'Absolutely do not go above what we have now': Canada's COVID-19 projections paint dire image of 20,000 cases a day without new rules

Elisabetta Bianchini
·5-min read
COVID-19 in Canada
COVID-19 in Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Canada’s top health officials have stated that stricter measures need to be implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19. If the existing restrictions are maintained, with no additional measures put in place, the latest modelling data shows that the country will see more than 20,000 COVID-19 cases a day by the end of the year. If Canadians increase their contacts, cases could surge to 60,000 per day.

“This will require combined effort of individual Canadians and public health authorities in order to sufficiently reduce the current number of people we come into contact with each day,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer said at a press conference on Friday.

Dr. Tam said that even right now, health care systems in certain jurisdictions are already “feeling the pressure” and at 20,000 daily cases, exhausted healthcare workers are “not going to able to cope.”

“Don’t get there, you can bed it,” she said. “Absolutely do not go above what we have now, otherwise we’re really in trouble.”

Dr. Tam urged Canadians to reduce the number of people they come into contact with each day, maintain hand hygiene, physical distancing and mask wearing. Public health authorities need to implement “time-limited restrictions and control measures” to further reduce contacts.

“As things escalate and you’re going to put in measures...do it early and do it fast,” she said.

“Keep to your household. Household doesn’t mean your university student son who’s living somewhere else. Household means the people that you’ve been living with in the last 14 days, keep to those right now because that is going to reduce the contact rate substantially.”

Dr. Tam said it’s going to be a “very different Christmas” and Canadians need to have a stern but difficult talk to their family members about public health measures that will have to be followed over the holidays.

“Having the talk takes on a different meaning right now,” she said. “You have to plan ahead.”

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

The short-term forecasting in the latest modelling data shows that my Nov. 30, Canada could see between 366,500 and 378,600 cases, and between 11,870 and 12,120 deaths.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

There are about 52,000 active COVID-19 cases in Canada, with less than one per cent of the population having testing positive to date.

“This is an important reminder that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to infection,” Dr. Tam said.

Canada has “far surpassed” the peak of the first wave of the pandemic and epidemic growth continues at a “rapid pace.” There were about 15 per cent more daily cases reported this week compared to the last.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

The six provinces outside of the Atlantic region are where the majority of COVID-19 cases are found, in addition to a significant increase in infection rates in Nunavut, which saw 70 cases in a two-week period.

Dr. Tam identified that Nova Scotia is another area of concern with several recent cases that have not been able to be linked to other known cases. She said this is “a sign that the virus is spreading undetected in the community.”

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

The effective reproduction number, how many people being infected by each new case, has been above one since May. Dr. Tam stressed that the epidemic will “die out” when that value is below one.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Canada’s chief public health officer identified that the World Health Organizations’s international benchmark for percent positivity of COVID-19 tests five per cent. The average percentage in Canada has been increasing for many weeks and is now over 6.5 per cent.

“Anything above this could indicate we’re not testing enough,” Dr. Tam said. “This is a clear sign that transmission has increased.”

She added that several provinces seeing test positivity at 10 per cent or higher is a “signal” that increased testing is needed to detect and isolate a growing number of COVID-19 cases in communities.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

COVID-19 has been steadily increasing amongst people who are 80 and older, the age group with the highest incidence rate nationally and in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta.

“COVID-19 spread into high risk populations and settings is very concerning,” Dr. Tam said. “Particularly as more and larger outbreaks are being reported in long-term care homes, health care settings and Indigenous communities.”

Rapid growth of COVID-19 in several provinces in Canada
Rapid growth of COVID-19 in several provinces in Canada

Currently, Indigenous communities make up a third of active cases and about 12 per cent of hospitalizations.

“Many outbreaks are linked to informal social gatherings with family and friends,” Dr. Tam said. “These events are amplifying COVID-19 spread in many areas and imposing a heavy strain on public health and healthcare systems for testing, tracing and follow up.”

Public Health agency of Canada
Public Health agency of Canada

Dr. Tam warned that increasing hospitalizations are straining health systems, resulting in important medical procedures having to be postponed and critical care beds reaching or are very near maximum capacity in some areas.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Canada’s chief public health officer stressed that deaths are a lagging indicator of COVID-19 severity, while deaths from the virus continue to increase. Dr. Tam highlighted that there have also been deaths in people in their 30s, which shows that more severe consequences of the virus could be a risk for anyone.

“The only way for Canada to stop the rapid growth of COVID-19 and keep our health, social and economic systems functioning is for individual and public health authorities to work together,” Dr. Tam said. “This won’t be forever.”

“Recently, there has been some very good new about vaccine development. Keep this beacon of hope in mind as we all come together apart to do what is needed.”