Canada

Omicron wave may have peaked, but ICU numbers still rising steeply, says Tam

The latest COVID-19 wave driven by the Omicron variant may have reached its peak, with the average daily case count decreasing by 28 per cent compared to the previous week, says Canada’s top public health official. But hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, which lag behind infections, are still climbing.

“ICU numbers are still rising steeply,” said Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam on Friday.

“The January timeframe, the peak may occur, but the hospitalizations and the ICU admissions may continue to increase for some time. So that’s in February and I really hope that by the end of the next month, we’ll be in a better position.”

Hospitals are seeing very few cases of Delta or other variants, but the high volume of Omicron cases have resulted in an unprecedented number of new daily hospital admissions that exceeded historical maximums over the past week.

An average of more than 10,000 people with COVID-19 are being treated daily in hospitals while more than 1,100 people are in ICU.

“We still have some difficult weeks ahead and potential for more bumps along the way,” Tam said.

“Omicron can cause serious outcomes. We can not trivialize this virus. Many people, particularly those who are at higher risk, get very severely sick and indeed, many have died, and we need to do what we can to prevent those.”

The sheer volume of cases has also resulted in more reports of severe cases among children, but they are still “very rare in terms of rates,” said Tam, adding that the vast majority of severe illnesses still occur among those over the age of 60.

While there was a degree of underestimation due to changes in testing policies, the seven-day average for daily new cases was close to 27,000 as of Jan. 19, she said.

Tam reiterated the strong protective effects of the vaccine and encouraged the public to get their booster shots and vaccinate eligible children. More than 6.5 million eligible Canadians do not have their first or second dose yet and coverage for eligible children currently stands at 51 per cent with at least one dose, she added.

For administrative purposes, including international travel, entering certain public spaces, or doing certain tasks, Tam explained that the definition for “fully vaccinated” still consists of the primary series, or the first two doses for a two-dose vaccine and one dose of the Janssen vaccine.

“But we all know that it is very important to get the booster dose, particularly in the time of Omicron, so we began to switch terminologies now to the concept of being ‘up-to-date’” on all eligible doses, she said.

“Now is not the right time [to change the definition of fully vaccinated] because not everybody’s had the chance to get that additional dose or getting up to date – not in Canada and certainly not globally.”

With expectations that the virus will be here for a long time to come, Tam also addressed questions around the possibility of a fourth vaccine dose. She acknowledged that there are a number of unknowns, but the priority right now is to prevent serious outcomes, even as health officials look at a longer-term approach to tackling the virus.

“Influenza, for example, that’s now an annual vaccine people have that I’ve had for decades every year,” she said.

“There are very good examples of where vaccines can be given time and again over the course of our lives.” 


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