New modelling released by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) warns that COVID-19 variants could drive a resurgence in coronavirus cases across the country without stronger public health measures to prevent their spread.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday that the current case number nationally represents a 60 per cent drop compared to just one month ago, but she stressed they’re still at a level higher than the peak of the first wave.
At the same time, over 700 cases in Canada have been linked to three variants of concern — the B117 variant first identified in the U.K., the B1351 variant first identified in South Africa, and the P1 variant first traced to travellers from Brazil. Scientists believe these variants could be up to 50 per cent more transmissible.
When the more contagious variants are included in projections, they show a potential spike in cases to 10,000 per day by the end of March, if the current level of restrictions are maintained. The modelling shows the epidemic curve will take an almost vertical trajectory to 20,000 cases per day by mid-March if public health restrictions are relaxed even further.
„With the emergence and spread of new variants of concern, we are cautioned that unless we maintain and abide by stringent public health measures, we may not be able to avert a re-acceleration of the epidemic in Canada,” said Tam. „These variants have been smouldering in the background and now threaten to flare up.”
Provinces that do consider reopening should do so carefully, slowly and make sure that proper surveillance testing is in place, she said.
„Further lifting of the public health measures would cause the epidemic to re-surge rapidly and strongly,” Tam said. „And current community-based public health measures will be insufficient to control rapid growth and resurgence as forecast.”