March 24, 2021 – Update from Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Medical Officer of Health

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Dr. Theresa Tam
Dr. Theresa Tam

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, – COVID-19 Update – Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) commemorates World Tuberculosis (TB) Day to raise awareness about the health, social and economic consequences of this disease and to acknowledge the broader impact of COVID-19 for people with TB, including disruptions to essential TB services. This year’s theme is “The Clock is Ticking” – it serves to remind us that time is of the essence if we are to meet commitments to end TB globally. While overall rates of TB are low in Canada, the disease continues to disproportionately affect those who are at risk because they may live in close quarters, experience barriers to health care or have fewer material resources. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness about the health and social inequities that exist in Canada, and the need to address the social determinants of health that lead to health disparities. Despite the challenges facing us, Canadians have come together to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in new and innovative ways. Likewise, collaborative and cross-sectoral action centred on a health equity approach will help us reduce rates of TB in Canada, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to achieve their best health and well-being now and 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 safetyacross 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 942,320 cases of COVID-19, including 22,735 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 the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. As vaccine delivery ramps up at an accelerated pace, there is cause for optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. We now have multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with unique advantages that are authorised for use in Canada.

However, nationally, COVID-19 activity has levelled off at a high level since mid-February and average daily case counts are increasing. The latest national-level data show a seven-day average of 3,772 new cases daily (March 17 to 23). Currently, there are 36,310 active cases across the country. While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those aged 20 to 39 years of age. Although severe illness is less common among young adults, it is important to remember that serious illness can occur at any age. In addition, circulation of COVID-19 in younger, more mobile and socially-connected adults presents an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations and settings. The emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants heightens this concern. As of March 23, a total of 6,211 variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including 5,812 B.1.1.7 variants, 247 B.1.351 variants and 152 P.1 variants. Amid increasing case counts, shifting severity trends, and a rising proportion of cases involving variants of concern in heavily impacted areas of Canada we need to remain vigilant. Maintaining public health measures and individual precautions is crucial to reducing infection rates and avoiding further spread of new variants where accelerated epidemic growth can take off very quickly.

Nationally, declines in lagging indicators of COVID-19 severity are levelling off or increasing. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,146 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day period (March 17 to 23), including 591 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 31 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.

While vaccine programs accelerate, it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly with enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect variants of concern. In particular, there must be sufficient contact tracing capacity and supports for effective isolation, given increased transmissibility of variants of concern.

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).

Aiming to have the fewest interactions with the fewest number of people, for the shortest time, at the greatest distance possible, while wearing the best-fitting mask is a simple rule that we can all apply to help limit the spread of COVID-19, as 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