Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on March 31, 2021
March 31, 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 the Easter long weekend quickly approaches, I encourage everyone to plan ahead, think about the risks, and decide together on how to celebrate safely during the holidays, as we have done for many other occasions during COVID-19. Limiting in-person gatherings to your immediate household and avoiding non-essential travel are still the safest way to celebrate. Virtual events, such as dinners and egg hunts, or a physically distanced doorstep gift exchange are just a few ways to stay socially connected while still maintaining important traditions. Remember to include layers of individual public health practices as part of the planning – until we know more about the vaccine's ability to prevent transmission, this remains important for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. And finally, check with your local public health authority to find out more about the measures in place to keep your family, friends and community safer this holiday.
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 976,598 cases of COVID-19, including 46,395 active cases and 22,926 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. Vaccine coverage is increasing across Canada, with benefits being seen in prioritized high-risk populations. Ramp up of vaccine supply and acceleration of vaccination programs will return further benefits to protect more Canadians, over the coming weeks and months.
However, with the ongoing increase in COVID-19 activity over several weeks and a rising proportion of cases that involve more contagious variants of concern, strong public health measures and individual precautions must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating. The latest national-level data show a seven-day average of 4,857 new cases daily (March 24 to 30). Sustained high infection rates are also impacting lagging indicators of COVID-19 severity, which are levelling off (deaths) or increasing (hospitalisation), particularly in areas with elevated disease activity. The rise in severe and critical illnesses is placing renewed strain on the health system. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,302 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day period (March 24 to 30), including 673 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 27 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily. While this lagging severity indicator has continued to decline slowly, there is a concern that trend could also shift if the increase in severe illness trends persists.
While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those aged 20-39 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 and evidence indicates that variants of concern can be associated with more severe illness and increased risk of death. 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 30, a total of 10,233 variant of concern cases have been reported across Canada, including 9,461 involving B.1.1.7 variants, 467 P.1 variants and 305 B.1.351 variants.
Amid the concerning trends of increasing disease activity, shifting severity trends, and a rising proportion of cases involving variants of concern, a high degree of caution must be maintained, while vaccination programs continue to accelerate. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly,informed by an assessment of key indicators and local circumstances, and accompanied by enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect and respond to variants of concern quickly. 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.
Canadians may have additional questions regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination, given the recent safety signal related to rare but serious cases of blood clots associated with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia) following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe. While this development is concerning, we can be assured that Canada is part of a strong global vaccine safety monitoring system that quickly picked up this signal. Together Canada's regulator, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and Chief Medical Officers of Health are working with experts across the country and around the world to continuously review the evolving evidence, alert health care professionals and the public on symptoms to be aware of to aid in rapid detection and treatment to mitigate this event. Canada's regulatory and health leaders are committed to working together, adapting approaches as the science and situation evolves, and providing clear and evidence-informed guidance in order to keep everyone in Canada safe and healthy.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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