Canada enters messy stage with Omicron as testing, staff shortages kick in

Courtesy of CBC (Wednesday)

The winter of Omicron discontent is firmly settling in across Canada, which had more than 344,000 active COVID-19 cases before Wednesday began.

British Columbia noted its COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 54 per cent in the past week, Ontario’s admissions climbed by nearly 800 on Wednesday and Quebec’s hospitalization number is getting uncomfortably close to its May 2021 pandemic peak.

Omicron is causing a never-before-seen surge in COVID-19 that has prompted provinces to reinstate curfews and gathering restrictions, shutter bars and restaurants and move schooling back online in a desperate attempt to mitigate the impact on hospitals.

This newsletter on Tuesday examined how Omicron’s high level of transmissibility is leading to staff shortages in health-care settings. Absentee rates are also climbing with consequence across the country for teacherstransportation workers and police services.

“Omicron is moving so quickly that it has become pretty much impossible to pin down the full extent of spread in real time,” said Dr. David Naylor, who led the federal inquiry into the 2003 SARS epidemic and co-chairs the federal government’s COVID-19 immunity task force.  

“PCR testing capacity is overwhelmed,” Naylor added. “Rapid antigen tests [RAT] are inconsistently available. Those with positive RAT results often have no way to register them let alone confirm them.”

Because many provinces have had to scale back testing and reimpose restrictions, officials estimate the true number of people infected could reach eye-popping levels in the coming weeks.  

“It’s going to be a mess. We have, once again, waited too long,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, a medical microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. “It’s really looking like the sheer numbers are going to stress, honestly, not just the hospitals but the ICU … and in the next two or three weeks from now, the hospital system is going to be really, really stressed again.”

The federal government said Wednesday an additional 140 million rapid tests will be delivered to provinces and territories this month. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government is now in the process of delivering the tests, which will be allocated to provinces and territories on a per-capita basis.

The 140 million additional tests are enough to provide “one rapid test per week, per person, in Canada for January,” he said. Experts have said that rapid tests should be used two or three times a week to get a better sense of infectiousness. In addition, some European countries have integrated rapid tests into official reporting channels so the government can track case data, something not being contemplated here.

“Nothing demonstrates Trudeau’s failure to lead on COVID better than his complete failure on rapid tests. We have been pushing for leadership for 2 years,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole tweeted.

While Canadians now seem eager to snap up available tests, judging by long lines across the country, CBC News has reported previously on how gaps have developed down the line from Ottawa’s procurement to the provinces, regional public health units and school boards,

A National Post columnist is among those questioning the closures, pointing out with data that Canada’s case counts and hospitalizations are a good deal lower on a per capita basis than in France, Spain and the United Kingdom, where schools remain open. Few jurisdictions in Canada have given any indication that they will soon follow a “test to stay” process that the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. has recommended in order to keep uninfected kids in school instead of pulling out entire classes and schools to remote learning, citing the difficulties seen in children with the prolonged pandemic.

“Let’s be honest, this isn’t how anyone wanted to be starting 2022 … I can tell you as a parent I’m very aware the kids are back in school virtually and I can understand people are frustrated,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

“But I also know that we know how to get through this,” Trudeau added. “We’re looking at a better spring as long as we all keep doing our part.”


Click below to watch more from The National

Infectious diseases specialists Dr. Jacqueline Wong and Dr. Fatima Kakkar answers questions about COVID-19, including whether in-person classes are driving transmission in children.

Infectious diseases specialists Dr. Jacqueline Wong and Dr. Fatima Kakkar answers questions about COVID-19, including whether in-person classes are driving transmission in children. Watch the full video here.

Patricia Dent

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