COVID-19 will be a reality for the “foreseeable future,” Canada’s top doctors are warning as the country is facing yet another resurgence of the virus.
The forecast comes as Canada experiences an uptick in cases in many jurisdictions across the country, with a 28 per cent increase in daily average case counts as of March 31, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
The latest surge will be Canada’s sixth wave of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
“COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future,” said deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo, speaking in French on Friday.
Because of this reality, Canada is preparing for two scenarios, he added.
The first is the most likely scenario, in which COVID-19 continues to resurge in small, manageable waves. The second, less likely option, is that a new, severe and vaccine-evasive strain of the virus could emerge, which could substantially impact our healthcare systems.
“While we need to be prepared for a worst-case scenario, in the near term, our most significant risk may be a resurgence that coincides with the return of other seasonal respiratory viruses,” Njoo said.
“This is why now is a crucial time to focus on preparedness, in addition to recovery.”
The uptick in COVID-19 cases was partially driven by the highly transmissible BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, PHAC officials said.
But provinces across Canada have recently dropped a number of COVID-19 restrictions in most settings, including masking and proof of vaccination. The decision to lift these restrictions — and Canadians’ increased social activity that followed — has played a role in the rising case counts Canada is experiencing right now too, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Friday.
She added that indicators of severe illness, like hospitalization and ICU admissions, have been “levelling off.” While there are different trends in different regions of the country, Tam said she expects these severe illness indicators to “follow the rising trends of cases, to some degree, over the coming weeks.”
Canada’s health system is, however, expected to be able to withstand this uptick, she later said.
This is a trend we will continue to see play out in the months ahead as Canada enters what she called a “period of transition” with the virus.
“We anticipate that progress will not be linear and that … there will likely be more bumps along the way, including resurgence in cases this spring and likely also in the fall and winter,” Tam said.
While the top doctors say these bumps are inevitable, there are things Canadians can do to cushion the blow of a COVID-19 resurgence.
One such protective measure, Tam said, is getting your booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
There are more than five million Canadians who have yet to finish their initial series of the COVID-19 vaccines, according to PHAC, and just over 47 per cent of Canadians have gotten their booster2.
But boosters are proving to be a powerful tool in preventing hospitalizations.
From February to mid-March, Canadians who were fully vaccinated were four times less likely to end up in the hospital with COVID-19 when compared with those who were unvaccinated, according to PHAC.
Once a booster enters the mix, PHAC added, Canadians were 10 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are unvaccinated.
“Please do go get that booster. People think it’s maybe too late, we don’t need it, we just had the infection — any adult over 18 years of age, when you’re eligible, go get the booster now, because that will protect you further,” Tam said.
She added that as cases continue to rise, Canadians can continue to mitigate the strain rising cases of COVID-19 put on our healthcare system by beefing up their personal protective measures, including by wearing a mask, even if it’s not mandated.
“The bottom line is, everybody, right now, I think, should still wear the mask,” Tam said.
“Keep those layers of measures, no matter where you are in this country.”