(CNN)Canada's largest province declared Monday it was at the beginning of a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, pointing to evidence of increasing case counts, hospitalizations and the spread of variants.
Canada's largest province says it's in the third wave -- and officials worry the vaccine rollout may not happen fast enough
"We're in the third wave. The numbers are slowly going up, they're not going as fast as predicted by the modelers," said Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer for Ontario. He added, "We're now starting to see impacts on our hospital rates, our ICU admissions are up again, our hospital admissions are up again."
It was sobering news for a province where the majority of residents have been in some state of lockdown since late last year.
Canadian public health officials also warned that the vaccine rollout would not occur quickly enough to halt what could be a potentially devastating third wave in other areas of the country, further stressing hospital capacity.
"COVID-19 activity has leveled off at a high level since mid-February and average daily case counts are now on the rise," said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, on Monday.
"While vaccine programs accelerate, it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly with enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect variants of concern," she said in a statement.
Canada has reported over 938,000 presumed or confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and has recorded more than 22,000 deaths.
Public health officials have been warning for weeks that Canada risked a third wave fueled by the variants that are more transmissible and, in some cases, can lead to more severe disease.
Last month, as the country was facing a severe vaccine shortage, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned that a third wave was a possibility.
"We have to keep taking strong public health measures," Trudeau said during a Covid-19 update in February, because "otherwise we could see a third wave that is even worse than the second or the first, and I know that's not the news you want to hear."
On Monday he said vaccine shipments would continue to ramp up and Canada is expected to receive as many as 2 million doses this week, the most it's received in a single week since approving four vaccine candidates for emergency use.
But officials across the country are now faced with the possibility that the vaccines will not be distributed in time to avoid a significant number of hospitalizations and deaths.
Also on Monday, the province of Alberta said it would postpone re-openings as it too saw a rise in hospitalizations due to Covid-19.
"Half of those who are in a hospital bed for COVID are under the age of 65 and almost 90% of those in an ICU for Covid are under 65. Most of them wouldn't be there if they had been vaccinated at this time," Tyler Shandro, Alberta's health minister said during a Covid-19 update Monday.
While the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K., is fueling an increase in cases in Alberta, the health minister also blamed the federal government for not securing enough vaccine doses in time to vaccinate the many people who still at risk of severe outcomes.
Canada received a boost from the Biden administration last week when the two countries struck a deal that will see the US release 1.5 million of its AstraZeneca doses to Canada in the coming days. The US is stockpiling the AstraZeneca vaccine until it receives FDA approval which is not likely until at least next month.