Canada’s top doctor is amplifying a call for Canadians to reduce their number of contacts each day to “only essential activities” or else the coronavirus pandemic will continue to surge.
Should appropriate efforts not be made, Dr. Theresa Tam says Canada could see 20,000 cases daily by the end of December, with a subsequent increase in hospitalizations and deaths.
“We’re not on a good trajectory,” she said at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday.
“Across Canada, the time is now — with urgency — that we limit contacts.”
Updated projections for the pandemic in Canada paint a grim picture. It predicts that cases and deaths could rise dramatically should Canadians maintain or increase their socialization.
Reversing the course will require a “combined effort” of actions by individual Canadians and public health authorities, Tam said.
“For individual Canadians this means, whenever possible, reducing the number of people we come into contact with each day, while maintaining hand hygiene, physical distancing and face mask-wearing precautions,” she said.
“For public health authorities, it means implementing time-limited restrictions and control measures to further reduce the number of people coming into contact each day across the population.”
Some jurisdictions have already been “putting on the brakes” due to rising infections, she pointed out.
Manitoba, British Columbia and Alberta have all further toughened restrictions to stem the spread of the virus in recent weeks. Ontario’s premier has hinted at “tough” new measures ahead as well.
While it will take time to see the impact, Tam believes it will bring some improvement.
However, she said provinces need to think about what happens once those restrictions expire. Areas that haven’t seen an escalation in cases as of yet also need to be prepared to hit the brakes “early and fast.”
“We cannot release the brakes unless we’re absolutely certain other measures have been put in place,” she said. “That’s very important.”
In the new national modelling, researchers use a colour-coded graph to predict how strong of a response is needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the long term.
It hinges on the number of contacts Canadians have each day.
Tam believes Canada is currently on the “grey trajectory,” meaning if Canadians maintain their current number of daily contacts the epidemic will continue to grow.
“We have every chance to bend the curve,” she said. “We must not increase our contacts.”
If Canadians don’t strictly limit their contact with people outside their households, the new forecasts predict a dramatic rise in cases over the next few weeks — as many as 60,000 new cases a day by the end of the year, under a worst-case scenario.
Daily national coronavirus case tallies have grown dramatically over the past couple of months. The new modelling shows about 15 per cent more daily cases were reported this week compared to last.
In mid-October, Canada had about 2,300 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed each day. By November, that number grew to above 4,000. In the past week, it has hovered near 5,000.
The rapid growth is being driven primarily by the six provinces outside the Atlantic bubble, Tam said.
“These jurisdictions are seeing extremely steep increases in infection rates,” she said.
“Over the past week alone, each of these provinces has marked their highest daily case counts to date.”
Some parts of Canada are already feeling a strain on their health-care systems as a result.
In Alberta, some elective surgeries have been cancelled as a result of overwhelmed hospitals. In Ontario, intensive care bed capacity has hit the “critical” mark that could lead to surgeries being cancelled.
Tam said the same culprits are to blame for the growing numbers.
Many of the new cases are “linked to informal gatherings with family and friends, where distancing and mask-wearing aren’t being observed,” she said.
“This is imposing a heavy strain on public health.”
With many provinces struggling to keep up with contact tracing, some jurisdictions are seeing at least one-third of their cases “unlinked” to others, Tam said, suggesting there’s “extensive community transmission, but you can’t link it back anymore.”
For Canada to land on the graph’s blue line — where contacts are reduced to essential activities only, bringing the epidemic under control in most places — Tam reiterated that restrictions need to be sustained.
She said it’s possible things could change in the next few weeks, but that it’s inevitably going to be “a very different Christmas.”
Tam and federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu acknowledged these necessary changes in behaviour will be particularly hard as the holiday season approaches, but that the “urgency” to bring infection rates down should come first.
“We are all tired, we are all lonely, and we all want our lives back. But we can’t give up now,” Hajdu said.
“So let’s all pitch in to get everyone there safely. Each decision we make matters. Think about the choices you’re making carefully because lives actually depend on it. Is my travel essential? Do I need to go out today? Can I reduce my shopping time? Do I need to have that dinner?”
— with files from The Canadian Press
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