In the first official glimpse of what life in Canada could be like in the months to come, the Public Health Agency of Canada released potential scenarios for the spring, summer and fall.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu called it a “roadmap” that will help provinces and territories decide next steps as the national vaccination campaign continues to ramp up.
“For now, you need to keep following public health advice whether or not you’ve been vaccinated to keep yourself, your family and your community safe,” Hajdu said.
“More people need to be vaccinated before we can ease restrictions.”
With COVID-19 cases still high in many parts of Canada and vaccine coverage low, but growing, the recommendations for spring remain what they have been for several months: stay home, continue following local public health advice and get vaccinated when it’s your turn.
By summer, as millions more vaccines funnel into the country, there’s a chance for restrictions to lift but there’s a caveat — 75 per cent of those eligible for vaccines need to have one dose, and 20 per cent need a second.
“These are modelling projections about what could happen,” said Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam. “I think having an aspirational target is really a good thing for everyone to aim for.
“The good news is that our first target is within sight.”
As of this week, more than 50 per cent of eligible Canadians have received their first dose of a vaccine.
In the month of May, Canada has seen a significant increase in vaccine supplies. Next week alone, officials say Canada is expected to receive 4.5 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines.
Tam said this means Canadians can look forward to enjoying an “outdoor summer.”
Should those thresholds be met, activities such as camping and dining on patios could return and be safely maintained. The emphasis, though, is on outdoor activities. Even if Canada reaches that vaccination goal, mask-wearing and physical distancing will still be around.
“For all intents and purposes, it may seem like summer. You’re going on your patio, you’re going outdoors, but you should feel you have another layer of protection,” she said.
The difference between this summer and last is that Canadians “stand a much better chance of having an outdoor summer that doesn’t lead to a resurgence in an indoors fall,” Tam said.
There could be more hope for the fall, but the vaccination threshold is higher and must be met in order to earn more normalcy.
Cases must be low and more people need to be fully vaccinated — 75 per cent. Once met, Tam said Canadians can “look forward to moving indoors together.”
While still up to local jurisdictions, officials say there’s a chance Canadians could get back to college classrooms, play indoor sports and hold family gatherings.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday described the federal government’s plan as a “one-dose summer” and a “two-dose fall.” Some provinces, like Ontario, want to see that goal accelerated.
Hajdu said the current target is “realistic” but that doesn’t mean it can’t be adjusted to an earlier one should Canada succeed in procuring more doses or the number of people fully vaccinated rises rapidly.
She said “it’s possible” and, in fact, “ideal” to move up the targets.
“We’re working day and night to get vaccines into the country earlier and faster,” she said. “For now this target is based on our current projections.”
The formal recommendations come on the heels of new guidelines out of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which announced Thursday that fully vaccinated Americans don’t have to wear masks or physically distance in most cases, even during large gatherings indoors.
Tam said she thinks masks will be the last in line to be removed from public health recommendations.
She said the focus should be on slowly easing more restrictive measures, in order to avoid a resurgence and maintain the objective for the autumn.
“Moving into the fall is when you go indoors, so we have to be very careful,” Tam said. “Even with 75 per cent of coverage, 25 per cent might not be covered, so you have to be really careful as you slowly ease those measures.”
Tam said Canada is taking a different approach to masks than the United States.
“I think the data will direct us on what to do and when that key moment is,” she said.