OTTAWA — Canada’s chief public health officer warned Friday that a COVID-19 resurgence is likely underway and encouraged Canadians to be vigilant to help curb the spread of the latest variant.
Dr. Theresa Tam said that as of Thursday, daily average case counts had increased by 28 per cent nationally from the previous week, indicating that COVID-19 is re-emerging.
Tam told a news briefing that Canadians should keep wearing face coverings and ensure vaccinations are up to date amid rising case counts and reduced public health measures.
“I think the bottom line is everybody right now should still wear that mask and keep those layers of measures, no matter where you are in this country.”
Tam said the country is in a period of pandemic transition that might see further waves of COVID-19 cases this year.
“We anticipate that progress will not be linear, and there will likely be more bumps along the way, including resurgence in cases this spring, and likely also in the fall and winter,” she said.
Canada is observing a steady increase in the BA.2 variant of COVID-19, and ongoing genomic surveillance will remain crucial for monitoring variants of concern, she said.
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Keeping an eye on wastewater trends can also be a helpful “early warning system” for monitoring COVID-19 transmission in communities and identifying circulating variants, said Tam.
An increase in in-person activities, the presence of the BA.2 variant and waning immunity might have played a part in increase in transmission of the virus.
The daily average number of people in hospital with COVID-19 went up by four per cent from last week, while the number of people in intensive care decreased by four per cent.
Tam also cited recent international trends, noting some countries are now seeing an uptick in cases since the tapering of the Omicron wave.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday that in spite of decreased COVID-19 testing, the increase in weekly cases in early to mid-March suggests the virus is circulating at very high levels.
A corresponding rise in hospitalizations might soon be seen, Tam said, noting these trends could vary by region.
But she added Canadians are now in a better position to live with the virus, and the overall effect on the health-care system might be more manageable due to high immunity in the population from vaccination and recent infection.
“The key is whether we can keep those hospitalizations and severity trends down.”
Tam said weighing spread of the virus against the need for society to return to its routines will be a “difficult balance.”
She encouraged anyone eligible to go receive their booster dose, noting that Canadians 50 years and older are seeing a gap in booster coverage, a group at higher risk of hospitalization and serious illness.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says about 57 per cent of adults have received a booster shot.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is also looking at whether a second booster shot is needed, Tam said.
Ontario recorded 3,519 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, up from 2,761 cases a week earlier. However, the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, has said the actual number is likely 10 times higher than the daily tally since access to PCR testing is limited.
In Quebec, officials reported 3,182 cases detected by PCR tests, up from 2,203 a week ago. But this provides only a partial picture of the situation because testing is limited to certain high-risk groups.
Tam will be encouraging provinces and territories to keep up COVID-19 testing capacity, and to continue to offer tests to their populations.