‘No easy path’: PM Trudeau on national COVID-19 death projections

By | April 9, 2020

OTTAWA — Under the current public health measures — which officials consider strong — between 11,000 and 22,000 Canadians could die from COVID-19 in the months ahead. However, federal modelling shows the death rate could skyrocket if efforts stopped.

Federal projections released by Health Canada detailed the overall best- and worst-case scenarios for the pandemic’s spread and impact in Canada, varying on the degree of actions taken by governments and Canadians.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to these projections during his daily address, says the peak – the top of the curve – may be in late spring, with the end of the first wave in the summer.

“We have the chance to determine what our country looks like in the weeks and months to come. Our healthcare systems across the country are coping for the time being, but we’re at a fork in the road, between the best and the worst possible outcomes,” Trudeau said.

“The best possible outcome is no easy path for any of us.”

“There will likely be smaller outbreaks for a number of months after that. This will be the new normal, until a vaccine is developed.”

The scenarios indicate that, depending on the containment efforts, between 11,000 and 300,000 people in Canada could die from COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic. Though, the current reality of the virus has Canada closer to the lower end of that spectrum.

The short-term federal projection on the spread of COVID-19 shows that between 500 and 700 Canadians could die from COVID-19 in the next week, with the number of cases rising to between 22,580 and 31,850 cases.

If 2.5 per cent of the population contracts the virus, that would mean:

  • 934,000 Canadians get sick;
  • 73,000 could be hospitalized;
  • 23,000 people could end up in the intensive care unit; and
  • 11,000 people could die.

If the percentage of the population that gets sick hits 5 per cent, that would mean:

  • 1,879,000 contract COVID-19;
  • 146,000 could be hospitalized;
  • 46,000 people could end up in the ICU; and
  • 22,000 people could die.

With no control efforts in place, up to 80 per cent of Canadians could contract the virus. That scenario could result in a summertime peak and more than 300,000 deaths, which is approximately equivalent to the total number of deaths from all causes in Canada each year.

Health Canada says the current pandemic parameters Canadians are living under are considered strong controls, such as physical distancing, and quarantining travellers, whereas if fewer people stay home or do not act like they could be carrying the virus there will be a weaker hold on the disease.

The data and modelling released Thursday is informing the current national public health measures in place to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam called the numbers “stark,” but cautioned that these possible scenarios are imperfect given the different regional epidemics, and the outcomes will ultimately be determined by Canadians’ actions.

Tam said that means everything that can be done, must be done, to keep Canada’s trajectory within the range of best-case scenarios, “despite all the hardships and cost.”

Tam said that community transmission in Canada started later than in other countries, our per capita testing rate is higher than most countries, and the increase in total number of cases has been slower here than in other nations.

SUMMER PEAK?

Under all scenarios the peak appears to be coming sometime between late spring and early fall.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said it appears that the first wave of the virus will last until the summer, and “that won’t be the end.”

The agency cautioned that in the absence of a treatment or vaccine, the fight against the disease is likely going to require waves of epidemic controls, spanning months.

For example, Canadians could still be instructed to distance themselves from others and practise hand hygiene; international and domestic travel restrictions could remain in place; and incoming travellers could face mandatory 14-day isolations.

Also playing a factor in the scenarios is the increase in health care capacity, from stocking up on lifesaving supplies like ventilators, to having enough workers able to respond to the surge of patients.

Prior to physical distancing and other steps being taken, Health Canada estimates that each infected person in Canada passed the repertory disease on to more than two people on average, but that has since been decreased, but we have not yet reached the point of stopping all spread.

Several provinces have already released their best- and worst-case projections for the number of deaths and cases, as well as how long they estimate it will take to contain the virus that’s already infected nearly 20,000 Canadians and killed 462 people nationwide.

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