New federal models suggest that stronger public health action is needed to curb the rise of new, more contagious variants of COVID-19 in Canada. According to official information, the country is currently in a “close race between vaccines and variants”.
Canada could see a dramatic increase in new COVID cases in the coming weeks without stricter measures to help reduce the number of people Canadians come into contact with. This emerges from new models from the Canadian Public Health Department (PHAC). In this scenario, where the variants of COVID continue to spread, “current community health measures will not be sufficient to control the projected rapid growth and resurgence,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer.
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A second scenario shows that COVID cases could plateau if stricter public health measures are taken and Canadians reduce the number of their contacts as vaccination rates rise. So far, 9.4 percent of Canadians have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to PHAC data.
For now, municipalities must maintain or immediately implement stricter measures “to reduce the number of contacts required to encourage or prevent the further spread of rapidly spreading varieties,” said Tam.
“Today’s review of the data and forecasts shows that COVID-19 still has some tricks up its sleeve,” she said. “And it’s clear that we have to stick together a little bit stronger and longer until we’re better protected by vaccines.”
Countries like Italy, France and Germany have shown that tough public health measures are needed to control growth in cases where more contagious variants dominate, she said.
According to the province’s scientific advisory table, COVID-19, variants account for about 55 percent of all new infections in Ontario today. The province has seen a surge in new cases in recent weeks as the shutdown measures initiated during the second wave in early winter were lifted.
The Quebec Health Department announced on Friday that by early April half of all new cases will be variants.
More than 7,100 cases of COVID variants have been reported in Canada, with the B.117 variant accounting for more than 90 percent of those cases.
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The number of new daily COVID cases across the country has increased more than 30 percent in the past two weeks. The rate of average individual spread has also increased since early March, returning the epidemic to a growth pattern.
In provinces where COVID cases have been on the rise recently, hospital stay rates are also rising or have flattened after falling in recent weeks.
Cases in adults aged 80 and over have declined since early January when vaccines were first distributed to the most vulnerable populations. There are also fewer and fewer outbreaks in nursing homes.
However, cases have increased in adults ages 20 to 39. Although serious illnesses are less common in younger Canadians, they can still occur, and there are growing concerns about increased severity of the B.117 variant, Tam said.
An analysis of the Ontario Advisory Table found that COVID variants result in a 60 percent increased risk of hospitalization and an increased risk of death compared to the original strain of COVID. CBC reported on Friday.
Higher infection rates among young, more mobile, and socially connected adults also increase the risk of community spread and spread to high-risk communities, Tam said.
The short-term modeling unveiled on Friday shows that the number of cases in Canada could climb up to 1,005,020 by April 4, with the total number of deaths reaching up to 23,315.
There are a total of 951,562 cases and 22,790 deaths in Canada as of Friday, according to PHAC data.
Public health restrictions should only be lifted if infection rates are brought down to manageable levels that unlock the public health ability to cope with serious illnesses, Tam said.
“If we relax the measures too soon, before enough people are vaccinated, the epidemic will recur even more,” she said.
Tam added that Canadians need to be careful as Passover, Easter and Ramadan draw closer – occasions when people are more likely to congregate.
With files by Kevin Dougherty