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

The Town of Qualicum Beach plans to establish temporary shelters. (Town of Qualicum Beach illustration)
Town of Qualicum Beach seeks $1.25M grant to build temporary housing units

Aim is to move tenants in prior to the end of 2021

Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association and its Nanaimo-Ladysmith counterpart seek stricter COVID-19 rules. (PQB News file photo)
Mount Arrowsmith teachers’ union asks health authority for stricter COVID-19 measures

Teachers ask for vaccine, more online learning, mask mandate for primary students

Dashwood Volunteer Fire Department emergency response vehicle. (PQB News file photo)
Dashwood fire department issues warning to residents to hold off on yard debris burning

Fire chief: ‘Hold off on burning until we get some rain’

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

(File photo)
PQB crime report: Vandals strike in Parksville, prowler lurks in Nanoose Bay

Oceanside RCMP receive 276 complaints in one-week period

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read