As the Covid-19 case count grew and hospital admissions skyrocketed in recent days, Canadians were shocked and asked, “How could this happen here, where most people obey public health guidelines?”
However, several health-care staff in Canada had cautioned that some provincial governments had reopened too soon after a challenging post-Christmas surge.
“So we’re stuck where we have cases out of control, hospitals full, not enough vaccine supply available and months of difficult public health measures ahead of us,” Dr Michael Warner, director of critical care at the Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, told CNN.
Provincial governments around the country are now preparing for a potentially devastating Covid-19 third wave, which might jeopardize the universal healthcare system that Canadians are so proud of.
Many provinces are now anxiously watching the case count increase from coast to coast, through thousands of miles and hundreds of hospitals. This is occurring as concern variants transmit a more infectious virus to younger Canadians, resulting in more people being admitted to hospitals.
And nowhere is the hospital situation more serious than in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province.
“The government didn’t listen to scientists, they didn’t listen to epidemiologists, they didn’t listen to doctors other than their chief medical officer of health. And because they failed to listen to scientists, they thought they could negotiate themselves out of this virus. But the virus is too strong, the variant is a different disease,” Warner said, before adding that his ICU was operating at 115% capacity on Friday.
Premier Doug Ford defended his actions on Friday, announcing new restrictions that include extending a stay-at-home order until at least mid-May, banning indoor and outdoor gatherings, and limiting non-essential travel in and out of the province.
Ford stressed at a news conference on Friday that he has always acted on science, adding that in the case of recent increases in critical care admissions, he drafted tighter public health policies “the second” he learned of the issue.
“Whatever we put into place though, it’s going to take time to take effect. So right now, the trajectories of Covid rises are baked in, and I think the next two to three weeks for Ontario and Canada are going to be very, very, tough,” said Dr Fahad Razak, who treats coronavirus patients at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
On Saturday, Ontario set new highs for hospital and intensive care unit admissions. The province’s expert advisory panel released modelling on Friday that painted a bleak picture of the crisis already underway in hospitals and how it is likely to worsen.
“Notice that our hospitals can no longer function normally — they are bursting at their seams,” said Dr Adalsteinn Brown, Ontario’s science advisory co-chair. “We’re setting up field hospitals, and we’re separating critically ill patients from their families by helicoptering them across the province for care. Our children’s hospitals are now admitting adults as patients. This has never happened in Ontario before. It’s never happened in Canada before.”
Brown was unflinching in his assessment of a worst-case scenario: Ontario could be forced to ration care, especially for critical care beds.
“There may just not be the ability to put them into these types of beds,” Brown said.
Health care workers are “beyond angry” about the situation, Warner said.
“We will be there, we will do our best, but I’m trained to save people, not to use a checklist to decide if people are going to live or die. But that’s where we’re headed, and that’s my biggest fear,” Warner said.
The epidemiological evidence has been troubling for much of Canada. The Atlantic provinces, which developed a bubble and had some of the lowest Covid-19 rates in North America, were the exception.
In the week ending April 11, Health Canada announced a 35 percent rise in hospitalizations and a more than 20 percent increase in ICU admissions across Canada. The mortality trend is even more concerning, with a 38 percent rise in deaths only in the last week.
Many provinces, according to some public health professionals, relaxed regulations too quickly and too soon. Many health-care providers in Ontario believe that considering their shortage in Canada, vaccines should have been distributed more easily to underserved populations.
Staff in farms, meat processing plants, and distribution centres in many of Canada’s largest cities have been affected by harmful outbreaks.
Hundreds of doctors across Ontario have taken to social media to demand that these staffs be given better working conditions and easier access to sick leave if they catch the virus or need to be screened for it.
Most provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec, are focusing their mobile testing and vaccination clinics on these workplaces and neighbourhood hotspots.
Some healthcare professionals, on the other hand, are resigned to the fact that such systems were not implemented fast enough to protect them and their patients from a third wave that is much greater than the first two.
“It’s clearly a crisis, we’re in the midst of a crisis now. It’s not a week away — we’re in it right now,” Razak said.