Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is issuing a warning to young people as new COVID-19 variants continue to blanket the country, spreading quickly and sending younger Canadians into ICUs.
His comments come as COVID-19 cases continue to spike upwards, with nearly 8,000 new cases reported on Friday – bringing the total active cases across the country to nearly 65,000.
“There are more contagious and more serious variants out there. Even if you’re younger, you can get sick very, very quickly,” he said.
“Or you can give the virus to someone you love, who can get very sick. I know you’ve already done so much and sacrificed so much, but we need you to hang in there just a little longer.”
The B.117 variant, which first emerged in the U.K., is quickly muscling out other strains as it aims to become the dominant version of the virus, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned on Friday.
“Over the past week, the number of new variant cases has more than doubled. To date, almost 25,000 cases linked to variants of concern have been reported across Canada, with B.117 variant continuing to account for over 90 per cent,” Tam explained.
“All of these trends tell us that even as vaccines are bringing us closer to ending this crisis, we cannot afford to give this virus an inch.”
Hospital admissions rose by seven per cent in the last week, with ICU admissions growing by 23 per cent over the same period, Tam said.
“Increasing predominance of variants of concern is a major contributing factor to these worrying trends, resulting in accelerated spread and more severe illness, especially among younger and previously healthy adults,” she explained.
It’s a message that physicians across the country are echoing, as hospitals begin to cancel non-urgent surgeries – including cancer surgeries – to reckon with the influx of COVID-19 patients.
“We’ve heard experts across the country who work in ICUs tell very compelling, sad stories about people in their 30s, in their 40s, who are very well people, very active people generally, who are now being admitted to ICUs and also who are dying as a result of these variants,” said Dr. Ann Collins, head of the Canadian Medical Association.
“It’s not a trickle-down effect now. It’s more like a flooding effect, with the increased transmissibility of these variants.”
The variants of concern have “changed the ballgame entirely,” Collins said.
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“This is a life-and-death situation for many people.”
Few are more familiar with the stakes than Dr. Michael Warner, who has been taking to Twitter to share the daily tragedies he witnesses in COVID-19 ICU wards.
One patient was in his early 30s and “completely healthy,” before he contracted COVID-19, according to Warner.
“He’s not an essential worker. He works in the financial services industry, in an office job. But his employer mandated that he show face time at the office and come in,” Warner explained in a tweeted video, published April 5.
“He shared an office with a coworker. His co-worker did not adhere to public health restrictions, did not wear his mask consistently, and gave him variant COVID-19.”
The patient required intubation and got a blood clot, Warner said. They eventually were able to extubate the patient, but COVID-19 had given the young man brain dysfunction.
“Today, after acquiring his infection in early March, I had the first lucid conversation with my patient,” Warner said.
As similar harrowing stories continue to circulate, Tam reminded provinces that it’s “not too late” to bring about new COVID-19 restrictions.
“Right now, put the brakes on. Get this curve under control, and get the vaccines up and running,” Tam said.
“Vaccines are not going to be able to help with flattening that curve immediately. We’re making progress, but not enough Canadians have been vaccinated and most of them have only had one dose.”
Canada’s vaccine rollout has been picking up steam, with more doses arriving into the country every week. Provinces have been pledging to ramp up their rollouts accordingly, despite thousands of doses remaining in freezers.
“Every day, more grandparents and parents are sharing their vaccine selfies on family group chats. Every day, more Canadians are safer. Vaccines are saving lives,” Trudeau said.
“And that’s why we’re doing everything we can to get more and more doses to the frontlines.”
The country remains on track to receive “at least 44 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca” by the end of June, Trudeau reiterated on Friday.
Doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are also “hopefully” set to arrive next week, officials said on Friday. The news comes as some U.S. areas have halted use of the vaccine “out of an abundance of caution,” after 11 people in Colorado reported “adverse reactions.”
“The J&J vaccine, or Janssen, is the same type of vaccine…as the AstraZeneca vaccine. So with all due diligence, people have been actively looking for some of the similar cases with the J&J,” Tam said.
“Health Canada will do their work and then, as needed, based on the information available. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization and others will also be completing their work, as they did with the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Meanwhile, the rollout presses on — Tam said “we’ve got a long way to go in the vaccine program.” Amid the vaccination efforts, the hard work of keeping case counts down continues.
“The only way to get out of this crisis is the hard way: by staying home as much as we can and consistently maintaining our distance and wearing a mask when we must go out,” Tam said.
“Don’t squander the opportunity…put the brakes on now.”
— With files from Global News’ Twinkle Ghosh