the holidays approach and some areas are imposing stricter restrictions, authorities said on Friday, with the first vaccinations due next week.
Although many of the 10 provinces have already clamped down on businesses and limited gatherings as numbers continue to spike, chief public health officer Theresa Tam said more action was needed to reduce pressure on the healthcare system as hospitalizations soar.
“The current daily case count far exceeds the peak of the first wave … There is little indication that this upward trajectory will change without further intensifying public health measures,” she told reporters.
Local authorities should implement “restrictions, closures and control measures” while urging people to cut their interaction with others, she added, saying that without this action, there could be 12,000 new cases per day by January, almost double the current rate.
Tam said that by Dec. 25 the domestic cumulative death toll could be as high as 14,920 and total cases as high as 577,000. Canada has so far reported 13,109 deaths and 442,069 cases.
Howard Njoo, Tam’s deputy, said the second wave was exerting enormous pressure on the healthcare system.
In some parts of Canada, “we’re on the point of being completely overloaded,” he said.
Starting on Monday, the country’s most populous province of Ontario will add two regions to its highest lockdown level, urging everyone living there not to leave their homes except for essential reasons like buying groceries or seeing a doctor.
Ontario also announced increased health restrictions for five other regions.
The predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec said it was considering further restrictions after already banning holiday gatherings. COVID-19 cases in Quebec have surged to roughly 1,500 to 2,000 per day.
Next week, Canada is set to become only the second Western nation after Britain to start vaccinating against the coronavirus.
“Vaccinations will help end the pandemic,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters. “But right now, our fight against COVID-19 is far from over.”
The first 30,000 doses of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine are set to arrive in the next few days.
Regulators have received rolling applications for three other experimental vaccines, from Moderna Inc, AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson.
The Moderna vaccine is farthest along the regulatory path, and Tam said she expects a decision on its possible use “soon.”
Officials have said they expect to receive 6 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines before the end of March. Each vaccine requires two doses, given about three weeks apart.
The United States could also begin a massive vaccination program next week, with U.S. regulators expected to soon authorize emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine.
“These holidays are going to be very difficult,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said, after urging people not to travel and gather during the vacation period.