Canada is running out of time to prevent a major resurgence of COVID-19, the country's chief public health officer said Saturday as its two most populous provinces continued to report some of their highest daily case counts in months.
The country's chance to avert a COVID comeback "narrows with each passing day," Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement.
"It is clear that without all of us making hard choices now to reduce our in-person contacts and maintain layers of personal protections at all times, it won't be enough to prevent a large resurgence," Tam said.
Her comments came as Quebec and Ontario continued moving toward harsher restrictions in coronavirus hot spots amid surging daily case counts.
Quebec reported 1,107 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday — the largest daily increase since the pandemic began, and the second straight day the province reported more than 1,000 cases.
Ontario reported 653 new cases — down slightly from Friday's record high of 732, and partially inflated by an ongoing "data cleaning initiative" at Toronto Public Health.
Tam cautioned that the epidemic growth is already stretching local public health and laboratory resources — a warning borne out by a number of developments in Ontario, where a backlog of tests considered "under investigation" has grown to more than 91,000.
Public health officials in Toronto, meanwhile, announced that their case and contact management team is making a "strategic shift" to focus only on the highest-risk scenarios.
That move came as case counts continued to climb in the city, which is one of three Ontario COVID-19 hot spots where new public health restrictions kicked in on Saturday.
The provincial government announced Friday that Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region would face tighter regulations. Restaurants, bars, banquet halls and gyms in those areas will all face restrictions on their operations.
More restrictions could soon be imposed in hot spots of neighbouring Quebec as well, with the province planning to announce new rules for sporting activities and gyms on Monday.
Authorities already consider greater Montreal, Quebec City and a region south of the provincial capital to be in red alert — the highest pandemic alert level — and have placed those regions under a partial lockdown for 28 days.
"If there was anyone who still needed proof that the situation is critical, we have it day after day," Premier Francois Legault said Friday.
Elsewhere in the country on Saturday, an outbreak of COVID-19 among almost two dozen staff at a British Columbia food distribution warehouse forced its closure.
The Fraser Health authority said in a statement that 23 employees at Valhalla Distribution in Delta have tested positive for coronavirus.
Public health officials in Manitoba said a woman in her 80s at a personal care home in Winnipeg has died, the third death associated with that outbreak. The death of a man in his 70s connected with the outbreak was announced Friday, and a woman in her 90s died late last month.
And in New Brunswick, public health officials announced a new case in a person in their 20s in the Saint John region.
The case — only New Brunswick's 201st — is related to travel from outside the so-called Atlantic bubble, and officials say the person is self-isolating.
Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, reported a new death linked to the virus — only its fourth.
The government said the man in his 60s had travelled from Central Africa, via Toronto, and died while self-isolating in Deer Lake, N.L.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2020.
—with files from Canadian Press reporters across the country
Adam Burns, The Canadian Press