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Variants could fuel third COVID-19 wave in Canada, modelling shows

Last Updated Feb 19, 2021 at 8:06 am PDT

FILE -- Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at a lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Current data shows Canada is seeing decline in cases, hospitalizations overall

Variant spread is raising concerns about a potential third wave of COVID-19 in Canada

Canada's top doctor says we need to increase our efforts to fight variant spread

OTTAWA – There’s a dire warning contained in the latest federal COVID-19 modelling data: if virus variants take hold in Canada and restrictions are relaxed, we could see a significant third pandemic wave this spring.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says while the rate of virus increase has slowed over the past several weeks, concerns over variant spread have emerged.

“(They) now appear in 10 provinces. Today there are over 660 B.1.1.7 variants, 39 B. variants, and one P.1 variant,” Tam explained, adding five provinces are reporting evidence of community spread and outbreak activity associated with these variants.

“Our daily case counts have been steadily declining over several weeks. But at the current national average of 2,900 new cases reported daily, case counts are still 60 per cent higher than the peak of the first wave,” she explained.

“With the emergence and spread of new variants of concern, we are cautioned that unless we maintain and abide by stringent public health measures, we may not be able to avert a reacceleration of the epidemic in Canada,” Tam added.

Data shows there’s been steady decline in most of the provinces. However, Tam said the escalation in variant cases in Newfoundland and Labrador is an example of how quickly the situation can turn.

She stresses the importance of rapid and decisive public health response by provinces in order to avoid the worst-case scenario, with data showing it’s possible the outbreak can be controlled with enhanced measures.

“To maintain our progress in controlling COVID-19 and to prevent further accelerations, we need to keep the pressure on the virus, applying what works with even more diligence,” Tam said.

Even with current restrictions, the spread of variants could push the national caseload to more than 10,000 new diagnoses per day by April, according to the projections.

We could also see just under 1,000 new deaths because of COVID-19 by the end of the month.