By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada will see a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in coming weeks which could put significant new strains on the healthcare system, chief public health officer Theresa Tam said on Friday.
Tam told a news briefing that scenarios suggested the wave might peak before receding into February.
New daily cases of COVID-19 have jumped to a record 37,500, which is most likely a drastic undercount of the true number, given constraints in testing capacity across the country, she added.
"A large surge of rapidly accelerating Omicron cases is forecast for Canada in the coming weeks," Tam said.
Even though Omicron is less severe than the Delta variant it has replaced, it is much more infectious, and the sheer number of new hospitalizations "could result in significant levels of healthcare strain in the coming weeks," she said.
More than 6.5 million eligible Canadians have had less than two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, she said, reiterating that the best way to avoid infection was to get inoculated.
Official data show that 87.6% of those aged 12 and older had received two shots as of Jan. 1.
The province of Quebec said on Thursday it was pressing ahead with a plan to levy a "health contribution" on adults refusing to get COVID-19 vaccinations, charging people at least C$100 to help contribute to increased running costs of the healthcare system.
Quebec said it is seeing signs that cases of Omicron may have peaked. Tam said it was too soon to say if this was true nationally.
"You can't tell whether you've really reached a peak until after the peak is truly over ... so we need to wait a little while to see if the trend continues on the downward trajectory," she said.
(Reporting by David LjunggrenEditing by Paul Simao and Aurora Ellis)