People line up at a COVID-19 testing clinic, Tuesday, January 19, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Ontario, Quebec keep downward trend in daily COVID-19 cases; variants cause concern

Ontario, Quebec keep downward trend in daily COVID-19 cases; variants cause concern

TORONTO — Amid concerns about the emergence of variant strains, new COVID-19 infections maintained a downward trend in Canada’s two most populous provinces on Wednesday, although authorities reported more than 100 new deaths from the disease.

Ontario recorded another 49 deaths even as its daily case count continued an ongoing decline, with 1,670 new cases recorded. Quebec, which saw 53 more COVID-19-related deaths, reported 1,328 new cases.

Public health officials have raised concerns about the emergence of variants of the novel coronavirus, believed to be far more contagious. While the numbers of confirmed cases remained small, testing has only just begun to ramp up.

“It is a huge concern particularly at this point of the pandemic, when we are seeing downward trending of daily new cases across the country,” said Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan. “This could actually see those trending down, reversing and going up again.”

One public health unit in Ontario is urging anyone who travelled outside the region to get tested for COVID-19 given the new, more aggressive variants.

The medical officer of health for the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington said a person infected with a new strain contracted the virus through community spread elsewhere in Ontario. However, the case is apparently unrelated to an outbreak at a long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., driven by the variant known as B.1.1.7., that has infected 200 people.

Quebec said on Wednesday it would not challenge a court order exempting the homeless from a provincewide curfew. Premier Francois Legault had previously refused the exemption after a man was found dead this month in a portable toilet in Montreal near a homeless shelter.

“Since the start of the curfew, our desire has been for people experiencing homelessness to be guided to the right resources and not to judicialize them,” said Lionel Carmant, the junior health minister.

While Manitoba — with 94 new reported cases and four deaths — saw its positive-infection rate fall, public health officials were grappling with several hot spots elsewhere in the country. Those include the Toronto area and Edmunston in northwestern New Brunswick, where doctors warned the pandemic virus could spiral out of control quickly.

Several doctors urged people in the Edmundston region, under a 14-day lockdown that began Sunday, to follow guidelines, get tested and to stay home if ill. The area has almost half the 339 active cases reported in the province.

The military, too, has been grappling with a recent surge in COVID-19. Latest data indicated almost 250 cases so far this month, a huge jump from the roughly 75 per month recorded in the first nine months of the pandemic.

Prisons and jails, too, have seen increasing case numbers. Federally, 1,232 inmates have been infected, while Ontario’s Maplehurst Correctional Complex was dealing with 94 active cases.

Canada Post confirmed a worker at the Gateway East plant in Mississauga, Ont., died from coronavirus disease. The service has reported 224 cases at the facility and warned of mail-processing delays.

Earlier Wednesday, the federal Indigenous services minister said he was disgusted by a Vancouver couple who apparently flew to a remote Yukon community for a COVID-19 vaccine. Marc Miller called the impugned actions by Rodney Baker, ousted CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp., and his wife Ekaterina Baker as “maybe the dumbest thing” he’d seen in a long time.

Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker said last week the couple allegedly chartered a plane to Beaver Creek near the Alaska border, posed as visiting workers and were given vaccinations at a mobile clinic operated by the White River First Nation.

While the pandemic has taken a brutal health and economic toll, new data also indicate police-recorded crime fell sharply during the first eight months of the pandemic, although mental-health calls rose.

Statistics Canada said 19 police services, servicing most of the country, reported select criminal incidents such as assault fell 18 per cent between March and October 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Service calls — particularly for wellness checks, domestic disturbances and mental health — were up eight per cent, StatCan reported.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2021.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press