Saskatchewan's premier said his government will refrain from imposing new COVID-19 restrictions in a shift toward learning to live with the virus Monday, just as new StatCan data illustrated the human toll of the pandemic and Ontario revealed many of its schools were hit by high rates of absences.
Premier Scott Moe said his Saskatchewan Party government didn't intend to impose additional public health measures to contain the spread of the Omicron variant, even as acute care hospitalizations related to COVID-19 reached near record levels.
Moe said the virus was not going away and society needed to learn to live with COVID-19 as it does with other diseases.
Saskatchewan has a mask mandate and requires proof of vaccination or negative tests in many settings, but Moe said he didn't believe that introducing more measures would produce significant benefits. He previously said he would consider further restrictions if hospitalizations continued to rise.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have climbed about 200 per cent in the past month, and government modelling suggests 500 people could be hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the coming weeks.
Saskatchewan reported on Monday that hospitals were treating 262 patients with COVID-19, including 29 in intensive care.
It came as Statistics Canada released preliminary data showing national life expectancy fell by more than half a year in 2020, the largest drop since 1921 when the vital statistics registration system was introduced.
The federal agency said national life expectancy, which is estimated on an annual basis, was 81.7 years for those born in 2020 — down from 82.3 the year before.
The drop was greater for men, at more than eight months, than for women, at nearly five months, and the largest declines in the country were observed in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
Meanwhile, education data in Ontario revealed more than 300 schools reported absence rates higher than 30 per cent by the end of last week, which saw planned classroom reopenings disrupted by harsh winter conditions in much of the province.
The numbers don't indicate the reasons behind the absences nor whether they are related to COVID-19. Ontario is no longer publishing information on cases in schools due to a restricted testing policy, but began sharing data on absences online today.
As of Friday, 337 schools had absent rates of at least 30 per cent, including 111 schools that were more than half empty. That's based on numbers made available for 3,451 of the province's 4,844 schools.
The province reported that 16 schools, or 0.3 per cent, were closed as of Friday.
Ontario logged 3,861 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 on Monday, including 615 patients in intensive care. Health Minister Christine Elliott noted that not all hospitals report weekend data.
Thirty-seven more people have died from the virus, officials said. The province reported 4,790 new COVID-19 cases, but Public Health Ontario has said this is an undercount because of changes to the province's testing policy.
Also on Monday, the Quebec government said it was adopting a new "positive approach" to persuade people to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as a complement to its expanding suite of punitive measures intended to increase vaccine uptake.
Junior health minister Lionel Carmant told reporters that a pop-up vaccination clinic will open in downtown Montreal this week and a telephone line will be set up and staffed by medical professionals to field calls from residents seeking information about the vaccines.
Carmant said the measures mark an intensification of existing efforts to reach the roughly 540,000 Quebecers who are unvaccinated, but suggested that a shift in mindset may be what's needed to convince people to roll up their sleeves for their first shot.
"I think this is the step we're missing up to now: a positive approach," he said.
The provincial government's touting of carrots came as it expanded its arsenal of sticks Monday, when its proof-of-vaccination requirements began applying to big-box stores, such as Walmart and Costco.
The province reported 3,299 hospitalizations related to COVID-19, including 263 intensive care cases.
There were 52 more COVID-19 deaths, the province said. Officials reported 2,807 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, but said the tally didn't capture the scope of the virus's spread because PCR testing was limited to certain high-risk groups.
On the East Coast, Newfoundland and Labrador hit a new high of 21 people hospitalized with COVID-19. The province reported 349 new cases on Monday, and the province's 31st COVID-19 death.
In New Brunswick, officials said there were three more deaths linked to COVID-19, and 131 patients in hospital with the disease, including 12 intensive care cases.
Nova Scotia reported five more COVID-19-related deaths on Monday, as well as 15 new hospital admissions due to the disease.
There were two more deaths from COVID-19 on Prince Edward Island, bringing the province's total death toll to eight.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2022.
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press