People arrive to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, January 24, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Too soon to know if Canada’s COVID-19 case decline will continue, Tam says

MONTREAL — It’s still too soon to know whether the recent downward trend in new COVID-19 cases will continue, Canada’s chief public health officer said Sunday as several provinces grappled with outbreaks that threatened to derail their fragile progress.

Dr. Theresa Tam said there’s been an improvement in the COVID-19 numbers in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, but the disease is regaining steam elsewhere.

“While community-based measures may be starting to take effect in some areas, it is too soon to be sure that current measures are strong enough and broad enough to maintain a steady downward trend across the country,” she wrote in a statement.

Some long-standing virus hot spots have made headway in lowering the number of new cases in recent weeks, but are still fighting outbreaks and flare-ups as they race to vaccinate vulnerable communities.

The federal public safety minister announced Sunday that the Canadian Armed Forces will support vaccine efforts in 32 First Nations communities in northern Ontario.

Bill Blair said on Twitter that armed forces personnel will support vaccine efforts in 32 communities of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.

The military has previously been asked to help with the vaccine rollout in communities in Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba.

Health officials in Ontario were also investigating whether a long-term care home could become the second in the province to be linked to a U.K. variant of COVID-19, after a first home in Barrie, Ont., made headlines when it became infected with the more contagious strain.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said Sunday that an individual with the U.K. variant within the region had close contact with a person who is also part of a COVID-19 outbreak at Bradford Valley Care Community, a long-term care home in Bradford West Gwillimbury, south of Barrie.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported a fifth straight day with a decline in the number of hospitalizations as the health minister urged citizens to keep following health measures. But the province was still dealing with more than 1,350 active outbreaks, including one at a jail north of Montreal with over 60 cases.

Farther west, Manitoba logged 222 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and three more deaths. Saskatchewan also counted three new deaths linked to the virus, as well as 260 new infections.

Nunavut recorded a surge in new COVID-19 cases Sunday, logging 13 new diagnoses in the remote community of Arviat.

The community of about 2,800 had been the centre of Nunavut’s largest COVID-19 outbreak and at one point had 222 cases.

But the territory went weeks without any new diagnoses until new cases were identified on both Friday and Saturday.

While some provinces and territories reported flare-ups of cases, other provinces had better news to report.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases of COVID-19, while Nova Scotia found just one.

New Brunswick, a fellow Atlantic province, fared less well as it reported 20 new cases, just hours after the hard-hit Edmundston region entered lockdown.

In a statement, Tam said the prospect of vaccines has offered Canadians “hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight.”

But in the meantime, she stressed that all Canadians need to keep following health measures, even after they’re vaccinated.

She said vaccinated people still need to be careful because vaccines aren’t 100 per cent effective, don’t start working immediately, and it’s not yet clear whether vaccinated people can still transmit the disease to others.

She said following public health measures will also reduce the spread of new variants of COVID-19, including the ones identified in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa.

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