Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on COVID-19, January 22, 2021

Speech

There have been over 731,000 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, including 18,622 deaths and over 67,000 active cases across the country. Nationally, an average of 6,080 new cases have been reported daily over the past week. There continue to be high numbers of people experiencing severe illness. There are an average of over 4,650 individuals with COVID-19 being treated in Canadian hospitals, 870 of whom are in critical care, and on average 149 deaths are being reported each day. Canada continues to monitor for virus variants of concern; to date, the National Microbiology Laboratory reports 31 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom, and 3 cases of the B.1.351 variant that first identified in South Africa. From now on, we'll be referring to the scientific nomenclature of these variants.

As the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines proceeds across Canada, federal, provincial and territorial authorities are working closely together to monitor vaccine safety. As of January 15th, there have been 90 reports of adverse events following immunization; these include any health problem that occurs following immunization, but is not necessarily caused by the vaccine. 27 of these reports – about 1 in 22,000 doses distributed – were considered serious, such as a severe allergic reaction. All serious events undergo a detailed investigation. To date, no unexpected vaccine safety issues have been identified.

Although national daily case counts have been trending down over the past ten days, daily case counts are still elevated and regional fluctuations in disease and outbreak activity continue. This gives us hope that community-based control measures are starting to take effect, but it is still too soon to be sure that these measures are strong enough and broad enough to set us on a steady downward trend. Likewise, as severe outcomes will continue to lag behind increased disease activity, we can expect to see ongoing heavy impacts on our healthcare system and health workforce for weeks to come.

Recalling our trek down the curve of the first wave, we talked about the need for caution to avoid pitfalls that could stall or reverse our progress. This time, the way down is even more complicated, with much higher daily cases counts, more affected areas across the country, the emergence of new virus variants of concern, and stretched and exhausted healthcare capacity. On this even trickier path, we know with the same certainty as last time, that if we ease up too soon or too quickly, resurgence will be swift and strong.

Every day we are one step closer and better times are ahead. But there is no fast track. We must stick with public health measures and individual practices that we know are effective for controlling spread. Unless and until infection rates are low enough to allow public health authorities to test, trace and isolate effectively, easing of restrictions risks even stronger resurgence. This is why we must all continue to do our part to slow the spread: that means postponing vacation travel to a better time in the future; avoiding, shortening, or limiting outings and activities to just the essentials; and maintaining handwashing, masking, and spacing to limit opportunities for the virus to spread.

This is the tough part of the COVID-19 marathon, together it will be easier.

Read my backgrounder to access COVID-19 Information and Resources, including information on vaccination and ways to reduce your risk of infection and spreading the virus to others.

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