OTTAWA — Federal projections of the toll COVID-19 could take in Canada are not yet ready for public consumption but will be coming soon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday, just as Ontario announced it will share details of its provincial analysis on Friday.
Canadian officials have acknowledged they are working on models for how the virus is spreading in Canada and what might happen next, but have refused thus far to make that information public. Trudeau said Thursday he understands how much Canadians want a better sense of where COVID-19 is going to take us, but said the data is just not ready yet.
“I know a lot of people are still wondering when this will get better or how much worse it might become,” he said, in his daily briefing to Canadians outside his Ottawa residence. “You want to see the numbers and predictions. You want to plan. You want to prepare for the worst, you want to know what to be hopeful about. I know, and we will have more information … soon.”
Trudeau said data sharing and projections were critical items on the agenda for a first-ministers conference Thursday evening. He said provinces have been clearing backlogs of testing, which is providing more information about ”how COVID-19 is spreading, on where it’s spreading, on how it’s being transmitted and on how the measures that we’re putting into place are working.”
He added that the No. 1 factor affecting the projections and the final outcome is “how people behave today.”
“And that is why it is so important that people stay home, that they continue with the social distancing, continue keeping two metres apart, continue to look to minimize their movements as much as possible so that we can get through this in the best shape possible.”
Quebec Premier Francois Legault signalled Wednesday that Quebec modelling is coming shortly. Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised in his Thursday press conference that Ontario’s predictions will be released to the public Friday, though he cautioned “many people will find it hard to hear” what the data is going to show.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shared some numbers for his province Wednesday evening. He said his province’s modelling suggests the virus will peak in Alberta in early May and that the highest number of ventilators needed will be around 250.
But Alberta is also preparing for a worst-case scenario that would require 1,200 intensive-care beds and 925 ventilators. He said Alberta Health Services is aiming to have that many ventilators ready for use by the end of April.
There were more than 11,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, and 111 deaths, as of Thursday morning, but Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, frequently reminds Canadians that the number of positive tests does not provide the full picture of how many people have COVID-19, and that there are delays between when people get sick, when they get tested, and when tests come back positive.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said March 11 that between 30 and 70 per cent of Canadians could eventually be infected with COVID-19 but that was before the caseload in Canada began to soar and emergency orders to stay home and close schools and non-essential businesses were implemented.
Hajdu and Tam both said Thursday that it is taking time to provide useful projections on the virus because it takes a lot of specific data for the modelling to work. Hajdu said, for instance, that to estimate how many people might die, you have to be able to estimate how many people will get critically ill. To do that you need to be able to estimate how many people will get sick, which depends a lot on the measures taken to slow the spread of the virus and how well people are following the instructions.
Tam said the data on caseloads coming in also has to be interpreted based on what conditions had to be met for a person to be tested, and in Canada every province has used slightly different strategies. Ottawa has also been providing assistance to provinces and territories to help them dig out the data needed to make projections.
Several other countries have released predictions for death counts and infection rates this week, including New Zealand and the United States. New Zealand, with a population of almost five million, estimated that if containment efforts fail, two-thirds of the population will catch COVID-19 and 14,000 people would die.
The United States’ infectious disease experts said Tuesday with current efforts to curb the spread, the death toll there will likely be between 100,000 and 240,000.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2020.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press