New federal modelling data shows severity indicators and daily cases of COVID-19 are back on the rise as variants of the virus continue to spread in parts of the country, with incidents highest among young adults.
Those increases are coming at a bad time, says Canada’s chief public health officer, who expressed concern Friday with religious holidays nearing and people wanting to gather with families.
Dr. Theresa Tam says daily cases have increased more than 30 per cent over the past two weeks, with an average of 29 deaths reported daily.
Tam says that indicates we’re in a “very tight race” between vaccines and variants of concern, which make up an increasingly high proportion of new cases in several provinces.
Approaching spring holidays may make spread tougher to contain, Tam says, noting that the country saw a sharp rise in cases following Christmas.
The Jewish holiday of Passover is this weekend while Easter follows a week later. Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, begins April 13.
“Every time we hit a holiday period, we’re always a bit anxious,” Tam said in a press conference. “Passover, Easter, Ramadan, (these are) times when families and churches and other gatherings typically occur.
“We want to make sure this does not happen right now. (It’s) not the time.”
The data released Friday by the Public Health Agency of Canada shows that while the number of cases have declined in Canadians aged 80 and older, incidence rates are highest among young adults aged 20 to 39.
Tam says infections among younger, more mobile and social age groups pose an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations, and continuing community spread.
Some of the decrease in incidence rates among older populations is a result of Canada’s vaccine efforts on highest risk individuals to date, Tam said.
She said there’s no reason the effectiveness of vaccines seen among the elderly won’t translate to younger populations, adding that an escalation of Canada’s rollout to include as many people as possible with at least one dose could slow the quick pace of variant spread.
More than 7,100 cases of variants of concern have been reported across the country, with the variant first identified in the U.K. making up 90 per cent of those cases. Tam adds that there are emerging concerns of the increased severity of this variant in adults.
Data from the U.K. shows the variant first detected there has led to a 60 per cent increase in hospitalizations, 100 per cent increase in ICU admissions and a 60 per cent increase in the risk of death.
“These severity indicators can be seen across all age groups of the adult population,” Tam said. “It is a very important set of information that should drive home to all of us why it is important to maintain these (restrictive) measures.”
Tam says all six provinces west of the Atlantic region are currently experiencing, or likely to experience a resurgence in cases “in the coming days and weeks.” She added that jurisdictions need to clamp down on rapid spread quickly.
Some provinces have loosened restrictions recently, including Ontario, which increased its indoor dining capacity to 50 people in most regions. Manitoba this week also announced the limit on outdoor gatherings is to go up to 25 people from 10, and a 50 per cent capacity rule for retail outlets is to max out at 500 people rather than 250.
Tam says there’s “merit” in provinces taking regional approaches with their restrictions, but notes that “up-and-down measures” may not be the best way to combat spread.
“If there are detections that this activity is ramping up, then definitely don’t relax,” she said. “Try and keep that even keel until the vaccines have gained much more of acceleration in terms of coverage.”