Canada warns provinces they need to do more to fight Omicron variant

·2 min read
People queue to collect coronavirus disease (COVID-19) antigen test kits at the Hazeldean Mall in Ottawa

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos on Friday warned some of the country's 10 provinces that they needed to do more to fight the Omicron coronavirus variant and prevent healthcare systems from being swamped.

New daily cases of COVID-19 soared by 65% in the last week across Canada, and hospitals say it is becoming increasingly hard to maintain staffing levels.

Duclos said provinces should pay attention to Ontario and Quebec, which together account for around 61% of Canada's population of 38.4 million. Both have reimposed severe restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

"Those two provinces are going through a very difficult time. That, however, is a signal to other provinces ... that they may be just a week, perhaps two weeks behind," he said.

This was important because the federal government did not have sufficient resources to give the provinces all the help they wanted, he told a briefing.

"(That) is a kind warning - but a clear warning - to some provinces ... that they need to act now," he said. Provinces are responsible for administering healthcare and receive around a quarter of their funding from Ottawa.

Chief medical officer Theresa Tam said that while the risk of hospitalization was lower for Omicron compared to the Delta variant, "the sudden acceleration of Omicron and enormous volume of cases is driving severe illness trends".

Tam and Duclos reiterated that Canadians should get inoculated against COVID-19. Official data show that as of Dec 18, 87.3% of Canadians aged 12 and older had received two shots while the figure for children aged 5 to 12 was just 1.3%

Duclos said 8.6 million booster shots had been administered. The federal health ministry would have more to say in coming weeks about its review of oral anti-viral drug candidates made by Pfizer Inc and Merck & Co Inc, he added.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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