The number of new COVID-19 cases across Canada hit a new all-time record Friday, surpassing 9,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.
The 9,255 new infections came as provinces grapple with the spread of multiple, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus, which are now accounting for a sizeable percentage of new cases.
Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters Friday that the number of new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern has doubled over the past week, with B.1.1.7, first identified in the U.K., “essentially replacing” pre-existing versions of the virus.
As of Thursday, 24,995 cases of the three variants of concern have been confirmed nationwide, 94 per cent of which have been identified as B.1.1.7.
The variants are also sending more people to emergency rooms. As of Friday, 3,008 patients were in hospital across the country, up by nearly 1,000 compared to a week ago. Of those, 941 are in intensive care, nearing another record.
Forty new deaths were also reported Friday, bringing the national death toll to 23,251. Canada has now seen 1,045,284 cases of COVID-19 to date, 954,023 of which are considered recovered.
While deaths have not yet reached the peaks seen last spring and mid-winter, Tam warned the trajectory could ramp up further as fallout from the Easter long weekend continues to be felt.
“Right now, what is of concern to me is the ICUs filling up,” she said.
Hospital admissions rose by seven per cent in the last week, with ICU admissions growing by 23 per cent over the same period, Tam said.
Ontario hospitals have been instructed to start ramping down elective surgeries and non-urgent procedures next week to ensure they have resources to treat a growing number of COVID-19 patients.
Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned younger Canadians in particular to follow public health restrictions, reminding them that until vaccinations open up for those age groups, they remain susceptible to the variants.
“Even if you’re younger, you can get sick very, very quickly,” Trudeau said.
“Or you can give the virus to someone you love, who can get very sick. I know you’ve already done so much and sacrificed so much, but we need you to hang in there just a little longer.”
Canada’s vaccine rollout has been picking up steam, with more doses arriving into the country every week. Provinces have been pledging to ramp up their rollouts accordingly, despite thousands of doses remaining in freezers.
The country remains on track to receive “at least 44 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca” by the end of June, Trudeau reiterated on Friday.
“The race between the vaccine and the variants is at a critical point,” Tam said. “It is clear that we need stronger control to combat variants of concern that are driving rapid epidemic growth in many areas of the country.”
To date, 7,569,321 vaccine doses have been administered across the country. Over 312,000 doses were administered Friday alone.
Cases explode in the provinces
Ontario added another 4,227 cases on Friday, its second-highest daily total to date, along with 18 more deaths.
Premier Doug Ford said the province is doing its part to address the health-care capacity crunch by ramping up its vaccine rollout to give 40 per cent of adults in Ontario their first shot over the next four weeks.
“The quicker we can get these vaccines into people’s arms, the quicker they’re going to be able to resume the surgeries,” Ford said.
Quebec, meanwhile, reported 1,683 new infections and eight more deaths as it broke its single-day vaccination record Friday, administering nearly 70,000 doses.
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The provincial government has extended a health order in Quebec City, Levis, Gatineau and several municipalities in the Beauce region until at least April 18. Emergency measures include closing schools and non-essential businesses in those areas and applying an 8 p.m. curfew.
Starting Sunday, Montreal and Laval will also return to an 8 p.m. curfew.
In Atlantic Canada, every province saw at least one new case.
New Brunswick added eight more infections while Nova Scotia reported two new cases. Another three cases were added in Newfoundland and Labrador, and one more case was reported in Prince Edward Island.
Another death was also confirmed in New Brunswick, though no other Atlantic provinces saw new deaths.
In the Prairies, Saskatchewan reported 372 new cases and six more deaths, while Manitoba added 179 more infections and three new deaths — the highest daily count in that province since January.
In Saskatchewan, a group of 285 doctors banded together to urge the provincial government in a letter to implement stricter COVID-19 health measures and vaccinate younger essential workers.
Premier Scott Moe has resisted calls to re-impose tougher restrictions, saying last week that “the way through this is vaccines.”
Meanwhile, Manitoba lowered the minimum age for vaccination to 40 and older for First Nations people, and 60 and older for others.
Alberta reported its highest number of new cases since December with 1,521 new infections, along with two more deaths.
British Columbia, meanwhile, followed Thursday’s record-setting number of new cases with its second-highest total ever: 1,262 cases, as well as two new deaths.
None of the northern territories reported any new cases or deaths Friday.
Global deaths near 3 million
Worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has infected 134.5 million people and killed 2.9 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The United States continues to lead the world in cases, topping 31 million on Friday. Its death toll is also the highest in the world, at more than 561,000.
Brazil is the second-hardest-hit country with 13.3 million cases and 348,000 deaths, followed by India, France and Russia in terms of infections.
Mexico has the third-highest death toll worldwide, yet ranks 14th in cases.
— With files from Global’s Rachel Gilmore and the Canadian Press