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Threat from variants means provinces must be ready to lock down again quickly: Tam

Be ready to lock down

With new and more contagious variants of COVID-19 escalating in Canada, provincial governments lifting lockdown restrictions must be ready to slam them back into place at a moment's notice, Canada's chief public health doctor said Tuesday.

At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took another step toward trying to keep more variants from getting into the country, with a plan to start making people arriving in Canada by land show recent negative COVID-19 tests.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada's COVID-19 picture is getting better, with daily case counts less than half of what they were a month ago and hospitalizations dropping.

About 100 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day but that's down from almost 150 people a day in the last week of January.

Not all the news was good. Newfoundland announced 30 new cases Tuesday, its second highest single-day total in the pandemic thus far. The province invoked new public health measures in St. John's, closing bars, lounges and gyms, while limiting capacity in restaurants.

But over the last week daily case counts have come down in most provinces.

In British Columbia, health officials said progress is being made in pushing back the spread of the virus as it announced 435 new cases.

Ontario reported just over 1,000 cases Tuesday, its lowest total since the first week of November and less than one-third of the case totals a month ago. Quebec reported fewer than 900 cases, back to levels not seen regularly since October.

Both those provinces, and Manitoba, are relaxing some restrictions starting this week, with Quebec opening most shopping malls and hair salons, Ontario lifting its stay-at-home order for most of the province by next week and Manitoba starting to allow in-person dining for the first time since November.

All of it gives Tam pause.

"I think what my concern is that right now if we release some of these measures that a resurgence will occur," said Tam. "But that resurgence could be due to one of these variants, and then it will be much more difficult to control."

She said because we're not yet screening every positive COVID-19 case for the variants, Canada probably doesn't have a full picture of the Canadian presence of more contagious variants of the virus behind COVID-19. But because they could become the most prevalent sources of infection in Canada, any sign that they're beginning to spread needs to be met with a rapid and decisive public health response.

"You've got to put the brakes on quickly," she said.

The number of cases linked to any of the variants doubled in the last week, said Tam, and many are now not linked to any travel cases.



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