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Omicron shows COVID-19 will continue to present challenges in the future: Trudeau

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Canada could see 170,000 daily cases in January, Tam says' COVID-19: Canada could see 170,000 daily cases in January, Tam says
WATCH: COVID-19: Canada could see 170,000 daily cases in January, Tam says – Jan 14, 2022

The emergence of the Omicron variant shows COVID-19 will continue to present challenges in the future, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

Trudeau’s comments come as the Omicron wave appears to be peaking in some provinces, while others are preparing for continued surges over the coming weeks.

“Everyone hopes we’re going to be able to get back to all the things we love as quickly as possible, but as we saw with the Omicron wave, it is going to continue to present challenges over the coming times,” Trudeau said Wednesday during a COVID-19 update, alongside Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

“We have to be ready to adjust (and) the one thing we are steadfast on as a government is we will be there to support Canadians with whatever it takes for as long as it takes.”

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Read more: Omicron COVID-19 variant is infectious for up to 10 days, Tam says

Saskatchewan health officials are bracing for an influx of COVID-19 hospitalizations and workers’ absences until mid-February, while Alberta is seeing hospitalization rates rise to levels not seen since mid-October.

In Prince Edward Island, rising infections and hospitalizations have forced the government to limit gathering sizes and shut down gyms and indoor dining at restaurants until at least the end of January.

Meanwhile, in Ontario and Quebec, officials say the daily rate of hospitalizations appears to be decreasing slightly, although both health-care systems remain under severe strain.

Despite the pressures on hospitals, Ontario Premier Doug Ford hinted Tuesday that “positive news” about current restrictions could be coming later this week.

In British Columbia, the government has given the go-ahead for gyms and other fitness facilities to reopen starting Thursday as a “cautious step” in lifting restrictions.

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“Based on the recent modelling data, we can expect Omicron cases to continue to surge across the country at a very high level while monitoring for a potential peak in the coming weeks,” Duclos said.

“Though the risk of hospitalization is individually lower for Omicron, the sheer volume of cases will likely keep increasing hospital admissions. These forecasts underscore that we must continue to exercise considerable prudence in order to limit the coming surge.”

‘Several weeks of very intense activity expected’

Last week, Canada’s top doctor warned the country was in for several “intense” weeks of COVID-19 activity, with modelling showing the Omicron wave could peak this month with up to 170,000 cases and 2,000 new hospital admissions daily.

“While Canada could see a sharp peak and decline in cases in the coming weeks, given disease activity far exceeding previous peaks, even the downside of this curve will be considerable,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

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“With several weeks of very intense activity expected to come, we need to do our best now to limit the size and impact of the Omicron surge in order to maintain the health system and critical functions of society.”

Canada’s expected COVID-19 peak is similar to what some other countries are experiencing, but no country is in the clear yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday.

“For many countries, the next few weeks remain really critical for health workers and health systems,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.

“I urge everyone to do their best to reduce risk of infection so that you can help take pressure off the system.”

How will the pandemic end?

Since COVID-19 vaccines were introduced in late 2020, the WHO has preached for wealthier countries with large stockpiles to share them among lower income nations to better increase world vaccination rates.

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Doing so could mean the acute phase of the pandemic could end this year if every country vaccinated 70 per cent of its population by July, the WHO said late last year.

“I want governments, industry and civil society to work with us on a campaign that targets 70 per cent vaccine coverage in every country by the start of July,” Tedros said on Dec. 29.

“I still remain optimistic this can be the year we could not only end the acute stage of the pandemic, but also chart a path to stronger health security.”

Fifty-one per cent of the world’s population is vaccinated against COVID-19, Johns Hopkins University indicates. However, there are some countries – like Zambia, Uganda and Sudan – which have less than 10 per cent of their entire populations vaccinated.

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Canada, meanwhile, has 77 per cent of its entire population vaccinated, government statistics show.

Ottawa has promised to donate the equivalent of at least 200 million doses to COVAX – the Gavi, WHO and CEPI co-led global vaccine sharing initiative – by the end of 2022. As of Dec. 21, more than 11.8 million surplus vaccine doses have been given to COVAX, the government said.

Trudeau reaffirmed Canada’s global vaccine sharing commitments on Wednesday.

“We’re also moving forward on specific supports to develop access to vaccines, including for example, $15 million to South Africa to develop vaccine manufacturing,” he said.

“We will continue to step up, but we also know that other countries must do the same (and we) will continue to work with our partners and friends around the world to encourage people to do that.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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