Statement from Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on January 16, 2021

From: Public Health Agency of Canada

As the resurgence of COVID-19 activity continues in Canada, we are tracking a range of epidemiological indicators to monitor where the disease is most active, where it is spreading and how it is impacting the health of Canadians and public health, laboratory and healthcare capacity. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to maintain COVID-19 at manageable levels across the country.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 695,707 cases of COVID-19, including 17,729 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. Though many areas continue to experience high infection rates, it is important to remember that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. This is why it is important for everyone to continue with individual precautions to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

In addition to laboratories across Canada conducting testing to confirm COVID-19 infections, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) and the Canadian COVID Genomics Network conduct routine genomic sequencing on approximately five per cent of virus samples. Given the recent emergence of COVID-19 virus variants of concern, which appear to be associated with an increased risk of spread, PHAC has been working with provinces, territories and international partners to enhance monitoring for the presence of any virus variants in Canada. As of January 15, provinces and territories have reported 23 cases of the B.1.1.17 (United Kingdom) virus variant and 2 cases of the 501Y.V2 (South Africa) virus variant. Given these virus variants have been reported in multiple countries, the Government of Canada continues to advise Canadians against non-essential travel outside of Canada.

With the current momentum of the epidemic and continued high rates of infection in many areas of the country, rapid accumulation of cases will continue until we can make significant progress in interrupting spread. At this time, there are 76,068 active cases across the country. The latest national-level data indicate daily averages of 7,616 new cases (Jan 8-14). COVID-19 is spreading among people of all ages, with high infection rates across all age groups. However, nationally, infection rates remain highest among those aged 80 years and older who are at highest risk for severe outcomes.

Likewise, outbreaks continue to occur in high-risk populations and communities, including hospitals and long term care homes, correctional facilities, congregate living settings, Indigenous communities, and more remote areas of the country. The downstream impacts of weeks and months of elevated disease activity continues to be seen in still rising numbers of severe illness and death, significant disruptions to health services and ongoing challenges for areas not adequately equipped to manage complex medical emergencies.

Nationally, hospitalisations and deaths, which tend to lag behind increased disease activity by one to several weeks are still increasing. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 4,705 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Jan 8-14), including 875 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period (Jan 8-14), there were an average of 137 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily. This situation continues to burden local healthcare resources, particularly in areas where infection rates are highest. These impacts affect everyone, as the healthcare workforce and health system bear a heavy strain and important elective medical procedures are delayed or postponed, adding to pre-existing backlogs.

The latest longer range forecasting, using a model from Simon Fraser University, forecasts that we could have 10,000 cases daily by the end of January, with increasing hospitalisations and deaths expected to continue to follow the rising case numbers. We urgently need the combined efforts of local authorities and Canadians to bend the curve of this resurgence, even as COVID-19 vaccinations continue throughout the country. We know that consistent and strong public health measures and individual practices are effective and can make a difference in the coming months to interrupt rapid spread of the virus. Canadians are urged to continue following local public health advice and to consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer: stay home/self-isolate if you have any symptoms, reduce non-essential activities and outings to a minimum, and maintain individual protective practices of physical distancing, hand, cough and surface hygiene and wearing a face mask as appropriate (including in shared indoor spaces with people from outside your immediate household).

Canadians can also go the extra mile by sharing credible information on COVID-19 risks and prevention practices and measures to reduce COVID-19 in communities and by downloading the COVID Alert app to break the cycle of infection and help limit the spread of COVID-19. Read my backgrounder to access more COVID-19 Information and Resources on ways to reduce the risks and protect yourself and others, including information on COVID-19 vaccination.

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