COVID-19 variants could drive a resurgence of more new cases across Canada without stronger public health measures, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on Friday.
The PHAC data show that COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations have been declining over the past few weeks. An average daily count of some 3,000 cases were reported over the past seven days, down from a January peak of more than 8,000.
There are now fewer than 33,000 active cases in Canada, down by 60 percent from a month ago, and the daily tally of deaths from the virus is also down by 58 percent, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam told a virtual news conference on Friday.
However, a modeling issued by the agency on Friday indicated the spread of more contagious variants could swiftly ruin the progress.
As of Thursday, there have been 664 confirmed B.1.1.7 variant cases, 39 B.1.351 variant cases, and one P.1 variant case in Canada, according to the PHAC data.
Variant cases have been detected in all 10 provinces across the country and there is evidence of community spread in at least five provinces.
Medical scientists said the variants could be up to 50 percent more transmissible.
"With the emergence and spread of new variants of concern, we are cautioned that unless we maintain and abide by stringent public health measures, we may not be able to avert a re-acceleration of the epidemic in Canada," Tam said.
"These variants have been smoldering in the background and now threaten to flare up," she said.
The governments of both Ontario and Quebec said the variants could become the dominant strains in the coming weeks.
The PHAC modeling comes when some Canadian provinces plan to reopen their economies in light of declining COVID-19 cases.
The governments in Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba have all decided to relax restrictions in recent days, allowing non-essential businesses such as restaurants and gyms to reopen with capacity limits and other restrictions.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that he has urged provincial and territorial leaders not to relax public health measures too early.
"Even with vaccines, we need to do everything we can to protect vulnerable populations like our seniors in long-term care," Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa. "Otherwise, we could see a third wave that is worse than the second or the first."
As of Friday noon, Canada reported a total of 839,455 COVID-19 cases with 21,559 deaths, according to Canadian broadcaster CTV.