A worker waits to assist people outside at a mass COVID-19 vaccination site during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, March 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A worker waits to assist people outside at a mass COVID-19 vaccination site during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, March 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Cases of COVID-19 variants on the rise in Canada, fuelling concerns over third wave

The majority of those cases involve the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom

The number of cases of variants of concern in the country is rising, Canada’s chief public health officer said Monday as provinces ramped up their vaccination programs in the hopes of heading off a possible third wave of COVID-19.

Dr. Theresa Tam said there have been 5,154 confirmed COVID-19 cases involving more transmissible variants, with the highest numbers in Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

The majority of those cases involve the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, which Tam says is responsible for 638 of the 655 cases of variants confirmed since March 18.

“With the continued increase of variants of concern, maintaining public health measures and individual precautions is crucial to reducing infection rates and avoiding a rapid re-acceleration of the epidemic and its severe outcomes, including hospitalization and deaths,” Tam said in a statement.

In addition to conventional testing, she said the Public Health Agency of Canada was developing more tools to study and detect the variants, including an advanced form of genetic sequencing to detect the virus in wastewater.

Tam said the number of COVID-19 cases across the country has been rising, after a decline earlier this year. The bright spot, she said, is vaccination, which gives “cause for optimism (that) widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved.”

Speaking in Trois-Rivieres, Que., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised the vaccination effort, which he said has delivered more than 4.7 million doses to the provinces thus far.

“This is the way we all wanted to start the spring, with families from coast to coast to coast breathing a sigh of relief,” he said at an event alongside Quebec Premier Francois Legault.

However, in an acknowledgment that the pandemic is not over, Trudeau extended the deadline for new applications under the Canada Emergency Business Account, which provides interest-free loans to small businesses.

He said the deadline had been moved from the end of March to the end of June, promising to do “whatever it takes for as long as it takes” to help Canadians through the pandemic.

Even as vaccination programs ramp up, the growing number of variant cases is sparking fears of a third wave in some parts of the country. Ontario’s chief medical officer of health announced last week that the province was already in a third wave, and on Monday health officials in Quebec expressed concern that the province would soon follow suit.

Health Minister Christian Dube said all the province’s negative indicators are rising, and he urged people to respect health measures to prevent a variant-fuelled COVID-19 surge.

Legault, meanwhile, said the province’s case numbers and hospitalizations were no longer decreasing, and he expressed the desire to avoid steep increases seen in other jurisdictions. “We look at what’s happening in Ontario, in New York, in New Jersey and France and we have to worry,” he said. “We have to be careful.”

In Saskatchewan, rising concern over variant cases in Regina prompted some school divisions to restart online learning. The province also announced it was shipping 100,000 rapid antigen tests to schools to help prevent COVID-19 transmission.

Health officials said that as of Sunday, 141 of the 156 confirmed cases of a variant of concern were in the capital city.

Ontario, meanwhile, said the province plans to expand a pharmacy vaccination project to more virus hot spots. Premier Doug Ford told reporters that the province plans to double to 700 the number of pharmacies offering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to those 60 and up.

Ford said the expansion would initially target the Toronto, Peel and York regions, but would expand further as soon as more vaccine becomes available.

“Yes, we have bush fires happening all around the province, and yes, we need to address those, but we have an inferno happening in other regions, being Toronto, Peel and York to a certain degree, and we’re going to make sure we focus on those regions,” he said.

Several provinces were also expanding their vaccine eligibility on Monday in anticipation of larger shipments in the coming days.

Ontario and Manitoba lowered the age of eligibility for the general public to register for shots to 75 and 65, respectively. In Manitoba, Indigenous people 45 and up can also get vaccinated.

Quebec dropped the minimum age for shots to 60 for those in the Montreal area, as some 350 pharmacies in the hard-hit metropolis began offering vaccines. The age of eligibility in the rest of the province remained 65 as of Monday afternoon.

READ MORE: How a year of COVID-19 has impacted our mental health

Morgan Lowrie, 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

File photo
A man walks into a Cargill meat processing factory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Alberta meat plant, site of COVID-19 outbreak last year, to get vaccination clinics

Nearly half of the 2,200 workers at the Cargill facility contracted the novel coronavirus and two employees died last April

Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, left, Grand Chief Arthur Noskey, centre and Chief Aaron Young during a meeting with First Nations Chiefs and Grand Chiefs in Edmonton. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta must retract Forest Act before it becomes law: Treaty 8 grand chief

‘We are asking (the government) to pull this back and consult with us,’ says Arthur Noskey of Treaty 8 First Nations

Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the United Conservative government’s draft elementary school curriculum pilot this fall. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
Calgary school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

Other school boards including Edmonton Public, Edmonton Catholic, Elk Island Public, Wild Rose, Medicine Hat Public, Medicine Hat Catholic and Lethbridge Public have also rejected it

Alberta reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases since December 16 on Friday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Alberta reports 1,521 additional COVID-19 cases, 674 new variant cases

Daily case total the highest since mid-December

A cross made out of hockey sticks at a makeshift memorial is silhouetted against the setting sun at the intersection of a fatal bus crash near Tisdale, Sask., on Monday, April, 9, 2018. A virtual tribute is planned to mark the third anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
VIDEO: Humboldt Broncos team to be honoured on third anniversary of fatal bus crash

16 people died and 13 were injured when a semi-trailer ran a stop sign into the path of the hockey team’s bus

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Stettler’s own Renegade Station is kicking off the spring season with a brand new single - to be released April 9th. (Photo submitted)
A brand new single is on the way from Stettler-based band Renegade Station

Free Free Free hits all streaming platforms on April 9th

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau waits for a virtual meeting to begin with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ottawa, Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Ottawa mulls exempting more workers from Canada-U.S. border shutdown: Garneau

Canada-U.S. border has been closed to people travelling for vacations and other non-essential visits since March 2020

A worker smooths concrete at a construction site in Toronto on January 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Economy adds 303,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate falls: Statistics Canada

Figure released this morning outpaced the 259,000 gain seen in February

FILE - This file photo dated July 10, 1947 shows the official photograph of Britain’s Princess Elizabeth and her fiance, Lieut. Philip Mountbatten in London. Buckingham Palace says Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died aged 99. (AP Photo/File)
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, dies at 99

Philip spent a month in hospital earlier this year before being released on March 16

Campbell River city council will continue its 2020 policy of waiving late fees and NSFs. (Mirror File photo)
53% of Canadians teetering the brink of insolvency: survey

A majority of Canadians admit they’re just $200 away from not being able to pay their monthly bills

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney listens as the 2021 budget is delivered in Edmonton Alta, on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Kenney faces criticism from doctors, his own caucus, over new COVID-19 health rules

Alberta now has more than 10,000 active cases, about 43 per cent are variants

Most Read