Canada’s top doctor says masks are a “fundamental layer of protection” against COVID-19 even as some provinces ditch mandates to wear them.
“Whether your jurisdiction requires it or not or whether your setting requires it or not, it’s something you can do to protect yourself and others,” Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said during a press conference Friday.
Provinces nationwide, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, have begun lifting pandemic restrictions, with the latter removing mask mandates as of March 15.
Alberta is expected to announce whether it will drop mask mandates this Saturday while its neighbouring province, Saskatchewan, renewed its state of emergency on Thursday — the same day it lifted its COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates.
In Ontario, a date for lifting masking requirements is yet to come. When they are removed from most public places, schools will likely be included, Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.
Starting March 7 in Quebec, the government will also lift its mask mandate for elementary and high school students.
New Brunswick will be lifting all COVID-19 restrictions as of March 14 and its proof of vaccination system will also be lifted at the end of this month. Newfoundland and Labrador will follow suit, ending their pandemic restrictions the same day as New Brunswick.
“Masks provide a good layer of protection. Wear a mask to reduce your risk,” Tam said.
Her comments come as the risks of COVID-19 have somewhat receded in Canada, although the virus does still pose a threat.
“The virus is still very much alive. It’s active in your communities,” she said.
BA.2, a subvariant of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, is also continuing to spread across Canada, health officials warned.
Despite BA.1, the original Omicron variant, still dominating case counts in most provinces and territories, an increased presence of BA.2 has also been documented, according to Tam.
Currently, BA.2 accounts for about 10 per cent of domestic samples, she said.
Based on Denmark data, this sub-lineage of Omicron does not appear to be associated with more severe illness, Tam noted. Similarly, data from England also shows no indications of a difference in immune escape or vaccine effectiveness compared with Omicron BA.1.
Both countries have found, however, the new variant is more transmissible.
An uptick in this variant proves the need for COVID-19 injections to be up to date, Tam said.
“The evidence supporting the value of booster doses continue to get stronger,” she added.
Overall, the predicted trajectory for hospital admissions is expected to be lower, although last week’s modelling showed that a resurgence in cases could still occur with the easing of public health measures.
Nationally, weekly case counts are down by 26 per cent. Hospitalization and intensive care rates are also down 20 per cent from last week.