Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on March 1, 2021
March 1, 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.
COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll-out in priority vaccination programs across Canada and last week Health Canada authorized two more safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for use in Canada. The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in partnership with Oxford University, and the Serum Institute of India’s version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, are the third and fourth COVID-19 vaccines and the first viral vector-based vaccines authorised for use in Canada. Today Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is updating its recommendations on the use of COVID-19 vaccines to include recommendations on the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for optimal public health benefit. Although measures of efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 cannot be directly compared across different COVID-19 vaccines, it is important to stress that all COVID-19 vaccines authorized by Health Canada, regardless of differences in efficacy against symptomatic disease, will contribute to reducing severe COVID-19 illness and death in Canada. The authorization of additional vaccines provides further tools to fight this pandemic as quickly as possible, and will provide more supply to the market. In addition, different vaccines have different advantages. NACI is assessing the time period between the first and second doses of authorized COVID-19 vaccines to allow as many people as possible to be vaccinated while not compromising effectiveness. NACI is considering evidence from recent scientific studies and will provide their recommendations this week. The science of COVID-19 vaccination continues to evolve and expert advice is being adapted accordingly to maximize the benefits of authorized vaccines to protect the health of Canadians.
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. Due to reduced reporting over the weekend, national seven-day averages have not been updated in today’s statement. These data are still being collected and analysed. I will provide the latest numbers during my remarks tomorrow.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 866,503 cases of COVID-19, including 21,994 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.
Although COVID-19 activity had been declining nationally from mid-January through mid-February, daily case counts have since levelled off and are now showing a moderate increase. As well, the emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants is an additional cause for concern. The number of cases involving the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of concern continues to increase, with the highest numbers to date being reported from Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, respectively. As of February 28th, a total of 1,254 variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including 1,152 B.1.1.7 variants, 99 B.1.351 variants and 3 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 30,731 active cases across the country. The latest national-level data show a 7-day average of 2,960 new cases daily (Feb 19-25). 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 2,269 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Feb 19-25), including 564 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 52 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.
Surveillance data support that combined community-based measures and collective efforts of Canadians can slow the spread of COVID-19. However, recent increases in COVID-19 disease activity across several jurisdictions are a reminder that that strong measures must be kept in place in order to prevent resurgence. With still elevated daily case counts and outbreaks in high-risk populations and communities, including hospitals and long term care homes, correctional facilities, congregate living settings, Indigenous communities, and more remote areas of the country, there is persistent risk for rapid reacceleration. This is particularly concerning in areas of the country where more contagious virus variants are spreading. These factors underscore the importance of enhanced public health measures where needed and maintaining strict adherence to individual precautions.
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. 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, indoors or outdoors, with people from outside of your immediate household).
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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