Just over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s total number of confirmed infections surpassed one million on Saturday.
As of 7:20 p.m. ET, the national case count stands at 1,000,550, according to a Global News tally of Canada’s infections. Of those cases, at least 921,200 are considered to have recovered, while another 23,051 people have died.
Canada is the 23rd country in the world to surpass a million confirmed cases, according to a worldwide tally of global infections by Johns Hopkins University.
The milestone, which was reached after British Columbia added 2,090 more cases in a rare Saturday update, comes amid Canada’s struggles of trying contain a growing third wave of the pandemic — fuelled largely by more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
As of Thursday, a combined 11,652 cases of the three main variants of concern had been confirmed across the country according to the latest data from Health Canada. A vast majority of those cases are the B.1.1.7 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom.
Health officials have warned the more transmissible variants have led to a dramatic rise in infections among younger Canadians, particularly in those aged 20 to 39.
The spread of the variants has led to a steady rise in the seven-day average of new cases. The average surpassed 5,100 on Thursday, the highest it’s been since late January — when cases were falling from the all-time high of nearly 8,900 earlier that month.
Over the past two weeks alone, cases have increased by more than 50 per cent, according to provincial data.
Hospitalizations have also been rising throughout March, and now stands at 2,525 as of Saturday. Like the new cases, those hospital admissions and even ICU stays are being driven by younger patients.
While some provinces have held steady in their hospital admissions, others — like Ontario — are nearing capacity, alarming experts.
“We are looking at some pretty frightening times in the health-care system,” Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at University Health Network Toronto, told Global News Wednesday.
“We are hitting the threshold where we won’t have enough people to care for patients,” she added, speaking primarily about Ontario.
Ontario on Saturday reported a staggering 6,098 cases spread over the past two days, pushing the province’s total caseload to 358,558. Friday’s count, which numbered in at 3,089, marks the largest single-day addition in infections since Jan. 17, when 3,422 cases were reported.
Federal modelling released in late March shows the situation could get even worse even if public health measures are kept where they are, potentially surpassing 12,000 daily cases.
Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia this week announced sweeping new restrictions in the face of rising infections, which Hota said are needed across the country to combat a worsening wave.
The federal modelling also strongly suggested that the epidemiological curve can be levelled only if restrictions are tightened.
Yet provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan have said they will not be rolling back their reopening plans, instead opting to either maintain or slowly loosen restrictions.
“The way through this is vaccines. The way through this is not to increase public-health measures,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe told a briefing Tuesday.
The province added 280 new cases on Saturday, while said a total of 2,226 infections that were variants of concern have since been identified.
Alberta reported another 1,100 cases in the past 24 hours with a preliminary update on Saturday. According to the province, 550 new cases were that of a variant of concern and that 35 per cent of its active cases were identified as a concerning variant.
Manitoba added 181 new cases on Saturday, as well as one additional death.
On the vaccination front, Canada is beginning to make noticeable progress.
The country’s top doctor Theresa Tam said last week that the declining rate of infection among seniors can be at least partially attributed to vaccinations of older people, who have been prioritized along with front-line workers.
The number of people vaccinated with at least one dose topped five million Thursday morning, leaving about 27 million people over 16 still needing a first dose. About 1.4 million doses are needed to add kids between 12 and 15, who should soon be eligible to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after a successful trial concluded this week.
Current projections are that Canada will receive between 32 and 36 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine before June 30.
Provinces and territories injected nearly 220,000 doses of vaccine Wednesday, besting their previous record of 217,000 set five days earlier. They averaged more than 185,000 doses a day over the last seven days, the highest seven-day average to date.
They will need to average somewhere between 310,000 and 330,000 doses a day to get one dose to all Canadians 12 years of age and older over the next three months.
World contends with rising infections
Cases have also been rising globally after plateauing in February, mirroring the surge seen in Canada.
Over 628,853 new infections were reported around the world on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins, nearly doubling the daily counts seen just a month earlier.
To date, more than 130.6 million cases and 2.84 million deaths have been confirmed.
The United States continues to lead the world in both cases and deaths, with over 30.6 million infections and 554,000 fatalities.
A doctor reflects
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases faculty member at the University of Toronto said this is a “useful time to pause and reflect.”
“Obviously it’s a huge milestone and it’s kind of a time where you can pause, look back, think about where we’re at right now (and) think about the challenges that still lie ahead,” he said.
Bogoch said he is thinking about the more than 23,000 people who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
“How many more will lose their lives throughout the course of the pandemic in Canada and globally?” he said. “And also think about what we can do to make this better starting today to improve the lives of people in Canada because of COVID-19?”
Bogoch said he is spending the weekend working on the COVID-19 unit, which he said is “busy,” adding that they are “certainly getting more admissions.”
“We’re luckily able to have very, very, very high caliber health care professionals that I get to work with,” he said.
He cautioned though, that as cases rise, beds on the COVID-19 ward in hospitals across the province could begin to run low.
“But on the other hand, the ICUs are full and that’s a big challenge,” he said. “The ICUs never really decompressed from the second wave, unfortunately, and an ICU capacity certainly remains a major issue.”
— With files from Global’s Twinkle Ghosh, Ryan Rocca and Hannah Jackson and the Canadian Press