Provinces crackdown as COVID-19 cases soar across much of Canada

Rapid increases in new COVID-19 cases could quickly spiral out of control, public health officials said Friday as some provinces continued to impose new and tougher measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Quebec Deputy Premier and Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Friday, September 18, 2020 in Quebec City. Guilbault announced interventions by police forces across the province. Quebec City police director Robert Pigeon, left, looks on. PHOTO BY JACQUES BOISSINOT /THE CANADIAN PRESS

“This situation increases the likelihood that we could lose the ability to keep COVID-19 cases at manageable levels,” she said. “Now is the time for Canadians to redouble their efforts with personal precautions that will slow the spread of the virus.”

Canada’s top public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, said it’s too soon to declare a second wave of the pandemic in the country, but daily case counts are increasing at an alarming rate.

The provinces also have a role to play, Tam noted, ideally by taking a targeted approach to curb outbreaks on a regional basis.

To that end, Quebec announced Friday it would send police officers to 1,000 bars across the province over the weekend, with particular focus on eight regions that have seen a marked rise in cases and could face further restrictions if the trend isn’t reversed.

“The goal behind this operation is to help our regions to go back to green and remain green for those that are already green,” Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault said in Quebec City, referring to the province’s colour-coded reopening framework.

The province, which has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus, announced 297 new cases on Friday.

Ontario, meanwhile, reported 401 new cases — a daily increase not seen since June — a day after it hiked fines for those organizing large social gatherings to $10,000 and cut down the maximum size of gatherings in three hot spot regions.

In Toronto, Ottawa and Peel region, only 10 people will be allowed to gather indoors — down from the current limit of 25 — while the number for outdoor gatherings will drop to 25 from 100.

On Friday, Ford told reporters in Ottawa that the measure would soon be expanded to more regions, because some mayors have requested it.

Both Ontario and Quebec have repeatedly pointed to private gatherings and house parties as the source of the spike in cases, and public health officials urged people to be mindful of their decisions.

“Every Canadian knows what to do, I would hope now, in terms of the measures they can undertake themselves,” said Dr. Howard Njoo, the country’s deputy chief public health officer. 

“And so it’s just a matter of us maybe looking in the mirror and seeing what it is that we could or should be doing in our daily lives, who we interact with, how we conduct our day-to-day activities, and I think that’s how we’re going to beat this virus.”

Soaring case numbers are not limited to the two provinces that have been hardest hit by the virus.

British Columbia, for instance, reported 165 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday — an all-time daily high for the province where case counts started cresting in August in spite of a previously flattened curve.

By Friday afternoon, Canada was reporting 141,625 confirmed cases.

Among them is Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, who announced that he is self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada stepped down on Friday, saying that working through the first part of the pandemic had drained her.

Tina Namiesniowski, who has been in the job since May 2019, said it was time for someone else to lead the country through the virus’s second wave.

“You really need someone who will have the energy and the stamina to take the agency and our response to the next level,” Namiesniowski wrote in a letter to staff. “And, even though I might not have accomplished everything I would have liked to have done, I truly hope the foundation for change I’ve championed through our work … will help serve as a road map moving forward.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2020.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press