After two months of relative stability, Canada’s COVID-19 case count is expected to rise rapidly in the coming weeks as variants of concern take hold with the country projected to hit 1 million total cases next week, according to data released today by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
While the vaccination campaign has ramped up after a period of scarcity, the rollout can’t keep pace with the spread of the virus, said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. Tam urged Canadians to reduce their contacts in the medium-term while provinces and territories deploy more shots in the months to come.
“COVID-19 still has a few tricks in store and we need to hold on together a bit stronger and longer until vaccines have us protected,” Tam said. While the setback is “discouraging,” she said better days are ahead. “We are closer now than ever, but it’s still too soon to relax measures.”
COVID-19 variants, like B117, which is thought to have originated in the U.K., now account for a high proportion of new cases — representing half of all new cases in some areas. There are roughly 3,000 new cases being reported each day nationwide, up from about 2,000 a month ago.
Case count could rise to 12,000 a day
With variants now circulating widely, PHAC said the case count could rise to as high 12,000 a day if Canadians maintain or increase the number of people they are in contact with each day. The current public health measures in place in most jurisdictions will be “insufficient” to keep cases at bay, the agency said.
While an increase in cases is almost certain over the coming weeks, if Canadians reduce contact, the country will be able to hold the line at 5,000 cases a day.
PHAC is predicting the cumulative case count — the number of cases reported since this pandemic began — will jump over the next week from 951,000 to between 973,000 and 1,005,000.
The spread of the variants — which are more transmissible than the strain first discovered in Wuhan — has also resulted in an increase in hospitalizations. There are now some 2,200 people in hospitals, 600 of whom are in intensive care units.
However, the vaccination campaign is starting to bear fruit with case counts among the 80-plus age cohort declining dramatically.
While there were 35 cases per 100,000 people aged 80 or older in January, the case rate has dropped to less than 5 per 100,000.
Most provinces and territories have been directing the early supply of mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna to seniors. About 60 per cent of all people over the age of 80 have received at least one shot, PHAC said.
The number of outbreaks in long-term care homes is also much lower than it was just three months ago. There were as many as 500 long-term care home outbreaks at any one time in December, while there have been fewer than 100 reported throughout March.