Canadian health officials warn COVID-19 spikes are stressing health systems

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Canadian health officials are warning spikes in COVID-19 hospitalizations are stressing already stretched health systems.

The country’s chief public health officer on Thursday urged Canadians to step up their coronavirus-fighting efforts to drive down cases of the resurgent coronavirus and reduce that strain.

“Given recent developments, there is an urgent need for everyone take individual actions to not only protect ourselves but also our vulnerable populations and communities,” Tam said.

She said Canada needs to “retake the lead on COVID-19” by following public health guidance, such as reducing close contact, wearing a mask, frequent hand washing and staying home when appropriate.

Tam said on Wednesday that COVID-19 transmission is increasing in settings such as long-term care homes and Indigenous communities, which is contributing to spikes in hospitalizations that are putting stress on already taxed health systems.

Health officials in British Columbia warned of just that on Wednesday.

“This second surge is putting a strain on our health-care system, our workplaces and us all,” said a statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

With case numbers on the rise in B.C. and across much of the country, Premier John Horgan on Wednesday called on Ottawa to work with provinces to discourage non-essential inter-provincial travel.

WATCH | B.C. premier calls for interprovincial travel restrictions:

British Columbia’s premier has called on the federal government to restrict non-essential travel between provinces. B.C. is also considering a 14-day mandatory quarantine for travellers to Vancouver Island. 2:01

“We need a pan-Canadian approach to travel,” Horgan said. “That is, the people of Quebec and Ontario and Manitoba need to know that they should stay in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba until we get to a place where we can start distributing a vaccine across the country.”

In neighbouring Alberta, the chief medical officer of health warned on Wednesday that if the province doesn’t change its current COVID-19 trajectory the “implications are grim.”

“This is deadly serious. I have asked for kindness but I also ask for firmness,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. 

B.C. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Bonnie Henry, left, and her Alberta counterpart Dr. Deena Hinshaw are among those warning spikes in COVID-19 hospitalizations are stressing already stretched health systems. (Chad Hipolito, Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

“The need to control our spread and protect our health system is why I ask everyone, anywhere in the province, to abide by all public health measures.”

In hard-hit Ontario, the province reported on Thursday that admissions to intensive care jumped considerably up to 146, an increase of 19. Of those, 88 people — 10 more than yesterday — are on ventilators.

Further to the province’s official number, an internal report from Critical Care Services Ontario, shared by sources with CBC Toronto on Thursday, puts the number of patients in ICUs at 150.

A thank you sign is displayed outside a hospital’s emergency department in Mississauga, Ont., on Thursday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Last week, public health officials said that is the threshold before other surgeries and procedures will likely need to be cancelled to accommodate COVID-19 patients.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that the province has increased capacity for ICU and acute care beds.

“We’re going to add surge capacity within the hospitals,” he said.

What’s happening across Canada

Canada’s COVID-19 case count — as of 12:25 p.m. ET — stood at 313,532, with 51,411 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 11,248.

Manitoba on Thursday announced new restrictions as cases in the province continue to rise.

New public health orders will forbid people from having anyone inside their home who doesn’t live there, with few exceptions, and prohibit businesses from selling non-essential items in stores. 

Ontario reported 1,210 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

Premier Doug Ford on Wednesday warned that some of the province’s “red” zones could be facing another lockdown.

Quebec on Thursday reported 1,207 new cases of COVID-19 and 34 deaths, including seven that happened in the last 24 hours. Hospitalizations stood at 651, with 101 in intensive care.

Premier François Legault is expected to provide details around holiday gathering size and the possibility of an extended school break later in the day.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador reported both reported one new case.

People are seen wearing face masks in Halifax on Thursday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

In the territories, Nunavut health officials reported four more cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the number of cases in the territory to 74. 

What’s happening around the world

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10:45 a.m. ET

As of early Thursday morning, there were more than 56.3 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 36.2 million of those cases listed as recovered, according to a COVID-19 tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.3 million.

A day after an update from Pfizer about its potential COVID-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s potential COVID-19 vaccine produced a strong immune response in older adults, data published on Thursday showed, with researchers expecting to release late-stage trial results by Christmas.

In the Americas, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday  — a reminder that the nation’s strained testing system remains unable to keep pace with the virus.

The delays are happening as the country braces for winter weather, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to amplify a U.S. outbreak that has already swelled past 11.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths.

Conditions inside the nation’s hospitals are deteriorating by the day as the coronavirus rages across the U.S. at an unrelenting pace.

Volunteers load boxes of food into a van during a distribution of frozen turkeys and food boxes ahead of Thanksgiving to families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday in Los Angeles. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

“We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,” said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, noting that she drives to and from work some days in tears.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 in the U.S. has doubled in the past month and set new records every day this week. As of Tuesday, nearly 77,000 were hospitalized with the virus.

The out-of-control surge is leading governors and mayors across the U.S. to grudgingly issue mask mandates, limit the size of private and public gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving, ban indoor restaurant dining, close gyms or restrict the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses.

New York City’s school system — the nation’s largest, with more than one million students — suspended in-person classes Wednesday amid a mounting infection rate, a painful setback in a corner of the country that suffered mightily in the spring but had seemingly beaten back the virus months ago.

Texas is rushing thousands of additional medical staff to overworked hospitals as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide accelerates toward 8,000 for the first time since a deadly summer outbreak.

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, a relatively coronavirus-free zone in hard-hit Latin America, health officials are starting to see a worrying rise in cases.

The African continent has surpassed two million confirmed cases as the top public health official warned Thursday that “we are inevitably edging toward a second wave” of infections.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the 54-nation continent had crossed the milestone. Africa has seen more than 48,000 deaths from COVID-19. Its infections and deaths make up less than four per cent of the global total.

In Europe, Russia on Thursday surpassed two million cases after reporting an additional 23,610 infections and 463 deaths related to COVID-19, both record daily rises.

WATCH | Inside a Moscow COVID-19 ward:

A well-equipped, high-tech COVID-19 ward set up inside a Moscow convention centre is a stark contrast to the overwhelmed hospitals elsewhere in Russia. CBC News got a first-hand look at the facility and found out what’s creating the disparity in health care. 6:34

Ukraine registered a record of 13,357 new cases in the past 24 hours, while the number of deaths also hit a new high.

Poland reported a new daily high of 637 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, according to the health ministry’s Twitter account. The high came after Wednesday’s report, which put the number of COVID-19-related deaths in 24 hours at 603.

There were 23,975 new cases reported on Thursday, the health ministry said. 

In the Asia-Pacific region, the leader of the small Pacific nation of Samoa appealed for calm Thursday after the country reported its first positive test for the coronavirus, although a second test on the same patient returned a negative result.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi addressed the nation live on television and radio, urging people to remain vigilant with their virus precautions.

Samoa was among a dwindling handful of nations to have not reported a single case of the virus.

According to the Samoa Observer, the prime minister said the patient was a sailor who had been staying in a quarantine facility since flying in from New Zealand on Friday. He said the sailor returned a positive test four days after arriving, but then a second test on Thursday returned a negative result.

Tokyo raised its coronavirus alert to the highest level as the city’s daily tally of new infections rose to a record 534, while daily cases in Japan also hit a new record of 2,259.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for closer international co-operation on making a vaccine for the coronavirus available.

“To beat the virus and promote the global recovery, the international community must close ranks and jointly respond to the crisis and meet the tests,” Xi said in an address delivered via video at an event at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.

Chinese companies Sinovac and Sinopharm are in the late stages of testing vaccines, putting them among nearly a dozen companies at or near that level of development. That has introduced both commercial and political competition among countries and companies to be the first to offer a solution to the pandemic.

In the Middle East, Iran on Wednesday said it registered 13,421 new infections in 24 hours, a new daily record. The country has reported more than 800,000 cases and more than 42,000 deaths.

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