On Monday, Canada’s largest province announced the start of a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, citing reports of rising case counts, hospitalizations, and variant spread.
“We’re in the third wave. The numbers are slowly going up, they’re not going as fast as predicted by the modelers,” said Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer for Ontario. He added, “We’re now starting to see impacts on our hospital rates, our ICU admissions are up again, our hospital admissions are up again.”
It was depressing news for a province where the majority of people have been living in fear since late last year.
Public health officials in Canada have cautioned that the vaccine expansion would not be fast enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic third wave in other parts of the world, placing additional pressure on hospital capacity.
“COVID-19 activity has leveled off at a high level since mid-February and average daily case counts are now on the rise,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, on Monday.
“While vaccine programs accelerate, it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly with enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect variants of concern,” she said in a statement.
Since the start of the pandemic, Canada has recorded over 938,000 suspected or confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with over 22,000 deaths.
For weeks, public health authorities have warned that Canada is at risk of a third wave, fueled by more transmissible variants that, in some cases, can lead to more serious disease.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cautioned last month that a third wave was possible as the country faced a serious vaccine shortage.
“We have to keep taking strong public health measures,” Trudeau said during a Covid-19 update in February, because “otherwise we could see a third wave that is even worse than the second or the first, and I know that’s not the news you want to hear.”
On Monday, he said that vaccine shipments will continue to increase, with Canada expecting to receive up to 2 million doses this week, the most in a single week since four vaccine candidates were approved for emergency use.
However, authorities around the country are now concerned that the vaccines will not be available in time to prevent a large number of hospitalizations and deaths.
On Monday, the province of Alberta announced that reopenings will be postponed due to an increase in hospitalizations caused by Covid-19.
“Half of those who are in a hospital bed for COVID are under the age of 65 and almost 90% of those in an ICU for Covid are under 65. Most of them wouldn’t be there if they had been vaccinated at this time,” Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s health minister said during a Covid-19 update Monday.
Although the B.1.1.7 version, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom, is fueling a rise in cases in Alberta, the health minister also criticized the federal government for failing to secure adequate vaccine doses in time to vaccinate the many people already at risk of serious consequences.
The Biden administration gave Canada a boost last week when the two countries reached an agreement in which the US would release 1.5 million AstraZeneca doses to Canada in the coming days. The AstraZeneca vaccine is being stockpiled in the United States until it receives FDA approval, which is not expected until at least next month.