COVID-19 cases are on the decline, but more and more Canadians are getting sick with the flu across the country, Canada’s top public health officer said Friday.
“We’re seeing influenza activity increasing up to the seasonal threshold despite the opposite trends being expected this time of year,” Dr. Theresa Tam, the nation’s chief public health officer, told reporters during a federal COVID-19 update.
Without many COVID-19 health mandates like masking in effect in most places across the country, cases of the flu have increased, according to Tam.
“One of the things we’ve learned about the use of public health measures for COVID-19 in the past two years is that they were also effective in reducing the prevalence of other infectious diseases. Our reduced contact rates may have interrupted transmission of other diseases such as influenza,” said Tam.
“Personal protective habits help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as well as other risky transactions during diseases,” she added. “This is a reminder that our efforts are still needed.”
According to a report from the federal government, cases of the flu have sharply increased since the beginning of April.
From May 8 to May 14, 2,121 laboratory detections of the flu were reported. The percentage of visits for influenza-like illness was 1.8 per cent during this time period, exceeding pre-pandemic levels typical of this time of year.
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“Now because we don’t have masks, you see this huge increase of flu in the population,” Horacio Bach, clinical assistant professor affiliated with the division of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine, told Global News.
Bach still recommends the use of masks and continues to double mask when in public.
As of May 20, the seven-day average of daily lab-confirmed cases sits just above 3,564, down more than 60 per cent from the rate seen a month ago.
The number of Canadians seeking treatment in hospital for COVID-19 sits at 4,880 patients, down more than 20 per cent from two weeks ago.
That includes 349 people being treated in intensive care units, a number that has now stabilized after falling through the first half of April.
The country is currently seeing an average of 63 deaths per day. The rate has stayed steady throughout early May after steadily rising over the course of April.
However, newly-confirmed COVID-19 cases have brought the national total to over 3.84 million cases and more than 40,600 deaths. More than 4,800 patients are currently in the hospital with COVID-19 including more than 340 people in intensive care.
As of May 19, more than 84,952,660 doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across Canada.
So far, more than 34,986,036 Canadians have received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, while 31,356,155 Canadians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with two doses.
Since they were authorized in September 2021, 18,610,469 third “booster” doses have been administered, according to available provincial and territorial data — meaning 48.7 per cent of the Canadian population has received three doses.
As of May 19, 90.4 per cent of eligible Canadians aged five and up have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 86.2 per cent are fully vaccinated with two shots. Vaccinations for children aged five to 11 were approved by Health Canada last November.
In Ontario, 1,412 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 new deaths were reported in the latest update on May 20.
In Quebec, there have been 612 reported new cases of COVID-19 in its latest update on May 20, with 12 new virus-related deaths.
The province has seen 15,312 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Saskatchewan announced 465 new infections and 22 new deaths over seven days in the latest update on May 19 and Alberta reported 3,614 new COVID-19 cases and 61 new deaths over seven days in the latest update on May 18.
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In Nova Scotia’s latest update, 2,513 new COVID-19 cases and 24 new deaths were reported over seven days.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported 264 new COVID-19 cases and one new death over five days in the latest update on May 18.
There are currently 14 patients in hospital with COVID-19, up from the last update, with two people in intensive care.
The Northwest Territories reported 31 new COVID-19 cases over seven days in the latest update on May 16 and Prince Edward Island reported 792 new COVID-19 cases and one new death over seven days in the latest update on May 17.
Although Manitoba has seen a decline in the number of daily cases, it has seen an increase in the number of hospitalizations and ICU admittances over the past week. The same is true for British Columbia.
“This is a reminder that our efforts are still needed,” Tam said on Friday, speaking about elevated hospitalization levels.
As of May 18, Yukon reported four new cases of COVID-19. There have been 4,339 cases to date, 4,290 of whom have recovered. The territory has seen 25 deaths from COVID-19.
Tam remains “cautiously optimistic” that COVID will continue to reprieve slightly in Canada over the next few months.
“But, anything can happen and we just need to remain vigilant,” she said.
— with files from Sean Boynton
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