Canadians must remain vigilant against coronavirus to avoid another lockdown: Trudeau

Coronavirus: Trudeau says Canada ‘not out of the woods’ amid rising case numbers
WATCH: Trudeau says Canada ‘not out of the woods’ amid rising case numbers

As coronavirus cases grow across the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is warning Canadians to remain vigilant or else risk a second lockdown.

Trudeau expressed concerns about the rising numbers before launching a two-day cabinet retreat in Ottawa.

Liberal cabinet retreat focuses on reducing rising COVID-19 cases
Liberal cabinet retreat focuses on reducing rising COVID-19 cases

“We are not out of the woods,” Trudeau said Monday.

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“The last thing anyone wants is to go into this fall in a lockdown similar to this spring. The way we can prevent that is by remaining vigilant.”

Read more: Canada’s daily coronavirus cases rise 25% over one week

Daily case counts have fluctuated across Canada in recent weeks, with some provinces seeing more significant upticks than others. British Columbia has seen a spike in cases, months after daily case counts dropping to single digits. Ontario, Alberta and Quebec are also seeing increases. Ontario, for example, reported 313 cases on Monday — the highest single-day increase in cases since June 7. It’s also a significant jump from the 204 cases reported a day earlier.

Trudeau reiterated a call for Canadians to listen to and abide by public health measures to keep the pandemic from getting out of control.

“We need to be there for each other by keeping our distances, washing our hands, wearing masks an awful lot, and really demonstrate that we know what every single one of us can do, and must do, to control the spread of this virus,” he said.

The steady increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Canada has also concerned top health officials.

Coronavirus: Trudeau says COVID-19 has ‘exposed weaknesses’ in Canada
Coronavirus: Trudeau says COVID-19 has ‘exposed weaknesses’ in Canada

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the government is keeping a close eye on signs of a “resurgence” of the coronavirus in communities.

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The key signal will be the R number, or reproduction number, which is a way of rating a disease’s ability to spread. It can also help identify whether or not the spread is manageable.

Nationally, that number is now “hovering above one,” Tam said last week.

“That’s not a good sign,” she said. “We do not want that to happen.”

Read more: A Canadian coronavirus winter is looming — and it could ‘amplify loneliness’

According to Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, the R number needs to be kept “below one for a long period of time” to avoid such a resurgence.

If one person, on average, infects one other person, the R number is one. If one person, on average, infects two, the R number is two. An R of two is catastrophic. If the cycle continues, so, too, does the spread of the virus.

The next two weeks will be an important indicator in where Canada is in the pandemic, Tam said.

As Trudeau and his ministers spend Monday and Tuesday in closed-door meetings, they are expected to spend time mulling the challenge of a second wave.

Coronavirus: Dr. Tam calls case-count increase as schools reopen ‘concerning’
Coronavirus: Dr. Tam calls case-count increase as schools reopen ‘concerning’

“We need to get through this in order to be able to talk about next steps,” Trudeau said.

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“So a lot of what we’re going to be doing during this retreat will be talking about how we continue to keep COVID under control, continue to make sure that Canadians are safe, that we’re not overloading our health-care system.”

‘Resurgence’ possibilities

Infectious disease experts agree schools are a “major variable” in what could worsen the COVID-19 situation in Canada, leading the way to more tightened restrictions.

“Essentially, it introduces a breakage in a lot of people’s bubbles and opens up potential chains of transmission with lots and lots of people,” Alon Vaisman, an infectious disease and infection control physician at the University Health Network in Toronto, told Global News in a previous interview.

“And then, we’ll be waiting two or more weeks after the date of reopening to really understand the effect of that.”

Read more: A second coronavirus lockdown in Canada? Experts discuss the likelihood

Experts aren’t convinced Canada is on track for a second lockdown just yet.

For things to shut down again, there would need to be a rise in cases substantial enough that it overwhelms the ability to rapidly test and trace contacts, and subsequently, overwhelms hospitals.

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The imminent change of season also brings along risk. As people move indoors more during colder weather, transmission risks increase, experts agree.

However, Canada is far better prepared than it was back in March.

Since the pandemic’s onset in the spring, Canada has ramped up testing and contract tracing, secured more personal protective equipment (PPE), enhanced public health measures, increased compliance with those measures and “transformed” its health-care system to handle this type of emergency, said Colin Furness, an infectious control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

Though Furness said a second wave is “inevitable,” Canada “will be smarter in how we respond and how we defend ourselves against COVID in a way that we just weren’t in March.”

— with files from The Canadian Press