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Liberals extend COVID benefits as top doctor warns the Delta variant could cause a fourth wave

Liberals extend COVID benefits as top doctor warns the Delta variant could cause a fourth wave

 OTTAWA—Canada could be on track for a “Delta driven” the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Public Health Agency of Canada predicted Friday, as Ottawa moved to extend some pandemic support measures for Canadians and employers buffeted by the crisis.

A long-term forecast shared by the federal government on Friday, showing how case counts may evolve by early September, predicted that while an increase in cases is expected as some pandemic restrictions are rolled back, a modest uptick could still be expected if Canadians maintain their current number of community contacts.

But if Canadians boost the number of people they’re in contact with by 25 percent each day, the new modeling shows a steep increase in cases, with counts exceeding 10,000 by the start of September.

“(That) could mean that reopening is proceeding too quickly before enough people have developed immunity through vaccination, and we could expect to see a sharp resurgence by the end of the summer,” said Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.

Both Tam and Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Howard Njoo warned that Canada must be cautious in its approach to relaxing public health measures and urged eligible young people to get their first and second doses before the fall and winter months, particularly as students head back to school.

Another indicator that cases are on the rise is that the national “Rt” — the number that measures how many other people one person with COVID-19 infects — has also been trending above one since July 18. For many weeks, the metric had been reported below one, signaling a trend out of an “epidemic growth” pattern.

“If Rt remains persistently above one for several weeks, with a predominance of the highly contagious Delta variant, we could expect to see a return to rapid epidemic growth, particularly as measures that slow the spread are eased,” Tam said.

Canada’s top doctor added that the number can be unstable and sensitive due to fluctuations in the frequency of case reporting across the country.

The Delta variant has been identified as the most transmissible variant of concern, with Canada reporting a fivefold increase in the proportion of Delta cases in June alone. The variant increases the risk of hospitalization in those who contract the virus.

But just how severe a fourth wave could largely hinge on how many people are fully vaccinated and whether provinces and territories reopen too quickly — processes that are happening at different rates across the country.

On Wednesday, Alberta announced that people in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 are no longer legally required to isolate. By mid-August, people who contract the virus themselves can bypass that requirement, though it remains strongly recommended. It’s also now up to infected individuals to inform close contacts of exposure, rather than contact tracers.

“If the policy in Alberta is not to mandate that, then I would ask any individual who is diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you think you may have it, to please isolate. Please get your test and inform your close contacts,” Tam said.

In recognition of an “uneven economic reopening”, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough on Friday announced the extension of several major pandemic aid programs.

The eligibility period for both the emergency wage and rent subsidies has been stretched an additional month to Oct. 23. Rates for the subsidies will no longer taper off in a gradual decrease, which was initially proposed as a way to phase out of the programs as the economy rebounded.

The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit will also be extended to the same date.

Claimants can now receive the CRB for an additional four weeks, to a total of 54 weeks.

The pandemic recovery outlook isn’t entirely grim: public health officials noted Friday that two-dose vaccine coverage has moved at a faster pace in recent weeks, and case counts remain 93 percent lower than they were at the peak of the third wave.

More than 81 percent of eligible Canadians, 12 years of age or older, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while over 66 percent are fully vaccinated.

Overall, declines in average daily hospital occupancy are down across the country, following declining infection rates since the spring surge.

The modeling showed that in most cases, hospitalizations or death from COVID-19 has occurred among unvaccinated people. Just over 6 million eligible Canadians have yet to receive a jab.

 

 

 

 

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