Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on COVID-19, February 23, 2021
There have been 849,517 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, including 21,723 deaths. Disease activity and severe outcomes continue to decline nationally and there are now just over 31,000 active cases across the country. Over the past week, on average, about 2,900 new cases and 54 deaths were reported daily. In our hospitals, under 2,400 people with COVID-19 were being treated each day, including about 530 in critical care. There are now over 849 variant of concern cases, including 809 B.1.1.7, 39 B.1.351 and 1 P.1 variants.
Overall we are still doing well, but things could change rapidly as we have seen recently in Newfoundland and Labrador, where highly contagious variants of concern took hold when public health measures were less stringent.
Provincial public health authorities, knew something was different when cases escalated over a matter of days, even before laboratory evidence confirmed the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant. There are also international examples – from the United Kingdom and Ireland – where an exponential trajectory occurred following the emergence and rapid predominance of the B.1.1.7 variant of concern. These areas had public health measures in place, but they proved insufficient to control the spread of a highly contagious variant.
Achieving the best-case scenario with highly transmissible variants in our midst requires us to continue being vigilant. 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.
As we head into the spring, vaccination efforts will continue to ramp up, bringing us closer to widespread and lasting control. Recently, we have seen some very encouraging early reports of high vaccine effectiveness among long term care home residents and health care workers in Canada. This gives us hope that those at highest risk of severe outcomes or exposure are benefiting from priority vaccination. Until vaccine access expands to protect all Canadians, our best means of control continues to be our collective effort to slow the spread through enhanced public health measures combined with individual prevention practices. Controlling COVID-19 may not be easy, but WE are stronger.
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.
Please note that the original version of these remarks stated the incorrect number of cases of variants of concern. This has since been updated.
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