Canada is in 6th wave of COVID-19, Dr. Theresa Tam says

WATCH: Canada's top doctor recommends keeping your mask on as BA.2 variant fuels 6th wave

Canada is in a sixth wave of COVID-19, Canada’s top doctor has confirmed.

The latest rise in cases across the country is fuelled by the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Tuesday.

“It depends on the location, but yes, we can say we are experiencing a sixth wave in Canada, generally speaking,” Tam said, speaking to reporters.

“There has been a rise in COVID-19 activity everywhere.”

COVID-19 has been resurging across Canada, Tam said, despite cases being undercounted due to the limited PCR testing in most provinces. There are just shy of 200,000 active cases across the country right now, according to the government’s figures.

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Daily average cases counts increased by 28 per cent nationally during the week leading up to March 31, PHAC said, and community wastewater has continued to signal a rising trend.

Most worryingly, hospitalizations have started to increase, too, Tam said. According to Health Canada’s website, the total number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients increased from more than 4,200 to more than 5,100 during the first week of April.

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During that same period, the number of COVID cases in ICU beds stayed roughly the same — from 374 to 365 — while the number of COVID patients on ventilators increased from 155 to 173.

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While it’s true that mRNA vaccines become less effective at preventing infection over time, two doses are still generally effective at keeping people from getting hospitalized or worse. What’s even better, Tam said, is a booster. She noted if you’re boosted, your vaccinations become more than 90 per cent effective at keeping you out of the hospital.

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Tam urged Canadians to get their boosters — if not for themselves, then for others.

“Getting a booster dose doesn’t just protect you against severe illness, it also provides a level of protection against infection, which in turn helps to reduce transmission.”

The National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI) strengthened its guidance on boosters on Tuesday, stating that all adults aged 18 and older are now “strongly recommended” to get a first booster dose if it’s been six months since their last jab.

Adolescents aged 12 to 17 also “should” be offered a first dose if they’re immunocompromised, live in congregate care settings, or belong to a marginalized community that has been “disproportionately affected” by COVID-19, NACI said in its updated recommendation, which previously stated that group “may” be offered a booster.

NACI also added a recommendation that “all” people in that age group also “may” now be offered a first booster dose, even if they aren’t part of any of those groups.

“Evidence continues to grow stronger about the value of a COVID-19 booster dose for all adults, and even for adolescents, especially with variants of concern,” said Dr. Robyn Harrison, the NACI vice-chair.

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While the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron shoulders much of the blame for the latest surge, a number of health experts have pointed to provincial decisions to lift restrictions as a contributing factor, too.

Nearly all provinces have dropped their masking requirements, and most have ditched proof of vaccination rules.

“Masks need to go back on very quickly. Otherwise we’re going to have a lot more cases on our hands,” said Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency physician in Toronto, in an interview with Global News last week.

Pirzada believes that governments “don’t really have our back anymore,” as hospital staff grapple with underlying burnout and an increase in admissions.

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“This is kind of a do-it-yourself pandemic,” he said.

“If you have any symptoms, stay away and protect other people, wear a mask in indoor spaces, use rapid tests and try to fix the ventilation in places where you’re working or going to school. That’ll go a long way.”

Tam had similar advice for Canadians, regardless of what their province is telling them to do.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in Canada right now,” she said.

“I would advise getting that booster shot and masking and improving ventilation.”

— With files from Global News’ Saba Aziz

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