Statement by the Chief Health Officer of Canada dated March 1, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and concern for many Canadians, especially those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada website, people of all ages across the country can access instant, free, and confidential mental health and drug support services around the clock and on weekends.

COVID-19 vaccines continue to be implemented in priority vaccination programs across Canada, and last week Health Canada approved two more safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for use in Canada. The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, and the Indian Serum Institute version of the AstraZeneca vaccine are the third and fourth COVID-19 vaccines and the first viral vector vaccines approved for use in Canada. Today, the National Immunization Advisory Committee of Canada (NACI) is updating its recommendations for the use of COVID-19 vaccines, including recommendations for the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to achieve optimal public health benefits. Although efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 cannot be directly compared between different COVID-19 vaccines, it is important to emphasize that all COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada, regardless of the difference in efficacy against symptomatic disease, will help reduce severe disease. death from COVID-19 in Canada. The authorization of additional vaccines provides additional tools to combat this pandemic as soon as possible and provide more supplies to the market. In addition, different vaccines have different benefits. The NACI estimates the time between the first and second doses of permitted COVID-19 vaccines to allow as many people as possible to be vaccinated without compromising efficacy. NACI is reviewing the latest research data and will provide its recommendations this week. The science of vaccination against COVID-19 continues to evolve, and expert advice is being adapted accordingly to maximize the benefits of permitted vaccines to protect the health of Canadians.

As COVID-19 continues to operate in Canada, we monitor a range of epidemiological indicators to track where the disease is most active, where it is spreading, and how it affects Canadian health and public health, laboratories, and healthcare facilities. The following is a summary of national figures and trends, as well as the actions we all need to take to support COVID-19 at managed levels across the country. Due to the decrease in reporting for the initial averages for seven days for today are not updated in today’s statement. These data are still being collected and analyzed. In my remarks tomorrow I will give the last figures.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 866,503 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, including 21,994 deaths in Canada; these aggregate figures tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 today. They also tell us, along with the results of serological tests, that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19.

Although COVID-19 activity declined nationally from mid-January to mid-February, daily case counts have increased and are now showing moderate growth. In addition, the emergence and spread of some variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus is an additional cause for concern. The number of cases involving the more contagious threat option B.1.1.7 continues to rise, with Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec reporting the largest numbers to date. As of 28 February, a total of 1,254 concerns were registered in Canada, including 1,152 options B.1.1.7, 99 options B.1.351 and 3 options P.1.

Although variants may appear as viruses continue to develop, some variants are considered “workable variants” because they are more likely to spread, cause more severe disease, or existing vaccines may be less effective against them. As cases and outbreaks associated with more contagious options, including option B.1.1.7, continue to increase in Canada, we need to remain vigilant in our health care practices and individual practices. This will help prevent fast-spreading options from becoming entrenched and make the epidemic much harder to control. Similarly, in the coming weeks and months, it will be important to exercise extreme caution and not reduce restrictions too quickly or too soon. Any mitigation of health interventions should be done slowly with intensive testing, screening, and genomic analysis to identify options of concern. In particular, there must be sufficient ability to track contacts and supports for effective insulation, given the increased transmission of options of concern.

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There are currently 30,731 active cases in the country. The latest data at the national level show that on average 760 new cases per year in 7 days (February 19-25). After declining COVID-19 activity for many weeks, the severe effects continue to decline as expected for these lagging indicators. Data from provinces and territories show that an average of 2,269 people with COVID-19 were treated daily in Canadian hospitals during the last 7-day period (February 19-25), including 564 of whom were treated in intensive care units. During the same period, 52 deaths from COVID-19 were reported daily.

These observations confirm that combined community-based action and the collective efforts of Canadians may slow the spread of COVID-19. However, the recent increase in COVID-19 activity in several jurisdictions is a reminder that tough measures are needed to prevent recurrence. Given the still increasing daily incidence of disease and outbreaks in high-risk populations and communities, including hospitals and long-term care homes, correctional facilities, housing, indigenous communities and more remote areas of the country, there is a continuing risk of rapid recovery. This is especially true in areas of the country where more contagious variants of viruses are prevalent.

A number of health measures are already in place across Canada as we continue our collective efforts to stop the spread of the virus, including limiting the spread of more contagious options, while we buy critical time to increase vaccine programs. Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue to follow local health advice, and follow individual practices that ensure safety for us and our families: stay home / isolate yourself if you have any symptoms, think about risks, and reduce minor travel to a minimum, avoid all non-essential travel and support individual protective practices of physical distance, hands, surface hygiene cough and wearing a well-fitting and properly dressed face mask (including in common areas, indoors or outdoors, with people which are not outside your immediate household).

Striving for the least possible contact with as few people as possible, in the shortest possible time, is a simple rule we can all apply to limit the spread of COVID-19, while vaccine programs are expanding to protect all Canadians.

Canadians can also go the extra mile by sharing reliable information about COVID-19 risks and prevention methods and measures to reduce COVID-19 in communities and by downloading the COVID Alert app to break the vicious circle of infection and help limit the spread of COVID-19. Check out my background for more information and resources from COVID-19 on ways to reduce risks and protect yourself and others, including information on vaccination against COVID-19.

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