Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday

A spike in health-care spending during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to some serious financial challenges for provinces as they work to rebuild their health systems in the aftermath, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

COVID-19 resulted in 'biggest increase in health spending' ever in Canada, report finds

A worker is seen last spring preparing a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the University of Toronto campus in Mississauga, Ont. A report from CIHI says Canada is expected to spend 'a new record of $308 billion on health care in 2021.' (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

The latest:

A spike in health-care spending during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to some serious financial challenges for provinces as they work to rebuild their health systems in the aftermath, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The spending surge is expected to reach a record $308 billion in 2021, say newly released projections from CIHI.

That is roughly $8,019 per Canadian.

"COVID-19 resulted in the single biggest increase in health spending we have ever seen in this country," CIHI president David O'Toole said in a news release.

Health spending is projected to have increased 12.8 per cent between 2019 and 2020. That's more than triple the average annual growth rate seen from 2015 to 2019, which was approximately four per cent per year.

Spending is estimated to have increased another 2.2 per cent between 2020 and 2021.

The agency said its estimates will be updated as final spending amounts are tabulated, and may be less accurate than normal given the nature of emergency funds spent during the pandemic.

Still, the numbers add up to a troubling future as Canada works to recover from the pandemic and get health systems back on their feet.

"We know that in times of fiscal restraint we have less to spend on health care, so there'll be some decisions in the future. It's obviously a finite pot of money," said Brent Diverty, vice-president of data strategies and statistics for CIHI.

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Historically, increases in health spending have been in step, or slightly greater, than increases in economic growth. When provinces hit hard times, they usually spend less on health care.

But in 2020, the spike in health spending to scale up system capacity, testing and other pandemic responses was paired with a serious contraction in the economic health of the country. The GDP dropped 4.6 per cent that year, according to the latest federal budget.

Health-care backlogs

Now, as the fourth wave of the pandemic ebbs and health systems turn to the surgical and primary care backlogs left in its wake, they'll have to figure out how to handle the extra load while carrying mounting health-spending deficits.

There may be other pandemic developments, however, like the rise in virtual care, that could offset some of the costs moving forward.

Some innovations are "in fact making the system more sustainable or affordable," Diverty said.

Even before the pandemic, health spending had been rising steadily for decades.

-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:55 a.m. ET

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What's happening around the world

People wait to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe reported spiraling coronavirus cases Thursday, with several hitting new daily records in the regions that have lower vaccination rates than the rest of the continent. (Darko Bandic/The Associated Press)

As of Thursday evening, more than 248.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus case tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than five million.

In Europe, top officials at the World Health Organization said Thursday that the continent has seen a more than 50 per cent jump in coronavirus cases in the last month, making it the epicentre of the pandemic despite an ample supply of vaccines.

"There may be plenty of vaccine available, but uptake of vaccine has not been equal," WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said during a news briefing on Thursday.

He called for European authorities to "close the gap" in vaccinations. However, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries that have immunized more than 40 per cent of their populations should stop and instead donate their doses to developing countries that have yet to offer their citizens a first dose.

"No more boosters should be administered except to immuno-compromised people," Tedros said.

Health workers conduct COVID-19 tests on travellers at the exit of Yantai Railway Station in China's eastern Shandong province. (AFP/Getty Images)

Canada is among the countries that have started to offer third doses and boosters to at-risk populations, such as the immuno-compromised, older and Indigenous people. 

The director of WHO's 53-country Europe region, Dr. Hans Kluge said the countries in the region were at "varying stages of vaccination rollout" and that regionwide an average of 47 per cent of people were fully vaccinated. Only eight countries had 70 per cent of their populations fully vaccinated.

The increase in Europe's COVID-19 marks the fifth consecutive week cases have risen across the continent, making it the only world region where COVID-19 is still increasing. The infection rate was by far the highest in Europe, which reported some 192 new cases per 100,000 people.

"We are clearly in another wave," Sweden's chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said Thursday. "The increased spread is entirely concentrated in Europe."

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea opened quarantine centres to house potentially thousands of teenagers with COVID-19 ahead of the country's grueling eight-hour college entrance exam in two weeks.

China is on high alert at its ports of entry as strict policies on travel in and out of the country are enforced to reduce COVID-19 risks amid a fresh outbreak, less than 100 days out from the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa reported 344 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 29 additional deaths, bringing the number of reported deaths in the country to 89,220.

In the Middle East, Bahrain has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for children aged between five and 11 years.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 9:30  p.m. ET

With files from Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News

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