Politics

Canada must 'learn from' the pandemic crisis in parts of the West, Tam says

Canada's chief public health officer says other provinces need to learn from the poor pandemic example being set by Alberta and Saskatchewan if they want to avoid the crisis now afflicting health services in those provinces.

Chief public health officer says unvaccinated Canadians are driving spike in infection rates, hospitalizations

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam says that other provinces need to learn from what's happening in parts of the West where the pandemic is surging. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Canada's chief public health officer says other provinces need to learn from the pandemic crisis in Alberta and Saskatchewan if they want to avoid the calamity now afflicting health services in those provinces.

"Don't be complacent," Theresa Tam said at this morning's media briefing. "We have to be highly vigilant on this virus. When you see it accelerating, act fast because, I think, we have to learn from the situation in Alberta and also in Saskatchewan at the moment."

On Thursday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney reintroduced strict and sweeping measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 — including a new requirement that people provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to gain entry to some businesses and social events.

Alberta has more than 18,000 active COVID-19 cases — the most of any province right now. There were 877 people in the province's hospitals with the illness on Wednesday, 218 of them in intensive care. Ontario, with a population more than three times Alberta's, had 346 in hospital, with 188 in intensive care.

"It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize," Kenney said in announcing the new measures.

Tam said that, despite the fact that a large majority of Canadians are vaccinated, there are still seven million Canadians who have not been vaccinated and intensive care units in areas where vaccination rates are low are filling up with people in their 40s and 50s.

"When enough people are infected, even rarer events, in younger adults for example, are going to become common," she said.

Avoiding more school lockdowns

Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada has looked at public health units across the country and found overwhelming evidence that areas with low vaccination rates are experiencing surges in infections. 

She said the regions of the country struggling the most with pandemic surges are in the West — Alberta, Northern Saskatchewan and northern and interior parts of British Columbia.

"If we want to keep schools open, for example, we have to make sure we manage the virus transmission ... to protect kids who are under 12, who cannot get vaccinated at the moment," she said.

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam on lessons the rest of Canada can learn from Alberta

'We have to learn from the situation in Alberta:' Dr. Theresa Tam

1 month ago
3:31
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the rest of Canada should learn from Alberta's experience after the province announced strict pandemic restrictions to fight the rising case count. 3:31

In parts of the country where increasing the vaccination rate is proving to be difficult, Tam said, authorities should impose public health restrictions — limiting the number of people that can gather together, mandating the wearing of masks indoors, hand-washing and physical distancing.

If vaccination rates cannot be increased in those parts of the country and such public health measures aren't introduced, Tam said, more restrictive measures — such as lockdowns and stay-at-home orders — may have to be implemented. 

"I think jurisdictions have to be prepared for that potential, but if you act early you can actually avoid those more restrictive measures," she said.

"But if needed, more restrictions may have to take place and my colleagues are hoping that this can be done in a more localized manner in order to avoid the significant impacts of widespread restrictions. I think it can be done." 

Tam said that while no provinces are immune from the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19, the provinces in Atlantic Canada have managed to control spikes in infection rates by acting "fast in putting down some localized measures."

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