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Over half a million Canadians have now been infected with the coronavirus

Click to play video 'PM Trudeau reflects on 2020 and year ahead' PM Trudeau reflects on 2020 and year ahead
WATCH: Mercedes Stephenson sits down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to talk about the year that was. – Dec 16, 2020

Over half a million Canadians have now been infected with the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began nearly a year ago — and health officials are warning that number will likely skyrocket over the course of the winter.

As of Saturday evening, 501,189 cases have been confirmed across the country to date, including 6,248 that were reported over the past 24 hours.

Read more: ‘Good riddance’ to 2020: Trudeau urges COVID-19 vigilance over the holidays

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Canada has averaged over 6,600 new cases per day for the past seven days, an infection rate nearly four times what was seen during the first peak of the pandemic in May.

It took just over two weeks for the national case total to grow from 400,000 to 500,000, while only one month separates the current milestone from the 200,000 mark.

The surging infections has led to a steady increase in both hospitalizations and deaths with just a week before Christmas.

Canada’s death toll hit 14,154 Friday after 114 more people died. The country is averaging over 100 deaths per day, with the rate steadily increasing throughout December.

Federal pandemic modelling released late last week suggests cases will grow even more throughout the holiday season, with hospitalizations and deaths likely to follow.

Click to play video 'Tam calls on provinces to impose tougher rules now' Tam calls on provinces to impose tougher rules now
Tam calls on provinces to impose tougher rules now – Dec 18, 2020

The country could see another 70,000 cases and 800 more deaths by Christmas Day, the modelling suggests, with daily cases reaching well above 12,000 by January unless further public health measures are introduced.

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Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday she believes many provinces should take that step “as soon as possible.”

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“I think the indicator that is most troubling is the hospitalizations and intensive care occupancy,” she told reporters, “because that’s related to something that happened at least two weeks ago” — before infections surged even further.

Read more: U.S. is planning to vaccinate 39 million more people than Canada this year. Here’s why

Over 3,400 people are now receiving care in hospital nationwide, with some provinces warning their health-care systems are nearing capacity. The number is well above what was seen during the spring wave, when roughly 2,500 hospitalizations were being reported.

Doctors in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec — which accounts for just under a third of Canada’s hospitalizations alone — have sounded alarms about the surge in patients, with Ontario’s doctors advocating for stricter lockdowns.

Ontario did extend lockdown measures in the Toronto and Peel regions Friday into the new year, and Premier Doug Ford hinted at even more restrictions Monday after he meets with hospital leaders this weekend.

Overnight Friday, Alberta health officials confirmed they were sending critically ill adult COVID-19 patients to Edmonton’s main children’s hospital due to dwindling capacity in other intensive care units. Children in critical care at the hospital were being moved to another unit to make way for the adult patients.

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Click to play video 'When should world leaders get vaccinated?' When should world leaders get vaccinated?
When should world leaders get vaccinated? – Dec 18, 2020

New restrictions have been introduced in Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta in recent weeks, while other provinces like British Columbia and Manitoba have extended existing measures.

The arrival of the first vaccine against COVID-19, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, has brought a glimmer of hope to the worsening situation. Thousands of people across the country have already received the first of two necessary doses during the first week of inoculations.

Yet it’s a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Pfizer’s vaccine cannot be shipped to rural or remote areas due to its need to be stored at extreme freezing temperatures, requiring specialized equipment for shipping and storage. And it’s only being administered to health-care workers and at-risk populations first before being rolled out to the general public later next year.

Health Canada is close to approving a second vaccine, made by Moderna, that does not need to be frozen. That vaccine should fill the gaps left by Pfizer once it’s given the green light, which is expected to come before the end of the year.

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Read more: The EU price list for COVID-19 vaccines was leaked. Will Canada release its prices?

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that Canada is set to receive 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of January, with 125,000 doses of the vaccine arriving every week.

Four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine should arrive in Canada by the end of March, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said at a separate press conference Friday. That’s enough to vaccinate two million people.

Canada should also see doses of the Moderna vaccine begin to arrive before the end of December, pending regulatory approval, with more to come in the first few months of 2021.

But that promise of a future vaccine won’t help you if you become ill with COVID-19 while you wait for your turn, Trudeau said.

“Getting a vaccine in a week or in a month won’t do you any good if you catch COVID-19 today,” Trudeau said. “That’s why we need to keep working to halt the spread of COVID-19. So please continue to follow public guidelines.”

New cases in the provinces

Ontario reported 2,357 new cases on Saturday, and health officials said another 27 people have died after testing positive for the virus.

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The province has seen 153,614 cases and 4,125 to date.

In Quebec, 2,038 new cases and 44 new deaths were detected. So far, the province has seen 174,839 confirmed cases of the virus, and 7,715 fatalities.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Canada to receive 125,000 Pfizer vaccines per week starting in January' Coronavirus: Canada to receive 125,000 Pfizer vaccines per week starting in January
Coronavirus: Canada to receive 125,000 Pfizer vaccines per week starting in January – Dec 18, 2020

In Atlantic Canada, 16 new cases were reported, with eight new infections in Newfoundland and Labrador and five in New Brunswick.

Newfoundland and Labrador has now seen 380 cases of COVID-19, while New Brunswick has recorded 578.

Nova Scotia saw two new cases on Saturday for a total of 1,445, while Prince Edward Island added one new infection, pushing the provincial case load to 91.

None of the Maritime provinces or Newfoundland and Labrador reported any new deaths associated with COVID-19.

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Meanwhile, 485 new cases were detected between Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with provincial health authorities reporting 252 and 233 respectively.

Saskatchewan health officials said another eight people have died after contracting the virus for a total of 115, while nine new deaths in Manitoba pushed the provincial death toll to 556.

Alberta reported 1,352 new cases of COVID-19 and provincial authorities said another 26 people have died.

Read more: Public trust hinges on government’s transparency on coronavirus vaccine, doctors say

Since the pandemic began, the province has seen 88,933 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, and 841 people have died after testing positive.

None of Canada’s territories or British Columbia released any new COVID-19 data on Saturday. As of Friday, B.C. had seen 44,995 cases of the coronavirus and 724 fatalities.

The latest numbers released Friday said the Northwest Territories had seen 24 cases of the virus, while Nunavut has reported 259 infections.

Meanwhile, the Yukon has reported 59 cases and one death related to COVID-19.

–With files from Global’s Rachael D’Amore and Hannah Jackson

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