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Canada leaving ‘crisis phase’ of pandemic but resurgence possible as measures ease: Tam

Click to play video: 'Canada’s top doctor warns easing measures too fast could lead to surge in COVID-19 cases again' Canada’s top doctor warns easing measures too fast could lead to surge in COVID-19 cases again
WATCH: Canada's top doctor warns easing measures too fast could lead to surge in COVID-19 cases again – Feb 18, 2022

New federal data shows that while Canada is exiting the “critical phase” of the COVID-19 pandemic, easing of public health measures could still lead to resurgence, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday.

“As we transition out of the crisis phase, we can continue to rely on crucial tools for prevention, early detection and response, including vaccines, testing, robust surveillance, treatments, and public health and health-care infrastructure,” Tam said at a virtual COVID-19 update.

She explained that at this moment, there’s a significant buildup of immunity in the population and that Canada has the tools to manage the pandemic going forward without the restrictive public health measures.

“They may still be needed if there was a very severe variant that escapes vaccine immunity, for example. So we don’t want to completely reduce all of our capacities … but for now given the projections … we should be able to return to normalcy,” said Tam.

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While the easing of public health measures could result in a resurgence of cases in Canada, Tam said the impact on hospitalizations is forecast to be lower.

According to the data released by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), there are two possible future scenarios when it comes to hospitalizations. The first is the expectation that there will be a limited resurgence in daily cases, with potential for a more modest resurgence in daily hospital admissions towards the spring.

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The second is that Canada could expect a larger resurgence in daily Omicron cases, potentially going beyond previously reported peaks, but the peak of daily hospital admissions could be much lower.

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In the meantime, Tam said COVID-19 will continue to evolve.

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The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been continually evolving since it first appeared in late 2019 and has gone through different mutations that can impact its virus characteristics, like transmissibility and severity.

Due to the nature of the virus, Tam said new variants may emerge from existing variants, like the BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron, which was first detected in November last year.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have declined in Canada’s two most populous provinces in recent weeks, which has led to a gradual lifting of public health measures. On Friday, Ontario had a drop of 61 patients in hospital to 1,281.

Both provinces have also begun offering booster shots to youth between 12 and 17.

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Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said earlier this week that as long as improvements continue, he expects immunization policies, such as those that require people be vaccinated or regularly tested to continue working, could be removed by March 1 and mask mandates a few weeks later.

Premier Doug Ford said he has been guided by science in making cautious choices on easing restrictions, and a decision around masks will be no different.

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-With files from The Canadian Press

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