COVID-19 cases in Canada may rapidly rise in the coming days due to community spread of the Omicron variant, mirroring the situation in the country’s most populous province of Ontario, Canada’s top health official said on Monday.
The surge of COVID-19 cases in Ontario, which accounts for almost 40% of Canada’s population of 39 million people, has prompted the provincial government to suspend easing of restrictions that were planned to be lifted ahead of the holiday season.
The province reported 1,536 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, a more-than 70% jump from a week ago, including 80 cases of the Omicron variant, which has spread across over 60 countries since being first detected last month.
The World Health Organization has said that the Omicron coronavirus variant poses a “very high” global risk, with some evidence that it evades vaccine protection but clinical data on its severity is limited.
At least one patient has died in the United Kingdom after contracting the Omicron variant, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.
Ontario has directed government staff, who started gradually returning to their offices in November, to go back to working from home at least until early-February, CTV news reported Monday.
“So what we’re seeing in Ontario, I expect to be seen in other areas of the country, as has been seen in Europe and other areas of the world,” chief public health officer Theresa Tam told a news conference.
“But for sure we are seeing community transmission, possibly in its early stages, but this can rapidly escalate in the days to come,” she added, responding to questions from reporters after she announced recommendations to improve the Canadian public health system in a report to the parliament.
Canada needs to hire of more health workers, improve technology and governance, as well as provide more stable funding, she said in the report.
“Canada’s public health system is not perfect, and significant work lies ahead in terms of our transformation process, we must get ready to roll our sleeves up,” Tam said.