OTTAWA — Canada's chief public health officer warned Saturday that current health orders are not enough to stop rapid growth of COVID-19, as provinces push ahead with plans to reopen their economies.
Longer-range forecast models predict a resurgence of COVID-19 infections unless public health measures are enhanced and strictly followed, Dr. Theresa Tam said in a written statement.
"With increasing circulation of highly contagious variants, the threat of uncontrolled epidemic growth is significantly elevated," she said.
Tam said public health orders across Canada need to be stronger, stricter and sustained long enough to control the rise of variants of concern.
High infection rates in the most populous provinces are driving up the country's average daily case counts, she said.
Quebec reported more than 1,000 new infections on Saturday for the first time since mid-February, a day after the province reopened gyms and spas in red zones, including Montreal.
The province's government-mandated public health institute also warned on Friday that more transmissible variants would represent the majority of infections in Quebec by the first week of April.
Premier Francois Legault told reporters he wasn't ready to reverse decisions to reopen gyms or to allow places of worship to welcome up to 250 people.
In Ontario, new cases topped 2,400 for the first time since January.
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario released a statement Saturday urging Premier Doug Ford to scale back reopening plans, including the scheduled reopening of personal care services, such as hair salons, on April 12 in regions of the province that are in "grey-lockdown" zones.
The province's own modelling projections indicate highly contagious variants could see daily case counts balloon, while COVID-19 patients are already occupying Ontario's intensive care beds at levels "well above the threshold at which hospitals say they can cope," the statement said.
Gyms in Ontario will be allowed to offer outdoor fitness classes and personal training in the lockdown zones starting Monday. Earlier changes allowed outdoor restaurant dining to resume in those zones, including Toronto, and increased indoor capacity limits for restaurants in other regions.
British Columbia reported 908 new COVID-19 infections on Friday, among the highest daily totals in that province since the pandemic began.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Thursday she would ease restrictions on visits to long-term care homes, where most staff and residents have been vaccinated.
Limited indoor religious services will also be allowed starting Sunday through May 13 to allow for the observation of holidays including Passover, Easter and Ramadan.
In Alberta, rising hospitalization rates and variant cases have delayed reopening plans that would have included relaxed restrictions on worship services, entertainment venues and adult team sports.
That province counted 668 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, of which the chief medical officer of health said 207 were variants of concern.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2021.