Should Canada continue on its current trajectory, the country could see between 12,000 to 14,000 daily coronavirus cases by January, according to new national public health modelling.
It emphasizes the need for all large provinces to strengthen their COVID-19 response, according to Theresa Tam, Canada’s top doctor.
“We have yet to see the kind of sustained daily decline that would indicate we have the pandemic under control,” Tam said at a press conference on Friday.
“There’s little indication this upward trajectory would change without further intensified public health measures.”
Cases have been rising in a number of provinces over the past few months. Infections continue to climb in the six provinces west of the Atlantic region, with rates rising precipitously in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,
Outbreaks have also popped up in provinces and territories that once saw few to no cases daily.
Just Thursday, Canada’s overall death toll hit a new grim milestone — more than 13,000.
Tam said the incidence of COVID-19 has been “consistently high for all age groups for several weeks,” but that it is highest and escalating among adults 80 years and older, who are at highest risk for severe outcomes, including death.
This speaks, in part, to the increasing number of outbreaks — and size of outbreaks — at high-risk settings like long-term care homes, she said. While these outbreaks range in size, it’s a “difficult cycle of spread,” Tam said.
“It can’t be managed through outbreak response alone,” she said. “Bringing infection rates down to stop the spread into schools and high-risk settings require individual and public health authorities working together.”
It’s why Tam and her counterparts are insisting that now is the time for provinces to act to slow the spread of the virus. Ending the curve of this resurgence will require “immediate, consistent and strong combined efforts” of both individual Canadians and public health authorities, she said.
The goal for individual Canadians has been, and continues to be, reducing the number of people we interact with each day, she said.
“For local authorities, implementing restrictions, closures, and control measures are required to achieve a reduction in contacts necessary to address rising numbers,” Tam said.
Without that collaboration, cases and deaths are on track to increase, the data shows.
Based on data up to Dec. 5, short-term forecasting shows Canada’s national tally of coronavirus cases could rise to between 531,300 and 577,000 by Christmas Day. For deaths, that could be 14,410 to 14,920.
The daily tally of new cases nationally could cross the 10,000 mark later this month.
As of Thursday, an additional 6,739 cases of COVID-19 were reported by health authorities, bringing Canada’s total number of infections to 442,069. To date, over 355,000 patients have recovered. More than 15.9 million tests have been performed.
The grim outlook comes on the heels of more positive news about vaccines in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that the government will foot the bill for COVID-19 vaccines, including the costs of supplies to administer them.
Doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in Canada on Monday.
The government expects a limited rollout to begin to priority groups “within days” after arrival with vaccination of the general population slated to start in April.
While the introduction of a vaccine is “the best news we’ve heard in some time,” Tam and Njoo are concerned it might lead people to believe that COVID-19 is “no longer a problem.”
“The reality is very different,” Tam said. “Nationally, we remain in a rapid growth trajectory.”
The experts suggested measures could only continue to tighten, despite the gradual rollout of vaccines.
“Winter is going to be very difficult,” Njoo said.
“But throughout the winter, we have to continue our efforts. … We have to continue to follow public health measures.”
— with files from Global News’ Rachel Gilmore and the Canadian Press