TORONTO — Canada’s initial rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine came into clearer focus Thursday as Ontario announced it would go ahead with its first immunizations on Tuesday, while high case counts continued to strain the health-care systems in several parts of the country.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province will begin administering the shots in hospitals in Toronto and Ottawa, with health-care workers in long-term care and other high-risk setting first in line for immunization.
A “very small number” of the vaccines are expected to arrive in the province over the next few days, Ford said, adding the province has made sure all the necessary security measures are in place to receive the drugs from Pfizer.
Health Canada approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer on Wednesday. Ford said more details on the rollout would be made public Friday.
Alberta has also announced it will start distributing the vaccine next week to front-line health workers and caregivers, with the first round set to be administered Wednesday.
The province has said its first 3,900 doses will go to intensive care unit doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists and long-term care workers. Hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary will be the initial vaccination sites.
Meanwhile, the two provinces hardest hit by the pandemic continued to see high numbers of new infections Thursday, as each faced reports examining aspects of their response to the crisis.
Ontario reported a record high of 1,983 new cases of the novel coronavirus, and 35 new deaths. It said 515 of those cases are in Peel Region and 496 in Toronto – two hot spots that were placed under lockdown two weeks ago.
The provincial government is set to release new projections Thursday afternoon that are expected to reflect the impact of those lockdowns.
The most recent projections showed daily case rates in the province had plateaued, but health experts said those improvements were “fragile” and the province remained in a precarious situation.
Those figures also showed hospitals facing increased strain due to COVID-19, with the number of patients in intensive care past the threshold where surgeries may need to be cancelled.
Quebec, which reported 1,842 new COVID-19 cases and 33 new deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, also faced scrutiny Thursday for how its long-term care system handled the first wave of the pandemic.
An ombudswoman’s report said Quebec’s long-term care system failed to ensure the safety and dignity of residents as the virus first spread last winter and spring.
In the report, Marie Rinfret said the system was disorganized and unprepared for the surge, with many homes lacking in personal protective equipment and some unable to provide basic care and services.
Further west, Manitoba’s chief public health officer renewed his calls for residents to stick to their own household over the holidays as the province reported 292 new COVID-19 cases and 13 new deaths.
Dr. Brent Roussin predicted another spike in cases if his advice is ignored.
Several East Coast provinces reported daily increases in the single digits on Thursday, with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each recording four.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19, in the town of Harbour Breton, which has been on partial lockdown since two cases were announced there over the weekend.