Hospitals in Canadian province Saskatchewan face prolonged COVID-19 crisis, modelling shows

·2-min read

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - COVID-19 patients will keep crowding hospital intensive care units (ICUs) in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan well into next year without government orders to limit public mixing, modelling data showed on Wednesday.

As the pandemic ebbed during the summer, the western farming and mining province lifted restrictions at the fastest rate in Canada along with neighbouring Alberta. Saskatchewan has since become the country's COVID-19 hotspot, with the lowest vaccination rate among provinces, and had to hastily reimpose restrictions such as masking in indoor public places.

"I have no shame in pleading to the public, that we've gone so far and we just have to pull along for the next weeks and months," said Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, who broke down with emotion during a media briefing. "It is distressing to see what is happening in our ICUs and hospitals and I'm sorry -- it's a very challenging time."

The pandemic's spread has forced Saskatchewan to fly some COVID-19 patients to Ontario for care and to cancel thousands of surgeries.

Saskatchewan's modelling showed that severe cases will continue to overwhelm ICUs until March before beginning to decline, without a reduction in mixing, such as smaller gatherings, and greater access to vaccine booster shots. Reduced mixing should ideally last at least 28 days, Shahab said.

The provincial government, led by Premier Scott Moe, has declined to impose limits on private gatherings, however.

Canada's daily case counts spiked in late summer, but have declined recently. Cases in Saskatchewan and Alberta have also started trending lower, however they have still recorded the highest rates of deaths among the 10 provinces in the past week, and the highest rates of active cases.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by David Gregorio)

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