New modelling shows 'sustained national decline' in COVID-19 spread
OTTAWA -- Newly released national modelling indicates that there is a “sustained national decline” in COVID-19 spread across the country, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said is a “quite encouraging” sign that the pandemic’s trajectory is improving.
In his COVID-19 update from Rideau Cottage on Friday, the prime minister offered the topline summary of Canada’s continued slow march towards the end of the pandemic, ahead of the modelling presentation by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and her deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo.
“Over the past 15 months these models have not always produced good news, but because people have been getting vaccinated, because people have been staying home and following public rules, the current situation is quite encouraging,” Trudeau said in French, adding that this means the reopening can carefully continue.
Friday’s modelling showed that the “Rt” or effective reproduction number has remained out of an epidemic growth pattern since mid-April, which coincides with the ramping up of the vaccine rollout.
“A strong and steady decline in disease trends has continued over many weeks, average case counts have dropped by over 90 per cent since the peak of the third wave in mid April, with just over 750 new cases being reported daily over the past seven days,” Tam said.
As a result, Canada is set to continue to see a drop in new cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths over the next two months.
DELTA RISK REMAINS
However, Tam’s latest figures come with a caveat: the threat of the Delta variant continues to pose a real risk based on international experience, and so “sustained control efforts” will be needed in order to avoid a fall or winter resurgence, until vaccination coverage is high across the population.
Between April 25 and May 23, Canada saw a four-fold increase in the proportion of Delta cases, with the majority of Delta cases being found in unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated people.
The modelling shows that if the Delta variant becomes the predominant strain, Canada could once again risk exceeding hospitalization capacity as the variant is 50 per cent more transmissible than the original strain of COVID-19, and results in more severe infections.
Delta poses more of a threat to those not fully vaccinated, Tam said Friday, noting that vaccinating as many young people as possible will help fend off further spread. According to the modelling slides provided, if Canada hits around 80 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, a fourth wave could be avoided.
Until that mass vaccination level is reached, Tam suggested that personal protective measures like mask-wearing will remain important.
Overall, the data shows that COVID-19 vaccines are proving to be “highly protective” against COVID-19 infections, and there has been a “low percentage of cases reported following vaccination.”
This improved outlook follows May’s modelling, which showed that while some provinces were still battling the latest resurgence of the virus, the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be on the decline across Canada.
The caution from Tam at the time was that while the combination of restrictions across Canada and the growing number of vaccinations was proving to be “highly effective” in limiting the spread, more progress was needed on vaccinations before restrictions could be eased.
There are currently just over 9,000 active COVID-19 cases across the country. To date a total of more than 1.3 million infections have been reported, and there have been more than 26,000 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.
Friday’s modelling indicated that between now and July 4, Canada could see up to approximately 8,600 new cases, and up to approximately 280 more deaths.
MORE POST-VACCINATION GUIDANCE
The vaccination rates in Canada continue to improve, and to this effect, the government unveiled Friday a modified pre-existing “risk assessment tool” individuals can use to determine how safe certain activities like gatherings are, depending on vaccination status, case spread in the region, and personal health risks.
As well, more general suggestions have been made in terms of what is safe to do and what isn’t once you are fully vaccinated. Generally, outdoor activities remain the safest option and large indoor gatherings are where more risk is likely if not everyone is fully vaccinated.
“If you are vaccinated, you get the really incredible protection that the vaccine affords, then you can do more without a mask and physical distancing,” Tam said, adding that it still depends on what local public health restrictions are in place where you live.
Facing continued questions about why Canada does not have a set of guidelines comparable to what the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has outlined for Americans, Dr. Njoo said it’s because in the view of the Public Health Agency of Canada, it’s less straightforward than being able to do “whatever” you want once fully vaccinated.
“It’s much more nuanced than that… There's lots of factors in play. It's not as simple as what your status is with respect to vaccination,” Njoo said.
VACCINE DELIVERIES CONTINUE
With Canada’s June and July vaccine deliveries confirmed—seeing enough doses arriving in the coming weeks to fully vaccinate all who are eligible—provinces and territories are pushing up appointments for many and gradual reopening plans continue to progress.
Trudeau said that while vaccine uptake has been positive, it’s important everyone who has received a first dose, receive a second.
“It's not something you can do half way. Just like by now everybody knows the mask that goes over your nose and mouth, we all have to get that second shot once we've gotten our first,” Trudeau said Friday.
On Friday, Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie announced that in addition to the expected Pfizer and Moderna shipments, this week Canada received 795,000 more AstraZeneca doses. It remains to be seen whether, and where these doses will be used.
“Even in the midst of the ‘Big Lift’, with large scale shipments arriving on a regular basis, fluctuations in the distribution plan can be expected. We are working to minimize the impact of last minute changes, and to accelerate the availability of doses to the greatest extent possible,” Brodie said.
To date more than 34 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Canada. As of Friday, 75 per cent of the eligible population has received their first shot and 27 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated.
A previous version overstated the number of projected new cases.