The annual report of the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada examines the state of public health in Canada. It describes the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Canadians, both directly and through the steps taken to diminish its effect. The report also provides suggestions for strengthening Canada’s preparedness for future public health emergencies.
This Research Report Round-up presents a summary of the report. Research Report Round-ups are brief, plain-language summaries of research reports, presented in a user-friendly format. Read the summary below or download the PDF.
Title and link to report
From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to COVID-19
Du risque à la résilience : Une approche axée sur l’équité concernant la COVID-19
Public Health Agency of Canada
What this report is about
The annual report of the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada examines the state of public health in Canada in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This year’s report provides an overview of the evolving understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 and its global impact. It also reviews Canada’s public health response, examines the impact of these measures and looks at the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 on the health and well-being of people in Canada.
Among these impacts are the following:
- Loss of employment/decreased employment. Five months into the pandemic, 1.8 million Canadian workers were out of work due to the shutdown. People in low-wage jobs; women; workers who are racialized, immigrant and/or Indigenous; youth and post-secondary students; and people living with disabilities were especially impacted.
- Reduced social connectedness. Physical distancing restrictions have affected people’s experiences of important life events, how they say goodbye to loved ones who pass away, and whether they receive support during the grieving period.
- Impact on mental health. Self-perceived mental health has declined during the pandemic, especially among women and Indigenous people. Poor mental health has affected both adults and children and has especially affected healthcare workers and informal caregivers.
- Impact on mental illness. Isolation may cause the return or increase of symptoms for people with mental illness and difficulties accessing care, including longer wait times.
- Food insecurity and access to healthy foods. Income loss due to COVID-19 has increased people’s worries about their access to food, especially if they stopped working due to closure, layoff, or personal circumstances; live in isolated communities; rely on food banks; or depend on school food programs.
The report also outlines some factors that affected specific groups more often than the rest of the population:
- Substance use. People between 15 and 34 years old were more likely to say they increased their use of tobacco, cannabis, and especially alcohol. There have been increases in overdose deaths and non-fatal harms related to opioids and other substances in jurisdictions across Canada.
- Safety and family violence. There may be added risk for those who experience family violence, including intimate partner violence, child abuse, and elder abuse. Providers of services to victims of violence have seen an increase in the number of domestic violence victims in the first four months of the pandemic. In some regions, calls to services for intimate-partner violence have tripled.
The report also points to some of the longer-term consequences that may result from the indirect impacts of COVID-19 public health measures:
- Long-term threats to economic stability. Employment losses due to COVID-19 threaten to worsen high rates of household debt and low rates of household savings seen over the past few decades. Several groups are especially vulnerable: single mothers and their children, families where the main income earner is under 35 years of age and without a high school diploma, families headed by an Indigenous person, and groups not eligible for income supports, such as sex workers.
- Interrupted education and access to distance learning. School closures and the move towards virtual learning may increase existing educational inequalities between low- and high-income families. This is because children from low-income households tend to lack access to the technology they need and their parents may not be able to provide the support they need, due to work responsibilities or lack of formal education. Virtual learning may also not meet the needs of some children, such as those with disabilities.
- Health system impacts. Due to added pressure placed on the healthcare system, there were fewer surgeries. There was also a decrease in visits to emergency rooms. Preliminary data also show higher than usual rates of death in several provinces in April and May 2020. Other impacts include reduced access to abortion services and pain clinics, and fewer medical appointments for cardiovascular disease.
- Impact on physical activity. More than 60% of Canadians reported spending more time using the internet and watching TV during the pandemic in early April. This may have a negative impact not only on physical health but also on mental health.
Finally, the review suggests approaches for rebuilding from the pandemic and improving the health and well-being of Canadians that touch on the following areas:
- economic security and employment conditions
- stable housing and healthy built environment
- health, social service, and education systems
- environmental sustainability.
How can this report be used
This report may be of use to public health professionals and system planners in designing programs to address the impacts of COVID-19 on the health and mental health of Canadians.
COVID-19, coronavirus, health, mental health, employment, housing, sustainability, food insecurity, data collection
Public Health Agency of Canada, 613-957-2991, Toll free: 1-866-225-0709, email@example.com
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This knowledge exchange activity is supported by Evidence Exchange Network (EENet), which is part of the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - “CAMH”). EENet has been made possible through a financial contribution from the Ministry of Health (“MOH”). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of either MOH or of CAMH.