Canada added over 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 for the second day in a row Friday, as federal health officials warned infections could rise even higher over the next few weeks.
The 5,092 new infections brought the total number of cases in the country since the coronavirus pandemic began to 956,660, of which 893,474 are considered recovered.
The national death toll now stands at 22,826 after 36 new fatalities were reported.
Friday’s daily count also raised the seven-day average past 4,100 cases, the first time in nearly two months that number had been reached.
New cases have been steadily rising over the past two weeks after plateauing in late February and early March.
Yet new federal modelling unveiled Friday predicted daily infections could rise even faster as multiple variants of concern — which are more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19 — continue to spread in the most populous areas of the country.
Canada’s top doctor Dr. Theresa Tam warned the variants are dramatically increasing infections among young people, who are driving the recent spikes.
Tam said more than 7,100 cases of variants of concern have been reported across Canada, with B.1.1.7, first identified in the U.K., making up 90 per cent of those cases.
Tam cited data from Ontario that she says shows the B.1.1.7 variant has led to a 60 per cent increase in hospitalizations, 100 per cent increase in ICU admissions and a 60 per cent increase in the risk of death.
“These severity indicators can be seen across all age groups of the adult population,” Tam said. “It is a very important set of information that should drive home to all of us why it is important to maintain these (restrictive) measures.”
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Canada’s seniors, meanwhile, are seeing a dramatic decline in COVID-19 infections, which Tam said is partly due to vaccination efforts that have prioritized older populations.
Over 4.8 million vaccine doses have been administered across the country to date. More than 216,000 doses have been administered since Thursday — the highest daily total since the rollout began — and 11 per cent of the adult population has received at least one dose.
Yet Tam warned vaccines alone will not be enough to combat the projected rise in cases, and urged Canadians to follow public health measures. She also said provinces and territories need to be careful about lifting those restrictions to quickly.
“If there are detections that this activity is ramping up, then definitely don’t relax,” she said. “Try and keep that even keel until the vaccines have gained much more of acceleration in terms of coverage.”
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New cases across provinces
Ontario once again saw the highest daily total of any province Friday, with 2,169 new cases and 12 more deaths.
The province said hair salons and outdoor fitness classes will soon be allowed to reopen in regions previously under lockdown, while officials also tightened restrictions in the Hamilton region due to a local spike in cases.
Quebec reopened gyms in parts of that province on Friday, and places of worship in those areas are allowed once again to welcome up to 250 people indoors.
Another 950 infections and seven more deaths were also reported there. The province’s government-mandated public health institute says more transmissible variants will represent the majority of new infections in the province by the first week of April.
In the Maritimes, New Brunswick — where the Edmundston area is under a four-day lockdown following a sudden, sharp rise in cases — reported 13 more infections.
Five new cases were announced in Nova Scotia, while another three were confirmed in Prince Edward Island.
None of the Atlantic provinces reported any new deaths Friday.
In the Prairies, Manitoba reported 116 new cases and three new deaths, while Saskatchewan saw another 213 cases and eight more deaths. Both provinces have seen long lines at their vaccination clinics, with officials promising to extend their hours.
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Alberta added 717 new cases, while British Columbia reported 908 — the third-highest daily total in that province since the pandemic began. Both provinces saw three new deaths each.
None of the northern territories saw any new cases or deaths Friday.
Globally, confirmed COVID-19 infections have topped 126 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, while more than 2.76 million people have died.
The United States has the most cases and deaths of any country, with over 30.1 million infections and 548,000 fatalities.
— With files from the Canadian Press
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