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‘Threat of uncontrolled epidemic growth is significantly elevated’ – Tam

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer issued the following statement Saturday:

The latest longer-range forecast models that account for transmission dynamics of both non-variant COVID-19 and new variants of concern predict that current community-based public health measures will be insufficient to control rapid growth and resurgence is forecast, unless a combination of enhanced public health measures and strict adherence to individual precautions are implemented and sustained. With increasing circulation of highly contagious variants, the threat of uncontrolled epidemic growth is significantly elevated. This is why measures must be stronger, stricter and sustained long enough to suppress rapid epidemic growth of variants of concern.

As COVID-19 activity continues in Canada, we are tracking a range of epidemiological indicators to monitor where the disease is most active, where it is spreading and how it is impacting the health of Canadians and public health, laboratory and healthcare capacity. At the same time, the Public Health Agency of Canada is providing Canadians with regular updates on COVID-19 vaccines administeredvaccination coverage and ongoing monitoring of vaccine safety across the country. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to reduce infection rates, while vaccination programs expand for the protection of all Canadians.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 956,655 cases of COVID-19, including 22,826 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. They also tell us, together with results of serological studies, that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. As vaccine delivery ramps up at an accelerated pace, there is cause for optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. We now have multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with unique advantages that are authorised for use in Canada. Vaccine coverage is increasing across Canada, with benefits being seen in prioritized high-risk populations. Ramp up of vaccine supply and acceleration of vaccination programs will return further benefits to protect more Canadians, over the coming weeks and months.

However, with COVID-19 activity increasing and a high proportion of cases involving more contagious variants of concern, strong public health measures and individual precautions must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating. Average daily case counts are rising nationally, driven by areas with high infection rates in Canada’s most populous provinces. The latest national-level data show a 7-day average of 4,057 new cases daily (Mar 19-25). Currently, there are 40,360 active cases across the country. Sustained high infection rates are also impacting lagging indicators of COVID-19 severity, which are levelling off or increasing, particularly in areas with elevated disease activity. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,194 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Mar 19-25), including 605 who were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 29 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.

While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those aged 20-39 years of age. Although severe illness is less common among young adults, it is important to remember that serious illness can occur at any age and evidence indicates that the B.1.1.7 variant of concern is associated with more severe illness outcomes in adults. In addition, circulation of COVID-19 in younger, more mobile and socially connected adults presents an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations and settings. The emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants heightens this concern. For the week of March 14-20, there were on average of 101,165 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 3.7% were positive for COVID-19. As of March 25, a total of 7,104 cases of variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including 6,611 involving B.1.1.7 variants, 257 B.1.351 variants and 236 P.1 variants.

Amid the concerning trends of increasing disease activity, shifting severity trends, and a rising proportion of cases involving variants of concern, a high degree of caution must be maintained, while vaccination programs continue to accelerate. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly,informed by an assessment of key indicators and local circumstances, and accompanied by enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect and respond to variants of concern quickly. In particular, there must be sufficient contact tracing capacity and supports for effective isolation, given increased transmissibility of variants of concern.

Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer: stay home/self-isolate if you have any symptomsthink about the risks and reduce non-essential activities and outings to a minimum, avoid all non-essential travel, and maintain individual protective practices of physical distancinghand, cough and surface hygiene and wearing a well-fitted and properly worn face mask as appropriate (including in shared spaces, indoors or outdoors, with people from outside of your immediate household).

Aiming to have the fewest interactions with the fewest number of people, for the shortest time, at the greatest distance possible, while wearing the best-fitting mask is a simple rule that we can all apply to help limit the spread of COVID-19, as vaccine programs expand to protect all Canadians.

Canadians can also go the extra mile by sharing credible information on COVID-19 risks and prevention practices and measures to reduce COVID-19 in communities and by downloading the COVID Alert app to break the cycle of infection and help limit the spread of COVID-19. Read my backgrounder to access more COVID-19 Information and Resources on ways to reduce the risks and protect yourself and others, including information on COVID-19 vaccination.

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