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Asking COVID-positive health workers to stay on the job sign of desperation: expert

Cases are surging across the country
People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site in Montreal, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. Ontario and Quebec are both reporting new COVID-19 case records today as Canadian provinces explore changing their isolation rules to keep health systems afloat amid an unprecedented wave of infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Asking COVID-19-positive health-care workers to stay on the job is not ideal, but it shows the desperation provinces are facing as infections continue to soar, a prominent infectious disease expert said Wednesday.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said Tuesday the province would have “no choice” but to allow some health-care staff to continue working despite testing positive or being exposed to the novel coronavirus. The new policy is necessary, he added, to keep the health-care system operational.

Manitoba and Ontario have said they were considering similar measures to avoid overwhelming their own health systems.

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Centre, said the decision shows the Quebec government is in “crisis mode,” adding that all Canadian provinces will likely be facing similar choices in the coming days, as the number of people in hospital rises while the pool of workers available to treat them shrinks.

“We are in a fixed, limited number of health-care workers in every province because there’s no reservoir or pool of health-care workers that we can sort of depend on to bail us out here,” he said in an interview.

“We have to go back to our existing pool of health-care workers, which necessarily means this type of mandate where they go back to work when they’re COVID-positive.”

Dubé said calling a COVID-19-positive health-care worker back to work will be made case by case and only under specific circumstances.

Meanwhile, infections continued to surge across Canada on Wednesday, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant prompted several provinces to impose more restrictions.

Newfoundland and Labrador announced that schools would shift to remote learning after the holiday break, as the province reported another single-day record case count, with 312 new infections.

Ontario and Quebec also set new records, with the latter reporting more than 13,000 infections, 10 more deaths and a 102-person rise in COVID-19-related hospitalizations. Ontario reported 10,436 new COVID-19 infections and three deaths.

Health officials in Nunavut extended a “circuit-beaker” lockdown, saying Wednesday that a rise in COVID-19 infections was pushing the territory’s health-care system to a breaking point.

READ MORE: Several provinces considering allowing COVID positive health workers to stay on job

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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