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Coronavirus: How B.C. is ‘bending’ the curve and why there’s hope for Ontario and Quebec

Click to play video 'Positive signs Canada’s COVID-19 curve starting to plank' Positive signs Canada’s COVID-19 curve starting to plank
WATCH: Positive signs Canada's COVID-19 curve starting to plank – Apr 7, 2020

As Canada continues to fight the new coronavirus pandemic, British Columbia and Alberta are starting to show​ signs of “flattening the curve” and reducing the spread of COVID-19.

And while the latest data shows Ontario and Quebec continuing to report increases, experts say there is hope for Canada’s two most populous provinces, which have enacted stricter lockdowns and expanded public health measures — efforts that could lead to a similar “bending” in new cases of the virus.

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On Monday, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 63 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the provincial total to 1,266, a small increase from 970 one week ago. Alberta reported 1,348 cases on Monday, up from just under 700 the week prior.

Click to play video 'Canada pushes to ramp up COVID-19 testing' Canada pushes to ramp up COVID-19 testing
Canada pushes to ramp up COVID-19 testing – Apr 6, 2020

“Our percentage of new cases, as you can see, has been slowing, it’s been bending, and that’s really important,” Henry told reporters Monday.

“It’s a testament to the effort that everyone here in B.C. has been making over the past two weeks,” she said. “But we must keep that firewall strong.”

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Experts are cautiously optimistic B.C. may have turned a corner in the battle against the outbreak, but say it’s still early.

“It does look like they are having some success,” said Dawn Bowdish, Canada Research Chair in aging and immunity at McMaster University. “We are not at the stage where we are reducing the number of cases but it appears that they slowed some of them.”

Click to play video 'Dr. Bonnie urges British Columbians to ‘hold the line’ to stop spread of COVID-19' Dr. Bonnie urges British Columbians to ‘hold the line’ to stop spread of COVID-19
Dr. Bonnie urges British Columbians to ‘hold the line’ to stop spread of COVID-19 – Apr 6, 2020

READ MORE: Canada may be missing thousands of coronavirus cases, experts say

Ontario and Quebec, meanwhile, saw sharp increases, with Ontario cases jumping to 4,347 cases, up from just over 1,700 a week earlier. Quebec had 8,580 cases on Monday, a dramatic rise from 3,430 one week earlier, as the province rolled out more testing.

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Bowdish pointed to more widespread testing in the West and B.C.’s ability to limit the outbreaks at long-term care facilities as keys to stemming new COVID-19 cases. Ontario nursing homes have seen outbreaks at 51 facilities, including the deaths of 27 residents at Pinecrest, located in Bobcaygeon, Ont.

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“This is a huge problem in Ontario,” she said. “B.C. has been very proactive in trying to making sure that health care workers don’t move between nursing homes.”

“Ontario has lots of people working multiple part-time jobs instead of one full-time job,” she said. “Inevitably, that means that they travel between health care [facilities] and can inadvertently bring the spread.”

One of the factors that drove Quebec’s jump in cases was an earlier March break that occurred before social-distancing policies were put in place, according to Bowdish.

B.C., which has a later break, advised against all non-essential travel outside of Canada during the week-long holiday, while Ontario Premier Doug Ford told families to “go away” and enjoy their time off.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Doug Ford tells families to ‘have fun’ and ‘go away’ during March Break' Coronavirus outbreak: Doug Ford tells families to ‘have fun’ and ‘go away’ during March Break
Coronavirus outbreak: Doug Ford tells families to ‘have fun’ and ‘go away’ during March Break – Mar 12, 2020

Not great advice for a province whose residents tend to travel to Florida or New York, two hot spots in the U.S. for the new coronavirus, according to Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a global health law professor at York University.

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“B.C. has probably been the clearest communicator among their provincial counterparts,” he told Global News. “If we want citizens to do certain things, we have to be very clear about what it is we’re asking citizens to do.”

Hope for Ontario and Quebec

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario struggles to get masks from U.S.' Coronavirus: Ontario struggles to get masks from U.S.
Coronavirus: Ontario struggles to get masks from U.S – Apr 6, 2020

B.C. was lucky not just with March Break, Hoffman said, but also because a few cases early in the pandemic primed its health-care system. The province also managed to avoid the community transmission that has led to a spike of cases in Ontario and Quebec.

“They definitely had some luck,” he said.

Ontario and Quebec could see some “good news” in the coming weeks as their increased emphasis on physical distancing and closure of more non-essential businesses pays off, according to Hoffman.

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“Any data we get today is about 10 to 14 days old because we don’t have the technology to detect the frontier of a pandemic,” he said.

READ MORE: Screening for coronavirus at Canada’s border ‘full of holes’ that can’t be plugged

Last week, Premier Doug Ford announced the further closure of businesses and officials in major cities, like Toronto and Ottawa, announced more ticketing to enforce social distancing amid grim projections the province could see 3,000 to 15,000 deaths over the course of the pandemic.

Ontario and Quebec are also among the provinces that have done the most social distancing, according to the latest Google data, which is harvested anonymously from users’ location settings.

It shows visits to retail outlets, parks and grocery stores all fell dramatically in recent weeks, with some of the steepest decreases in Ontario and Quebec.

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Quebec saw visits to parks in the province drop 68 per cent and visits to Ontario parks dropped 14 per cent with the biggest decrease starting after the middle of March.

“We seem to be taking systematic efforts to try to ease the challenges associated with this extraordinary time,” Hoffman said. “And hopefully that will make enough of a difference.”

In Quebec, Premier François Legault struck a positive note on Monday as hospitalizations only increased by eight per cent compared to the day earlier.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec records 27 new deaths, 8,590 total cases' Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec records 27 new deaths, 8,590 total cases
Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec records 27 new deaths, 8,590 total cases – Apr 6, 2020

Both Bowdish and Hoffman said if Ontario is going to win the battle, they have to increase testing and announce more measures to fight outbreaks at long-term care homes.

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Ontario has the lowest testing rate of any province, with only 510 per 100,000 people tested as of Monday. Alberta is among the highest with 1,469 tests for every 100,000 people, while Quebec is at 1,157 and B.C. does 949.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Ontario long-term care homes preparing families for the worst

The Ontario NDP is also calling for new rules to better protect vulnerable residents in long-term care as the number of Ontario nursing homes battling COVID-19 outbreaks grew to 51.

“Seniors in care and their loved ones are terrified,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters Tuesday.

Ontario has slowly ramped up measures to try to keep COVID-19 out of long-term care and retirement facilities, first recommending screening visitors for symptoms and travel history before advising homes against allowing non-essential visitors.

“We are literally trying to change the trajectory of a pandemic here,” Hoffman said. “We’ve never in the past succeeded, but we actually have a really good chance of doing it this time.”

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