Politics

Canada's public health agency warns threat of COVID-19 resurgence in Canada 'not just hypothetical'

Dr. Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, released updated federal modelling of the COVID-19 epidemic today, saying the outbreak is "largely under control."

Epidemic is still 'largely under control,' says deputy chief public health officer

Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, says the epidemic is 'largely under control' but the threat of a late spike in COVID-19 cases remains. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

While the COVID-19 epidemic in Canada remains "largely under control," one of Canada's top public health officials is warning that the potential for a significant spike in new cases "is not just hypothetical, as this is exactly what we are already seeing in some other parts of the world."

As the United States nears three million cases of COVID-19 and states like Texas and California show record-high numbers of newly-reported cases, Canada's public health agency on Wednesday released the latest figures in its modelling of the coronavirus outbreak in this country, showing the epidemic is on the same trajectory as it was at the end of June.

Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer of Canada, told a media briefing in Ottawa today that "the current patterns of COVID-19 infections show limited to no transmission in most areas of the country."

Dr. Njoo pointed out that most of the recent outbreaks have been localized, citing northern Saskatchewan and Ontario's Peel and Windsor-Essex regions as hotspots that emerged over the last two weeks.

These outbreaks have led to Canada's Rt number — representing the average number of people infected by each individual case — rising above 1 after staying below 1 for most of the last 10 weeks. An Rt above 1 suggests the spread of the disease is growing.

Dr. Njoo said that "with cases low in number, the daily Rt is likely to fluctuate dramatically. It remains important for us to closely monitor for new cases and outbreaks that could arise in any part of the country, even in places which might have few or no cases at the moment."

Watch: 'Limited to no transmission' of coronavirus in most of Canada: PHAC

The Public Health Agency of Canada says transmission of the coronavirus is waning in most parts of the country, but warned that Canadians must keep following public health measures to prevent a rebound. 49:52

'Things can change quickly'

In a press conference in Ottawa earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed the same warning.

"The situation is stabilizing in Canada today because Canadians did their part and followed public health instructions," he said, "but we still have to be very careful. Things can change quickly."

The models forecast that by July 17, Canada will have detected between 106,000 and 111,000 cases and suffered between 8,560 and 8,900 deaths.

As of July 7, the country had experienced 107,000 cases and 8,818 deaths, according to a tally by CBC News.

The data indicate that cases among Canadians over the age of 80 have declined the most, but that the prevalence of COVID-19 among Canadians between the ages of 20 and 39 has not declined at the same pace.

"To continue to prevent a resurgence and manage the epidemic," Dr. Njoo said in French, "we need the rate of infection among this age group to decrease in a constant manner. Though severe illness is less frequent among younger age groups, young adults are not protected from serious consequences."

Young people can also spread the virus to more vulnerable populations.

As of the public health agency's data up to July 7, there have been only 24 recorded deaths among Canadians under the age of 39 due to COVID-19, representing just 0.3 per cent of the total. But they represent over eight per cent of hospitalized cases and nearly 10 per cent of those admitted to intensive care units.

Dr. Njoo said that, as businesses re-open and personal restrictions are lifted, he expects to see a resurgence in cases. He said there's a risk of a significant spike in the summer and into the fall without enhanced public health measures related to case detection, contact tracing and quarantining.

The models suggest that without these measures in place, there is a "distinct possibility" that the caseload could explode beyond even the peak of the first wave in April, he said.

And while he thinks things are going well so far, Dr. Njoo said "we need to keep underlining the key public health messages and telling people that no, it's not over, and if there's too much of what we call a relapse … then certainly we'll see more of these outbreaks."

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