OTTAWA — Canada’s chief public health officer says there’s “urgency” to bring infections down as officials released dire new forecasts indicating that COVID-19 case counts have far surpassed levels seen during the first wave.
Dr. Theresa Tam says COVID-19 cases could skyrocket to 60,000 per day by the end of the year if Canadians increase their contact rates.
The forecasts predict that at current rates Canada’s case total could land between 366,500 and 378,600 and the death toll could fall between 11,870 and 12,120 by the end of the month.
The modelling predicts that at current rates of contact, Canada is careening towards a surge of more than 20,000 cases per day by the end of December.
But if socialization increases, the projections indicate that as 2020 draws to a close, Canada could see a 12-fold increase from the current level of around 5,000 cases per day, which is already straining the health-care system in some regions.
Currently, Tam says an average of 4,800 new coronavirus cases are being reported daily, which is about a 15 per cent increase compared to last week.
The data says the percentage of people testing positive has increased to about 6.5 per cent, above the World Health Organization’s benchmark of five per cent.
Tam says this could indicate that Canada is not testing enough, and is a clear sign that the spread of the virus is accelerating.
Tam says there are about 52,000 active cases in Canada to date, with a cumulative tally of more 315,000 cases.
Still, Tam says that amounts to less than one per cent of the population that has tested positive, meaning the vast majority of Canadians are still susceptible to infection.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave federal opposition leaders an advance look at the numbers Thursday in a confidential briefing from Tam and her deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the purpose of the briefing was to keep opposition leaders in the loop and impress upon them the need to put aside partisanship and join in a common effort to urge Canadians to strictly limit their contacts with people outside their households.
That did not stop Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole from blaming the Trudeau government for the worsening state of affairs.
“What struck me was that 11 months after news about the spread of COVID-19 emerged, after thousands of lives and millions of jobs have been lost, and hundreds of billions of dollars has been added to the national debt, we as a country are worse off than we were at the start of the pandemic,” O’Toole said in a statement after the briefing.
“We are in this position because the government failed to give Canadians the ability to rapidly and frequently test for COVID-19; has failed to tell Canadians how they plan to deliver a vaccine; and failed to be transparent with Canadians about what COVID-19-related information they are using to make decisions that affect lives and jobs.”
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O’Toole called for a “real plan to test, trace, and isolate those who are infected” and added that “shutting down the entire country again is simply not a solution.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told CBC’s Power and Politics he found the projections “troubling” and said they show “if we don’t act now we could lose many more lives.” He reiterated his call for an end to for-profit long-term care homes.
Green Leader Annamie Paul told CBC the briefing was “sobering” and that it underscored her call for a co-ordinated national strategy to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet did not attend the briefing. He sent his House leader, Alain Therrien, in his stead.
Tam has said Canadians need to reduce their current rate of contact with others by at least 25 per cent in order to flatten the curve.
And last week, she and Njoo gave a graphic description of the consequences if the trajectory toward more than 10,000 cases per day is not halted.
At the current level of just under 5,000 cases per day, Tam said routine medical procedures are being cancelled, intensive care beds are almost full and health-care workers are exhausted.
“So you can only imagine that if we got to that level [of 10,000], that the pressure on the health-care system will be huge,” she told a news conference in Ottawa on Nov. 13.
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“You would definitely not be doing routine surgeries, and that the already exhausted health-care workers will be, you know, extremely stretched,” she said.
Njoo pointed to what happened in northern Italy and New York City last spring, when their health systems were overwhelmed.
“Doctors were having to make a life and death decision in terms of who would be on a ventilator, who wouldn’t. And who wants to be in that position?”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020.