Canada’s top doctor says mandatory mask rules will stick around for the time being because the country doesn’t have enough widespread inoculation to guard against a rise in Delta variant infections.
Speaking during a news conference Tuesday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam wouldn’t give an estimate of how much longer mask rules will stay in place, but she did say second dose coverage isn’t yet high enough to go mask-free.
“We’re still not quite there with vaccine coverage, and this is a period of prudence,” she said. “Look at your individual situation. Life after vaccination guidance is not the same for everyone everywhere.”
Her comments come as the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that fully vaccinated people continue wearing masks and practice physical distancing as the Delta variant sparks outbreaks around the world.
Some jurisdictions in the US have also urged people to continue wearing masks to protect against the Delta variant, even as several states lift their mask mandates.
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Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health, said Tuesday that their teams are closely monitoring the Delta variant’s behaviour around the world. In Ontario, it’s expected to become the dominant strain over the summer.
The Delta variant is about 50% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which is about 50% more transmissible than the original strain. Two doses of either mRNA vaccine protect well against the Delta variant, but a single dose provides less protection against Delta than other strains.
“In Canada at this point, with the number of cases we’ve detected today, we’re in a good position. But of course, this means we shouldn’t do away with public health measures right away,” Njoo said. “I think [we] all know what can happen once we loosen these rules.”
This week, Canada averaged 640 new COVID-19 cases reported daily. On average, there were 988 people in hospital with COVID-19 every day, including 486 in the country’s ICUs. On average, 14 new deaths were reported daily over the past week.