XBB.1.5 variant

Pandemic continues to create anxiety for many Canadians

eAwaz Health

Ottawa – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and anxiety for many Canadians, particularly those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada online portal, people of all ages across the country can access immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. PocketWell, a free companion app to the WTC online portal, provides another way to help Canadians access online mental health and substance use resources, and measure and monitor aspects of their mental well-being.

Public health activities have raised everyone’s awareness of healthy habits and ways of living. Let’s capitalize on that and focus on preparedness for future public health events, including protecting ourselves from COVID-19 and other circulating respiratory viruses.

The latest data indicates that COVID-19 activity continues to fluctuate across the country – while both influenza and RSV have settled into expected seasonal levels. However, the health care sector is still recovering from the pressures of these viruses in our population. For this reason, it is still important to do everything you can to prevent serious illness.

In the statement released today, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) reminds us that booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine are an effective tool to reduce the risk of severe illness and death. Taking measures that reduce the likelihood of hospitalization, remains important for all of us since it subsequently affects health system capacity. If a fall booster was recommended for you, and you haven’t got it yet, now is a good time to get a bivalent booster.

As we continue to monitor national and international data – including COVID-19 disease rates but also contextual information like the level of immunity in the population – we are seeing an increase in the proportion of sequence detections associated with the XBB.1.5 variant. Through whole genome sequencing of clinical specimens, XBB.1.5 is known to have been circulating in Canada at 2.5% during the week of December 25 to January 2. This proportion was projected to rise to approximately 7% in Canada by mid-January. While XBB variants are expected to increase in Canada, it is not known whether they will become the dominant lineage. Nationally, the absolute number of cases is not surging at this time, nor is there evidence of increased severity with this or other new variants.

In 2022, the Omicron variant resulted in the highest numbers of infections in Canada to date. Fortunately, over time there has been a general trend toward decreased severe outcomes such as critical care admissions and deaths among hospitalized patients. This may reflect the impact of vaccine and infection induced immunity, changes in the characteristics of people infected, and changes in circulating strains.

Like the winter weather – it can be difficult to predict exactly what we are going to see next but we do know it’s too early to put away your winter coats and boots. Similarly, it’s still too early to stop taking the personal protective measures that have helped us weather the COVID storm.

At this time of New Year resolutions, the public health system in Canada remains resolute in our commitment to fostering health within our population by promoting health, preventing disease, illness and injury – to achieve optimal health and well-being for all people living in Canada.

Read my backgrounder to access COVID-19 Information and Resources , including information on vaccination and ways to reduce your risk of infection and spreading the virus to others.