Hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases continue to decline across the country, but the highly contagious Delta variant stands a chance of unravelling some of the progress Canada has made, according to new national data from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
The modelling, released Friday, offered an updated picture of the current COVID-19 pandemic facing Canada, showing that the Delta variant may result in “greater than previously expected resurgence this fall and winter.”
“Over the past two months we’ve made significant process in bringing COVID-19 disease activity down and raising vaccination coverage up,” chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said while speaking at a press conference.
“The Delta variant of concern has emerged as the latest hurdle. Canada has every opportunity to avoid a strong Delta wave by remaining vigilant to keep infection rates low as we build the vaccination barrier wall high.”
The first scenario assumes at least 75 per cent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated by the summer. At this time, if personal protective measures — such as wearing a mask indoors — are lifted, Tam said the Delta variant has the potential to cause a “strong resurgence in the fall and winter.” This scenario could overwhelm hospital capacity.
The second scenario — also in the summertime — assumes more than 80 per cent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated before personal protective measures are lifted. This scenario could help “counteract the potential impact” of the Delta variant Tam said, and help Canada avoid a resurgence in the colder months.
As of Friday, 76.5 per cent of eligible Canadians aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 23.8 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker.
“While some resurgence may still occur this fall and winter, increasing vaccine uptake in younger populations can reduce the risk of overwhelming hospitals,” PHAC stated.
The Delta variant, or B.1.617.2 sub-lineage which was first discovered in India late last year, was recently classified as a variant of concern in Canada. The first cases were detected in the country back in April and have since been rising.
Evidence from the U.K. suggests that the Delta variant spreads much more easily than other variants that have appeared in Canada so far.
In Canada, Ontario estimates that the Delta variant will soon take over in the province and is on track to become the dominant form of the virus this summer. As of June 24, the province had 1,080 confirmed cases of the Delta variant, according to the provincial government’s website.
“While the Alpha variant continues to account for most cases, the Delta variant has increased more than fourfold since late April,” Tam said. “While we must remain vigilant, especially for variants with reduced impact on vaccines, a complete two-dose series of COVID vaccine provides substantial protection from variants of concern, including the Delta variant.”