As Canada continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, officials say this week will be “critical” in the country’s fight against the outbreak.
“This is a really critical week in our fight against the coronavirus,” Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, said at a press conference on Monday, urging Canadians to continue physical distancing.
“I know that it is hard, but we all must stay strong and stay at home unless we are doing essential work like stocking the shelves in our grocery stores, like working on the frontlines of our health-care system.”
Freeland’s remarks echoed those from Canada’s chief public health officer, who on Sunday said this week would be “very, very important” to understand trends in the pandemic and to determine whether physical distancing has been effective.
Dr. Theresa Tam said she would be keeping an eye on what’s happening in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta — where there has been community transmission of COVID-19 — to see if there has been a drop in new cases, like what has been reported in B.C.
Across the country, federal and provincial health officials have banned large gatherings, closed non-essential businesses and advised Canadians to practise physical distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19.
On Friday, health officials in B.C. released modelling that showed the province’s rate of increase in cases had dropped from about 24 per cent to 12 per cent.
B.C.’s health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said the results left her feeling “cautiously optimistic” about the future.
Tam noted, though, that Canada is a “big country” and different regions are experiencing different timing of the pandemic, with different periods of acceleration and deceleration.
Dr. Suzanne Sicchia, an associate professor at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society at the University of Toronto Scarborough, said this week and next are important because they will give health officials a “better sense of whether the measures we’ve taken to flatten the curve have been effective and to what degree.”
“To these ends, the experts will be watching to see if there is a decrease in the rate of new, confirmed cases,” Sicchia wrote in an email to Global News.
She said health officials will “no doubt” use this evidence to inform the ongoing public health and health-care responses to the virus.
Dr. Jeff Kwong, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto, told Global News that based on mathematical models and what we know about the virus’s incubation period, this would be the week many may begin having symptoms.
“It’s going to be this week or the next week that we’re going to see a wave of people who are really sick,“ Kwong said.
Kwong said this has already begun, with hospitals across the country already treating patients infected with COVID-19.
But he said what we have seen so far is just the “tip of the iceberg.”
“We know there’s lots cases out there — most are mild — but how many of all these cases are going to be severe?” he said. “That’s what we’re going to start to see this week.”
On Monday, Tam said 6,671 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Canada.
Of those cases, Tam said approximately seven per cent require hospitalization, three per cent are critically ill and one per cent of cases have been fatal.
Tam cautioned, though, that these rates could fluctuate as more cases are reported.
According to Kwong, this week will also provide important insight into whether Canada needs to implement more stringent physical distancing measures.
He said if Canada sees fewer cases of COVID-19 than modelling has predicted, it will show that Canadians have done a good job.
If there is a dramatic spike in cases this week, Kwong said more stringent measures may be justified in order to prevent the health system from “collapsing in another three to four weeks.”
“I hope it does doesn’t come to pass, but, you know, it’s hard to say,” he said. “I mean, who knows what’s going to happen?”
Asked about the data from B.C., Sicchia said it is “promising,” but that we need to be “very cautious in making any definitive claims and even more so when it comes to generalizing these findings to other provinces.”
She said, though, that if the trend continues in B.C., we will know that we have been effective in flattening the curve in that province, and “that bodes well for us all.”
But Kwong said regardless of whether the rest of Canada sees encouraging results, the country “can’t afford to let up on physical distancing.”
He said it is likely the measures will need to stay in place “for months.”