Canada’s chief public health officer says that in spite of the challenges posed by the current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are good reasons for optimism in the latest federal modelling data.

Speaking at a technical briefing on the data today, Dr. Theresa Tam said the virus’s reproductive number has fallen below one for the first time since mid-July.

That means new infections are on a downward trajectory in Canada for the first time in months.

WATCH | Public health officials address Canadians on new COVID data:

“The efforts we’ve made give us reason for optimism,” Tam said. “But we must remain mindful for the need for continued caution in the months ahead.”

Over the past week, Canada saw an average of 3,745 new cases of COVID-19 per day. That’s less than half of the more than 8,000 new infections per day predicted by earlier modelling presented in September, Tam said.

Tam said the downward trend is evidence that widespread vaccination and public health measures are keeping the pandemic under control, even with the spread of the more infectious delta variant. Over 80 per cent of those eligible are now fully vaccinated in every province and territory.

While rates of infection are heading in the right direction, severe illness due to COVID-19 continues to be an issue. There are 2,500 people in hospital, including 770 in intensive care units.

There are 41,549 active cases in Canada.

Tam also pointed out the high degree of regional variation in COVID-19 infections and severe illnesses. The data show that the Prairie provinces have both higher infection rates and lower rates of vaccination.

“Over the past month, lessons have been hard learned where measures have been relaxed too much or too soon, and especially where vaccination coverage remains low,” she said.

According to the data, the number of new cases is 10 times higher and the rate of of severe illness is 36 times higher among the unvaccinated.

Tam urged Canadians to continue following public health measures — including masking indoors and avoiding crowds — over the Thanksgiving weekend.

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