Daily Update from Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Medical Officer of Health

Dr. Theresa Tam
Dr. Theresa Tam

OTTAWA – While most people with COVID-19 recover completely within a few weeks, some experience symptoms that persist or recur for weeks or months after their initial acute illness. The range of symptoms being reported is broad, can vary from mild to more severe effects, and can affect both young and older individuals regardless of the severity of their COVID-19 symptoms in the acute stage. These prolonged or recurring symptoms, commonly referred to as Long COVID, are recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “post COVID-19 condition”.

Knowledge of post COVID-19 condition is still emerging and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is working to better understand the condition and to determine its prevalence and duration, as well as the range and frequency of symptoms involved. Initial findings from a living systematic review led by PHAC on post COVID-19 conditions indicate that most laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients continued to experience one or more symptoms within 4-12 weeks (83%) and beyond 12 weeks (56%) after diagnosis. Over 100 symptoms, sequelae or difficulties in conducting usual activities were identified in individuals four or more weeks after a COVID-19 diagnosis. The most prevalent symptoms in both the short term (4-12 weeks after COVID-19 diagnosis) and the long term (more than 12 weeks after diagnosis) periods included: fatigue, general pain or discomfort, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath and anxiety or depression. Although a substantial proportion of individuals reported a variety of symptoms occurring four or more weeks after COVID-19 diagnosis, due to low certainty in the evidence, further research is needed to determine the true burden of post COVID-19 condition.

PHAC is also currently leading work on systematic reviews looking at risk factors and potential effective measures to prevent the condition. On May 13, 2021, PHAC, in collaboration with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), held a one day virtual expert panel or “Best Brains Exchange” on post COVID-19 condition, which brought senior policy makers together with researchers, implementation experts, and people experiencing post COVID-19 condition. The objectives were to better understand the condition and lived experiences, identify evidence gaps and gather evidence to help inform public health action. PHAC is also working with provincial and territorial health ministries in Canada as well as other international organisations and ministries of health to share and exchange information on post COVID-19 condition research and activities to support people across Canada who are experiencing longer term effects of COVID-19.

As COVID-19 activity declines in Canada, we are continuing to track key epidemiological indicators to monitor trends and quickly detect emerging issues of concern, including to better understand the impact of circulating virus variants. The Public Health Agency of Canada is also providing 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.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,418,080 cases of COVID-19 and 26,381 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. Variants of concern (VOCs)represent the majority of recently reported COVID-19 cases across the country. While the Alpha variant continues to account for the majority of genetically sequenced variants in some areas of Canada, four VOCs (B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), and B.1.617.2 (Delta)) have been detected in most provinces and territories. The Delta variant continues to increase and now accounts for the majority of current COVID-19 cases in other areas, such as in Ontario. Nevertheless, we know that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures, are working to reduce spread of COVID-19.

The latest national-level data show a continued downward trend in disease activity with an average of 466 cases reported daily during the latest 7 day period (June 30-July 6), down 27% compared to the week prior. Likewise, the overall number of people experiencing severe and critical illness continues to decline. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 777 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (June 30-July 6), which is 19% fewer than last week. This includes, on average 392 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 17% fewer than last week and an average of 15 deaths reported daily (June 30-July 6).

With the ongoing expansion of vaccine eligibility, the administration of first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines is continuing across the country and there is increasing optimism that widespread, stronger and longer lasting immunity can be achieved by fully vaccinating a high proportion of Canadians. 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.

Canadians can access information on Canada.ca to understand the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19, find guidance on life after vaccination and utilise free interactive risk assessment tools to aid in informed decision-making. These resources aim to assist Canadians with informed decision making and understanding of COVID-wise precautions that lower COVID-19 risks according to personal and family health and vaccinations status, as well as different risk settings and activities. However, as jurisdictions begin to ease restrictions, risks and circumstances are not the same everywhere and following local public health advice continues to be important, regardless of your vaccination status.

While COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada and internationally, core public health measures and individual protective practices can help us to reduce the spread: stay home/self-isolate if you have symptoms; be aware of risks associated with different settings; avoid all non-essential travel; and maintain individual protective practices such as physical distancing and wearing a well-fitted and properly worn face mask, as appropriate.

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. 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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