Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on February 25, 2021
February 25, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada
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.
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. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to maintain COVID-19 at manageable levels across the country.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 855,126 cases of COVID-19, including 21,807 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 well, the emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants is an additional cause for concern. As of February 24th, a total of 895 variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including over 854 B.1.1.7 variants, 40 B.1.351 variants and 1 P.1 variant.
Although it is normal for variants to emerge as viruses continuously evolve, some variants are considered "variants of concern" because they spread more easily, cause more severe illness, or current vaccines may be less effective against them. As cases and outbreaks associated with more contagious variants, in particular the B.1.1.7 variant, are continuing to increase in Canada, we need to maintain the strictest vigilance in our public health measures and individual practices. This will help to prevent rapidly spreading variants from taking hold and making the epidemic much more difficult to control. Likewise, over the coming weeks and months it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution and not ease restrictions too fast or too soon. 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.
Currently, there are 30,393 active cases across the country. The latest national-level data show a 7-day average of 2,992 new cases daily (Feb 18-24). Following the decrease in COVID-19 activity over many weeks, severe outcomes continue to decline as expected for these lagging indicators. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,329 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Feb 18-24), including 564 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 55 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.
While these surveillance data support that community-based measures are having an effect and that our collective effort is making a difference, it is crucial that strong measures are kept in place in order to maintain a steady downward trend. With still elevated daily case counts, the risk remains that trends could reverse quickly, particularly in areas of the country where more contagious virus variants are spreading or where increased, unchanged or only modest declines in COVID-19 disease activity are being reported. Ongoing community transmission, particularly where infection rates are high or more contagious variants are spreading, presents a persistent risk for new infections and introductions into high-risk populations. Settings including health and long-term care settings, congregate living settings such as correctional facilities and shelters, and other close-living settings, can further amplify spread if virus introduction sparks an outbreak. In addition, some populations in these settings may be at higher risk of more severe disease or outcomes. This underscores the importance of reducing infection rates across the community to help prevent disease introductions that lead to outbreaks in closed and high-risk settings. Accordingly, several provinces have seen a decreased number and smaller size of outbreaks across a range of settings as community infection rates fell.
A range of public health measures are already in place across Canada as we continue our collective effort to interrupt the spread of the virus, including limiting the spread of more contagious variants, while we buy critical time for vaccine programs to ramp up. While we continue to make progress, 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 with people from outside your immediate household indoors and also outdoors where physical distancing is difficult to maintain). Aiming to have the fewest interactions with the fewest number of people, for the shortest time, at the greatest distance possible is a simple rule that we can all apply to help limit the spread of COVID-19, while 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.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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