Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on COVID-19, December 18, 2020


There have been 488,638 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, including 13,916 deaths. There are 76,310 active cases across the country. The national average case count is now over 6,650 cases reported daily over the last 7 days. With ongoing high rates of infection in many areas of the country, the number of people experiencing severe illness continues to increase. Over the past week there have been on average almost 4,000 individuals with COVID-19 being treated in Canadian hospitals, including 650 in critical care, and 115 deaths reported each day.

National data released this week on opioid and stimulant-related harms is a tragic reminder of the broader impacts of this pandemic, including the worsening of the ongoing overdose crisis. From April to June, there were 1,628 opioid toxicity deaths in Canada, which is the highest number recorded in a single quarter since national surveillance began in 2016. Now more than ever, we must work together to curb this devastating trend, never forgetting that each and every opioid toxicity death represents a life cut short and a person whose loss is grieved by family, friends and community.

The overdose crisis, and substance use more broadly, is a highly complex health and social issue. We know, however, that there are interventions that can and do save lives. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were seeing early signs that opioid toxicity deaths were declining in parts of the country. Sadly, as the latest data show, we are now seeing a loss in these hard fought gains, as COVID-19 and associated public health measures have impacted the toxic illegal drug supply as well as the accessibility of substance use supports.

We can do more to save lives – both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond – and must redouble our collective efforts to expand the availability of evidence-based harm reduction services - like supervised consumption sites and take home naloxone programs - and of treatment options, including safer, pharmaceutical alternatives to the toxic illegal drug supply. For anyone experiencing issues with substance use, know that there are options available to help and The Wellness Together Canada online portal is a place to start that includes free of charge supports. By showing compassion towards people who are struggling and knowing what to do if you witness an overdose, every Canadian can help save lives. Visit to learn more.

At this time, it is also crucial for us to continue with individual efforts to protect our families, friends and communities against COVID-19: stay home if you have symptoms, practise physical distancing and frequent handwashing, wear a face mask in indoor public places, and avoid the 3Cs, crowded places, closed spaces and close contact situations, whenever you can. As we face down these two public health crises it is crucial that we focus on saving every life we can.

Read my backgrounder to access more COVID-19 Information and Resources on ways to reduce the risks and protect yourself and others.

Read the joint statement I, along with Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, issued as co-chairs of the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses for more information about the latest national data on the overdose crisis.

Learn more about targeted actions to help people who use substances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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