Coronavirus cases could exceed Canada’s health care capacity this fall, officials warn

Coronavirus: Canadian health officials warn of potential “fall peak” of COVID-19
Coronavirus: Canadian health officials warn of potential "fall peak" of COVID-19

Canada is planning for a fall peak in coronavirus cases, followed by a number of smaller waves, in a possible worst-case scenario for the COVID-19 pandemic this fall, officials said at a briefing Friday.

This initial peak could exceed the health-care system’s capacity to handle patients, warned Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada, and smaller ones might as well. Exceeding the health care system’s capacity means high mortality, she said.

Read more: How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

This was one of several scenarios that the Public Health Agency of Canada released as part of a modelling exercise Friday. Another scenario, which officials said they’re aiming for, is a “slow burn” where case rates are kept low and within the health-care system’s capacity to manage.

Story continues below advertisement
Ontario government facing pressure over back-to-school plan
Ontario government facing pressure over back-to-school plan

Which scenario Canada ends up experiencing depends on our actions over the next few months, they said.

Read more: More Canadians planning on getting flu vaccine amid COVID-19: survey

Surges are to be expected over the next few months as reopening continues, Tam said. But, she added, we need to remain vigilant to keep them manageable, and continue with public health measures like handwashing and social distancing.

Story continues below advertisement

Rapid case detection and contact tracing are also essential to keep outbreaks under control, PHAC said, and they are working on improving capacity.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

“On the whole, I think we are on that ‘slow burn’ trajectory but it doesn’t take much for cases to escalate,” Tam said.

Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, added that “it all depends at the end of the day on all of us in terms of what our behaviours are into the fall.”

For now, they said, their planning scenarios don’t take into account the possibility that a vaccine is developed for the virus.

Canada has reported 121,234 cases of coronavirus, with 9,015 deaths.