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Ontario says COVID-19 community cases peaked. What does that mean for Canada?

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Modelling released Monday suggests Ontario has reached the peak of the first wave of the novel coronavirus outbreak, sparking optimism that the rest of Canada could see similar results in the coming weeks.

Projections released in early April had initially predicted Ontario could see roughly 80,000 cases and 1,600 COVID-19 deaths by April 30.

READ MORE: Ontario’s coronavirus numbers may have peaked, new modelling suggests

But, health officials said on Monday that the cumulative infections for the span of the outbreak will likely be “substantially lower,” at around 20,000.

Earlier models had also predicted the first wave of the virus would peak in May, but officials say that thanks to public health interventions, including widespread adherence to physical distancing, the peak has come sooner.

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By Tuesday morning, there were 11,735 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, with 622 reported deaths.

Here’s a closer look at the modelling and what Ontario’s progress would mean for the rest of Canada.

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What does this mean?

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said the modelling from Ontario is “great news.”

“The modelling certainly suggests that we have hit the peak,” he said. “That’s fantastic. It means we are seeing a plateau in the number of new cases per day.”

Bogoch said the modelling proves the stringent public health measures — including physical distancing — have been “overwhelmingly” successful.

These are great signs. There’s hard evidence that these are helping,” he said.

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“This is truly reducing transmission in community settings. This is truly saving lives and we need to keep at it until we get a reduction in the number of cases per day, not just a plateau with the number of new cases per day.”

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What about the rest of Canada?

Bogoch said the modelling from Ontario is further proof that people across the country are taking the pandemic “very seriously.”

“Ahead of Ontario was B.C. and Alberta,” he said. “They started flattening the curve ahead of [Ontario], and now we’re flatting our curve, and there’s signs of this in Quebec as well, and I think we’ll start to see this in the rest of the country.”

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Dionne Aleman, an industrial engineering professor at the University of Toronto, said the results in Ontario are a “promising indicator” that Canada is headed in the right direction.

She cautioned, though, that it is difficult to transfer results from one province to another.

“It’s not yet a definitive statement that, yes, absolutely, things are going OK and things are going to be fine if we just keep doing what we’re doing. But definitely, there is room to be very optimistic,” she said.

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Aleman said the next two to three weeks will “really let us know for certain” if we have been successful in flattening the curve elsewhere in the country.

For now, Aleman said what is most important is continuing to practise physical distancing and making sure we abide by the public health measures in place to stem further spread of the virus.

“If we have, in fact, reached our peak, our plateau, it happened because of what we’re doing, and it means that we should keep on doing this thing that’s working,” she said.

Aleman added Canada cannot “let up off the gas” until we know for certain we are on the other side of the curve.

Setbacks expected

Dr. Susan Bondy, an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto said while the country appears to be “working in the right direction,” it is likely that all provinces will experience setbacks.

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“There’s going to be new outbreaks,” she said. “Most of the population is still vulnerable, and viruses are nasty and little outbreaks are to be expected when you still have a huge proportion of the population vulnerable.”

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But, Bondy said what is “really important” is that the public health system has been ramping up to prepare.

“It takes time and resources to ramp up our public health response,” she said. “And it is a very strong response now with testing that didn’t exist months ago, with the resources for contact tracing that didn’t exist a few months ago, [and] with data sharing that didn’t exist a few months ago.”

She said because of this preparation, it would be reasonable to assume subsequent outbreaks would be smaller than the initial wave.

“We’re in a better shape,” she said. “We can absolutely expect that future outbreaks would be smaller.”

Lifting restrictions

Bogoch said officials will need to wait until there is a drop in cases — not just a plateau — before thinking about lifting restrictions.

He said it is likely this will happen at different stages across the provinces.

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“If we start to open things up in one place, other places might not be ready,” he said. “So we have to be very careful.”

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Bogoch added he expects there will be coordination across the country when it comes to deciding when and how to lift restrictions.

“We don’t want to set anyone back prematurely,” he said.

Dr. Suzanne Sicchia, an associate professor at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society at the University of Toronto Scarborough, echoed Bogoch’s remarks, saying the decision to lift restrictions is one that can’t be rushed.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Experts caution against the ‘inexact science’ of COVID-19 modelling

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“No one wants to see a surge in cases, something we are now seeing in Singapore — a country that was held-up as something of a COVID-19 success story for its ability to initially contain the virus,” she wrote in an email to Global News.

“This is still a dangerous virus,” she said. “We simply can’t rush this.”

— With files from Gabby Rodriguez