Despite Canada posting some of its lowest daily COVID-19 case counts since last fall, health officials are warning that progress could be wiped out by the highly contagious Delta variant — especially if vaccinations start to drop off.
The country reported another 1,016 new infections on Friday, capping a five-day stretch where daily cases hovered just above or below 1,000 for the first sustained period since mid-September of last year.
Friday’s cases brought the seven-day average down to 1,079.8, also matching September levels and marking a nearly 90-per cent drop from the height of the third wave in April.
Hospitalizations have also fallen 73 per cent from that peak, with just over 1,150 Canadians currently receiving care for COVID-19 symptoms.
The seven-day average for new deaths, meanwhile, has dropped 61 per cent from 51 per day to 19.6. Eleven new deaths were reported Friday, including just one in Ontario — a province that not long ago was reporting dozens per day.
Canada’s vaccination campaign has only continued to swing upwards as cases and deaths fall. Over 75 per cent of eligible Canadians aged 12 and over have received at least one dose, according to the COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker. More than 19 per cent have been fully vaccinated with two doses.
The country is administering 1.19 doses per 100 people daily as of Thursday — one of the top five rates in the world. Canada also leads the world in the share of total population inoculated, with nearly 66 per cent of all Canadians now at least partially vaccinated.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced Friday that Canada is on track to have received more than 68 million vaccine doses in total by the end of July. That’s more than what’s needed to inoculate all 32 million eligible Canadians with both required doses.
Yet there are signs that the vaccination drive may be beginning to slow down. In the last 10 days, 3.6 per cent of Canadians received a first dose, compared to 6.8 per cent over the previous 10 days.
Vaccine hesitancy may be playing a role. A new Ipsos poll done exclusively for Global News, released Friday, suggests 18 per cent of Canadians are either unsure or are outright refusing to get their shot.
Provinces like Alberta and Manitoba that have begun to see their vaccination rates plateau are offering incentives like the chance to win up to $1 million in a lottery. But Ipsos found such perks may only sway about half of those who are still unvaccinated.
Health officials are warning that Canada’s vaccination rate still needs to be higher to effectively combat the Delta variant, which has quickly spread to nearly every part of the country.
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said as of Friday there are just over 2,000 confirmed cases of the variant. That marks a 66-per cent jump from just three days ago, when the Public Health Agency of Canada said there were just under 1,200.
Tam said this week that the country should look beyond its earlier goal of at least one vaccine dose for 75 per cent of eligible Canadians while urging a faster administration of second doses, saying just one dose isn’t as effective against Delta.
Two doses of the vaccines Canada is using are believed to offer very good protection against the variant, and even one dose has been found to be good at preventing serious illness.
“If the variant takes hold and we don’t have high enough vaccine coverage, what you will see is probably a resurgence in the fall period,” Tam told the House of Commons health committee Friday.
All provinces are warning against the existence of Delta. It is believed to be the driver of a major outbreak at the Kashechewan First Nation in northern Ontario, is involved in an outbreak at a Calgary hospital, and is worrying health officials in Waterloo, Ont., which is suddenly the province’s COVID-19 hot spot.
Most provinces are still moving forward with reopening plans, however.
Alberta, which reported 124 new cases and three deaths Friday, announced it will be lifting all restrictions on July 1 — the first province or territory to do so. The move was announced after the province surpassed the necessary 70 per cent vaccination threshold.
British Columbia entered the next stage of its reopening plan on Tuesday, allowing some limited indoor gatherings, dining and events like movie screenings. The province announced 108 new infections and just one new death Friday.
The Prairies are being a little more cautious. Saskatchewan, which saw 98 new cases and another death, is waiting to cross the 70 per cent inoculation threshold. Manitoba is still dealing with high hospitalizations while continuing to report over 100 new infections daily — including 189 on Friday, along with three more deaths.
Ontario reported 345 new infections and one more death on Friday, while Quebec added 127 more cases and two new deaths. Both provinces have begun reopening, although parts of Ontario that are seeing outbreaks have been forced to hold off on lifting restrictions.
In Atlantic Canada, only New Brunswick and Nova Scotia added new cases, with three and 11, respectively.
Nine new cases were reported in Yukon, as the territory continues to combat an outbreak in its capital of Whitehorse. The outbreak is being fuelled by the Gamma variant, which was first identified in Brazil and is also highly contagious.
No new cases were reported in the Northwest Territories or Nunavut Friday.
To date, Canada has seen a total of 1,407,277 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 26,023 people have died and 1,368,449 are considered to be recovered.
— With files from the Canadian Press