TORONTO — With some morgues running out of space and hospitals facing an explosion in critically ill COVID-19 patients, the federal government was set on Wednesday to announce further measures related to incoming travellers, while Quebec mulled tighter restrictions that could include the country’s first curfew.
Canada has now seen close to 625,000 cases of COVID-19, about 16,300 of them fatal. The bulk of cases has been in the country’s two largest provinces, where conditions have been deteriorating rapidly in recent weeks.
Compounding the picture was the still small but growing number of cases related to a novel coronavirus variant first found in the U.K. that is believed to be even more contagious than the original.
In her daily update, Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday that the appearance of new variants is more reason to scrap all but absolutely necessary essential travel.
In the interim, the grim pandemic toll continued unbridled. Ontario reported another 37 deaths amid 3,266 new cases of the novel coronavirus as hospitals, particularly in southern Ontario, warned the intensive care situation had become dire.
Quebec reported another 47 deaths from COVID-19, with 2,641 new cases and a rise in both hospitalizations and people in intensive care.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault was expected to announce a severe lockdown across the province later Wednesday. According to multiple reports, the province might shut down “non-essential” manufacturers and the construction sector and keep schools closed.
Legault was also reportedly planning to impose a curfew as the province has recorded 217,999 COVID-19 infections and 8,488 related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Ontario has recorded more than 200,000 confirmed cases and 4,767 deaths. Of the roughly 1,463 COVID patients currently in hospital, more than 360 were in intensive care.
On Wednesday, a hospital in London, Ont., said was starting to store bodies in a mobile unit after its morgue reached capacity. A hospital in nearby Windsor, Ont., said it had been storing bodies in a trailer unit for the last two weeks.
David Musyj, CEO of Windsor Regional Hospital, said funeral homes were being strained by a “substantial” number of deaths in the area due in large part to COVID-19.
In a bleak assessment of the coming month, the head of the Ontario Hospitals Association warned the acute-care system is more stretched than ever and the situation is more dire.
“Unfortunately, all the indicators still are heading in the wrong direction,” said Anthony Dale. “In some cases, they’re accelerating, so the situation is actually getting much worse.”
To cope with the onslaught, some Ontario hospitals have begun using field units or cancelling non-urgent surgeries.
The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, for example, said its intensive care unit was already at 100 per cent capacity.
The problem for hospitals is that it will likely take another week or two to gauge the impact of current anti-pandemic measures and, more significantly, the impact of people’s choices over the holidays.
In Ottawa, Transport Minister Marc Garneau was expected to unveil more details Wednesday on COVID-19 testing requirements for passengers returning to Canada.
Garneau announced last week that air travellers coming from abroad would have to show proof of negative test results, starting this Thursday at 12:01 a.m.