Quebecers are being urged to limit their social contact and Ontario is trying to get a handle on its testing backlog, while Alberta's top doctor says she doesn't believe a second wave of COVID-19 and tougher restrictions are foregone conclusions.
“Please, we're asking Quebecers, all Quebecers, that you limit your social contact over the next few weeks,” Health Minister Christian Dube said Thursday, as Canada's hardest-hit province recorded 582 new daily cases, up from 471 a day earlier.
"We can break this wave, but we need your support to make this additional sacrifice.”
New Brunswick, which reported two new cases Thursday, has reimposed travel restrictions on residents of neighbouring Quebec's southern Gaspe region, whose COVID-19 alert level has risen.
Ontario, meanwhile, tweaked its approach to asymptomatic testing on Thursday as many centres in the province have struggled with long lineups. Back-to-school demand has contributed to a processing backlog of nearly 54,000 tests.
That province reported 409 new infections on Thursday, an increase from 335 a day earlier.
Previously, anyone who wanted to get a COVID-19 test could go to an assessment centre.
“There are two groups: people that want a test just for getting a test because they'll feel a little more comfortable ... or people who need a test," said Premier Doug Ford.
"We have to focus on the people who need a test.”
People without symptoms can still make an appointment at up to 60 pharmacies across the province to get tested, but that also only applies to those at higher risk, such as if they've come into contact with a known case or have a loved one in long-term care.
Alberta reined back its broad asymptomatic testing last week, limiting it to close contacts of confirmed cases and high-risk groups. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said there has so far been no decrease in testing volumes or the positivity rate.
Hinshaw struck a more positive tone on the spectre of a second wave than the prime minister did in his televised address Wednesday night when he suggested Thanksgiving is a wash, but Christmas can still be saved if Canadians get the spread under control.
“In our four biggest provinces, the second wave isn't just starting, it's already underway,” Justin Trudeau said, referring to Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.
“We're on the brink of a fall that could be much worse than the spring.”
But Hinshaw said the concept of a second wave implies that the virus is spreading uncontrolled. She said while Alberta's daily case counts have been elevated for the past few months, they have remained relatively stable.
"When I think about a second wave, I think about a very large spike of uncontrolled spread, and that's not our only possible future," she said.
"Our other possible futures are a stable, relatively slow burn of a constant case count over time or perhaps small ripples that go up and down and that's entirely within our power and our control as Albertans."
She said it's up to Albertans to follow public health guidelines and prevent a "steep, sharp" second wave and more formal restrictions.
Alberta had 158 new daily cases in its Thursday update, up from 143 on Wednesday.
Manitoba's chief public health officer said half of the province's COVID-19 cases in recent weeks have been in people who have visited bars, pubs and restaurants, as it reported 37 new cases -- the bulk in Winnipeg.
Canada's total number of COVID-19 cases stands at nearly 149,000, including more than 9,200 deaths.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2020
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story; An earlier version said Ontario's total case numbers were more than 148,000 when that figure was actually national.