Ontario is set to receive assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Red Cross to battle a devastating third wave of COVID-19.
Military teams are expected to provide logistical support and health resources in the hardest-hit areas, such as the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton, starting Tuesday, CBC reported.
Meanwhile, Health Canada and the Canadian Red Cross will also send medical personnel to help the province cope with surging intensive care admission rates.
The decision comes days after Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones formally enlisted help from the federal government amid a rise in COVID-19 cases and increased strain on health care services.
“As the province continues to add more critical care capacity, we are exploring every potential measure to further build up Ontario’s health care workforce,” Jones said at a news briefing on Monday. “We have made a request for the assistance of those identified resources, many of whom reside, for example, within the Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Red Cross organizations.
“What we are looking for is very specialized nurses that can help out in our intensive care unit beds and medical personnel that can assist our hospitals that are seeing disturbing rises in cases of COVID-19," she added.
According to the Ministry of Health, Ontario reported 2,271 COVID-19 cases on Monday, with 605 patients on ventilators and 877 people in intensive care units. Experts warn that these numbers could continue to climb as the province faces many challenges, ranging from the spread of new variants to vaccine hesitancy and supply shortages.
Earlier this month, after introducing stringent rules to curb the spread of COVID-19 across the province, Ontario Premier Doug Ford faced mounting criticism for his mishandling of the crisis.
Health activists and medical experts have questioned the effectiveness of the new measures, advocating for paid sick leave to keep frontline and at-risk workers safe from infections. Others have argued that communities of colour were at risk of being targeted by law enforcement under the new rules, which give police forces increased powers to conduct searches.
At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had also offered aid to the province by deploying oxygen units, drugs, and mobile vaccine teams with the help of the Canadian Red Cross.
Ford declined the proposition, citing vaccine supply as a more serious issue than medical capacity, despite having sought out support from all provinces and territories days earlier.
“While we appreciate the Prime Minister’s offer, unless it is matched with an increase in supply, we do not need the Red Cross at this time for the administration of vaccines in Ontario,” Ford’s office said in a statement. “We do not have a capacity issue; we have a supply issue.”
This week, Ontario expects an estimated 396,630 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 116,700 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. These shipments are expected to help accelerate the vaccination campaign and reduce the number of infections in the long term.
In an effort to expand vaccination coverage within at-risk communities, the province also lowered age limits in hot spots like the Peel Region.