By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada may experience a "bumpy ride" with COVID-19 during the winter months given that the rate of decline in cases has slowed, a top health official said on Friday, stressing it was too soon to fully lift precautions.
Chief medical officer Theresa Tam told a briefing that the incidence of reported infections was now highest among children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccinations.
An average of 2,230 new cases were reported daily over the previous week compared with more than 4,400 during the peak of the fourth wave. But the figures do not show regional variations or the higher risk faced by vulnerable populations.
"We may be still in for a bit of a bumpy ride all the way through the winter season," Tam said. "I don't think we're out of the woods. I think we should look probably towards the spring when we will be in a better position."
Data show that as of Oct. 23, 83.7% of eligible Canadians had been fully inoculated, a figure Tam said was superb.
Infection rates are still elevated in the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which lifted most precautions in July and then had to reimpose them as cases soared.
"Severe illness trends are still elevated. As we head into the winter months with a strained and fragile health system in many areas of the country, we must remain vigilant...It is still too soon to fully ease public health measures," Tam said.
Canada's federal health ministry said in late October it expected to announce by the end of November whether Pfizer Inc's vaccine can be given to those aged between 5 and 11. Tam said this timeline was still valid.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Mark Heinrich)