Federal officials said Friday that the improving situation in the COVID-19 pandemic means Canadian jurisdictions can now loosen public health restrictions further.
At its weekly pandemic press conference, Public Health Canada reported that trends in severe illness are declining in most regions of the country.
Nationally, the rate of patients being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals is down 15 percent compared to last week.
“We need to shift our focus to mitigating societal disruption,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr Theresa Tam.
The message comes as counties across the country work to quickly lift restrictions and mandates for vaccines in a variety of settings.
Alberta and Saskatchewan have moved aggressively to repeal COVID-19 measures, including requirements for masks and passports for vaccinations in almost all situations.
Ontario followed up on March 1 by lifting the vaccine passport system and capacity limits at all indoor locations. Quebec is due to introduce similar changes later this month.
While Tam indicated that a return to normalcy is wise given the stagnation of the Omicron wave, she also advised Canadians to take more personal responsibility while going about their lives in a society with relatively few restrictions.
“Restoring personal social and economic activities while the pandemic is still ongoing and the virus doesn’t go away, means we must use everything we’ve learned to do it safely and make it last,” she said.
Compared to many provinces, the federal government has been slower to lift restrictions and mandate vaccines.
For example, any unvaccinated person in Alberta is now allowed to go anywhere indoors with no capacity limit and no mask required – but the same person won’t be allowed to board a plane.
Tam said the federal agencies responsible for these rules, including Transport Canada, are assessing the epidemiological situation and “will make any policy adjustments as needed in the coming days and weeks.”
Officials Call for ‘Individual Risk Assessments’
Public health officials say Canadians should routinely do what they call “individual risk assessments” as restrictions are lifted.
“Regularly checking local epidemiology wherever you are or where you are going is important to keep up with recommendations,” Tam said.
She added that these assessments should become “as important and routine as checking the weather.”
Officials said community prevalence levels, vaccine rates, and a person’s age and health are among the factors to consider when making decisions.
Even as mask requirements are raised in some counties, Vice President of Public Health Dr. Howard Ngo said he plans to continue wearing a mask as an extra layer of protection against infection.
“I will continue to wear a mask for a while when I leave the house,” Ngo said in French during the press conference, noting that he is over 50 and therefore faces a slightly elevated risk.
Tam Wongo said similar assessments should be made before any travel plans for the March break.
Doctors urged families to assess the epidemic situation and public health rules at their scheduled destination, and adjust their plans accordingly. Njoo has not issued any comprehensive advice against international travel.
“For me personally, it’s about making a personal risk assessment,” he said.