With COVID-19 cases soaring in multiple provinces after a summer lull, more signs point to Canada entering the expected fourth wave of the pandemic — one that may be significantly different from previous surges, thanks to higher vaccination rates, but is not entirely free of the pain. .
The country’s seven-day average of new daily cases is now close to 1,300 — an increase of nearly 60 percent from the previous week, with cases returning mainly in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.
“We are definitely in a fourth wave,” said Dr. Peter Johnny, scientific director of the COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Schedule for Ontario. “There is no doubt about that.”
But unlike previous waves, which overwhelmed various hospital systems and led to catastrophic deaths in long-term care facilities, there is hope that this surge will not be too dire.
Rising vaccination rates across the country have changed the game: Nearly 60 percent of Canadians are now fully vaccinated, and research continues to show that leading vaccines offer high levels of protection against serious diseases, even against the rapidly spreading delta variant.
“We can effectively get more cases into our population without having a severe impact on our health care system,” explained Ashley Tweety, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“But that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods.”
Several experts who spoke to CBC News stressed the need to keep precautions such as mask-wearing to avoid the worst this wave could bring, while also striving to ensure as many Canadians as possible get their shots.
“The point is, we can’t go back to normal,” Johnny said. “Because we still have a challenge with a large percentage of people who are still not immune.”
Watch | Canada may see the beginning of a fourth delta-led wave:
90% of cases are among the unvaccinated
Unprotected individuals worldwide have demonstrated exposure to the highly contagious delta variant in recent weeks, with the number of cases – including serious infections and deaths – rising in areas with low vaccine coverage, ranging from Entire regions of Africa NS Some states of America.
“This is going to be a disease of the unvaccinated Canadians and the unvaccinated population,” said Dr. Isaac Bogosh, an infectious disease physician and member of the Ontario COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force.
Latest available Federal public health data It shows that nearly 90 percent of all COVID-19 cases reported in Canada since the country’s vaccination program began in mid-December have been among unvaccinated individuals.
Only a small fraction of cases – 0.5 percent – were reported among fully vaccinated people, with a similar collapse in hospitalizations and deaths in the same time period.
Compared to unvaccinated individuals, fully vaccinated COVID-19 cases were 70 percent less likely to be hospitalized and 51 percent less likely to die as a result of their illness, according to the latest federal update.
Bogosh stressed that as more and more people receive vaccinations, we hope that the total number of people who become seriously ill or die from the infection will remain relatively low, even if overall COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
“We are still seeing positive cases in vaccination,” he explained. “But proportionately those will not rise to the level of hospital admission.”
Pressure on the healthcare system is still possible
However, with about 40 percent of the total population not yet fully immunized, this means that millions of people – including all children in Canada under the age of 12, who have not yet been rehabilitated – remain at risk.
“If a large proportion of these individuals get sick in a short period of time, our health care system will expand and we will be in trouble,” Bogoch said.
His warning comes as Canadians face a patchwork of pandemic precautions, with some provinces abandoning many precautions altogether.
Almost all public health restrictions have been lifted in Alberta On July 1, for example, the county plans to scale back requirements for isolation, contact tracing and asymptomatic testing next week. And Saskatchewan followed suit By lifting most of its restrictions recently.
Johnny said that with the delta variable in circulation widely, it was not time for other provinces, such as Ontario, to further relax their rules. He added that this does not mean a return to complete closure, but rather means maintaining daily precautions, such as wearing masks and curbing large gatherings.
“If we just let things blow up now, and take an approach similar to what Alberta is doing now, we could have 20,000 ICU admissions in a relatively short time frame of six to eight weeks,” he said.
Watch | Experts say Canada needs to ramp up COVID-19 vaccines:
Dr David Naylor, who led the federal investigation into Canada’s national response to the SARS epidemic in 2003 and now co-chairs the federal government’s COVID-19 Immunology Task Force, said an overburdened health care system was still “less likely” given the apparent weakness between the number of cases and hospitalizations. Thanks to the vaccinations.
But he agrees that there could be “serious pressures” on hospitals if case numbers rise enough, at a time when frontline staff are already exhausted.
“This pressure will also hamper efforts to remove a huge backlog of backlog healthcare services across Canada,” Naylor said.
He also said that unanswered questions about how COVID-19 affects the human body are also of concern – whether it’s those persistent symptoms after infection or the potential long-term effects on children and teens.
Encouraging ‘critical’ vaccinations
Besides basic precautions, the most important thing right now is to encourage more Canadians to get their doses, University of Saskatchewan infectious disease specialist Dr. Alexander Wong said, in order to protect anyone who is not yet vaccinated or at greater risk — including That children and the elderly. With a weakened immune system and immunocompromised individuals of any age.
That could mean implementing vaccine mandates or certificates of proof of vaccination, he said.
Manitoba has already launched the vaccination card and applicationand granting special privileges to residents who have been fully vaccinated, while The Minister of Health of Quebec announced on Tuesday That the vaccination passport system will be implemented on September 1 to combat the increasing cases.
Watch | How convenient are COVID-19 vaccine clinics in persuading some to get vaccinated:
“With early signs of the onset of a delta-driven wave approaching and autumn approaching, efforts to increase the proportion of Canadians fully vaccinated and to strengthen individual precautions in accordance with local public health advice are critical to limiting the spread of the virus and minimizing the risk of a re-emergence that could lead to fatalities,” said Dr. Theresa Tamm. “Health care capacity will be exceeded in the coming fall and winter,” Canada’s chief public health official said in a statement Tuesday.
Many experts agree that simply letting this virus run its course is not an option.
“The number of reproduction in many places across the country is higher than one, which means we are in a period of exponential growth,” Tweety said.
“What that tells us is that if we don’t do anything, we’re going to continue to increase the growth in cases.”