January 14, 2022 – Ottawa, ON – Public Health Agency of Canada
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and anxiety for many Canadians, particularly those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada online portal, people of all ages across the country can access immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) continues to monitor COVID-19 epidemiological indicators to quickly detect, understand and communicate emerging issues of concern. Today, I presented an update on national epidemiology and modelling. The following is a brief summary of the modelling results with the latest national numbers and trends.
Today’s updated longer-range forecast suggests that a continued large surge of rapidly accelerating Omicron cases is forecasted for Canada. Importantly, the latest forecasts show that even with a lower risk of hospitalization for Omicron compared to Delta, the number of new daily hospital admissions could still exceed previous historical peaks due to the sheer volume of cases that could occur. With several weeks of very intense activity expected to come, these updated modelling forecasts underscore the importance of doing our best now to help limit the size of the Omicron surge in order to maintain the health system and critical functions of society. To mitigate the impact, we need sustained public health measures and good adherence with individual practices, while getting COVID-19 vaccines protection up-to-date across the population, including boosters as eligible and recommended. We can all help by staying the course, with caution and consistency, to get through this difficult period sooner.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 2,688,751 cases of COVID-19 and 31,190 deaths reported in Canada. These cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date, while the number of active cases, now at 386,033, and 7-day moving averages indicate current disease activity and severity trends. Going forward, as very high infection rates challenge or exceed testing capacity, daily new and active case numbers will be an underestimate of the true number of current infections. Hence, a range of other indicators, from laboratory test positivity to ongoing monitoring of the number of people in hospitals and critical care will continue to be important for monitoring current disease activity and severity.
Omicron disease activity has now eclipsed all previous waves of the pandemic and is trending far above daily counts for severe outcomes, nationally. During the latest 7 day period (Jan 6-12), an average of 37,530 new cases were reported daily across Canada. While this is a 10% decrease compared to the week prior, this could in part be attributed to changes in testing policies across Canada that can underestimate the true number of infections. Laboratories across Canada continue to test at a very high level. During the latest 7-day period (Jan 2-8), laboratory test positivity was 28%, indicating widespread community transmission.
Although evidence from ongoing surveillance and recent studies indicates that the risk of hospitalisation is lower for Omicron compared to Delta, the sudden acceleration of Omicron and enormous volume of cases is expected to add an additional strain on the healthcare system. This is both because of increased hospital admissions and high numbers of illness and need for isolation among health care workers, which is expected to impact many areas of the country over the coming weeks. The latest provincial and territorial data show that an average of 6,779 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Jan 6-12), which is 84% higher than last week and higher than all previous peaks. This includes, on average, 884 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), which is 50% higher than last week and an average of 82 deaths were reported daily (Jan 6-12). Keeping infection rates down remains key to mitigating the rise in severe illness trends as much as possible over the coming weeks.
Immunization for all those who are eligible, but are yet to receive their primary series, remains a top priority. Although uncertainties remain, evidence suggests that while two doses of vaccine may not provide good protection against getting infected, a two-dose primary series still provides good protection against hospitalisation. Encouragingly, the latest evidence indicates that a third dose improves protection against both infection and hospitalisation due to the Omicron variant.
As of January 13, 2022, provinces and territories have administered over 72 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The latest provincial and territorial data indicate that over 83% of the total population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and over 77% are now fully vaccinated. Age-specific vaccine coverage data, as of January 8, 2022, show that over 90% of people 40 years or older have at least one dose and over 87% are fully vaccinated, while over 87% of younger adults aged 18-39 years have at least one dose and 83%-84% are fully vaccinated. Nevertheless, over 6.5 million eligible people in Canada need one or more doses to complete their primary series.
Many others are eligible to get a booster dose to help restore protection that may have waned since their second dose. Moreover, there is accumulating evidence that a booster dose results in better protection against severe illness, including against the Omicron variant that appears to have a higher degree of immune evasion. Booster doses are particularly important for certain groups, such as healthcare workers and those at highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults, people with high-risk medical conditions and people in and from Indigenous communities. Either Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty or Moderna Spikevax COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are effective as booster so please feel confident in accepting whichever vaccine is offered to you. Booster vaccination programs are continuing across Canada. As of January 13, over 11 million third doses have been administered to date. National data as of January 8, 2022 indicate that 67%-71% of seniors aged 70 years or older and 36%-51% of 50-69 year olds have received an additional dose.
While COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada and internationally, a vaccines plus approach continues to be essential to the pandemic response in Canada. This includes layering vaccination with timed and targeted public health measures and individual protective practices such as staying home/self-isolating if you have symptoms; getting tested if symptomatic and/or as recommended; being aware of risks associated with different settings; following local public health advice and consistently maintaining individual precautions. In particular, properly wearing a well-fitted and well-constructed face mask when in public or private spaces with others outside of your immediate household, avoiding crowding, and getting the best ventilation possible in indoor spaces, are layers of protection that can reduce your risk in all settings. As well, given the significant risks and uncertainties associated with rapidly expanding spread of the Omicron variant, Canadians are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada at this time; if you must travel, be aware of current and rapidly evolving requirements for visiting other countries and for returning to Canada.
In addition to getting fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines and getting a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose as recommended, we can also stay healthier during the winter respiratory season by getting up-to-date with other recommended vaccines, such as influenza and routine vaccines for children and adults. For additional information regarding vaccination in your area, reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as Canada.ca and Immunize.ca. Canada.ca provides a broad range of COVID-19 information and resources to help Canadians understand the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19.
Canadians can also go the extra mile by sharing credible information on COVID-19 risks and prevention practices and measures to reduce COVID-19 in communities. Read my backgrounder to access more COVID-19 Information and Resources on ways to reduce the risks and protect yourself and others, including information on COVID-19 vaccination.
Public Health Agency of Canada