Canada’s top public health official said today that strict public health measures and a massive vaccination campaign have pushed the number of COVID-19 cases to its lowest level in weeks. In most parts of the country, the epidemiological forecast is improving.
Dr Theresa Tam said the distribution of about 25 million vaccine doses led to a “strong and steady decline” in cases, with less than half of what it was during the peak of the third wave in mid-April.
She said nearly 62 percent of all adults have now had at least one dose of the vaccine, and as a result, “things have gone dramatically for the better.”
Over the past week, Tam said, fewer than 3,400 new infections have been reported per day — down from an average of about 9,000 new infections each day just six weeks ago.
The national “rT” metric — the measure that tracks the average number of people an infected person will transmit the virus — is trending below 1 for more than a month, meaning the epidemic is shrinking in Canada and that COVID-19 is “out of the growth pattern in more regions,” Tam said affected.”
She said the number of people with serious and critical illnesses was also declining, albeit at a slower pace.
The average number of COVID-19 patients treated in hospital each day has fallen by 34 percent since the April peak. But where infection rates are still very high – particularly in Manitoba – hospitalization rates are still in a crisis phase.
“Our good, real effort has put us above the peak of the third wave nationwide and heading into a much better summer, if we can continue the path,” Tam said.
Tam says it’s too early to relax
Referring to new federal modeling data, Tam said Public Health Canada (PHAC) expects the third wave to continue to decline “as long as we maintain current measures and do not increase rates of personal contact across the community.”
While there are new reasons for optimism, Tam warned counties not to reopen too quickly – especially indoor spaces.
“While these forecasts are very encouraging, they confirm that now is not the time to ease our measures. If the measures are relaxed, and the number of contacts at the community level increases, a resurgence is likely,” she said.
Watch: Dr. Tam urges caution as some provinces begin to reopen
Tam said Canada should follow the lead of other jurisdictions and only lift restrictions “in a controlled and gradual manner” to avoid a fourth wave.
British leaders kept the UK on national lockdown for weeks after COVID-19 cases fell dramatically and vaccination rates soared. Tam said that country maintained the most restrictive measures until case rates were several times lower than they are currently in Canada.
Tam said Britain’s public health restrictions had only “slowly and carefully” begun to relax, now that 70 per cent of UK adults have had at least one injection, and 45 per cent have been fully immunized.
Canada is nowhere near that level of vaccine coverage; Only five percent of all Canadians received the required two doses.
Tam reiterated her recommendation that provinces and territories only begin lifting the most restrictive public health measures, such as stay-at-home orders, once 75 percent of all people over the age of 12 have had an injection and 20 percent have had a second dose.
At this level of protection, she said, Canadians can begin to gather in small groups outdoors, dine on restaurant patios and safely enjoy outdoor activities.
Tam said early indications are that a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine provides meaningful protection. She said a few cases were reported in people who received at least one dose and less among those who received two doses.
Of the 20.7 million Canadians who received at least one dose, only 6,817 of those who received the vaccine contracted the virus 14 days after vaccination. For maximum protection, Tam said, Canadians should get their second “immunity-boosting” dose.