Canada has recorded its one-millionth case of COVID-19 according to tracking by CBC News, just over 14 months after the first case was reported.
The milestone — reached Saturday afternoon after B.C. reported 2,090 cases from the past two days — comes as many parts of the country enter a third wave, and variants of the illness cause increased concern. Nationally, the confirmed case total is now 1,001,651; the death toll stood at 23,050, while 921,465 cases were resolved and 57,136 were active.
Canada reported its first presumptive case of COVID-19 on Jan. 25, 2020, a man who had returned to Toronto from Wuhan, China, where the virus was first detected. He ultimately survived.
By the time the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, Canada had recorded about 140 cases and one death, according to CBC News tracking. The country hit the 100,000-case mark about 99 days after logging its first case.
After months of lockdowns, travel restrictions and a summer of declining cases, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared in September that multiple provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, were experiencing a second wave of the virus
“I know this isn’t the news that any of us wanted to hear. And we can’t change today’s numbers or even tomorrow’s … but what we can change is where we are in October, and into the winter,” he said at the time.
Now, as a third wave of the pandemic lands in many of the same regions, all eyes are on two factors — vaccines and variants of concern.
Criticism of vaccine rollout
While Trudeau, and several other politicians, have promised that vaccines will be widely available this year for all those who want one, criticism has mounted amid delays and mixed messaging.
According to CBC tracking of vaccinations, about three per cent of the eligible population had been fully vaccinated heading into the Easter weekend.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander in charge of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution, had predicted that by this weekend, 9.5 million vaccine doses would be distributed.
“Our distribution tempo will keep on increasing, with over 40 million doses scheduled by end June and more than 100 million doses by end September,” said Fortin.
Concerns over variants
Concerns about Canada’s pace of vaccine rollout come as cases caused by B117, B1351 and P1 variants increase, heightening the need for Canadians to be vigilant with public health measures like distancing and masking.
Some health officials and politicians have characterized the current phase of the pandemic as a race between the variants and the authorized vaccines. Studies have indicated that the variants are considerably more transmissible than the first iteration of the virus from early 2020, and can potentially lead to more serious cases, more serious cases, including hospitalizations and intensive care stays.
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In Ontario for example, variants of concern now account for 67 per cent of all cases, according to a report from the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.
It’s because of the increase in variant cases and relatively slow vaccine distribution that Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said last week, a return to pre-pandemic “normal” is not imminent.
“It’s not going to be, ‘Here’s a date and after that date all is going to be good.’ It’s data, not dates,” she said. “By the fall — that’s what I think we should be aiming for.”
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Health officials are projecting the death rate will be relatively lower than it was with past caseload spikes because some of the most vulnerable people — long term care home residents, seniors, Indigenous adults — have been vaccinated.
The public health agency said it expects many of the new cases to come from people aged 20 to 39. While death is less likely in this demographic, younger patients still face the prospect of severe health outcomes.
LTC homes, racially diverse neighbourhoods hit hard
The toll of the virus within Canada has not been uniformly felt in terms of demographics and geography.
According to a study released in recent days by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), 69 per cent of the country’s overall COVID-19 death toll between March 2020 and February 2021 represented fatalities of persons residing in retirement communities or long-term care facilities, significantly higher than the international average of 41 per cent. During that time span, CIHI reported, more than 80,000 residents and staff members of long-term care homes were infected with the coronavirus.
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Ontario and Quebec both suffered overwhelming loss of life in long-term care facilities, leading to inquiries to examine what went wrong. In combination with a greater population density than other provinces west of Atlantic Canada, the two provinces account for about two-thirds of all recorded COVID-19 cases in the country, about five to six percentage points higher than their share of the national population.
Long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario, along with a number of remote and Indigenous communities, have needed help from outside sources, including the Canadian military, in order to tamp down outbreaks.
The most racially diverse neighbourhoods in Canada reported COVID-19 mortality rates more than twice as high as those reported by districts that are overwhelmingly white, according to new data released by Statistics Canada in March.
The data affirmed what some Canadians had reported anecdotally for months: Black people in particular have been far more likely to succumb to the virus than members of other groups.
In areas where a quarter of the population or more identified as “visible minorities” — the term the government uses for non-white and non-Indigenous people — the mortality rate averaged 35 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to an average of 16 deaths per 100,000 people in regions where less than one per cent of the population was composed of racial minorities.
The data account for deaths between January 2020 and January 2021.
What’s happening across Canada
In British Columbia, health officials have expanded vaccine access and eligibility for residents in small, remote communities on Vancouver Island.
Island Health now says any adult over 18 in Tofino, Ucluelet, Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Port Alice can now request a spot.
Alberta announced an estimated 1,100 new cases for the second straight day.
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In Saskatchewan, drive-thru vaccination sites have opened in Prince Albert and North Battleford, and re-opened in Regina Saturday.
More drive-thru sites are anticipated to open this week across the province.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority website said the Lloydminster site is expected to open on Sunday, the Saskatoon drive-thru site is anticipated to open on Monday and the Yorkton and Weyburn sites are anticipated to open Tuesday.
COVID-19 Immunization Alert: The SHA is expediting the opening of additional drive thru and walk-in clinics in communities in Saskatchewan to deliver vaccines. Don’t hesitate. Vaccinate. Read the rest of the announcement: <a href=”https://t.co/V09mlbXlPK”>https://t.co/V09mlbXlPK</a>
Manitoba logged 181 new cases and one additional death over the past two days.
Meanwhile, the province has now administered more than 200,000 vaccine doses.
Ontario logged 3,009 new cases as a new province-wide “shutdown” took effect to try and curb soaring infection rates.
Quebec confirmed 1,282 new cases and three new deaths.
A group of physicians, infectious disease specialists and other health experts say the Quebec government needs to shut down the Montreal region, before the spread of coronavirus variants spirals out of control.
New Brunswick registered nine new cases, of which seven are in the hard-hit Edmundston region. Hundreds of residents of the region are scheduled to be vaccinated at community clinics over the weekend.
Nova Scotia saw four new infections, bringing the province’s active case total to 32.
In the Northwest Territories, an outbreak has been declared at the Diavik Diamond Mine about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife after a second worker tested positive for the virus within a week.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday, more than 130.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a coronavirus tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.84 million.
In Europe, Italy has entered a three-day strict nationwide lockdown to deter Easter travel and help prevent new surges of the coronavirus. Police set up road checks to ensure people were staying close to home. Extra patrols were ordered up to break up large gatherings in squares and parks, which over Easter weekend are usually packed with picnic goers.
In Asia, South Korea’s daily increase in coronavirus infections exceeded 500 for the fourth straight day, a pace unseen since January, as experts raise concern about another viral surge amid a slow rollout in vaccines. South Korean officials have insisted they could afford a wait-and-see approach on vaccines as the country’s outbreak isn’t as dire as in the United States or Europe.
In the Americas, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez says he had an initial positive test for coronavirus, despite having been vaccinated with the Sputnik V vaccine in January. The Russian Gamaleya Institute, which produced the vaccine, tweeted the shot has a 91.6 per cent rate of effectiveness against infection and 100 per cent against critical cases.
In Africa, Kenya has ordered a suspension on private importations of vaccines. Private health facilities have been charging about $80 US for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, while the governments institutions are giving free AstraZeneca vaccines received from the global COVAX initiative