People wear face masks as they wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. Canadian public health experts are raising alarm over an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in several provinces. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

People wear face masks as they wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. Canadian public health experts are raising alarm over an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in several provinces. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

‘A bit of a nightmare:’ Health expert calls for stricter rules as COVID cases surge

Canadian politicians at the federal and provincial levels are facing criticism for taking trips abroad

Surges in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across several provinces prompted warnings on Monday from public health experts, who said stricter measures and adherence to guidelines are needed in the days and weeks ahead.

Ontario reported 3,270 new cases of COVID-19 and 29 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus on Monday, while officials in Quebec reported 2,546 new infections and 32 more deaths.

One expert in Quebec said the province should impose a curfew to ensure people are in their homes at a certain hour — a move that was recently imposed in France. “The government bet on a partial lockdown to reduce the number of cases. It didn’t work,” Roxane Borges Da Silva, a professor at Universite de Montreal’s school of public health, said in an interview Monday.

She said the stricter measures could also include the closure of the manufacturing sector, which accounts for many COVID-19 outbreaks. “We don’t have room to manoeuvre. We have no choice but to put in place strict measures that will really work. We can’t afford to do more trial and error,” Borges Da Silva said.

Quebec and Ontario imposed partial lockdown rules over the holiday period in an effort to get the pandemic under control and ease pressure on their strained health-care networks. But health-care workers and public health experts continue to raise concerns over rates of infections and hospitalizations in both provinces.

Quebec reported 1,294 hospitalizations on Monday, including 188 patients in intensive care, while Ontario said 1,190 people were currently hospitalized, including 333 in intensive care.

Dr. Nadia Alam, a family doctor in Georgetown, Ont., northwest of Toronto, and past president of the Ontario Medical Association, said many people are feeling “pandemic fatigue.”

Alam said many Ontarians are following public health directives, but some, she said, do not have the social support they need to adhere to the regulations. Others, she said, are bucking the rules because they do not take the pandemic seriously.

The result is “a crisis in health care” and the exhaustion of health-care workers, particularly in long-term care homes and hospitals in Ontario, Alam said in an interview. “We’re stretched so thin. It’s a bit of a nightmare. The vaccine gave us all hope — and it is giving us hope — but right now are very difficult times.”

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 17 new COVID-19 cases Monday, the highest number of single-day infections in the province since Nov. 21.

Nova Scotia reported six new cases — two from Sunday and four on Monday — while Newfoundland and Labrador reported its first new COVID-19 infection of 2021.

Health authorities in Saskatchewan reported 286 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and two more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. The province said 180 people were in hospital, including 35 receiving intensive care.

Meanwhile, Canadian politicians at the federal and provincial levels are facing criticism for taking trips abroad despite advice to avoid non-essential travel. Frustrations have been especially high in Alberta, where at least six members of the province’s United Conservative government travelled outside the country during the holiday period.

On Monday afternoon, Premier Jason Kenney said he had accepted the resignation of the province’s municipal affairs minister and asked his chief of staff to step down. Four other party members also lost their committee and other parliamentary responsibilities.

“By travelling abroad over the holidays, these individuals demonstrated extremely poor judgment,” Kenney said in a Facebook post.

Dr. Alika Lafontaine, an anesthesiologist in Grande Prairie, Alta., and past president of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada, said it was “disheartening” to see politicians ignore travel advice. “I’m actually quite concerned that Albertans will take that as a signal that maybe the pandemic isn’t … as bad as it really is,” Lafontaine said in an interview Monday.

READ MORE: 7 Alberta cabinet ministers, MLAs, staff resign after holiday travels: Kenney

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said Sunday an estimated 400 new COVID-19 cases had been identified in the province on Jan. 2. Hospitalizations and intensive care admissions were stable, she said in a tweet.

Lafontaine said, however, that ICU admissions are not decreasing fast enough, adding that he feared the health-care system as a whole — and regional hospitals like where he works, in particular — could be overwhelmed. “At the stage that we’re at right now with hospitalizations, I think our system is on the verge of being overwhelmed if it does get worse,” he said.

That’s why public health guidelines need to be followed closely, Lafontaine said, adding that politicians should be setting an example. “We all have to treat this pandemic as the health crisis that it actually is, and that starts at the top.”

That was echoed by Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, who said COVID-19 infections will only decrease if everyone follows public health measures.

“Collectively, we need to bend this curve down and we need to do it through intense adherence to public health measures, consistently, everywhere, by everyone,” Vinh said.

— With files from Sarah Smellie in St. John’s and Stephanie Taylor in Regina.

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Participants are encouraged to light a candle and watch the streamed event from home as speakers honor the lives of those lost to overdose from Gyro Bandshell in Penticton April 14, 2021. (Facebook photo)
Vigil for 5th anniversary of B.C. overdose crisis to be held in Penticton

To honor the lives lost to the overdose crisis and bring a call of action to policymakers

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen will speed up the process for hospitality businesses looking to set up patios during the latest COVID-19 restrictions. Under the most recent restrictions, indoor dining is prohibited, but patio dining is allowed. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen speeds up patio permit approval

Initiative to help hospitality businesses affected by latest COVID-19 restrictions

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

The Town of Oliver’s Town Offices, which the town wants to get designated a heritage site. (Black Press)
Oliver council to weigh nixing alerts for water leaks

Staff say the policy has served its purpose in fixing the majority of leaks

A small wildfire near Apex Mountain was added to B.C. WIldfire’s dashboard April 8, 2021. (B.C. Wildfire)
Small wildfire near Apex Mountain under control

2021 has seen an early start to the wildfire season

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Vernon Secondary School. (Google Maps)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

VSS exposure announced late Friday, April 9

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

The Royal’s 1951 visit to Revelstoke. (Photo by Revelstoke Museum and Archives #17)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip visited Revelstoke – twice

The prince died April 9 at the age of 99

Nolan's Pharmasave in downtown Vernon received 200 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines Friday, April 9, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
AstraZeneca vaccines arrive at Vernon pharmacies

Four pharmacies in the city received doses of the COVID-19 inoculant Friday

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on Thursday, April 8. (Contributed)
Revelstoke yoga class fined for defying COVID-19 orders

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on April 8

An East Hill resident had their leaf bags torched in front of their home overnight April 8. Less than two weeks prior their garbage can was lit on fire too. (Taryn Allen photo)
Garbage, leaf fires spark fear in North Okanagan

First an East Hill residents’ trash can, then bagged leaves were lit on fire

Okanagan-based All Are Family Outreach Society, which provides support to those struggling from Armstrong to Kelowna, is in need of a new headquarters after leaving a Winfield church in June 2020. (All Are Family Outreach photo)
Okanagan outreach society in ‘desperate’ need after storage unit break-in

All Are Family Outreach had $4,000 in tools stolen from its donation shipping container

Most Read