New federal forecasts project that COVID-19 variants could fuel a surge of 20,000 new cases per day by mid-March if public health restrictions are relaxed further.
The Public Health Agency of Canada released modelling Friday suggesting that while infections continue to decline nationally, the spread of virus mutations threatens to reverse that progress.
Canada’s chief public health officer says there are currently fewer than 33,000 active cases in Canada, a 60-per-cent drop compared to a month ago.
But with more contagious variants now detected in all provinces, Dr. Theresa Tam says Canada may not be able to avoid a rapid acceleration of the epidemic unless we double down on the strict practices that have driven down infections.
Canada at ‘critical point,’ Tam says
The variants, such as those first identified in the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil, are approximately 50 per cent more transmissible and linked to more severe disease outcomes, she added.
“We are at a critical point in the pandemic and our efforts have begun to tip the balance in our favour,” Tam told reporters.
“Protecting our progress and limiting the impact of variants of concern will require stronger action, with a combination of enhanced public health measures and strict adherence to individual precautions.”
Even with current restrictions, the spread of the variants could push Canada’s caseload to more than 10,000 new diagnoses per day by April, according to the projections.
The forecasts suggest that Canada could control the outbreak with enhanced public health measures, such as restrictions, closures and community-based control protocols.
“We’ve been saying all along that if we ease measures too soon, the epidemic will resurge even stronger. But with highly contagious variants in our midst, the threat of uncontrolled epidemic growth is significantly elevated,” said Tam.
“Measures must be stronger, stricter and sustained long enough to suppress rapid epidemic growth of variants of concern.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.
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