Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on November 26, 2021
November 26, 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.
Nationally, daily case counts have been slowly creeping up so we need to maintain a high degree of caution to avoid a rapid acceleration. Over the most recent 7-day period, an average of over 2,600 new cases were reported daily across Canada, which is less than fifty percent down from the peak of the 4th wave when over 4,400 cases were reported daily. Currently, severe illness trends are still declining, but unless we can keep infection rates down, these trends could begin to rise again. Over the past week, on average over 1,600 people with COVID-19 were being treated in our hospitals each day, including 471 in intensive care - and 20 deaths were reported daily.
Over the past 24 hours, health authorities in Canada and internationally have become aware of the emergence of a new variant, which has a number of concerning features, the significance of which are still being assessed. This variant, which was first reported in South Africa, is currently known by the scientific designation B.1.1.529. The WHO has now classified it as a variant of concern and named it Omicron. Provincial laboratories across Canada have been alerted to this new variant and have searched for possible detections, but to date there are no indications of the variant's presence in Canada. There have not been any identifications of this variant through post-arrival testing of international travelers to date. Although the epidemiological significance of this variant is still being assessed, it is considered unusual in that it has a very high number of mutations in two keys areas of the virus' spike protein:
- one area of mutations is in the spike receptor binding domain where the virus attaches itself and invades our cells, which could signify a potential for increased transmissibility of the virus
- the other area of mutations is in what is referred to as the spike N-terminal domain, which is also known as the "antigenic supersite" because it is a target for our bodies defensive or "neutralizing antibodies", so mutations to this area of the virus may impact our body's natural immunity as well as potentially reduce immunity induced by vaccines.
Hence, due to the potential for increased transmissibility, and the possibility of increased resistance to vaccine-induced protection, we are concerned about this new variant and closely monitoring the evolving situation.
Though challenges persist with this virus, we continue to make headway and can celebrate the achievements we're making along the way. After last week's approval of the pediatric formulation of the Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech, provinces and territories have already booked tens of thousands of appointments for children aged 5 to 11 years.
With the rollout of these pediatric programs, we now have an opportunity to reduce infection rates that have been disproportionately affecting the 5-11 year age group during the 4th wave. The primary aim is to protect this age group from infection and reduce disruptions to their education and in-person activities that are so important for their mental and physical health and development. At the same time, there will be other indirect benefits for families and communities. With the eligible population now representing 95% of the total Canadian population, our vaccination firewall can only get stronger to better protect the most vulnerable Canadians. This includes children and infants under 5 years of age and people of all ages who may not mount or sustain a strong immune response.
As we've said many times before, dealing with the formidable challenges of this virus requires ongoing caution and layering of individual protections. The emergence of new variants is, unfortunately, not unexpected and the concerns raised by this variant further underscore the need to be vigilant. In addition to getting fully vaccinated, you can reduce your risk by properly wearing a well-fitted and well-constructed face mask in public or private spaces with people outside your immediate household, avoiding crowding and improving ventilation.
Read my backgrounder to access COVID-19 Information and Resources, including information on vaccination and ways to reduce your risk of infection and spreading the virus to others.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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