The number of Canadians testing positive for COVID-19 took another sharp dive Tuesday, plummeting below 2,000 new cases for the first time since last fall.
The 1,638 new infections came as most provinces and territories recover from the crippling third wave of the pandemic, which saw infections and hospitalizations skyrocket over the spring.
Tuesday’s case count was the lowest for a single day since Oct. 18, when 1,827 new infections were reported.
The new cases also brought the seven-day average down to 2,528 — the lowest since late October, when the second wave of the pandemic was on the rise.
The new average marks a 71-per cent drop from the height of the third wave in April, and is down 54 per cent from the average just two weeks ago, representing a dramatically steady fall from the spring peak.
Canada’s chief medical health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters Tuesday that hospitalizations are down 40 per cent, and ICU admissions and deaths are both down 25 per cent, compared to mid-April.
Deaths have remained steady, however, averaging more than 40 per day since mid-April. Another 19 deaths were reported Tuesday.
The falling infections may be attributable to vaccinations. Canada’s daily inoculation rate has remained steady over the past two weeks, with nearly one dose being administered for every 100 people.
Nearly 58 per cent of the population has received at least one dose, while 5.68 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to the COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker.
Canada is moving more quickly to get second doses into arms. About one in five new shots in the last three days were second doses, compared to fewer than one in 10 in most of May.
On Tuesday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization said Canadians whose first dose came from Oxford-AstraZeneca can safely be offered a second dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.
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Provinces had stopped administering the AstraZeneca vaccine in April due to both supply issues and concerns over a rare blood clotting condition linked to the vaccine that has been linked to at least five deaths in Canada.
British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island moved immediately to begin offering AstraZeneca recipients a second dose of an mRNA vaccine if they wish. Those provinces joined Manitoba, which announced the change Monday, and Quebec, which began allowing it last week.
Infections falling in most areas
Although most provinces are seeing their infections fall, Manitoba’s healthcare system is continuing to buckle under the weight of record-high hospitalizations.
More than 300 people are in hospital, either actively suffering from COVID-19 or in need of care after testing negative for the virus. The number includes 72 people in intensive care — matching the number of ICU beds in the entire province before the pandemic.
While the government has doubled the number of ICU beds, dozens of patients have still had to be flown to hospitals in Ontario to ease the burden on the local system.
Manitoba reported another 232 new cases Tuesday, along with three more deaths. The province has the highest per capita infection rate in the country.
Ontario on Tuesday reported 699 new cases and nine more deaths, the lowest daily numbers in months for what was once the country’s hotspot during the third wave.
A provincewide stay-at-home order is set to end on Wednesday, but more restrictions — like a ban on indoor dining and shopping — aren’t expected to be lifted until mid-June when the province’s reopening plan begins.
Quebec also saw its lowest case count since the fall, with 208 new infections, along with five more deaths.
Premier Francois Legault announced Tuesday that restrictions will be eased in Montreal and Laval next week. The two regions were kept on lockdown while the rest of the province began reopening last month.
While most of Atlantic Canada is not yet ready to reopen, infections are falling there as well.
Only five new cases were reported in New Brunswick on Tuesday, while Nova Scotia — which just two weeks ago was reporting well over 100 new infections — saw just 12.
Officials in Newfoundland and Labrador are still dealing with new clusters of cases in parts of that province, where six new infections were reported.
No new cases were announced in Prince Edward Island, which is eying a gradual return to normal starting Sunday.
In the west, Saskatchewan reported just 86 new infections and one more death. Premier Scott Moe says he hopes to fully reopen the province by July 11, citing a high vaccination rate among adults.
Alberta had just 209 new cases Tuesday and one more death — down from more than 2,000 cases a day one month ago. Premier Jason Kenney thanked Albertans for getting vaccinated and helping to “crush the spike” in COVID-19 cases.
The province also expanded its rollout of second vaccine doses Tuesday, allowing everyone over age 12 who has had a first shot to book a booster before the end of June.
British Columbia also saw its lowest number of cases since October, with 184 new infections and no new deaths. The province said about 70 per cent of adults have now had at least one vaccine dose.
None of the territories, which have all begun lifting restrictions, reported any new cases or deaths Tuesday.
To date, Canada has seen a total of 1,383,214 COVID-19 cases. Of those, 25,566 people have died and 1,326,484 have recovered.
Globally, the coronavirus pandemic has infected at least 171 million people, killing more than 3.5 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
— With files from the Canadian Press