Canada could see COVID-19 uptick in new year, country’s top doctor warns

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Fears of triple virus threat loom as holiday season approaches
WATCH: Fears of triple virus threat loom as holiday season approaches – Nov 28, 2022

The new year may bring with it an uptick in COVID-19 activity in Canada, the country’s top doctor is warning.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, told reporters during a Wednesday news conference in Ottawa that while the nation has passed the peak of the last COVID-19 wave, it’s “too soon to let our guard down.”

“In Canada, variations in population level of immunity, and current global trends suggest that an uptick in COVID-19 could occur in the new year,” said Tam, who also cited an increase in more immune-evasive variants emerging in Canada.

“With the increased prominence of these variants in Canada, at a minimum, we could see a slower decline and a higher plateau in the number of infections, as well as hospital admissions in Canada as this respiratory virus season plays out.”

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COVID-19 continues to circulate in Canada and is doing so alongside RSV and influenza. The three viruses have overloaded the Canadian health-care system in recent weeks.

RSV cases have levelled off nationally and cases are declining in some areas of the country, Tam said. Influenza, meanwhile, is continuing to exceed infection levels typically seen this time of year.

As for COVID-19, the dominant BA.5 subvariant appears to be dwindling off, Tam said. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, which scientists have said are more immune evasive, are increasing in Canada.

BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants are sub-lineages of the BA.5, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which warned on Dec. 2 that a growing decline in surveillance and vaccination could open the door to a new variant of concern. As COVID-19 activity began to ease earlier this year, many Canadian governments began easing restrictions designed to limit the spread of the virus.

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As of Nov. 20, 6.8 per cent of all BA.5 sub-lineages sequenced in Canada were BQ.1, whereas 13.1 per cent were BQ.1.1, the latest federal government data shows. In the previous reporting period on Nov. 13, 4.7 per cent of BA.5 sub-lineages detected were BQ.1, and 14.5 per cent were BQ.1.1.

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According to federal data published on Dec. 12, which was accumulated between Dec. 3 and Nov. 27, 17,376 COVID-19 infections and 243 deaths were reported in Canada. Archived data published on Nov. 28 showed that between Nov. 19 and Nov. 13, 15,085 infections and 267 deaths were logged.

Between Dec. 5 and Nov. 28, 5,638 Canadians occupied hospital beds due to COVID-19, up from 5,563 in the previous reporting period; 251 Canadians were in the ICU, down from 267 in the last report.

On Dec. 9, the federal government reported that 23 per cent of the entire population had either gotten two-or-three shots of a COVID-19 vaccine in the past six months; about 20 per cent of the population has received a booster dose since Aug. 1.

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For weeks, health experts and officials have urged Canadians to stay up-to-date with their vaccinations, be it COVID-19 or influenza, and take up personal protective measures like mask-wearing indoors as hospitals feel the brunt of the respiratory illness season.

With the holidays fast approaching, Tam reiterated that message once again.

“When planning a holiday gathering, consider the potential impact of respiratory illnesses on your health and social plans, the health status and risk factors of the people you are gathering with, and the places you’ll be gathering in,” she said.

“Properly wearing a well-fitted, well-constructed facemask in indoor public spaces or crowded settings and taking steps to take the best ventilation possible are layers of protection that can reduce everyone’s risk.”

Chief science adviser issues recommendations to combat long COVID

Furthermore, Mona Nemer, Canada’s chief science adviser, on Wednesday released a series of recommendations that include Ottawa developing a list of criteria to diagnose long-COVID and guidelines for doctors to treat it.

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The advice comes from a task force that was established in the summer to respond to long-COVID. As of August, roughly 15 per cent of adults who’ve had COVID-19 experience symptoms three months or more after their initial infection, Nemer said.

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The 18 recommendations include strategies to identify and treat patients, track them, research the condition and prevent infections. Ottawa’s last budget included $20 million over five years to research the long-term impact of COVID-19 infections on Canadians, as well as the wider impact of the pandemic on health-care systems.

In a news release, the government said officials will review the recommendations, but has established a “Post COVID-19 Condition Secretariat” within PHAC to coordinate a “whole-of-government approach to address evidence and data gaps around the condition.”

— with files from The Canadian Press


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