Canada’s two most populous provinces continued to see a steady decline of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations as some leaders mulled vaccine incentives to connect with hard-to-reach populations.
“Some people are scared — with no reason — about the vaccine, so we have to explain to them why they need to be vaccinated,” Quebec Premier François Legault said Thursday.
About 70 per cent of Quebecers over the age of 12 have received at least one dose. But there are lagging vaccination rates in two of the cities most affected by the pandemic — Montreal and its northern suburb Laval.
In Montréal-Nord, one of the city’s lowest-income boroughs, the vaccination rate is almost 44 per cent, despite that health region having the second-highest infection rate in Quebec.
Legualt said his Coalition Avenir Québec government is considering vaccine incentives.
The province reported 267 new infections and six more deaths from COVID-19.
The Manitoba government announced it will offer grants of up to $20,000 each to community, religious, sports and arts organizations in areas where vaccine uptake has been low.
The money can be spent on anything from new outreach programs to prizes such as meals or tickets to a sporting event.
Premier Brian Pallister said about two-thirds of eligible Manitobans have received at least one dose of vaccine.
“It’s a significant accomplishment but it’s not over,” he said.
There are areas of low vaccine uptake, including the core areas of Winnipeg and some rural areas south of the provincial capital. Pallister said there’s no easy answer, but low rates can be linked to mobility issues, language barriers and cultural or religious concerns
In recent weeks, Manitoba has seen a significant surge of COVID-19 infections, which has put serious pressure on the province’s health-care system and overwhelmed its intensive care capacity.
Patients requiring intensive care have been sent to hospitals in Ontario and Saskatchewan, and Pallister said he’s worked out a deal with Alberta if more help is needed.
Manitoba reported 360 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths.
Nationally, however, all the key indicators including new cases, hospitalizations and fatalities are trending down.
Ontario marked its declining infections by ending some public health orders put in place at the height of the third wave.
Some hospitals can resume surgeries requiring in-patient and critical care resources.
There were 870 new cases in Ontario and 10 more deaths linked to the virus.
Health officials there also announced people who have received a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will be able to get Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna as a booster starting Friday.
The decision follows guidance earlier this week from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. Quebec started mixing second doses in April and Manitoba followed earlier this month.
Ontario officials warned that while the COVID-19 outlook is growing more positive, people must remain vigilant because of the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant that was first detected in India.
That variant is responsible for nearly a quarter of COVID-19 infections in Ontario.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province’s vaccine task force is considering allowing people to book their second vaccine doses sooner than the current four-month interval.
“We’re looking at all options, because we need to stay ahead of this variant,” she said.
Quebec and Nova Scotia also announced second doses in those provinces would be moved ahead.
—Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press