Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on May 26, 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 26, 2021 /CNW/ - 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.

EnCORE, an ongoing study in Montréal, supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada through the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, has provided some new evidence about the extent of SARS-CoV-2 spread among children and adolescents. Looking at 2- to 17- year-olds attending school and daycare in four neighbourhoods, researchers found that the proportion of children with antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in their blood increased from 3.3% of those tested in October-November 2020 to 8.9% of those tested in February-April 2021, during the third wave.

As we have seen, some communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The EnCORE study showed higher seroprevalence (presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2) among children living in Montréal neighbourhoods with lower household incomes and a larger proportion of racialized residents. Encouragingly, most of the parents surveyed in this study, about 86%, said that they were likely to have their child vaccinated against COVID-19 once it became available to them.

Vaccines are critical in Canada's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensuring a high level of vaccination coverage will allow us to return to the activities and social interactions we miss so much. Everyone who is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is encouraged to do so, as soon as this becomes possible. Although many of our usual routines and schedules – from school to sports and holiday plans – have been disrupted by the pandemic, ensuring children are up to date on all recommended childhood vaccinations is crucial for preventing serious and potentially life-threatening infectious diseases into the future.

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 1,365,516 cases of COVID-19 and 25,324 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 at an accelerated pace, 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 47,866 active cases, 47% fewer compared to 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 3,911 cases reported daily during the latest 7 day period (May 19-25), a decrease of 29% compared to the week prior, infection rates remain high in many areas of the country. 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 seeing some decline in these trends, persistently high numbers of severe and critical illnesses are placing a prolonged and heavy strain on the health system and healthcare workforce. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 3,016 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (May 19-25), which is 16% fewer than last week. This includes, on average 1,195 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 10% fewer than last week. Although the mortality trend has leveled off, with a 7-day average of 44 deaths reported daily (May 19-25), continued high rates of infection and high numbers of hospitalisations and critical care admissions could continue to impact this trend.

We are continuing to monitor and assess genetic variants of the virus and their impacts in the Canadian context. Overall, variants of concern (VOCs) represent the majority of recently reported COVID-19 cases across the country. While all four VOCs (B.1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1 and B.1.617) have been detected in most provinces and territories, the B.1.1.7 variant continues to account for the majority of genetically sequenced VOCs in Canada. The most recently designated VOC, B.1.617, has been identified across all provinces and one territory, as of May 25, 2021. There are three sub-lineages that are being studied, which may have different properties. Early data from the United Kingdom indicate that the protection offered by two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccines were generally similar for the B.1.617.2 sub-lineage and for the B.1.1.7 variant. In addition, data from the United Kingdom suggests that the B.1.617.2 variant may be more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 variant. B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.3 sub-lineages are less well understood but carry mutations that are similar to mutations observed on P.1 and B.1.351. These mutations occur in an area that may have an impact on vaccine effectiveness but there is limited data available to the extent of the impact, if any. While all VOCs continue to be assessed to characterize their impact in the Canadian context, we know that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures, are working to reduce spread of SARS-CoV-2.

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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