Three different medical masks hang on a hook. We aren't leaving this pandemic behind anytime soon.
Three different medical masks hang on a hook. We aren't leaving this pandemic behind anytime soon. Credit: Isaac Quesada / Unsplash

The end of 2021 is nigh, but we can’t say the same for the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

More than 1.2 million Canadians contracted COVID-19 this year, claiming the lives of 14,000 people across the country.

As we look back on the last two years and consider the 30,000 Canadians lost to COVID-19, we can see that more than 90 per cent of deaths occurred among seniors aged 85 and older. We also learned that during the onset of the pandemic, 25 per cent of deaths in the first four months were linked to immigrants who landed in Canada between 1952 and 2018.

While race-based data isn’t available for every province, data from Toronto and Ottawa show that racialized individuals are 1.5 to five times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white people. Indigenous peoples living on reserve also faced disproportionate rates of infection, at 69 per cent higher than the general population.

More than 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in 2021 in Canada

Now, as booster shots are being administered to Canada’s most vulnerable, a fifth wave of COVID-19 is bringing both fear and uncertainty, as experts learn about Omicron’s increased transmissibility and questions remain about its severity and how resistant it is to vaccines (we know it has a higher breakthrough rate – but how much higher?).

The fifth wave is bringing the highest case numbers of the pandemic to provinces like Nova Scotia.

On a more hopeful note, health-care workers administered more than 63 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines this year, with over 31 million Canadians receiving their first dose.

On January 13, Canada reached a milestone of one per cent of residents receiving their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Now at year’s-end, more than 4 in 5 Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Children under the age of 12 didn’t become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines until this fall. As schools returned to in-person learning early in 2021, classrooms soon became the single largest daily gathering of unvaccinated people in the country.

A closer look at the numbers

The country was hit by a third wave to start the year, before a fourth wave compromised the integrity of a summer federal election that saw very little change in the country’s political sphere.

The pandemic election, which cost Canadians more than $600 million, was held during a federal state of emergency. Candidates on the campaign trail were subjected to anti-science rhetoric, facing verbal attacks and threats of violence that one candidate called “incredibly shocking and demotivating.”

Health experts and advocates alike spent the year pushing for paid sick days for Canadians. While B.C. introduced five paid sick days, Ontario voted against them for nearly the 30th time, as experts warned of a potential fifth wave alongside seasonal colds and flu.

The fourth wave was driven by the Delta variant, which has been found to result in 120 per cent greater risk of hospitalization, 287 per cent greater chance of intensive care admission, and 137 per cent greater risk of death. Branded a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” cases spiked in Alberta, B.C., Ontario, and Quebec, creating the need for a vaccination passport, or vaccine certificates. Now, every province has vaccination requirements, including any federally regulated workers.

The pandemic also tore through the territories this year, with Yukon making up Canada’s worst per-capita COVID-19 numbers late in November.

For people experiencing homelessness, pandemic lockdowns “homeless-proofed” cities, locking individuals out of supports and resources needed to get by.

One study, COVID-19 and Homelessness: Promoting Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery in Two Communities in Nova Scotia, found people experiencing homelessness experienced significant weight loss, as well as a deterioration in their mental health due to pandemic lockdowns. Other concerns included the challenge of limited food bank hours, one-meal-a-day shelter services, and a lack of safe drug and alcohol supply.

As COVID-19 spread across the country, the crisis facing healthcare workers reached a boiling point, as 60 per cent of Canadians nurses are expected to leave their careers within the next year. With staffing shortages stretching nurses thin across the country, many are working at minimum 12-hour shifts, and as much as 24 hours at a time.

Many questions still remain about the severity of “long-COVID” and how prolonged symptoms of COVID-19 could affect Canadians of all ages. Common symptoms include joint pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, and brain fog. In September, Ontario’s science advisory table announced as many as 78,000 people in the province were experiencing post-COVID-19 symptoms.

As we enter 2022 with record-high case numbers and no sign of relief, one thing is certain: how we approach this virus as a nation needs to change.

Image: Gilad Cohen

Stephen Wentzell

Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca‘s national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred...