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.

Just as Tam was warning of a possible resurgence of COVID-19 cases, PHAC released new guidance Friday on what fully vaccinated people can do now that they have built up more immunity.

While other national public health agencies have offered directions for those with two doses, PHAC has said little about what is permissible for people who have finished the vaccine regimen.

Tam offered some high-level suggestions about what’s safe Friday — those with a double dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can hug another person who’s had two shots, for example — but she said it ultimately will be up to local public health officials to tell Canadians what they can do once they’ve completed the vaccine regimen.

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, Tam said, 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.

WATCH: Chief public health officer says young adults are “the highest transmitters” of COVID-19:

Dr. Theresa Tam says second doses of COVID-19 vaccines are critical to protecting Canadians from the delta variant. 1:22

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.

WATCH: Tam outlines guidance for fully vaccinated people in social settings:

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam describes some of the new pandemic guidelines for people in social settings. She said Canadians should still check with local health authorities for the latest on pandemic measures and restrictions. 1:41

Agency issues guidance for social settings

PHAC also released a chart with recommendations outlining how people should approach various social situations, depending on their vaccination status.

For example, PHAC says that those who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks or physically distance while indoors with a small group of other fully vaccinated individuals — and could have small dinner parties, gather around the living room TV to watch a sporting event and even share a hug, all without wearing a mask.

PHAC says that those who have received just one dose can consider removing their masks while indoors with small groups of fully vaccinated individuals — provided no one in those groups is an at-risk individual.

The agency says Canadians should still wear masks and maintain physical distance while indoors with partially vaccinated individuals. It says that fully vaccinated individuals who are at risk of severe health outcomes should consider masking up while indoors with people who are not fully vaccinated.

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