The federal government has shipped postcards out to six million households across Canada ahead of the holiday season, urging Canadians to step up their precautions as multiple viruses — including COVID-19 — continue to spread.
The postcard warns that “more time indoors this fall and winter could lead to more COVID-19 illness.”
It goes on to remind the recipients that bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, which provide protection against the Omicron variant, are now available — and that you should consider getting a booster shot if it’s been six months since your last COVID-19 vaccine or infection.
The postcard also tells the reader that additional individual public health measures, like masking in crowded areas and staying home when sick, are “always a good idea.”
The postcards were sent to six million households with a forecasted price tag of $1.08 million, according to a statement from Anna Maddison, a spokesperson for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“Surveillance indicators, including clinical and wastewater testing, show that (COVID-19) is still circulating across the country,” Maddison explained.
“While we are past the peak of the last COVID-19 resurgence, it is too soon to let our guard down.”
Variations in the Canadian population’s level of immunity, as well as current global trends, are suggesting that Canada could experience an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the new year, Maddison said.
“In recent weeks, genetic sequencing data on SARS-CoV-2 viruses shows continuing increases in immune evasive variants, notably BQ.1 and BQ1.1, while the previously dominant BA.5 lineage variants are declining,” she added.
“With the increased prominence of these variants in Canada, at a minimum we could see a slower decline and higher plateaus in the number of infections as well as hospital admissions in Canada, as this respiratory virus season plays out.”
The warning comes as multiple other respiratory illnesses are circulating in Canadian communities — especially among children. The flu and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have been ripping through Canadian households and straining hospital resources.
“Respiratory illnesses increase in the fall and winter, when people spend more time together indoors,” Maddison added.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said that even if the flu season is currently peaking, it’s “a long way down the other side of the barrier — which means there’s still a lot of flu season ahead and you should still be getting protection.”
“We’re about to enter the holiday season. We’re going to have innumerable close contacts with people,” he said, speaking in an interview with AM640 Toronto, a radio station owned by Global News’ parent company Corus Entertainment, on Dec. 16.
“Celebrate, have a wonderful time, but do so responsibly…. If you can reduce your risk of getting infected or infecting other people, you should do that.”
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Meanwhile, the government is ramping up its efforts to encourage Canadians to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19 this winter.
The postcard is the latest in a “broader set of campaigns” the government has undertaken to increase awareness of the importance of keeping up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, according to Health Canada and PHAC.
“These efforts include advertising, outreach and marketing activities,” she said.
However, not all of these efforts have gotten a warm reception amid the winter chill.
With the holidays just around the corner, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam posted a video of her “great chat with Mrs. Claus” where the two shared ideas of what Canadians can do to make the holiday season “happy and healthy.”
Some social media users, though, described the video as “cringe.”
“Every child in Canada has definitely earned a place on the nice list. Their parents and caregivers too. It’s been a tough season with lots of viruses making people sick,” Tam said.
In response, “Mrs. Claus” said she and Santa Claus are both feeling healthy and are “up to date with our vaccination, including COVID boosters and flu shots.”
She encouraged Canadians to wash their hands to the tune of Jingle Bells and wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces, while encouraging Canadians to open up their doors or windows for periods at a time to get fresh air into spaces where people might be gathering during the holidays.
— with files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly