As Ontario brings back stay-at-home orders to deal with surging cases of COVID-19, the Canadian Medical Association says continually changing rules have contributed to confusion and relaxed adherence.
The national advocacy group representing Canada’s doctors says constant changes to restrictions have left people frustrated and are detrimental to its purpose.
“It’s time to apply what we know and address these new variants with the same aggressiveness they are displaying,” Dr. Ann Collins, the group’s president, said in a news release Thursday.
“Facing the new variants requires a new and co-ordinated approach to regain control.”
To deal with the spread of variants of concern, Ontario declared its third state of emergency since the start of the pandemic.
The province had loosened some restrictions in lockdown zones last month even as doctors and nurses voiced concerns about increased infections.
A stark change came this week when Premier Doug Ford announced the return to a four-week stay-at-home order.
Dr. Seema Marwaha works as an internal medicine specialist at Unity Health in the Greater Toronto Area and is the editor-in-chief of Healthy Debate.
Along with fatigue from long hours on the front line, Marwaha said she and her colleagues are also fearful.
“This is the first time where I’ve been really scared during the pandemic,” Marwaha said.
“What I’m seeing on the clinical service is younger people getting sicker in a more unpredictable way, in a way that’s more difficult to trace in much higher numbers.”
When the intensive care unit is full, everything for health-care professionals changes because doctors become restricted on options they can offer their patients, she said.
Marwaha said Ontario’s new public health orders are necessary, but came too late.
“We are at a breaking point now,” she said. “I’m worried about where’s the peak going to be and will we be able to handle it.”
Ontario reported 3,295 new cases Thursday — the highest since mid-January — and 19 more deaths as the new restrictions took effect.
The seven-day average for daily cases is 3,093, up from 1,749 two weeks ago.
“The trends we are seeing are very troubling,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate medical officer of health.
There are 1,417 people in hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 525 are in intensive care — 100 higher than the peak number of intensive care admissions during the second wave of the pandemic.
Quebec is also reporting another spike in cases and hospitalizations linked to COVID-19, with 1,609 new infections and an additional 16 people in hospital. There were also nine deaths.
The rising numbers prompted Premier Francois Legault to convene a late-afternoon briefing along with the province’s health minister and director of public health.
Extra restrictions and an extended curfew came into effect last week in regions of Quebec hard hit by more transmissible variants.
The more infectious variants gaining hold in some parts of the country mean an increase in people under the age of 60 being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals, including in intensive care units.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said in her daily statement that it’s putting pressure on the health-care system.
As of Wednesday, 16,864 variant of concern cases have been reported across Canada.
Tam said that the ramping up of vaccine delivery is cause for optimism that widespread immunity is on the horizon.
But for now, “the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19,” she said.
Dr. Howard Njoo, the national deputy chief public health officer, said surging COVID-19 cases in Ontario, Quebec and western provinces are particularly concerning.
He said Canada is in a tight race between getting out vaccines and the spread of variants of concern.
He added that vaccinations are just one part of the response.
Public-health measures, such as restrictions, are important, he said, especially in areas where variants are spreading.
More than seven million vaccine doses have now been administered and the amount arriving in the country is expected to increase each month.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading the country’s distribution effort, said getting vaccines out is an “unprecedented operation in scope and complexity.”
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