Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that new modelling shows public health measures are working to slow the spread of COVID-19 — but cautioned that easing restrictions too fast could wipe out the progress made to date.
Federal health officials provided updated projections on the number of potential cases and deaths in Canada from COVID-19, as debate ramps up across the country about when to ease restrictions on business and schools and loosen physical distancing rules.
“The measures we have taken so far are working. In fact, in many parts of the country, the curve has flattened. But we are not out of the woods yet,” Trudeau said during his daily briefing.
“We are in the middle of the most serious public health emergency Canada has ever seen, and if we lift measures too quickly, we could lose the progress we’ve made.”
As of Tuesday morning, Canada had recorded more than 49,000 reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,700 deaths.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, cited some positive pandemic news in the new modelling data. Caseload growth is slowing across the country and Canada has experienced slower growth than many other countries, she said.
New modelling shows that while the number of new cases was doubling every three days previously, it is now doubling every 16 days.
Short-term projections predict between 53,191 and 66,835 cases by May 5, and between 3,277 and 3,883 deaths by that date.
Tam said the revised projections reflect the “heavy toll” the virus is taking on vulnerable populations.
Right now, most of the deaths — about 79 per cent — are occurring in long-term care facilities and seniors’ homes.
For the virus to die out, the average number of people to whom an infected individual passes the virus has to drop below one.
Tam warned that public health measures will need to remain in place until there is a high level of immunity or a vaccine to avoid “future epidemic waves.”
To stay on course, she said, Canadians must continue physical distancing, contact tracing and quarantine measures.
“It is critical to remember that once we are on the downside of the slope, we must absolutely remain vigilant and continue our public health measures,” she said.
Tam first released the federal government’s COVID-19 modelling on April 9. Those projections included a number of scenarios and long-term forecasts, including a death toll of between 11,000 and 22,000 over the course of the pandemic — even with ongoing physical distancing and other disease control measures.
The long-term projections did not change today, but Tam warned that there could be a significant “second wave” of infections if Canadians drop their guard.
Trudeau said a guiding framework on reopening economies — jointly agreed to by the federal, provincial and territorial governments — will also be released today.
“Let me be clear — these are not the specific measures when you can go back to work or school, or when you can see your neighbours or extended family or friends,” he said.
“This framework will lay out the things that need to happen before we take any next steps. Restarting our economy will be gradual and careful and guided by science … Controlling transmission is key.”
Trudeau said the next steps taken will determine how many new cases there will be, how many deaths Canada must mourn and how well hospitals can cope.
‘It all depends on us’
“It all depends on us. You’ve already stepped up to help your family, friends and neighbours stay safe, and your governments across the country are stepping up as well,” he said.
“We are a big country, and we don’t always agree on everything. But right now, the premiers and the federal government are working together to fight this crisis.”
Some provinces, such as Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Ontario, already have released tentative plans to ease those restrictions.
On Monday, Quebec Premier François Legault announced plans to begin reopening schools, businesses and day cares in the coming weeks.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is taking a more cautious approach. He released a plan for a staged reopening process but stressed it is a “roadmap, not a calendar.”
Ontario’s framework says the province must see a “consistent two-to-four-week decrease in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases” before the government begins loosening restrictions.
The earlier modelling also included a shorter-term forecast projecting between 22,580 and 31,850 reported cases and between 500 and 700 deaths in Canada by April 16.
By that mid-April date, however, the number of Canadians who had died because of COVID-19 topped 1,200 — more than double the lower estimates in the federal projections.