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COVID-19: Ontario commits $324M, will ramp up surgical capacity to deal with waitlists

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Ontario says it will spend up to $324 million to tackle a waitlist for surgeries that’s expected to grow as the province recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The government says it’s aiming to allow the hospital system to operate at 115 per cent capacity by the fall with a focus on high-volume, non-urgent scheduled surgeries.

About $216 million of the money will go toward extending operating room hours, focusing on the hardest-hit areas.

Funds are also being allocated to increase hours for diagnostic services, a centralized system for managing wait times and plans specific to local hospitals.

Non-COVID care was reduced during the pandemic and the province’s top doctor twice ordered a pause on non-urgent procedures to protect hospital capacity.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said surgeries were prioritized during the pandemic, and 76 per cent of the patients assessed as requiring surgery between March 1, 2020 and March 2021 have now received their surgery.

“By prioritizing urgent surgical patients throughout the pandemic,” Elliott said, 99.3 per cent of the most urgent cases have been completed, with more than 465,000 scheduled surgeries in Ontario hospitals between April 2020 and March 1, 2021.

Elliott said the government is expecting more Ontarians to seek the care they require, including those who had delayed operations, now that restrictions are lifting and a relative sense of normalcy returns.

Officials say they expect more unscreened, undiagnosed patients to join the wait list for surgeries as the pandemic wanes, contributing to an expected rise in demand for procedures.

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Elliott said the surgical recovery plan will address wait times and improve overall access to care, with up to 67,000 additional surgeries and procedures and 135,000 more diagnostic imaging hours.

Latest COVID-19 news in Ottawa

Ottawa Public Health is reporting eight new cases in the city and no deaths.

There have been 27,793 total cases in the city and 593 deaths since the pandemic began.

Active cases have risen slightly to 49, and there is one patient in hospital.

There were 1,083 COVID-19 tests conducted on Tuesday with a 0.92 per cent positivity, which is also showing a slight increase and is above last week’s average 0.7 per cent rate. There have been 44 cases in the city over the last seven days, at a weekly rate of 4.2 cases per 100,000 population.

The virus reproduction rate has dipped back below the 1.0 threshold, indicating the virus spread is coming under control. The R(t) rating for the last seven days is an average 0.90.

That is in line with the provincial average rate of 0.97.

Vaccination rates are slowing in the capital, however, with 83 per cent of the eligible population having received at least one dose, and 70 per cent of eligible residents fully immunized with both doses.

Ottawa has received a supply of 1,333,790 combined vaccine doses since December, which includes a shipment of 94,000 Pfizer doses that arrived this week.

But vaccination rates slowed last week to less than half of the doses administered during Ottawa’s peak week for vaccinations in early July.

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There were 133,000 doses administered in Ottawa that week, data which does not include pharmacies, with 105,000 doses administered the following week and only 64,000 doses administered last week. According to the most recent OPH data for daily vaccinations, there were 4,926 doses administered on Tuesday.

Latest COVID-19 news in Ontario

Ontario is reporting 158 new laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and four related deaths Wednesday.

There have been 549,734 total cases and 9,325 people have died.

Another 171 cases were resolved, bringing the total number of resolved cases to 539,031.

There were 20,527 tests conducted in the past 24 hours with a 0.8 per cent positivity rate, a key indicator that has been steadily dropping.

There were 25 cases in Toronto, 19 in York, 16 in Waterloo, 15 in Hamilton and 13 in Durham region.

There are 117 patients in hospital, with an additional 122 in intensive care, which includes 83 people who require a ventilator.

(*Note: Ontario Public Health statistics of ICU hospitalizations and ventilator cases contain some patients who no longer test positive for COVID-19 but who are being treated for conditions caused by the virus.)

There were two new cases reported in the Eastern Ontario public health unit, which includes Cornwall and Hawkesbury.

No cases were identified in other regions in the Ottawa area Wednesday, with zero cases in Renfrew, Kingston, Leeds, Grenville and Lanark health units.

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The province has now administered 19,204,544 total vaccine doses, including 94,116 shots on Tuesday, and 8,779,459 Ontarians are now fully immunized with both doses.

According to the latest data, 80.6 per cent of eligible Ontarians (12-plus) have received at least one dose and 67.9 per cent have received two doses.

Officials continue to track the spread of variants of concern across the province, with Wednesday’s data showing a spike in confirmed cases of the Delta variant (B.1.617.2). Another 123 cases were confirmed in the province and there have now been 4,044 cases of that variant.

Another 62 cases of the alpha variant (B.1.1.7) were identified in Ontario, and there have now been 145,474 cases of that variant in the province.

Latest COVID-19 news from Quebec

Quebec 133 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, the highest one-day case count since mid-June.

On Twitter, Health Minister Christian Dubé pointed out the increase in infections, noting that “the Delta variant is already present here.”

He said “it is up to every Quebecer to quickly get their second dose to reduce the impact of the spread of the virus on the health network.

“We have enough vaccines for everyone. Let’s take advantage of it!”

No new deaths were reported.

Hospitalizations fell by five, to 61, while the number of intensive care patients fell by two, to 19.

The province reported 71,350 additional vaccine doses were administered over the previous 24 hours.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Quebec has reported 377,034 cases and 11,240 deaths linked to COVID-19. A total of 364,930 people who have contracted the disease have since recovered.

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-With files from Postmedia and The Canadian Press

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