Canada’s chief public health officer said today that strict public health measures and a ramped-up vaccination campaign have pushed the national COVID-19 case count to its lowest level in weeks. In much of the country, the pandemic outlook is improving.
Dr. Theresa Tam said the distribution of some 25 million vaccine doses has resulted in a “strong and steady decline” in cases, with totals less than half what they were during the peak of the third wave in mid-April.
Roughly 62 per cent of all adults have now had at least one dose of a vaccine, she said, and as a result, “things have taken a great turn for the better.”
Over the past week, Tam said, fewer than 3,400 new infections were being reported daily — down from a rate of nearly 9,000 reported new infections each day just six weeks ago.
The national “rT” — the metric that tracks the average number of people a single infected person will pass the virus on to — has been trending below 1 for more than a month, which means the pandemic is shrinking in Canada and COVID-19 is “out of a growth pattern in the most heavily affected areas,” Tam said.
The number of people experiencing severe and critical illness is also decreasing, though at a slower pace, she said.
The average number of patients with COVID-19 being treated in hospital each day has dropped by 34 per cent since the April peak. But where infection rates are still very high — particularly in Manitoba — hospitalization rates are still at a crisis point.
“Our efforts have got us well and truly over the peak of the third wave nationally and heading for a much better summer, if we can stay the course,” Tam said.
It’s too soon to relax, says Tam
Pointing to new federal modelling data, Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) expects the third wave to continue to decline “as long as we maintain current measures and don’t increase in-person contact rates across the community.”
While there are fresh reasons for optimism, Tam cautioned provinces against re-opening too quickly — especially indoor spaces.
“While this forecast is very encouraging, it reaffirms that now is not the time to relax our measures. If measures are relaxed, increasing the number of community-wide in-persons contacts, resurgence is likely,” she said.
WATCH: Dr. Tam urges caution as some provinces begin to reopen
Tam said Canada must follow the lead of other jurisdictions and only lift restrictions in a “controlled and gradual way” to avoid a fourth wave.
British leaders kept the U.K. in a national lockdown for weeks after COVID-19 cases declined dramatically and vaccination rates escalated. That country sustained the most restrictive measures until case rates were several times lower than they currently are in Canada, Tam said.
Tam said British public health restrictions have started to relax “slowly and cautiously” only recently, now that 70 per cent of U.K. adults have had at least one shot and 45 per cent are fully immunized.
Canada is nowhere near that level of vaccine coverage; just five per cent of all Canadians have received the two required doses.
Tam repeated her recommendation that provinces and territories only begin to lift the most restrictive public health measures, such as stay-at-home orders, once 75 per cent of all people over the age of 12 have had a shot and 20 per cent have had a second dose.
At that level of protection, Canadians can start to gather in small outdoor groups, dine on restaurant patios and safely enjoy outdoor activities, she said.
Tam said early indicators suggest that a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine does offer meaningful protection. There have been few cases reported in people who have received at least one dose and fewer still among those who have received two doses, she said.
Of the 20.7 million Canadians who have received at least one dose, just 6,817 of those vaccine recipients have contracted the virus 14 days after vaccination. Tam said that, for maximum protection, Canadians must get the second “immunity-boosting” dose.