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85 per cent of Yukon's COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people, says top doctor

·3 min read

WHITEHORSE — Yukon has been knocked off its pedestal as it deals with a surge of COVID-19 cases, says the territory's top doctor.

Dr. Brendan Hanley said there have been more cases in Yukon over the past 14 days than in the first 14 months of the pandemic.

"For many months, almost as on a pedestal, with our zero active cases and high vaccination rates, all eyes in Canada were on us," he said at a news conference Wednesday.

"And now the same eyes are on us for a much different reason. A highly vaccinated territory is undergoing the most significant outbreak since COVID-19 began."

The next few weeks will determine Yukon's future and help other jurisdictions learn how to manage an outbreak in a highly vaccinated population, he said.

The territory reported one more death and four new infections Wednesday, bringing the active case count to 103.

Of the 144 total cases in the latest outbreak, he said 122 of them were among unvaccinated people ranging in age from one to 90 years old.

The new infections show that a 72 per cent vaccination rate is not enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and at least 80 per cent of the population should receive their shots, he said.

The current outbreak, fuelled by the more transmissible Gamma variant first detected in Brazil, is linked to graduation events at a high school, two classes at an elementary institute and several groups that gathered for bush and house parties, and at bars, Hanley said.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said enforcement will be stepped up to try and ensure compliance with COVID-19 measures as infections continue rising, but no new restrictions will be introduced.

Hanley said people might feel anxious as cases increase, but the territory's response will be to manage the outbreak, not lock doors and borders or retreat into their homes in fear.

"Outbreaks will continue to be part of our new normal. Vaccine has allowed us to begin that difficult and rocky shift from pandemic into endemic. In making that shift, we must adjust our approach in how we predict, manage and control outbreaks."

There is "no risk-free approach" to walking the line between outbreaks and bringing in more restrictions, which can lead to mental health problems, Hanley said.

"Look at suicide. Look at addictions and how addictions have been aggravated. Look at alcohol injury, look at opioids. Don't think that there are not consequences to public health restrictions."

This outbreak is likely linked to one case introduced around Victoria Day and it spread with gatherings in June, although it will be difficult to know when and who was the first infection, he said.

"I would be very surprised that we ever find a source," Hanley said. "Usually we don't."

There is typically a gap between the introduction of infection and detection, he said.

"You cannot piece together enough information to get that story and that person is no longer waving a flag saying that they had COVID."

— By Hina Alam in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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