Restrictions lifting as COVID infections slow; Ontario resumes non-urgent procedures

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TORONTO — A slowdown in new COVID-19 infections across much of the country along with rising vaccination numbers has political and health authorities easing restrictions put in place to curb the pandemic.

In one such key development, Ontario's top public health officer said hospitals could resume non-urgent surgeries and procedures, ending a ban that's been in place since April 20.

Dr. David Williams said daily COVID-19 rates, hospital and intensive care admissions appeared to be trending downward, and some hospitals now had capacity to resume cancelled procedures.

"It is therefore important to make use of this available capacity to limit the long-term impacts on patients awaiting non-urgent care," Williams said.

Authorities estimate the province has a backlog of non-urgent medical procedures in the hundreds of thousands, and Williams said delays in care can lead to poorer health outcomes.

The province reported 1,588 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 19 more related deaths.

Quebec, which expects to lift its curfew by the end of the month, said its hospital admissions had fallen by 18 to 466, while 113 people were in intensive care, a drop of five.

The province reported 584 new cases of COVID-19 and eight more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Quebec also estimates that slightly more than half its residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

However, Canadians hoping to drive across the border for a vaccine in the U.S. could be out of luck.

Unlike Health Canada, the U.S. border agency said it does not consider a vaccine to be an essential medical service for travel purposes. As a result, Canadian travellers have been denied entry.

"Travel for the sole purpose of obtaining a vaccination is not permissible under current travel restrictions,” an agency spokesman said.

The Canadian Public Health Agency had said it considers a vaccine on referral from a licensed health-care provider in Canada to be essential. That would obviate the need for quarantine on return from the U.S. if the trip was made in a private vehicle and solely for getting the vaccination.

The head of Windsor Regional Hospital in Windsor, Ont., said there have been many examples of crossings for a vaccine allowed to happen.

"That is why this is so political and needs some clarity and leadership," David Musyj said.

Manitoba health officials said everyone in the province who wants to be could be fully vaccinated by the end of July. The province is set to start booking second doses on Friday for people with certain underlying medical conditions.

Appointments will then be available based on when people received their first dose.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 19, 2021.


Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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