Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on May 3, 2021

OTTAWA, ON, May 3, 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.

Last fall, my annual Chief Public Health Officer report highlighted that health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have disproportionately impacted seniors, essential workers, racialized populations, and people living in crowded housing. These inequalities are not only persistent, but appear to be growing. Canadian Blood Services, supported by PHAC through the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, has tested antibodies in donor blood specimens from nine provinces throughout the pandemic to estimate how many healthy donors have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The latest report shows us that by January 2021, residents in poorer neighbourhoods were nearly 3.5 times more likely to have been exposed to the virus, compared to residents of more affluent neighbourhoods across Canada. Donors aged 17-24 years continue to show higher rates of SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence than older adults and by January 2021, blood donors from non-white or racialized groups were twice as likely to have antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 than blood donors who identified themselves as white.

Seroprevalence in January 2021 was low among blood donors, even as case numbers were rising across Canada. While blood donors are not a perfect representation of the Canadian population, serosurveillance provides important insight into the effects of the pandemic on Canadians. As vaccines continue to roll out across the country, Canadian Blood Services will shift to an antibody test that allows us to distinguish donors who have experienced 'natural' infection, and those who have developed antibodies following vaccination against COVID-19. Continuing serosurveillance helps us understand how the pandemic has affected Canadians and their communities and who remains vulnerable.

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. Due to reduced reporting over the weekend, national seven-day averages may not have been updated in today's statement. These data are still being collected and analysed. I will provide the latest numbers during my remarks tomorrow.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,234,180 cases of COVID-19, including 83,744 active cases and 24,300 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.

Although COVID-19 activity remains elevated, with an increasing proportion of cases involving more contagious variants of concern, we are cautiously optimistic that our efforts and strengthened restrictions are beginning to have an impact. However, strong public health measures must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating and individual precautions are important everywhere. The latest national-level data show a 7-day average of 7,892 new cases daily (Apr 23-29), a 7% decrease compared to the previous seven days. For the week of April 18-24, there were on average of 127,111 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 6.6% were positive for COVID-19, a decrease from 7.4% the week prior.

Elevated infection rates continue to impact lagging COVID-19 severity indicators, particularly in areas with sustained high levels of disease activity. The rise in severe and critical illnesses continues to place a prolonged and heavy strain on the health system and healthcare workforce. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 4,382 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Apr 23-29) representing a 5% increase over last week. This includes, on average 1,421 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), which is 12% higher than the previous week. The mortality trend is also still on the rise, with the 7-day average of 50 deaths reported daily.

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. In addition, circulation of COVID-19 in younger, more mobile and socially-connected adults is an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations and settings. 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 this variant spreads more quickly and has been associated with increased severity, and as vaccines may be less effective against other variants, such as P.1 variant and B.1.351 variant, it is even more important to remain vigilant with measures to suppress spread.

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 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). As vaccine eligibility expands, Canadians are urged to get vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them.

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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