Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on March 3, 2021
March 3, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada
Since COVID-19 vaccines were first authorised in Canada in December 2020, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has been providing evidence-informed guidance. In their latest statement, released today, NACI has considered evidence from recent scientific studies on efficacy and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in preventing various health outcomes such as infection, symptomatic disease, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19. The objective of today’s NACI rapid response bulletin on extended dose intervals for COVID-19 vaccines to optimize early vaccine rollout and population protection in Canada is to provide guidance for the equitable, ethical, and efficient allocation of authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the context of staggered arrival of vaccine supply. NACI recommends that, in the context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply, jurisdictions should maximize the number of individuals benefitting from the first dose of vaccine by extending the interval for the second dose by up to four months after the first. NACI further underscores the imperative of continuously monitoring vaccine effectiveness, including against variants of concern, as their recommendations may be revised based on new evidence.
COVID-19 has had an impact on our mental wellness, no matter our age or circumstance. Yesterday on World Teen Mental Wellness Day, I encouraged Canadians to visit the Wellness Together Canada online portal for free confidential resources that support mental health for people of all ages, including helpful resources for the teens in our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges to the mental wellness of teens across Canada, who have encountered school closures, reduced social interaction and opportunities, cancellation of milestone events such as graduation and uncertainty towards the future. As this difficult journey continues, it is important to keep supporting and promoting the mental wellness of our teens by listening to their concerns and supporting them in building up mental health resiliency. If you or a teen you know are feeling overwhelmed or lonely during this time, Wellness Together Canada provides supports for all ages and specific tools for teens, including one-to-one counselling via phone and text lines delivered by Kids Help Phone. These resources can help teens learn more about how to manage and improve their mental health and well-being.
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 872,747 cases of COVID-19, including 22,045 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. 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 March 2nd, a total of 1,430 variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including 1,324 B.1.1.7 variants, 103 B.1.351 variants and 3 P.1 variants.
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 30,252 active cases across the country. The latest national-level data show a 7-day average of 2,921 new cases daily (Feb 24-Mar 2). 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 2,149 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Feb 24-Mar 2), including 566 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 41 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 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 is 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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