COVID-19 cases declining across Canada, but not as quickly as before

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the country is bending the curve on the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but progress has slowed recently and Canada could still see some "bumps" over the next few months.

Tam says border testing requirement for vaccinated travellers being examined

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks along Yonge Street in Toronto on Thursday. (Evan Buhler/The Canadian Press)

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the country is bending the curve on the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but progress has slowed recently and Canada could still see some "bumps" over the next few months.

"Now is not the time to let our guard down. We could still be in for a challenging winter," Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam told a briefing Friday.

"We may still be in for a bit of a bumpy ride all through the winter season in Canada. I envisage that there are bumps on the road because there are regional differences and there could be an upsurge in cases in pockets of under-immunization."

Tam said that while she expects to see fewer large upswings in the caseload, public health officials will need to keep a close eye on the data as the winter unfolds to prepare for sudden changes. 

"We are still preparing at the federal level and also the provincial level to provide surge capacity to certain hotspots in areas that need them," she said.

Tam welcomed the high level of vaccine coverage across Canada and said some regions are seeing very low COVID-19 activity.

"I think it is really encouraging and absolutely amazing — kudos to Canadians for rolling up their sleeves — that we got such a high vaccine coverage and, in fact, higher than that of the United States," she said. 

"But many areas of the country haven't seen much COVID activity, so I think that the level of immunity in some populations in Canada can be low."

Tam said the virus has proven to be adaptable and Canada must remain vigilant against new variants.

Outbreaks in children under 12

For the first time, reported cases nationally are now most commonly children under the age of 12 who do not qualify to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Tam said the largest number of outbreaks in September and October in Quebec and Ontario involved children under the age of 12, with children aged five to 11 making up the overwhelming majority of the cases.

Tam said it could have been much worse. 

"Ongoing monitoring indicates that most outbreaks among young children have been small, involving fewer than four cases, which suggests sensitive detection and rapid response controlled spreading," she said. 

Tam said outbreaks in schools and daycares have been smaller during the current wave, which suggests they are being closely monitored.

Less than one per cent of children who have been infected by COVID-19 have developed serious illness, Tam said.

Testing requirement at border

Tam also said that the testing requirements for vaccinated travellers at the border need to be re-examined, particularly for short trips.

Currently, anyone crossing into Canada needs to provide a recent molecular test that shows a negative result for COVID-19.

Tam said that policy is being "actively looked at," now that the border with the United States is reopening next week.

"Just to reassure everybody ... we are looking at that quite carefully," she said Friday.

A passenger is screened and gets a COVID-19 test while entering Canada from the United States at the land border crossing in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. earlier this year. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Critics have been frustrated by the fact that the policy applies to short trips across the U.S. border. Travellers get tested in Canada before spending up to 72 hours in the U.S., then present their negative Canadian test to re-enter the country.

"I'm not sure I understand the rationale for testing travellers who are going to the U.S. for a very short trip," said Dr. Irfan Dhalla, co-chair of a federal advisory panel on COVID-19 testing and screening.

"Even if we were going to require tests from these travellers, a test taken in Canada before the trip even starts would not be helpful."

If the policy is meant to guard against cases of travellers being infected in the United States, he said, it would make more sense to test a few days after their return to Canada, to cover the incubation period of the virus.

The cost — $150 to $300 per test — is also a sticking point for many.

With files from the CBC's Peter Zimonjic

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