Canada’s deputy chief public health officer says mask-wearing is a “personal choice” and he’ll personally continue to wear a mask as the ongoing easing of COVID-19 public health measures continues.

Several provinces across the country lifted their mask mandates earlier this week, while others will follow suit soon.

“Clearly mask-wearing is a well-tested, tried and true personal protective practice,” Dr. Howard Njoo said during a Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) press conference Friday. “Is it a mandatory requirement? No, it’s a personal choice under one’s individual risk assessment.”

He said it’s time now to give Canadians the opportunity to take personal responsibility to make their own choice in terms of risk management whether it comes to travelling or engaging in activities.

Saskatchewan did away with mandatory masking on Feb. 28, while Alberta lifted the requirement on March 1.

Mask mandates in Ontario will be removed by the end of March and the Quebec government will ease mask requirements starting in April.

Canada’s top doctor, Dr. Theresa Tam, says whether Canadians decide to wear a mask or not, it’s important not to stigmatize people who do.

“Think about who you are with … maybe they’re at higher risk, so (have) that consideration for others,” Tam said Friday at the same press conference.

She said COVID-19 is still “circulating widely” and the epidemiological situation is variable across the country, but compared with last week, COVID-19 case counts have gone down by 4.5 per cent.

“While some jurisdictions are currently reporting increased case counts, ongoing easing of public health measures could lead to increased transmission in more areas over the coming weeks,” Tam said.

Like Njoo, Tam also called on Canadians not to forget the personal protective habits they’ve learned, like wearing a mask and staying home when sick.

Tam said if it’s Omicron that’s circulating in the next few months, then Canadians have a “very good level of protection in the community,” but cautioned that officials may need to re-evaluate the risk to Canadians if another variant emerges. She also warned Canadians can expect to see an increase in COVID-19 cases as people start travelling and places continue to open up to fuller capacity.

However, with strong protection from vaccines and declining hospitalizations due to COVID-19, Tam said “we need to turn our focus on easing societal disruption” caused by public health measures.

“This is a time of recovery as well as time to address the broader impacts of the pandemic while being ready to respond to future potentially severe waves,” she added.

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