Canada's top doctor warns that severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

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Canada's top physician painted a bleak picture on Saturday of the toll the COVID-19 pandemic may take on the country, expressing fears that the number of pandemic-related hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave drives the national death toll toward 10,000.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the number of Canadians experiencing severe illness is already on the rise amid a spike in cases that saw two provinces report new single-day highs Saturday.

The number of active COVID-19 cases had risen 16 per cent week over week, according to figures from the Canada Public Health Agency.

The sharp uptick left an average of 1,010 patients being treated in hospital each day over the past week, about 20 per cent of whom were in intensive care, Tam said.

Average daily deaths associated with the virus reached 23 over the past seven days.

However, Tam said the most critical health consequences associated with the spike have yet to emerge.

“As hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag behind increased disease activity by one to several weeks, the concern is that we have yet to see the extent of severe impacts associated with the ongoing increase in COVID-19 disease activity,” she said in a statement.

“As well, influenza and respiratory infections typically increase during the fall and winter, placing increased demands on hospitals. This is why it is so important for people of all ages to maintain public health practices that keep respiratory infection rates low.”

The fatality numbers pushed the country closer to a grim milestone, with the death toll standing at 9,922 as of Saturday afternoon. The national case total reached 213,958.

Tam's comments came the same day Ontario reported a new single-day high of 978 new coronavirus cases, along with six more deaths.

Despite the alarming tally, politicians from the province's Halton Region published a letter Saturday pleading for an exemption from stricter public health measures.

The Ontario government has already moved the longstanding hot spots of Ottawa, Toronto and the neighbouring regions of York and Peel to a modified Stage 2, which includes the suspension of indoor dining at bars and restaurants. But rising case numbers elsewhere prompted Premier Doug Ford to announce that officials would review the situation in Halton, Durham Region and other areas.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported that daily cases again topped 1,000, with 26 deaths and 549 patients now in hospital, 17 per cent of whom were in intensive care.

The average daily case count remains higher than any other province, but appears to have plateaued for the time being since a peak of 1,364 on Oct. 6, the same week that tight new restrictions went into effect.

The Prairies saw spikes as well, with Manitoba recording 153 new cases and two additional deaths Saturday, the fifth consecutive day new cases have topped 100.

Outbreaks have been declared on two units at Winnipeg's Victoria General Hospital, as well as at the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie.

Saskatchewan announced 78 new cases of COVID-19, making it the second province to report a new single-day high on Saturday.

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