Ambulance workers transport a patient to the emergency room as hospitalizations continue to rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Montreal, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the Omicron variant is causing an "enormous" volume of COVID-19 cases, but severe illness is not rising at the same rate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Omicron causes ‘enormous’ caseload, but severe illness not rising at same rate: Tam

Daily counts 400 per cent higher than third wave peak, severe illness not spiking in same way

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the Omicron variant is causing an “enormous” volume of COVID-19 cases, but severe illness is not rising at the same rate.

Tam says the average daily case count rose 65 per cent from last week, with an average of close to 42,000 cases being reported daily over the past seven days up to Wednesday.

She says although testing capacity is challenged in many areas of the country — meaning case numbers are underestimated — other indicators such as laboratory test positivity and hospitalizations are being used to measure the progress of the virus.

Tam says the portion of laboratory tests coming back positive is estimated at 29 per cent, indicating significant community transmission.

She says that while evidence suggests the risk of hospitalization from Omicron is lower compared to Delta, the sudden acceleration of the new variant is driving a rise in hospital admissions.

However, she says although current daily case counts are already 400 per cent higher than the peak of the third wave last year, severe illness is not spiking at the same “explosive” rate.

She says an average of close to 3,650 people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals daily, with almost 600 in intensive care units, representing weekly increases of 91 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.

On average, 39 deaths were reported each day.

Tam is urging the seven million eligible Canadians who have not yet received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine to do so, while also calling for everyone else to get a booster shot when they can.

She also says people should limit in-person contacts to immediate household members as much as possible.

“This might feel like a double marathon that we didn’t sign up for,” Tam told a briefing on Friday.

“But despite feeling tired, we should have a sense of achievement for the ground we have covered so far, for staying on track and knowing we can still draw strength from each other to get where we need to go.”

—The Canadian Press

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