Canada sees more COVID-19 cases in 40 days of Omicron than all of 2020

Canada documented more cases of COVID-19 during the first 40 days of the Omicron wave than it did during the entire first year of the pandemic, according to data from CTVNews.ca’s case tracker.

There have been 777,609 confirmed new infections since the first case of Omicron was detected in Canada on Nov. 29, 2021. In contrast, it took over 370 days to exceed the same number of cases after the very first domestic patient was documented back in Jan. 25, 2020.

There are also more than four times the number of active cases now than during the peak of the second and third waves in the winter and spring of last year.

And while the much more infectious Omicron variant appears to cause less severe disease than previous variants of concern, like Delta, the sheer number of infections is still driving up hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, straining already fragile health care systems in many jurisdictions. Hospitalization numbers are nearing or reaching record highs in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick.

But the comparison is likely conservative, with actual infections during the latest wave widely believed to be significantly higher due to factors including difficulty in booking PCR tests in some regions over the holidays, and changes in testing eligibility in provinces like Ontario after the new year. Wastewater data from different parts of the country also indicate that the actual number is much higher.

“What it's really saying right now is that the number of clinical cases that we're detecting, especially because we’re only testing individuals in high-risk settings, they are only a fraction of the number of infections," Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang for the region of Waterloo said last week.

The blistering pace of the Omicron variant’s spread has also shattered records in other countries in terms of number of new daily infections. The U.K., for example, has recorded 4.38 million infections since it detected its first case of Omicron on Nov. 27, a figure the country did not reach during the pandemic until April 13, 2021.

With a file from CTV News Kitchener's Katherine Hill