Canada’s top doctor says the second wave of COVID-19 has surfaced as a series of regional epidemics and the federal government is warning about rising case numbers on First Nations.
“Given what we have seen in the last two weeks, there is little doubt the second wave of COVID-19 will hit Indigenous communities harder,” Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said Thursday in Ottawa.
Miller explained that during the first months of the pandemic, infection rates on reserves were relatively low compared to the general public. But in the past six weeks, there have been outbreaks in Indigenous communities across the country.
There are currently 123 active cases of COVID-19 on reserves — the majority in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
A First Nation in northern Saskatchewan went into lockdown and closed its schools Thursday over concerns of COVID-19 transmission following a series of religious services where participants were unmasked.
And earlier this week, a First Nation in Manitoba took similar action after 19 people in the small, remote community tested positive.
Regional epidemics across the country will require a tailored response, said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.
It will also require every person to stay vigilant and ready to adapt to changes, she said.
There has been an average of 2,052 new cases daily over the past week. On Thursday, Ontario reported 797 new cases — the most it has had in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said 57 per cent of those new infections were people under the age of 40.
Quebec’s surging numbers also continued Thursday with 1,078 new cases. There were nine more deaths and hospitalizations increased by 16.
Premier Francois Legault said his government was right to recently impose strict measures in the hot spots of Montreal and Quebec City. New restrictions on gyms and sports teams and mandatory masks in classrooms for high school students came into effect Thursday.
In addition, several regions between the two cities were moved to the highest COVID-19 alert level. Police checkpoints will be placed on some roads to discourage non-essential travel.
Health officials said earlier this week that positive cases among seniors in Quebec were increasing again. Quebec and Ontario have also seen more people needing hospitalization.
Tam said in a statement that if the rate of hospitalizations continues to climb, it could put strains on health system capacity.
Alberta also reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases with 364 new infections. Health officials announced voluntary measures in Edmonton to slow the spread including limiting gathering sizes to 15 people and wearing masks indoors at work.
Regions of the country that saw a low rate of infections earlier this year have seen a swell of positive cases in recent weeks. British Columbia and Manitoba are seeing new daily infections higher than in the spring.
New Brunswick went months with very few cases of COVID-19 as part of the Atlantic bubble. But a recent outbreak at a care home and increase in positive cases prompted the province to make masks mandatory in most indoor public places. Non-essential day trips that had been allowed for residents of two Quebec border communities have been banned.
“Based upon what we are seeing in our neighbouring provinces and the outbreak in Moncton, we know how quickly the virus can spread through a community,” Premier Blaine Higgs said in a news release.
“We must take every possible measure to prevent that from happening in our province.”
Leaders and health officials across the country have urged people to stay home over the Thanksgiving long weekend.
“Make careful choices,” Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, warned after announcing 67 new cases.