Canada sending military, Red Cross to help COVID-hit Ontario

Ontario health minister says province requested federal government assistance amid high number of ICU patients.

As of Monday morning, the Canadian province of Ontario reported 877 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, including 605 patients on ventilators [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Canada’s federal government has said it will send military and Red Cross medical teams to the province of Ontario, which earlier on Monday asked for help to respond to a surge in coronavirus hospitalisations.

Canadian Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair said on Twitter that Ottawa had approved Ontario’s request and the military would be providing “medical + civilian human health resources within medical care facilities” in the province, as well as logistical and administrative support.

The Canadian Red Cross and Health Canada would also provide medical personnel.

“We will continue to work with Ontario to keep Canadians safe and healthy,” Blair tweeted.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, has been hit by a surge in COVID-19 infections during a countrywide third wave of the pandemic, spurred in part by new and more easily transmissible strains of the virus.

Healthcare workers also have been pushed to their limits amid an increase in hospitalisations and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions.

As of Monday morning, the province had 877 COVID-19 patients in ICUs, including 605 patients on ventilators. It also recorded a 3,917 seven-day average of new infections, while 26.88 cases were reported per 100,000 people.

Canadian media first reported that Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones’s office had made a request for assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian Red Cross to cope with critical-care COVID-19 patients.

“In addition to health human resources, we are requesting logistical and operational support as we seek to augment our response to COVID-19,” read a statement from Jones’s press secretary, as reported by CBC News.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has faced a barrage of criticism for his government’s handling of the third wave of the pandemic, earlier in April turned down an offer from Canada’s federal government to send in the Red Cross to help administer coronavirus vaccines.

At the time, Ford said the province did not have a vaccine capacity issue, but instead needed more doses.

During a Monday afternoon news briefing, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed the province had requested assistance from the federal government to cope with increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

“As you know we are seeing increasing numbers of people in our intensive care units, and as we are building more beds, we have created more spaces … But we are still in need of some more health human resources,” she told reporters.

Nurses communicate through the glass door of an isolation room of a COVID-19 patient inside the intensive care unit of Humber River Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, on April 15, 2021 [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

The Canadian military was deployed to help Ontario and the neighbouring province of Quebec deal with a surge in COVID-19 infections in long-term care homes during the first wave of the pandemic last year.

The province’s request for federal support came after the Globe and Mail newspaper reported that a 13-year-old girl in Brampton, a city northwest of Toronto, had died due to the coronavirus, drawing widespread concern and renewing calls for action.

Emily Viegas’s mother was in hospital with COVID-19 when the teenager began exhibiting symptoms herself. The newspaper said Viegas’s father agonised over whether to call an ambulance because the local hospital was full and his daughter would likely have been taken to a farther one.

“This is beyond heart wrenching. As a parent, I am lost for words. Horrifying,” Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said on Twitter about Viegas’s death. “We can never underestimate the seriousness of #covid19 and the variants.”

Ontario’s chief coroner told CBC News over the weekend that at least 25 Ontarians had died from COVID-19 in their own homes since April 1, without seeking medical attention.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned earlier this month that Canada was seeing a “very serious” third wave of the pandemic. The country has recorded over 1.19 million cases and more than 23,970 deaths to date, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Source: Al Jazeera