Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today urged Canadians to hunker down and follow public health rules to contain an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases, as new projections warn of a possible surge in the caseload.
Speaking to journalists outside his residence at Rideau Cottage, Trudeau asked Canadians to resist the temptation to let their guard down after 10 months of making sacrifices.
“We are facing [a] winter that’s going to drive people inside more and more, and we’re really at risk of seeing caseloads go up, and hospitals get overwhelmed, and more loved ones dying,” he said.
“So we need to do everything we can right now to slow the spread of COVID-19, to stop the spike in its tracks.”
Trudeau’s plea comes as new modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) shows the number of COVID-19 cases could reach 60,000 a day by the end of December if Canadians increase their current level of contact with other people.
That number could be limited to 20,000 a day if Canadians maintain their current number of personal contacts, according to PHAC.
But to drive that number under 10,000 cases a day by the end of the year, Canadians would need to limit their interactions to essential activities while maintaining physical distancing and adhering to other public health guidelines.
Trudeau issued an emotional plea to the public to protect the front line workers now risking their lives, and the lives of their family members, to keep Canadians safe.
“They have been heroes. They have been going above and beyond anything they might have thought they were signing up for,” he said.
“We need to help them. We need to give them a break. We need to stop this spike in cases. We need to think about them as we think about our loved ones who need medical help, who are vulnerable to COVID-19.”
Trudeau said limiting the spread of transmission is critical for the long-term health of the national economy.
“Going into lockdowns and supporting businesses while we’re in that lockdown is a better way of ensuring their success in a few months, in a few years, than trying to tough through a virus that is running around unchecked,” he said.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam discussed the latest modelling with detailed projections on new infections during a news conference this morning.
“We are not on a good trajectory,” Tam said Friday. “I think across the board, across Canada, we have to say the time is now, with urgency, that we limit contacts. However that is being done at the local level, that is the underlying principle. Keep those contacts down by restrictions and, of course, each individual doing their work.”
‘This won’t be forever’
Tam said the caseload has already surpassed the peak seen during the first wave of the virus, and it is spreading across a wider geographic area of Canada.
She said the rise in infections is causing a strain on hospitals and health care systems, pushing some facilities to capacity and leading to the postponement of other medical procedures.
Tam asked people to take precautions during the upcoming holiday season by following public health guidelines, limiting outings and restricting in-person activities to household members where possible.
“This won’t be forever. Recently, there has been some really good news about vaccine development. Keep this beacon of hope in mind as we all come together, apart, to do what is needed,” she said. “Right now, every effort you make as an individual matters.”
Health Minister Patty Hajdu also urged vigilance.
“The more people who get this disease, the harder it is to get it under control,” she said.
Hajdu said the federal government has been working to support the provinces and territories facing “surge demands” with necessary supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. But she said front line workers, pharmacy workers and personal support workers are under strain after working flat-out for several months.
“That is a limiting factor for all of us,” she said.
More, and larger, outbreaks
Trudeau and opposition leaders met with Tam and her deputy Dr. Howard Njoo late Thursday to discuss the new modelling.
The modelling predicts that the number of COVID-19 deaths could rise from the current level of slightly more than 11,100 to just more than 12,100 by the end of the month if Canadians maintain their current level of contact with other people.
The modelling says that there are more outbreaks now, those outbreaks are larger — more than 50 cases each — and they are affecting long-term care homes.
It also says that Indigenous communities and schools are seeing rising caseloads and that the situation is set to get worse in all regions except the Atlantic provinces and parts of the North unless action is taken.