Federal officials urged people to stick with public health measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 as they offered their first look at national projections into how the outbreak could unfold on Thursday — the same day that recorded case numbers in Canada topped 20,000.
Several provinces, including hard-hit Ontario and Quebec, have already released their own projections and the federal government had faced growing calls to do the same.
Health officials noted that regions are having different experiences with COVID-19, which has now been reported in every province and territory except Nunavut.
When exactly the public health measures would be lifted wasn’t immediately clear, although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated at his daily briefing Thursday that efforts to keep case numbers down will take “months of continued, determined effort.”
“The initial peak — the top of the curve — may be in late spring, with the end of the first wave in the summer.”
The prime minister, citing Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr.Theresa Tam, said there would likely be “smaller outbreaks” for several months after that.
He said “this is the new normal” until a vaccine is developed.
WATCH | Justin Trudeau talks about the ‘new normal’ until vaccine is developed:
Dr. Howard Njoo, speaking at a news conference after the prime minister’s address, said health officials can’t put a precise time on an expected peak.
Canada is only at the beginning of its epidemic, the deputy chief public health officer said, and officials need to see how things unfold in every region. The peak won’t be clear until we’re on the other side of it, Njoo said.
“We just have to watch it week by week, how we’re doing as a country.”
Health officials release national models
Earlier Thursday, Tam and other officials offered some detail on what might happen, though Tam noted that models don’t predict what will happen. Instead, they help people see what could happen in certain scenarios and inform plans within the health system.
A forecast for the next week suggested Canada would see a cumulative total of between 22,580 and 31,850 cases by April 16, with the death toll reaching between 500 and 700.
With strong control measures, the federal public health agency projects that 11,000 to 22,000 Canadians could die of COVID-19 in the coming months. The total number of positive diagnoses with strong controls ranges from 934,000 to 1.9 million. With poor containment measures, the death toll could be much, much higher.
WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam outlines what models can (and can’t) offer:
Tam said health officials used two kinds of models: forecasting and dynamic. Forecasting models use actual data on cases in Canada to estimate how many cases to expect in the coming week. Dynamic models allow officials to take a longer view, using “evolving” knowledge of how the virus behaves.
The chief public health officer said the models are “highly sensitive” and changes in behaviour, including physical distancing, handwashing and other measures, are critical to stamping out the virus.
Tam said it’s critical to maintain resolve and try to drive case numbers — and keep hospitalization and ICU admissions — down. She said what Canadians do together now will buy more time to investigate the virus and search for treatments and cures.
“We cannot prevent every death, but we must prevent every death that we can.”
Health systems coping ‘for the time being’
Trudeau said that the modelling described by health officials shows that Canada is in an earlier stage of the outbreak than some other countries, which means this country has a chance to determine how things will look in the weeks and months ahead.
“Our health-care 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 prime minister also talked about the staggering job losses, saying the government will keep expanding plans to protect jobs and help both individuals and businesses struggling with the economic fallout linked to the outbreak.
PM makes it clear in French that the country will want some economic activity returned after the first wave but we will have to be vigilant until there is a vaccine. Could be 12-18 months. There are things we will be able to do and things we won’t.
“We are extremely hopeful that we will be able to begin to restore a certain measure of activity in the coming months after this first wave has passed.”
He said that the government will make sure Canadians get needed support, but did not elaborate on the cost of prolonged financial assistance.
Massive job losses in March
Earlier Thursday, new data from Statistics Canada showed that job losses are mounting in Canada, where measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus have caused businesses to close and employers to cut jobs.
The data showed that more than one million people lost jobs in March, sending the country’s unemployment rate up to 7.8 per cent. The 2.2 per cent increase in the national unemployment rate marks the worst single-month change over the last 40-plus years of comparable data and brings the rate to a level not seen since October 2010.
The federal government has rolled out a range of programs to try and get cash moving to people who are out of work and businesses struggling to stay afloat, but opposition politicians have expressed concern that money isn’t moving fast enough to meet the growing need.
Call for more testing at long-term care homes
Public health officials have noted that while anyone can contract COVID-19, the elderly face a higher risk of severe disease or death if they contract the novel coronavirus, formally known as SARS CoV-2. The virus, which was first reported in China but has since spread around the world, causes an illness called COVID-19, for which there is no proven vaccine or cure.
Quebec’s premier says all residents and staff at long-term care facilities will be tested for COVID-19 as the hard-hit province tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has caused deadly outbreaks at several nursing homes across the country.
Premier François Legault named six long-term care centres in Quebec that are dealing with outbreaks. He urged younger Quebecers not to visit older family members, citing their increased risk of dying from the illness.
He said Thursday that the province will also work to get more skilled staff into long-term care facilities. Health Minister Danielle McCann said that additional staffing support will first flow to homes that have seen outbreaks, but the goal is to eventually deploy extra workers to all homes. More doctors will also be deployed to help, McCann said.
“We want to protect those who built the Quebec we have today,” said the health minister.
WATCH | Nurses talk about shortages of critical supplies at long-term care homes:
A long-term care home in Almonte, west of Ottawa, has reported 10 deaths related to COVID-19, according to a letter sent home to families. Two other residents at Almonte Country Haven, which is home to 82 people, died of unspecified reasons. The outbreak in eastern Ontario comes on the heels of a deadly outbreak at a long-term care home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., and another at a facility in Scarborough, in Toronto’s east end.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has called for increased testing in that province, said he wants to see tests of front-line health workers — including long-term care staff — as well as tests of seniors living in nursing home facilities.
“We need to start testing everybody possible,” Ford said Wednesday as the province faced questions about testing shortfalls. His call also came one day before Ontario reported its first death of a hospital worker at a Brampton hospital.
How to protect the elderly and vulnerable is an issue of concern around the world as case numbers rise. According to a database maintained by Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 1.5 million known COVID-19 cases worldwide, with almost 90,000 deaths. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and concealment by some governments.
Japan reported more than 500 new cases for the first time Thursday, a worrisome rise since it has the world’s oldest population and COVID-19 can be especially serious in the elderly. Hard-hit Italy, which has recorded more than 17,000 deaths, has the oldest population in Europe.
In Belgium, authorities in the French-speaking Walloon region have requested the support of the armed forces to tackle the worrying situation at nursing homes, where several hundred residents have died because of COVID-19. According to official figures released this month, a third of the deaths linked to the deadly virus in the region of southern Belgium have been registered in resting homes.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has described COVID-19 as a “serious” health threat and said the risk to Canadians is considered high.
Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories
As of 6:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 20,765 confirmed and presumptive cases. The provinces and territories that offer data about cases that are considered to be recovered listed 5,304 cases as resolved. CBC News has counted a total of 530 COVID-19-related deaths in Canada, and there are two known coronavirus-related deaths of Canadians abroad.
Tam has urged people across the country to behave as though COVID-19 is in their community, even if there are no known cases. Health officials have also reiterated that case numbers don’t offer a complete picture as that data doesn’t capture people who have not been tested or potential cases still under investigation.
On Thursday, the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg told staff via email that three people who work at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19. Work at the lab includes scientific research on SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
British Columbia’s Finance Minister Carole James says the province lost 132,000 jobs last month, and that it will get worse before it gets better due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She says B.C. has introduced a $5-billion action plan to help workers, families and businesses endure the pandemic Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
Alberta says its supply of critical equipment — including ventilators and personal protective equipment — should carry it through the expected COVID-19 peak if the province doesn’t hit the more “extreme” of the projected scenarios. The province projects its peak in coronavirus-related hospitalizations to come in late May. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta, including why fewer Albertans are in hospital with COVID-19 compared to other provinces.
In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe announced additional help for small businesses. It includes a one-time grant for small and medium businesses forced to close under COVID-19 distancing measures, but which commit to reopening once those measures are lifted. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
WATCH | See how ERs are preparing for COVID-19:
The Manitoba government is instituting fines for people who don’t follow public safety orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Premier Brian Pallister says people who break rules, such as the 10-person limit on gatherings, will face fines of $486, and businesses that don’t ensure proper distance between customers will be fined $2,542. Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says the city will have its own fines. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday “the unthinkable is happening” in reference to the loss of more than 400,000 jobs in the province in March. He announced the launch of the “Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee,” which will be tasked with charting a course to stimulate economic growth and job-creation following the pandemic. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.
In Quebec, Premier François Legault said that during the holiday weekend, he wants people to steer clear of the elderly to reduce the risk of infection, but to make sure they still call them. Legault told reporters that protecting the elderly is “priority,” as he identified six long term care facilities that account for the lion’s share of deaths in the province. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
New Brunswick’s top public health official says the total number of cases in the province continues to climb, but slowly. Dr. Jennifer Russell says that’s the result of the public’s co-operation with measures such as self-isolating and social distancing. The province released modelling Thursday which suggests COVID-19 could kill between 550 and 1,750 New Brunswickers over the next 12 to 24 months, until a vaccine is available. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
Nova Scotia reported its second death from COVID-19 Thursday. The province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Strang, also announced new measures for fishers, offshore workers and temporary foreign workers. He said they will need to self-isolate for 14 days when they enter the province. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.
“There’s truly different epidemics happening in different provinces,” said <a href=”https://twitter.com/BogochIsaac?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BogochIsaac</a> explaining why COVID-19 projections vary so much from province to province. “There’s certainly local circumstances… we can’t expect everyone to be in sync.” <a href=”https://t.co/jVo78oJoWf”>pic.twitter.com/jVo78oJoWf</a>
Prince Edward Island officials believe the province could see thousands more COVID-19-related job losses. On Thursday, the number of cases on the island remained steady at 25. Heather Morrison, the province’s chief public health officer, says officials are making more than 1,000 telephone calls every day to make sure that people required to self-isolate are doing so. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.
A projection suggests Newfoundland and Labrador could have a shortage of intensive care beds as COVID-19 case numbers rise. Premier Dwight Ball said the numbers show why people must continue to follow public health orders over the long weekend and beyond. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.
Yukon has reported another COVID-19 case, bringing the territory’s total to eight. Read more about what’s happening across Canada’s North, including a plan to invest in testing capacity in the Northwest Territories.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.
From The Associated Press, updated at 3 p.m. ET
With a startling 6.6 million people seeking unemployment benefits last week, the United States has reached a grim landmark: More than one in 10 workers have lost their jobs in just the past three weeks to the coronavirus outbreak.
The figures collectively constitute the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948. By contrast, during the Great Recession, it took 44 weeks — roughly 10 months — for unemployment claims to go as high as they now have in less than a month.
The U.S. has by far the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 of any nation, with over 430,000 people infected. New York state on Thursday reported a record number of coronavirus deaths for the third day in a row, 799, for an overall death toll over 7,000. That constitutes more than 40 per cent of the U.S. total of around 15,000.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city could bury virus victims in temporary graves if its morgues are overwhelmed, but said this week “we’re nowhere near that now.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also pointed to only 200 new hospitalizations in the state since his last briefing as a cause for some hope.
As the U.S. struggles to deal with the staggering death toll and an economy virtually shuttered to stop the spread of the virus, a battle took shape on Capitol Hill that is virtually shut down.
Senate Democrats on Thursday stalled President Donald Trump’s request for $250 billion US to supplement a “paycheque protection” program for businesses crippled by the coronavirus outbreak, demanding protections for minority-owned businesses and money for health-care providers and state and local governments.
Democratic Party demands sparked a spirited response from Republican Senate Majority Leader McConnell, who implored them not to block “emergency aid you do not even oppose just because you want something more.”
Thursday’s Senate development doesn’t mean the legislation is dead. Democrats and Republicans agree the aid is urgently needed. The dispute is over billions more Democrats want to add to the legislation.
Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world, including the latest from Spain and Italy — as well as reports of reinfection in South Korea
From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, updated at 2:20 p.m. ET
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved out of intensive care Thursday, and his office said he is “in extremely good spirits” as he continues to be treated in hospital for COVID-19.
“Things are getting better for him,” said U.K. Culture Minister Oliver Dowden said earlier in the day. “He’s stable, improving, sat up and engaged with medical staff.”
The latest daily figures show that another 881 people have died in hospitals in the U.K. but that figure does not include deaths in the community or in care homes. It brings the total number of deaths so far to at least 7,978.
In Spain, confirmed case numbers rose to 152,446, the health ministry said Thursday. The death toll in the country also rose, passing 15,200. In response, Spain’s parliament endorsed a government request to extend the current state of emergency by two more weeks, while Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told lawmakers he didn’t expect the crisis to end soon. “I’m sure that in two weeks’ time I’ll have to extend the state of emergency again,” he said.
There were 610 reported deaths from COVID-19 in Italy on Thursday, up from 542 the day before, taking the total death toll to 18,279. There were 3,606 people in intensive care, down from 3,693 on Wednesday, a sixth consecutive daily decline, offering some good news despite the climb in new cases and fatalities. Still, the Italian government is planning to extend its lockdown until May 3, two trade union sources told Reuters on Thursday after meeting ministers. The lockdown was set to end April 13, but an uptick in new infections in the past two days has frustrated hopes that the illness was in clear retreat.
Italy may start gradually lifting some restrictions in place to contain the novel coronavirus by the end of April, provided the spread of the disease continues to slow, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the BBC on Thursday: “We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month,” Conte said.
The number of people in intensive care units for coronavirus infection in France fell slightly for the first time since the start of the epidemic, but the number of people dying in nursing homes jumped by more than 50 per cent over two days, health ministry data showed on Thursday. Including the deaths in hospitals, up by 412 to 8,044, the total death toll rose to 12,210 people, the world’s fourth highest after Italy, Spain and the United States.
In Germany, the health minister said restrictions on public life are flattening the curve of new coronavirus cases. “The number of newly reported infections is flattening out, we are seeing a linear increase again rather than the dynamic, exponential increase we saw in mid-March,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said.
South Korea says at least 74 people who had been diagnosed as recovered from the novel coronavirus tested positive for the second time after they were released from hospitals.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday health authorities were testing virus and serum samples to determine whether patients who tested positive again would be capable of transmitting the virus to others and whether their bodies had properly created antibodies.
She said some of the patients didn’t show any symptoms before their follow-up tests turned positive, while others were tested again because they were exhibiting respiratory symptoms. She said none of these patients so far have seen their illness worsen to serious conditions.
Singapore confirmed 287 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, the biggest daily increase yet, taking the total there to 1,910, its Health Ministry said. More than 200 of the new cases were linked to outbreaks in foreign worker dormitories.
Indian authorities have identified and sealed dozens of hot spots in the Indian capital and the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state to check the rising trajectory of new coronavirus infections. Government statements late Wednesday said people will be given food, medicines and other supplies at their doorsteps and they will not be allowed to leave these areas.
Authorities also made it compulsory for people to wear face masks when stepping outdoors in areas not covered by these restrictions in the two states. The sealing of hot spots came as the number of confirmed cases in India crossed the 5,000 mark, with 166 deaths, according to India’s Health Ministry.
Iran’s coronavirus death toll has risen by 117 to 4,110, Health Ministry spokesperson Kianush Jahanpur said on Thursday. The total number of infected people with the novel coronavirus has reached 66,220, he said.
Meanwhile, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, said the continent “cannot be neglected” in the global effort to fight COVID-19.
“The world will be terribly unsafe, and it will be completely naive, if countries think they can control COVID-19 in their countries but not in Africa.”
Equipment in Africa is relatively scarce. The World Health Organization says fewer than 5,000 intensive care unit beds are available across 43 of the continent’s 54 countries. Functional ventilators in public health services across 41 countries number less than 2,000, a severe shortage for patients in respiratory distress.
While Africa’s 1.3 billion people had a head start in preparing for the pandemic as the virus spread in China, Europe and the United States, Nkengasong warned that “the very future of the continent will depend on how this matter is handled” as cases, now over 11,000, quickly rise. In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday extended the lockdown by two weeks, saying that to end it too soon would risk a “massive and uncontrollable resurgence” of the virus.
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