Quebec announced Wednesday it is tracking COVID-19 rapid test results, as Saskatchewan said it will consider dropping restrictions as society learns to live with the virus.

Quebec is believed to be the first province or territory to track rapid test results.

The province's health minister, Christian Dube, said an online portal will help gauge community transmission because lab tests remain limited, as it does in most jurisdictions across the country.

Dube said it will also aid in preparing Quebecers for routine in this wave of the pandemic and beyond.

“We're heading toward a world where we'll have to live with the pandemic,” he said. “We'll have to test ourselves regularly.”

However, experts are questioning whether the app will prove useful and said there will be limits to the accuracy of the data.

The Omicron variant continues to fuel a fifth wave of COVID-19, but some provinces are relaxing public health rules or considering what remains necessary.

Saskatchewan's top doctor said the province is considering a lift of COVID-19 safety measures despite near-record hospitalizations.

Premier Scott Moe told a local radio show that some restrictions have likely run their course, such as proof of vaccination requirements and restricted youth activities. He said the goal is to remove all measures when possible.

“I think we're getting to a point where those that are not vaccinated are likely not going to get vaccinated,” Moe said about vaccine passports.

“We're going to be living with COVID for some period of time now.”

Saskatchewan confirmed seven cases of a new COVID-19 variant called BA.2. The province's top doctor Saqib Shahab said the implications of the new mutation are unknown, but it doesn't appear to be much of a concern at this time.

Three cases of BA.2 have so far been detected in Alberta.

Medical experts consider BA.2 stealthier than Omicron because it is harder to detect, but little is currently known about it. The Public Health Agency of Canada said 51 cases have been detected so far, most from international travellers.

Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario plan to soften some of their COVID-19 restrictions next week, with in-person dining to resume in all provinces. Gyms and cinemas will also open their doors in Ontario come Monday, as well as fitness facilities and schools in P.E.I.

There are signs that P.E.I. has hit its peak of the fifth wave. Premier Dennis King said the province has avoided many dire impacts of COVID-19, but the last five weeks hit hard.

“The road we have to travel won't be easy, but we have to begin to make it,” said King.

In New Brunswick, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said most emergency room patients could be treated outside hospitals.

Beginning Monday, paramedics responding to 911 calls are to determine if patients should be taken to hospital or treated elsewhere to help alleviate strain on emergency departments.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said on social media that severe illness trends are still rising in most jurisdictions and hospitalization rates are increasing across all age groups.

“The average daily case count is down by 30 per cent compared to last week,” said Tam. “However, targeted testing policies and reduced number of tests performed continue to underestimate the number of true infections.”

Nova Scotia said it's extending its COVID-19 restrictions until mid-February because hospitals and long-term care facilities are overloaded. Restrictions imposed in December will continue, including indoor and outdoor gathering limits of 10 people.

The death toll in Newfoundland and Labrador rose to 34. Almost 45 per cent of the province's deaths have occurred in the last three and half weeks.

Alberta recorded its second-highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations. The province said there were 1,418 people in hospital, one day after an overall record of 1,443.

Quebec reported a slight decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, while Ontario had a slim increase in hospitalizations but a drop in ICU patients.

Manitoba's chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the province might be nearing its peak of the current wave with intensive care admissions stabilizing and hospitalizations dropping slightly.

But Roussin added that wastewater samples used to track COVID-19 spread continue to fluctuate.

The province dropped its requirement to notify close contacts of positive cases at childcare centres, like the change it made recently at schools.

In Ontario, child-care operators and staff called on the government to make daycares safer. They want eligibility for PCR testing immediately reinstated for children, families and staff.

British Columbia made a move to support staff in government-funded child-care sites, announcing access to rapid tests will be provided by the province. Up to 250,000 tests are expected to be sent to child-care facilities for employees with symptoms.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022.