If coronavirus transmission rates remain unchanged, the country could be looking at its worst wave of COVID infections yet, say the latest public health projections.
By the beginning of October, Canada could be seeing more than 15,000 cases a day, almost five times the current seven-day average of 3,500, the country’s top doctor said Friday.
In a briefing that outlined the latest epidemic modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said those kinds of numbers could overwhelm hospital capacity by the fall.
But a future spike in case counts could be mitigated by increasing vaccination rates, Tam said, and by targeted restrictions in parts of the country where numbers are high.
“This is a crucial moment,” said Tam. “We have a window of opportunity to rapidly accelerate vaccine uptake and close the protection gap in younger age groups with the lowest vaccine coverage.
“Where there are pockets of under-vaccinated people, there is an ongoing risk of rapid community spread, high numbers of hospitalization and potential for emergence of new variants of concern.”
Increasing the vaccination rates in the country’s 18- to 39-year-old age group could be critical to preventing a fourth COVID wave from forcing another series of lockdowns, said Tam during the briefing.
Those two demographics — 18 to 29 and 30 to 39 — are not only the age groups with some of the lowest vaccination rates (63 and 68 per cent fully vaccinated, respectively), they’re the groups that tend to be the most mobile, tend to socialize the most and continue to have the highest rates of infection, said Tam.
According to Health Canada, almost 77 per cent of females aged 18 to 29 are vaccinated, compared with 71 per cent of males. In the 30 to 39 group, roughly 79 per cent of females and 75 per cent of males have rolled up their sleeves.
The latest Public Health Agency modelling shows an urgent need to get more of that group vaccinated and to speed up the overall rate of vaccination.
“The bottom line is that millions of people across Canada remain unvaccinated, and at high risk of COVID-19 infection and severe illness outcomes.”
Ideally, Tam would like to see more than 80 per cent of the population fully vaccinated as soon as possible after Labour Day.
“Because of how fast the mostly Delta-driven cases are escalating, particularly in the west of the country, the window of opportunity to make that impact is definitely narrowing,” she said.
The Public Health Agency’s modelling shows that an increase in vaccination rates could mitigate the Delta variant’s higher transmission rates, but it also indicates that most provinces — especially if they identify a risk to their health-care capacity — will likely have to pause their reopening plans and, in some cases, reinstate some of the restrictive measures previously in place.
The purpose of the Friday briefing, said Tam, was to show that a fourth-wave full lockdown can be avoided, but only with quick action to prevent transmission and increase vaccination rates.
And one of the keys to that — especially among that critical 18 to 39 age group — may be through vaccine passports, a measure that, while controversial, is favoured by about three-quarters of the country.
In places such as Ontario, Quebec and B.C., provincial government announcements that vaccine passports would be required to attend sporting events, restaurants and concerts have been immediately followed by sharp spikes in bookings for vaccinations.
“(If people know) they can’t go to a hockey game or to a bar or to a restaurant unless they show proof of vaccination … if that’s what nudges them over to get vaccinated, that’s great,” said deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo.
In Alberta, meanwhile, where vaccination rates have plateaued over the summer, Premier Jason Kenney’s government is offering a $ 100 incentive for anyone who gets a first or second dose of a COVID vaccine in the next six weeks.