Canada has seen nearly a 30-per-cent drop in active COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, but the country's chief public health officer says strict measures should remain in place as more contagious variants of the virus threaten to derail this downward trend.

In a daily update Thursday, Dr. Theresa Tam said there are 48,221 active COVID-19 cases in Canada, down from more than 68,400 cases two weeks ago.

Tam said the daily federal tally has also been trending downwards, with an average of 4,061 new infections reported per day over the past week.

She said this slowdown has led to a gradual decline in severe COVID-19 outcomes. Over the past seven days, an average of 3,711 patients were treated in hospitals each day, including 792 in intensive care.

Even with this decline, Tam said the current caseload continues to burden local health-care resources, particularly in regions with high infection rates.

"The risk remains that trends could reverse quickly," Tam said in a statement, noting that the spread of the virus is accelerating in some parts of the country and outbreaks continue to occur in high-risk communities.

"These factors underscore the importance of sustaining public health measures and individual practices and not easing restrictions too fast or too soon.

"This is particularly important in light of the emergence of new virus variants of concern that could rapidly accelerate transmission of COVID-19 in Canada."

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller echoed this call for continued vigilance Thursday as his department reported that the number of people with COVID-19 in First Nations communities has declined to the lowest point since Dec. 6, with 1,869 active cases reported as of Wednesday.

Miller said more than 64,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to First Nations on reserve, Inuit and in the territories as of Feb. 3. But as authorities wait to see how Canada-wide delays in vaccine shipments will impact the rollout, Miller warned this isn't the time to let down our guards.

As federal authorities urge restraint, Manitoba is considering loosening restrictions to allow restaurants, lounges, gyms and churches to reopen at a reduced capacity.

Current measures expire next week and the province is seeking public feedback about changes moving forward.

Non-essential businesses were forced to close in November as COVID-19 infections and deaths surged.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, said while numbers have significantly dropped, any steps to reopen must be taken cautiously.

Meanwhile, Ontario is considering cancelling March break as it moves to reopen schools that remain shuttered in southern parts of the province.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he's waiting on the opinion of the province's chief medical officer of health before making a final call, stressing the importance of preventing travel as COVID-19 variants run rampant abroad.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2021.