The federal government is stepping in to provide more help to Ontario as COVID-19 cases soar, putting strain on the province’s healthcare system.
In a video posted to Twitter on Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau detailed how his government would be providing additional support to Ontario.
First, Trudeau said the federal government is “mobilizing federal health care workers from across government departments to deploy to the front lines in Ontario” specifically in the Greater Toronto Area where the “situation is most critical.”
“From national defence to immigration, departments across the federal governments are standing up support,” he said.
Second, Trudeau said some provinces have “managed their health care capacity for their own local situation” and “have the ability to lend a hand to others.”
“Yesterday, I spoke with Premier (Andrew) Furey from Newfoundland and Labrador, Premier (Dennis) Kin from P.E.I. and Premier (Iain) Rankin from Nova Scotia,” he said. “They are working hard to determine what human resources and equipment they could free up over the coming days.”
Trudeau said his government will cover all costs and coordinate getting any extra staff from other provinces to the front line in Ontario, including providing air transportation.
The prime minister also said Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc has been in touch with the premiers of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and New Brunswick to determine how they can “pitch in as well.”
Trudeau said they will also be boosting rapid testing.
“We’re working with municipalities to direct rapid tests to hot spots in Ontario, especially for essential workers and workplaces,” he said. “This will make sure the tests we deliver get used in the places they’re needed most.”
He also said the federal government stands “ready to deploy the Canadian Red Cross to help with their mobile vaccination teams.”
The announcement from Trudeau comes a day after Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced two mobile health units would be deployed to Toronto and Hamilton.
A statement from Ontario’s Minister of Health Christine Elliott thanked the federal government for their support.
“We will continue to work with all levels of government and health care partners to protect the health and safety of Ontarians and combat this deadly virus,” read the statement.
Situation in Ontario
Ontario has been particularly hard-hit by the third wave of the pandemic, driven largely by the new, more transmissible variants of the disease.
On Sunday, the province saw 4,250 new cases of COVID-19 and 18 more fatalities.
Just days earlier, the province reported its highest-ever daily increase, with 4,812 new infections.
Health officials are also imploring people to abide by the measures in place to stem the spread of the virus as hospitalizations explode.
According to provincial figures, by Sunday a record 2,107 people are currently hospitalized with the virus in Ontario, with 741 in intensive care. A total of 506 are now on a ventilator.
Those working on the front lines in those hospitals have warned that the healthcare system has been stretched thin by this third wave.
In a statement released Sunday, Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam said between April 9 and 15 on average, 8,669 new cases were reported across the country daily.
This reflects a 26 per cent increase compared to the previous seven days, the statement said.
Tam’s statement also said provincial and territorial data indicated that an average of 3,428 people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals each day during the same seven-day period.
This represents a 34 per cent increase over the last week.
“This includes, on average 1,049 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), which is 22 per cent higher than the previous week,” Tam said.
On Friday, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) issued a statement calling for “province-to-province collaboration” and “national leadership” to address the pandemic.
“Specifically, the CMA is recommending deployment of resources where they are most needed to save the most lives,” the statement read. “This means sharing healthcare resources across provincial and territorial borders to help jurisdictions that are currently at crisis levels with ICUs and where healthcare capacity is overwhelmed.”
“We must act now,” the statement said.
The announcement from Trudeau also comes as a spokesperson for Ford’s office confirmed in an email that the Premier has “begun reaching out to consulates to try and secure more vaccine supply for Ontario from our international allies.”
“Ontario has the capacity to vaccinate more people, but we are lacking the supply to do it,” the email reads. “Vaccines are our only way out of this pandemic and the Premier will exhaust every avenue he has in order to get more needles into arms of Ontarians sooner.”
When asked for comment on Sunday, federal health minister Patty Hajdu told reporters that Canada was expecting to receive between 48 to 50 million doses of vaccine by the end of June.
According to Health Canada, as of Saturday, over 3.7 million COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Ontario.
So far, 9,769,419 doses have been administered across Canada.
Health Canada’s website also said as of April 14, over 12.7 million shots had been delivered to the provinces and territories for use.
Procurement minister Anita Anand said Friday that Canada can expect to see 12 million Pfizer doses spread over the course of the next five weeks, for a total of 24 million doses between April and June.
“Despite the temporary and short-term fluctuations in deliveries from our supplies, Canada’s vaccination campaign overall is gaining ground,” a spokesperson for Anand’s office said in an emailed statement to Global News.
Recovering from the third wave
Asked how Canada can make it out of the third wave as quickly as possible, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases faculty member at the University of Toronto said it’s about repeating things we have been doing all along.
“We’ve done this a couple of times before. We know how we can do it,” he said. “Basically it involves some policy to give you opportunities to transmit in the community. That means policies to curb the number of people in indoor settings, creating safer work spaces for essential workers (and) strategic vaccination.”
Bogoch said the lockdowns are necessary because the country’s health care system is being “stretched beyond capacity.”
“You don’t really have the options available to you to rapidly curb transmission when your healthcare system is stretched this far beyond capacity,” he said. “You just have to do everything you can to get cases low.”
“Lockdowns stink,” he said. “But they work.”
This time, though, Bogoch said we have the “added benefit” of vaccines to protect against the virus.
“And they certainly will,” he said. “But, you know, there’s no secret how to get out of the third wave. It’s going to be similar to how we got out of wave one and wave two — it’s going to be a bit harder because of the variants of concern, but it certainly can be done.”
Bogoch said when it comes to vaccines, Canada “already has a good plan,” it just needs to be implemented.
“We already know we’re vaccinating based on risk of outcome, but also the risk of getting this infection. So we know that essential workers are prioritized,” he explained. “We know that high burden neighborhoods are prioritized, we know that people with medical conditions that will result in a significant illness should they be infected are prioritized, we see congregate settings are prioritized.”
“It’s just a matter of implementing this in as rapid and equitable manner as possible.“
Bogoch said primary care doctors could “certainly be mobilized,” and having more vaccine clinics that are run around the clock would help deliver more shots more quickly.
He said taking vaccines to workplaces or setting up pop-up clinics in temples, churches or community centres, especially in high-density, heavily burdened neighbourhoods is also an effective strategy.
“That process has started, but obviously we have to speed it up,” he said. “Certainly with greater supply, I hope to see more of that happening, too.”
-With a file from Global News’ Ryan Rocca and Emerald Bensadoun