The Canadian Armed Forces have been dispatched to assist in Quebec’s vaccination campaign as the province reported over 15,000 new COVID-19 cases on Jan. 3.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair made the announcement on Twitter on Jan. 3, saying the decision came after the province made a request for aid.
“Following our approval of Quebec’s request for federal assistance, Canadian Armed Forces personnel will begin their deployment today to provide support to the province’s vaccination campaign,” Blair wrote.
“Our officials continue to assess what other federal resources can be utilized to help the province combat COVID-19.”
Canada’s Defence Department said in a statement that up to 200 military personnel are being deployed at vaccination centres in Montreal.
“For the moment, it’s just in the region of Montreal that the forces are being deployed,” said Daniel Minden, a spokesperson for Defence Minister Anita Anand.
The announcement came before Quebec expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine booster to all of its adult population on Jan. 4.
Anyone 18 and older will be able to book an appointment to receive a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in January, according to a new rollout schedule determined by age group.
Quebecers aged 55 and older are eligible starting Jan. 4, while the minimum age requirement to get the booster shot will be phased in five-year increments over the rest of the month.
The Quebec government is making the booster shot a priority among other public health measures it has introduced to fight the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Quebec has delayed students’ return to in-person classes until Jan. 17 and reinstated a province-wide curfew that came into effect on New Year’s Eve to slow the rising cases.
On Jan. 2, the province updated the curfew mandate, allowing Quebecers to walk their dogs within a radius of no more than one kilometre from their permanent or temporary residence during the restricted hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
While Omicron is found to be more transmissible than previously identified COVID-19 variants, Canadian public health officials note that evidence demonstrates milder symptoms compared to previous variants with significantly lower rates of hospitalization and death.
While the Omicron variant is driving COVID-19 numbers to record highs around the world, countries that experienced its outbreak before Canada have so far had relatively fewer hospitalizations in relation to the number of cases.
Denmark, which detected its first Omicron case in late November 2021, reported 1,280 cases of the variant as of mid-December, representing between 4.5 percent to 5 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the country.
By Jan. 4, 2022, the Danish national infectious disease agency reported a total of 18 deaths from the 55,691 Omicron cases registered between Nov. 21 and Dec. 28, 2021.
On Jan. 3, Bloomberg reported a Danish senior health official saying that the surge of Omicron cases will peak by the end of January and the country will be “in a better place” by March.
This is echoed by Canadian public health officials. On Jan. 3, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Kieran Moore, said in a press conference that officials anticipate the hospitalization rate will increase rapidly over the coming weeks reaching “its maximum by the end of January and then start to descend.”
Ontario’s health authorities have introduced a flurry of new restrictions over the past month based on modelling from Public Health Ontario that suggests the Omicron variant could overwhelm the province’s health system.
The Canadian Press contributed to this article.