Public health agency warns of fall COVID resurgence if Delta variant becomes dominant strain

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is warning that if the Delta variant becomes the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Canada, it could lead to a larger than expected resurgence in case numbers this fall.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said such a resurgence could be kept in check if personal protective measures remain in place until the country achieves a higher level of vaccination coverage.

“With the Delta variant, I think our bottom line is to get as high as possible, as much as we can get past that 75 per cent goal post for both first and second doses,” Tam said.

Health officials have said that 75 per cent of all Canadians must be fully vaccinated before indoor protective measures can be fully lifted.

But if the Delta variant becomes the dominant strain in Canada, PHAC says, 80 per cent of the population will have to be fully vaccinated before those measures are lifted in order to avoid a fall resurgence.

The Delta variant is extremely contagious and has triggered a caseload resurgence in other countries such as the U.K., where reopening plans were recently delayed by four weeks.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an update on the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room in central London on June 14, 2021. (Jonathan Buckmaster/AFP/Getty Images)

Dr. Tam said that an increased uptake among younger adults is key to help avoiding a resurgence.

She said Canadians under 40 are the only ones who haven’t hit the 75 per cent mark on first doses, but she expects that to increase.

“I think partly it’s just a matter of time and I want to see us going past the 75 per cent mark and shoot for as close to 100 per cent as possible,” she said.

Prairie provinces behind on first doses

One thing that could factor into a possible resurgence is how provinces approach their reopening plans.

“What I’m watching for is what happens when each of the individual provinces reopens and that will tell us if we might get some sort of resurgence,” Dr. Tam said.

“If vaccination rates go up as high as possible, I think all of that can be manageable.”

As it stands, only four provinces have reached the 80 per cent threshold on first doses, while a majority have reached the 75 per cent mark, according to PHAC.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta are the only provinces that have not yet hit 75 per cent on first doses. Saskatchewan is the furthest behind; there, only 69 per cent of the population has received one dose.

Agency issues guidance for social settings

PHAC also released a chart outlining recommendations for how people should approach varying situations depending on if they’ve been fully vaccinated or not.

For example, if you are fully vaccinated and are indoors with a small group of other fully vaccinated individuals then PHAC says you don’t need to wear a mask or physically distance.

Bu if you have only received one dose and are indoors with a small group of fully vaccinated individuals, PHAC says you can consider removing your mask if no one in the group is an at-risk individual.

But if you are indoors with a group of partially vaccinated individuals then PHAC still recommends that you wear a mask and maintain physical distance.

On the flip side if you are fully vaccinated and are indoors with individuals who are not fully vaccinated, PHAC recommends you consider wearing a mask if you at risk of severe health outcomes.

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