Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on December 22, 2021
December 22, 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.
In less than a week, we've seen a rapid acceleration of epidemic activity in locations across Canada. While Delta is still spreading in many areas, Omicron is increasingly responsible for rapidly rising case counts. With over 2,360 confirmed Omicron cases to date, this new variant is now predominating in several locations across Canada. Compared to a national average of over 5,000 new cases being reported daily by the end of last week, there were over 11,300 new cases yesterday alone. Modelling shows that by the beginning of January, we could have a very high number of cases, which underscores the need to act urgently to reduce the acceleration.
At the moment, severe illness trends are increasing in the most heavily impacted provinces, which has begun to shift the national trend. Over the past week, on average over 1,500 people with COVID-19 were being treated in our hospitals each day, with close to 460 in intensive care units and 17 deaths were reported daily. Although the current trends may be a lagging impact of increased Delta activity in the preceding weeks, rapid acceleration of Omicron activity is expected to further impact these trends as well, even if Omicron turns out to be less severe.
Because we are especially worried about the potential impact of a sudden and strong surge on the healthcare system, we are urging all Canadians to do what they can to help mitigate this. Although the situation is not the same everywhere, this variant spreads extremely quickly and the situation can rapidly get out of hand anywhere. So while public health authorities are closely monitoring the evolving situation, we can all help by reducing our contacts as much as possible. Practically speaking, this means:
- keeping gathering sizes as small as possible, such as limiting to just family and close friends, who you know well.
- everyone who is eligible should get fully vaccinated and receive a booster dose as soon as they are able.
- and everyone should use layers of protection, since no measure is perfect or applicable for all people. In particular, we can reduce the risks of exposure and spreading the virus by improving and maintaining good ventilation and wearing a good quality and snug-fitting face mask, while remaining flexible if plans need to be adjusted at the last minute.
Currently, we still need many more people to increase their protection with COVID-19 vaccines. Over 7 million eligible Canadians need a first or second dose of their primary series, and many more are eligible to get a booster dose to help restore protection that may have waned since their second dose. Booster doses of either Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines should be prioritised for certain groups, such as healthcare workers and those at highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults and people with high risk medical conditions.
Although we're all dealing with some disappointment and changed or disrupted plans, I hope we can all agree that we're doing what we need to do for all the right reasons. Beyond taking extra precautions to safeguard our health and the health of our family and friends, we're also adjusting to safer plans in order to safeguard our health system and get everyone through this difficult time that much faster.
We've said this before but I want to especially acknowledge our healthcare and public health workforce. They have been there for us and have made daily sacrifices that many of us can only begin to imagine. Now that they are facing what could be the largest and most sudden impact to date - at a time when they are arguably at their most exhausted - they need to know that we are all doing everything we can to minimise the threat before us all.
These are not the holidays we wished for, but it doesn't mean that we're back where we started. We have more and better tools in the toolbox, including vaccines and booster doses, better knowledge of transmission and enhanced guidance on individual protections as well as more testing options and improved clinical management and treatments. For the coming weeks, we have to work to these strengths and keep working together to clear this hurdle.
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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