Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday he was encouraged by data out of British Columbia showing the novel coronavirus pandemic may be starting to level off in that province, but urged Canadians to continue social distancing measures.
B.C. health officials released new modelling data Friday that showed the transmission rate in the province had dropped by double digits as people were ordered to stay at home while most businesses shuttered.
Trudeau called the data “promising,” but added now was not the time to get complacent and start ignoring the public health orders that led to that decrease.
“People need to know that the decline in the rate of transmission happened because two weeks ago, people started heeding these instructions and started self-isolating and started engaging in social distancing,” he said.
“If we’re seeing a reduction in the spikes, that means what we are doing is working, and we therefore need to continue what we are doing. We are not out of the woods yet.”
Federal and provincial health officials have ordered bans on large gatherings and the closure of non-essential businesses in recent weeks, in efforts to keep people at least two metres apart as much as possible to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Officials have even approved penalties, including fines and even jail time, for those who continue to break those social distancing measures.
In B.C., restaurants have been ordered to shift to take-out or delivery only, while many indoor and outdoor gathering areas, like sports arenas and community centres, have been closed.
Friday’s modelling data showed B.C. is currently on the same trajectory as South Korea, where cases have begun to mostly level off and have not overwhelmed the health care system.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the daily increase of B.C.’s transmission rate has dropped from about 24 per cent to 12 per cent, making her “cautiously optimistic” about the future.
“I am recognizing we are still having ongoing transmission in our community,” she said. “We are doing a lot of testing and we are seeing cases arise. It is the next two weeks where we would like to see flattening and then decreasing after that.”
The prime minister told reporters Saturday outside Rideau Cottage that until federal officials say otherwise, Canadians must continue to follow travel restrictions and the advice of all levels of government to curb their outdoor activities as much as possible.
“We need to keep it up,” he said.
“We need to continue to do what is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which means continuing social distancing, continuing not going out unless you absolutely have to, continuing to think about caring for each other, thinking about protecting each other.”
Those measures will also help protect health care workers and other first responders, Trudeau said, many of whom have contracted the disease while helping care for patients and ensure hospitals continue to have space for severe cases.
Saturday saw Trudeau announce another new measure in the banning of anyone showing coronavirus symptoms from boarding a domestic flight or intercity passenger train.
Trudeau said federal government initiatives are helping more people stay at home, highlighting the increase of the wage subsidy for small and medium-sized businesses up to 75 per cent, along with the $82 billion in financial assistance for individuals and businesses Parliament passed earlier this week.
B.C. has passed its own financial support package, including a $1,000 payment to anyone whose livelihood has been directly affected by the pandemic.
Applications for many of those financial supports have yet to open.
As of Saturday morning, Canada has seen 4,743 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 55 deaths. B.C. is home to 792 of those cases while 16 people there have died.
Two of those deaths were reported Friday, along with 67 new cases.