Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on May 17, 2021

Statement

May 17, 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.

Today marks the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOTB). Each year on May 17th, we unite with voices across the country and around the world to challenge the violence, stigma and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and/or two-spirit (LGBTQ2) people, and to strengthen our collective efforts to promote a safe, inclusive society for all.

LGBTQ2 people in Canada continue to experience various forms of stigma and discrimination at work, home, and within the health system, as discussed in my 2019 CPHO Annual Report Addressing Stigma: Toward a More Inclusive Health System. We know that this can lead to higher rates of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI), depression, anxiety and suicide ideation and attempts, which is why reducing stigma and discrimination are key drivers of our work through the Pan-Canadian Framework for Action on STBBI and the Government of Canada's Five-Year Action Plan on STBBI.

We all have a role to play in ending stigma and discrimination, and we can start with simple changes in our daily actions and behaviours. We can openly recognize and name homophobia, transphobia, and other stigmas related to social identities, adopt inclusive practices, use gender-neutral language, and examine our own assumptions.

Today, I encourage you to recognize the tremendous resilience and courage demonstrated by LGBTQ2 people in Canada as they've helped build a stronger country for us all, and consider how you can help create safe and inclusive spaces where everyone feels accepted.

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. 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 1,328,582 cases of COVID-19, including 70,341 active cases and 24,948 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 a large majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. Multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, with unique advantages, are authorised for use in Canada. As vaccine delivery continues to ramp up, there is increasing optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. Benefits are being seen among groups targeted for priority vaccination and as vaccine coverage increases across Canada, we can expect further benefits to protect more Canadians over the coming weeks and months.

However, as COVID-19 activity remains elevated in many jurisdictions, strong public health measures must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating and individual precautions are important everywhere to drive infection rates down to low and manageable levels, while getting our vaccination rates as high as possible. While the latest national-level data show continued declines in disease activity, daily case counts remain very high. During the latest 7-day period (May 7-13), an average of 6,724 cases were being reported daily. For the week of May 2-8, there were on average of 125,830 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 6.0% were positive for COVID-19, similar to the week prior. Until vaccine coverage is sufficiently high to impact disease transmission more broadly in the community, we must maintain a high degree of caution with public health and individual measures and not ease restrictions too soon or too quickly where infection rates are high.

Elevated infection rates continue to impact lagging COVID-19 severity indicators, particularly in areas with sustained high levels of disease activity. Although we are beginning see some decline in these trends, persistently high numbers of severe and critical illnesses have placed a prolonged and heavy strain on the health system and healthcare workforce. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 3,860 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (May 7-13) representing a 8.0% decrease over last week. This includes, on average 1,368 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), which is 6.0% lower than the previous week. Although the mortality trend has recently leveled off, with a 7-day average of 48 deaths reported daily (May 7-13), continued high rates of infection and high numbers of hospitalisations and critical care admissions could negatively impact this trend.

While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those under 60 years of age. 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. Variants of concern (VOCs) now represent a majority of COVID-19 cases in Canada, with the B.1.1.7 variant now reported in all provinces and territories and accounting for over 95% of VOCs sequenced to date. As this variant spreads more quickly and has been associated with increased severity, and as vaccines may be less effective against other variants, such as the P.1 and B.1.351 variants, it is even more important to remain vigilant with all available measures to suppress spread.

B.1.617 was recently designated as a VOC by the World Health Organization given its increased transmissibility. As of May 16, the B.1.617 variant, including all three currently defined sub-lineages (B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2, and B.1.617.3) have been identified in nine provinces and one territory. We are working with provinces/territories to further characterize the impact of this VOC in the Canadian context. However, we know that regardless of which variants are circulating, vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures work to reduce spread.

As vaccine eligibility expands, Canadians are urged to get vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them. However, regardless of our vaccination status, Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer, even as we're beginning to see the positive impacts of COVID-19 vaccines: 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).

For more information regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination, I encourage Canadians to reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as Canada.ca and Immunize.ca. Working together, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Canada's Chief Medical Officers of Health and other health professionals across the country are closely monitoring vaccine safety, effectiveness and optimal use to adapt approaches. As the science and situation evolves, we are committed to providing clear and evidence-informed guidance in order to keep everyone in Canada safe and healthy.

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.

Contacts

Media Relations
Public Health Agency of Canada
613-957-2983
hc.media.sc@canada.ca

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