Statement from Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Medical Officer of Health

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Dr. Theresa Tam
Dr. Theresa Tam

OTTAWA, ON – COVID-19 UPDATE – 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. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to maintain COVID-19 at manageable levels across the country.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 840,586 cases of COVID-19, including 21,576 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. Though a number of health regions continue to experience high infection rates, it is important to remember that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. As well, the emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants is an additional cause for concern. Over the past week (Feb 7-13), there were on average of 101,072 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 3.1% were positive for COVID-19. As of February 18, all provinces have reported detections of variants of concern. Although it is normal for variants to emerge as viruses continuously evolve, some variants are considered “variants of concern” because they spread more easily, some may cause more severe illness, or current vaccines may be less effective against them. This is why we need to maintain the strictest vigilance in our public health measures and individual practices. This will help to prevent these variants from reaccelerating the epidemic and making it much more difficult to control.

As of February 18, there have been 704 variants of concern reported in Canada, including 664 B.1.1.7 variants, 39 B.1.351 variants, and 1 P.1 variant, first found in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, respectively. To date, five provinces are reporting evidence of community spread and outbreak activity associated with these faster spreading variants. Of note, Newfoundland and Labrador, recently reported a rapid escalation in new COVID-19 cases, after many months of strong control. Many of these new cases are suspected to be the B.1.1.7 variant of concern, which is known to spread rapidly. The Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) is working with provincial health authorities to increase their testing capacity. The NML has activated five of their six COVID-19 testing surge sites located in existing Government of Canada laboratories across the country. These surge laboratories will provide supplementary testing of up to 3,000 samples a day this week to enhance provincial testing capacity. NML is also sequencing positive samples looking for variants of concern. Increasing testing and sequencing will result in faster results to speed up contact tracing and public health interventions. PHAC will continue to be there to support provinces as they help Canadians and communities across this country get through this difficult time.

Nationally, routine surveillance data, continue to show a steady decline in COVID-19 activity overall. Currently, there are 32,241 active cases across the country. The latest national-level data show a continued downward trend in daily case counts, with a 7-day average of 2,905 new cases daily (Feb 12-18). Likewise, following the decrease in COVID-19 activity, severe outcomes continue to decline as expected for these lagging indicators. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,417 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Feb 12-18), including 570 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 59 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.

While these surveillance data support that community-based measures are having an effect and that our collective effort is making a difference, it is crucial that strong measures are kept in place in order to maintain a steady downward trend. With still elevated daily case counts, the risk remains that trends could reverse quickly, particularly in areas of the country where more contagious virus variants are spreading or where increased, unchanged or only modest declines in COVID-19 disease activity are being reported. Likewise, outbreaks in high-risk populations and communities, including hospitals and long term care homes, correctional facilities, congregate living settings, Indigenous communities, and more remote areas of the country remain a concern, particularly as outbreaks involving variants of concern have now been reported in a wide range of settings in Canada. The latest longer-range forecasts models that accounts for transmission dynamics of both non-variant COVID-19 and new variants of concern forecasts a strong resurgence in Canada, unless a combination of enhanced public health measures and strict adherence to individual precautions is maintained. Likewise, over the coming weeks and months it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution and not ease restrictions too fast or too soon.

A range of public health measures and restrictions are already in place across Canada as we continue our collective effort to protect our progress and interrupt the spread of the virus, including limiting the spread of more contagious variants, while we buy critical time for vaccine programs to expand. Canadians are urged to remain vigilant and to continue following local public health advice as well as consistently maintaining 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 with people from outside your immediate household indoors and also outdoors where physical distancing is difficult to maintain). Aiming to have the fewest interactions with the fewest number of people, for the shortest time, at the greatest distance possible is a simple rule that we can all apply to help limit the spread of COVID-19, while 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.

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada