Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on March 25, 2021
March 25, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada
Updated national data on opioid- and stimulant-related harms in Canada released yesterday demonstrates the broader impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the on-going overdose crisis, with tragic consequences for people who use substances, their families, and communities across the country. Opioid-related overdoses took the lives of 3,351 people from April, near the beginning of the pandemic in Canada, to September 2020. Furthermore, recent reporting from Statistics Canada suggests that overdose deaths may have accounted for some of the higher number of deaths observed in Canada in the fall of 2020. Beyond deaths, thousands more people were hospitalized due to opioid-related overdoses, with some experiencing lasting health impacts such as brain injuries. Yesterday, I, along with Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's Chief Medical Officer of Health, issued a joint statement as co-chairs of the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses. Together, we must continue to address these alarming trends by supporting evidence-based measures that save lives, such as opioid agonist therapies, including providing safer alternatives to the toxic drug supply, and increasing access to naloxone to reverse overdoses. Addiction is a treatable medical condition - we can all make a difference by treating people who use substances with compassion.
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. At the same time, the Public Health Agency of Canada is providing Canadians with regular updates on COVID-19 vaccines administered, vaccination coverage and ongoing monitoring of vaccine safety across the country. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to reduce infection rates, while vaccination programs expand for the protection of all Canadians.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 946,370 cases of COVID-19, including 22,759 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 vaccine delivery ramps up at an accelerated pace, there is cause for optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. We now have multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with unique advantages that are authorised for use in Canada.
However, nationally, COVID-19 activity has levelled off at a high level since mid-February and average daily case counts are increasing. The latest national-level data show a seven-day average of 3,869 new cases daily (March 18 to 24). Currently, there are 37,100 active cases across the country. While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those aged 20 to 39 years of age. Although severe illness is less common among young adults, it is important to remember that serious illness can occur at any age. In addition, circulation of COVID-19 in younger, more mobile and socially-connected adults presents an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations and settings. The emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants heightens this concern. As of March 24, a total of 6,325 variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including 5,882 B.1.1.7 variants, 251 B.1.351 variants and 192 P.1 variants. Amid increasing case counts, shifting severity trends, and a rising proportion of cases involving variants of concern in heavily impacted areas of Canada we need to remain vigilant. Maintaining public health measures and individual precautions is crucial to reducing infection rates and avoiding further spread of new variants where accelerated epidemic growth can take off very quickly.
Nationally, declines in lagging indicators of COVID-19 severity are levelling off or increasing. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,166 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day period (March 18 to 24), including 599 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 29 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.
While vaccine programs accelerate, it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution. 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.
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, while wearing the best-fitting mask is a simple rule that we can all apply to help limit the spread of COVID-19, as 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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