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COVID-19: Ontario, Quebec see dip in hospitalizations, but numbers remain high

Both Quebec and Ontario reported a drop in COVID-19-related hospitalizations on Saturday, but the numbers remained high in the country's most populous provinces, which have been hit hard by the pandemic's Omicron-driven fifth wave. 

Despite drops of 88 and 56 hospitalizations in Ontario and Quebec respectively, there were still more than 7,300 virus-related hospitalizations between the two provinces. 

There was also an uptick in patients requiring intensive care, with Ontario reporting 600 patients in ICUs while Quebec had 275 patients listed, in both cases a rise of 10 patients compared to the previous day.

During a briefing on Friday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said despite signs of stability in patient numbers in some provinces, the toll on hospitals remains heavy and many hospitals across Canada are under intense strain.

More than 10,000 people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals across Canada each day in the past week, surpassing peak daily numbers in all previous waves of the pandemic.

Federal health officials said on Friday that daily case counts, positivity rates and waste water surveillance show early indications that the pandemic's Omicron-driven wave has peaked nationally, but the volume of cases is resulting in more hospitalizations and deaths.

Among the provinces reporting data on Saturday, Ontario reported 47 COVID-19 linked deaths and Quebec adding 68 deaths.

In New Brunswick, health officials reported six more COVID-19 deaths on Saturday. There are 125 people in hospital, including 12 in intensive care.

In Prince Edward Island, officials announced fifth death linked to COVID-19 during this wave of the pandemic. Health authorities described the victim as a person in their 80s.

Provinces reporting on Saturday encouraged people to get their booster shot. Tam acknowledged on Friday that might eventually mean a discussion with provinces and territories about what being fully vaccinated entails.

Federal officials have changed their own terminology referring to a third dose as being "up-to-date" on vaccinations. Many provinces require full vaccination to access certain non-essential businesses, travel and other activities.

Tam noted globally and across Canada, the numbers of those who've received a third dose vary.

For example, in Quebec, which recently opened up third-dose eligibility to all adults, about 39 per cent have received the added dose. The province's health minister said it intends to expand its vaccine passport to require a third dose once more people have had a chance to get it.

In New Brunswick, about 61 per cent of those aged 50 and older have received a booster dose. 

“We know that people who are fully vaccinated and have a booster dose have much better protection against serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, said in a statement on Saturday.

With the more transmissible Omicron variant has made clear the necessity for the booster, Tam said it's not time to have a discussion about changing the definition. 

"But we will be re-examining those kind of policies going forward," Tam said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2022.

The Canadian Press