Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on May 20, 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, May 20, 2021 /CNW/ - As vaccine programs continue to expand, many of us are achieving priming protection from our first dose of COVID-19 vaccine this spring and summer, to be followed by our second – immunity boosting dose – that will maximise protection. During this time, as immunity builds up across the population, it is still important to continue following local public health advice, including when and where to maintain essential precautions, such as masking and spacing and observing gathering restrictions. This will help us stay healthy, while allowing us to safely enjoy more activities and small reunions outdoors. Maintaining a cautious approach now, will set up us up for a better summer and fall. Continued efforts are needed to reduce infection rates to low, manageable levels, ease pressure on the health system and re-establish public health capacity that will put us in a better position to prevent a fall resurgence.

COVID-19 resurgences have followed social gatherings during past holidays and long weekends. This long weekend is not the time to let our guard down, but to stick to essential precautions and safer activities that will protect the progress we've made. Continued efforts will allow us to stay on the good trajectory we're on, cautiously making our way down the side of the third wave as vaccinations continue to ramp up. Spending time outdoors and choosing lower risk activities and settings helps to support your physical, social and mental health needs, while keeping you and your community safer, while COVID-19 is still circulating. Going for a walk at your local park or nearby favourite hiking trail, visiting an outdoor farmers market, or going to a drive in movie theatre with your immediate household members are a few ways to enjoy this long weekend safely. I encourage people across Canada to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather!

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 administered, vaccination 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 1,342,288 cases of COVID-19, including 61,608 active cases and 25,066 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 a large majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. Multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, with unique advantages, are authorised for use in Canada. As vaccine delivery continues to ramp up, there is increasing optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. Benefits are being seen among groups targeted for priority vaccination and as vaccine coverage increases across Canada, we can expect further benefits to protect more Canadians over the coming weeks and months.

We are making steady progress, with a 31% decrease in reported active cases since the peak of the third wave in mid-April. However, as COVID-19 activity remains elevated in many jurisdictions, strong public health measures must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating and individual precautions are important everywhere to drive infection rates down to low and manageable levels, while getting our vaccination rates as high as possible. While the latest national-level data show continued declines in disease activity with an average of 5,227 cases reported daily during the latest 7 day period (May 13-19), a decrease of 25% compared to the week prior, daily case counts remain very high. Until vaccine coverage is sufficiently high to impact disease transmission more broadly in the community, we must maintain a high degree of caution with public health and individual measures and not ease restrictions too soon or too quickly where infection rates are high.

Elevated infection rates continue to impact lagging COVID-19 severity indicators, particularly in areas with sustained high levels of disease activity. Although we are beginning see some decline in these trends, persistently high numbers of severe and critical illnesses have placed a prolonged and heavy strain on the health system and healthcare workforce. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 3,533 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (May 7-13) representing a 10% decrease over last week. This includes, on average 1,327 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), which is 4% lower than the previous week. Although the mortality trend has recently leveled off, with a 7-day average of 43 deaths reported daily (May 7-13), continued high rates of infection and high numbers of hospitalisations and critical care admissions could continue to impact this trend.

While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those under 60 years of age. Serious illness can occur at any age and evidence indicates that variants of concern can be associated with more severe illness and increased risk of death. Variants of concern (VOCs) now represent a majority of COVID-19 cases in Canada, with the B.1.1.7 variant now reported in all provinces and territories and accounting for over 95% of VOCs sequenced to date. As the B.1.1.7 variant spreads more quickly and has been associated with increased severity, and as vaccines may be less effective against other variants, such as the P.1 and B.1.351 variants, it is even more important to remain vigilant with all available measures to suppress spread. The most recently designated VOC, B.1.617, has been identified across all provinces and one territory, as of May 19, 2021. There are three sub-lineages that are being studied, which may have different properties. Early data from the U.K. indicate that the B.1.617.2 sub-lineage could be more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 variant, while laboratory data suggest that this sub-lineage will not significantly impact the effectiveness of vaccines. B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.3 sub-lineages are less well understood but may be less affected by vaccines, like P.1 and B.1.351. While the impact of the B.1.617 variant and sub-lineages are still being assessed to characterize their impact in the Canadian context, we know that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures work to reduce spread.

As vaccine eligibility expands, Canadians are urged to get vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them. However, regardless of our vaccination status, Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer, even as we're beginning to see the positive impacts of COVID-19 vaccines: stay home/self-isolate if you have any symptoms, think 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 distancing, hand, 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).

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. Working together, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Canada's Chief Medical Officers of Health and other health professionals across the country are closely monitoring vaccine safety, effectiveness and optimal use to adapt approaches. As the science and situation evolves, we are committed to providing clear and evidence-informed guidance in order to keep everyone in Canada safe and healthy.

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.

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada

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