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

Grand Forks RCMP and Grand Forks Fire/Rescue near the scene of a motor vehicle accident Thursday evening, Jan. 21, in the vicinity of Highway 3 near the intersection of Danshin Village Road. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
First responders attend Highway 3 crash near Grand Forks

It is not known how many people were involved in the accident

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

The bill was discussed at Grand Forks Social Services Advisory Group’s last meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks City Hall spends around $6,000 on recent Moto clean up

The city’s bill came up for discussion at the Social Services Advisory Group on Wednesday, Jan. 20

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Vaccine rollout is focused on health care workers first, especially those dealing with long-term care facilities. (Nathan Denette - Canadian Press)
General public shouldn’t expect vaccines until fall: Interior Health South Okanagan Similkameen

Interior Health focused on vaccinating long-term and first-line care workers

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Most Read