Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on July 14, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and anxiety for many Canadians, particularly those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada online portal, people of all ages across the country can access immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

OTTAWA, ON, July 14, 2021 /CNW/ - One of my priorities as Canada's Chief Public Health Officer is to examine and work to reduce health inequities. Never has this need been more evident and urgent than now, well over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), through the Pan-Canadian Health Inequalities Reporting (HIR) Initiative, undertook an equity analysis of death rates from January to August 2020. The aim was to find out if social and economic factors were linked to higher rates of death from COVID-19. HIR Initiative partners, including the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network, Statistics Canada, and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, supported these analyses.

The report found significantly higher COVID-19 death rates among those with lower incomes. It also found that those living in large cities and apartment buildings were more likely to die from COVID-19, as were those living in neighbourhoods with higher proportions of residents who recently immigrated to Canada or were born outside of the country, are visible minorities, or speak neither English nor French.

These findings are critical to understanding which communities and groups experience disproportionate severe outcomes from COVID-19. However, more research on inequities faced by people living in different situations, as well as across subsequent waves of the pandemic, is needed if we are to understand how to address them.

My 2020 Annual Report examined why some groups face a greater risk of contracting COVID–19 and of experiencing the negative social and economic impacts of the pandemic. PHAC, colleagues in public health at all levels, and partner sectors across Canada will continue to work to better understand inequities in these wider consequences of COVID-19.

While the pandemic has affected everyone, it has not affected everyone in the same way. Canada's pandemic response must be fair and accessible to all, including working with communities to facilitate vaccination among those most at-risk of harms and severe outcomes from COVID-19, and making sure that everyone in Canada has opportunities to access the living, working, and healthcare conditions necessary for good health during this pandemic and beyond. The HIR Initiative report is an important contribution. I will continue using my role as Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to advocate for health equity, including through my upcoming Annual Report, this fall.

As COVID-19 activity continues in Canada, we are continuing to track key epidemiological indicators to monitor trends and quickly detect emerging issues of concern, including to better understand the impact of circulating virus variants. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is also providing regular updates on COVID-19 vaccines administered, vaccination coverage and ongoing monitoring of vaccine safety across the country. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,421,447 cases of COVID-19 and 26,450 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. Variants of concern (VOCs) represent the majority of recently reported COVID-19 cases, including four VOCs (B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), and B.1.617.2 (Delta)) that have been detected in most provinces and territories. While the Alpha variant still accounts for the majority new cases nationally, the Delta variant has increased and now accounts for the majority of new COVID-19 cases in some areas, such as in Ontario. As all viruses change over time, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, new and emerging variants are expected. PHAC, in collaboration provincial and territorial partners and CanCOGeN, monitor for these changes by sequencing a percentage of all COVID-19 viruses from positive cases. While this percentage has varied over time, since mid-May, over 70% of all positive cases have been sequenced. Regardless of which viruses are predominating in an area, we know that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures, continue to work to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

While the latest national-level data show a continued decline in disease activity with an average of 442 cases reported daily during the latest 7 day period (July 7-13), the rate of decrease is slowing. As public health restrictions are eased, some increase in cases, particularly among unvaccinated populations, is not unexpected. The latest provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 674 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (July 7-13), which is 14% fewer than last week. This includes, on average 323 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 18% fewer than last week and an average of 8 deaths were reported daily (July 7-13).

Administration of first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines is continuing across the country and there is optimism that widespread, stronger and longer lasting immunity can be achieved by fully vaccinating a high proportion of Canadians. For more information regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination, I encourage Canadians to reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as Canada.ca and Immunize.ca.

Canadians can access information on Canada.ca to understand the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19, find guidance on life after vaccination and utilise free interactive risk assessment tools to aid in informed decision-making and understanding COVID-wise precautions to lower the risks in different settings. However, as jurisdictions begin to ease restrictions, risks and circumstances are not the same everywhere and following local public health advice continues to be important, regardless of your vaccination status. While COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada and internationally, core public health measures and individual protective practices can help us to reduce the spread: stay home/self-isolate if you have symptoms; be aware of risks associated with different settings; avoid all non-essential travel; and maintain individual protective practices such as physical distancing and wearing a well-fitted and properly worn face mask, as appropriate.

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. 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.

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada

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