Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on Dec 17, 2021


December 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.

Last week's modelling update, cautioned us of the potential for a strong resurgence in the coming weeks. The model looked at the current level of transmission with continued predominance of the Delta variant in Canada as well as with spread and potential replacement by the Omicron variant. In the coming weeks, the longer-range forecast shows that if Omicron replaces Delta, as we've seen elsewhere, we could have a much stronger and faster resurgence than we've seen before. This could affect jurisdictions across Canada with the potential to overwhelm healthcare capacity.

Since last week, Omicron numbers have increased rapidly around the world. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization remarked that Omicron has been reported in 77 countries worldwide but is probably already in most countries, even if not detected yet. In Canada, close to 350 confirmed cases have been reported in 11 provinces and territories. Increasing numbers of these cases are not linked to travel, signalling that community transmission has been established in several areas of the country, with outbreaks occurring in multiple settings. Omicron cases have been reported in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, as well as in previously infected people. However, it is important to stress that being fully vaccinated and then getting a booster, whether Pfizer or Moderna, is expected to provide a reasonable level of protection against infection and likely strong protection against severe illness.

However, in order to counteract what is the most rapidly spreading variant to date, it is also clear that we must combine protection from vaccines with continued best efforts in layering public health measures and individual precautions. While we are still studying the severity profile of this variant, if Omicron replaces Delta, it's expected the sheer number of cases could inundate the health system in a very short period of time.

Currently the rapid increase in Omicron cases is likely already contributing to the accelerated growth we're seeing in several jurisdictions. Over the past seven days, an average of over 5,000 new cases were reported daily across Canada, which is 45% higher than the previous 7-day period. Severe illness trends have begun to increase in the most heavily impacted provinces, which may be more associated with rising levels of Delta variant activity over the preceding weeks. Over the past week, on average 1,450 people with COVID-19 were being treated in our hospitals each day, with over 450 in intensive care units and 19 deaths were reported daily.

These latest trends in disease activity increase the urgency to slow the rate of spread immediately in an effort to head off as much of the acceleration as we can. We need to keep doing what we know has worked, but to do it with greater speed, vigilance and perseverance, incorporating all the improvements we've gained over the past two years. That means getting everyone who is now eligible to be fully vaccinated as soon as possible to protect against severe outcomes. That amounts to over 7 million eligible Canadians who need a first or second dose of their primary series. In addition, we need all who are eligible to get a booster dose, to help restore protection that may have waned since the second dose. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) continue to recommend that as programs roll out, booster doses should be prioritised for previously listed priority populations. NACI also emphasizes the importance of booster doses for all healthcare workers and for those at highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults and people with high risk medical conditions.

As we've said time and again, our COVID-19 response requires a vaccines plus approach. No vaccine is perfect and the possibility of reduced protection against Omicron further emphasizes the need for multiple layers of protection. Those layers are better than ever thanks to a greater understanding of the settings and activities that can lead to large spreading events and improved knowledge of the way the virus can linger in fine aerosols. So now more than ever we all need to bring our best layers of protection to bear. That includes following updated guidance on indoor ventilation and recommendations on proper use, construction and fit of facemasks.

As health authorities across Canada strengthen recommendations to protect our already strained and fragile healthcare system, -- and as a profoundly exhausted healthcare workforce is faced with a potential looming crisis in the weeks to come -- I am urging Canadians across the country to please carefully consider and adjust your holiday plans to minimise risks and maximise layers and quality of protections for you and yours. As well, given the significant risks and uncertainties associated with rapidly expanding spread of the Omicron variant worldwide, Canadians are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada at this time; if you must travel, be aware of current and rapidly evolving requirements for visiting other countries and for returning to Canada.

I know we are all weary, but as all storms run out of wind and rain, so too will this one -- for now, we must all hold on tight to our protections -- for ourselves and each other...a while longer.

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.


Media Relations
Public Health Agency of Canada

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