TORONTO — Amid staggering job losses across Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government on Thursday said it expected the number of Canadians killed by the novel coronavirus to double over the next week.
If stringent measures remain in place, the country’s top public health officer predicted the pandemic could cost at least 4,500 lives over its course. Without such controls, models indicate as many as 80 per cent of the population could have been infected, and as many as 350,000 could have died.
“These stark numbers tell us we must do everything we can now to remain in that best-case scenario,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a sombre presentation. “We must minimize the population infected… in order to keep deaths, ICU admissions and hospitalizations as low as possible.”
In response to the projections, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it would take months of continued and determined efforts to avoid the worst outcomes. Canada, he said, was at a crossroad, and how scrupulously people observed isolation measures would determine what happens.
“We are going to continue to lose people across this country in the coming weeks,” said Trudeau, who noted normal was still a long way away.
“We will not be coming back to our former normal situation; we can’t do that until we have developed a vaccine and that could take 12 to 18 months,” Trudeau said. “We don’t exactly know how long — we hope it’s earlier rather than later.”
Tam said it appeared the spread of the virus was moderating somewhat and that Canada could bring the epidemic under control by the end of summer if social distancing and other measures in place were strictly adhered to. With spotty controls, we could still be battling the tail end of the pandemic a year from now, she said.
The number of Canadians infected with the flu-like virus was headed toward the 20,000 level on Thursday, more than 460 people fatally. Ontario reported its death toll reached 200 on Thursday, an increase of 26 people. The province has seen 5,759 known cases.
Experts say frequent hand-washing and keeping at least two metres from others is the most effective way to curb the pandemic and ease the burden on the health-care system.
The isolation measures already put in place — governments and health authorities either ordered or urged people to stay home and non-essential businesses to close — have had a devastating effect on the economy, bringing commercial life to its knees. The result has been an unprecedented blow to the economy and jobs.
Just how deep the restrictions have cut was seen when Statistics Canada reported on Thursday that more than one million people lost their jobs in March. The result was a 40 per cent jump over one month in the national unemployment rate to 7.8 per cent, up from 5.6 per cent at the end of February.
The spike was the worst showing in 40 years of data gathering and the situation was expected to be even worse in April, economists warned.
Young people, those aged 15 to 24, appeared to take the biggest brunt, with their unemployment rate jumping to 16.8 per cent — a 63 per cent increase.
One glimmer of light did emerge on the jobs front: WestJet saying it plans to bring back nearly 6,400 employees on to its payroll with the help of Ottawa’s emergency wage subsidies. Air Canada had similarly said 16,500 of its laid-off employees were also taking advantage of the program.
Several provinces have previously provided their projections. Ontario, for example, has projected between 3,000 and 15,000 residents could die from the pandemic even in a best-case scenario. Quebec has estimated 1,263 to 8,860 deaths by the end of this month, while Alberta has said it’s likely the province would see between 400 and 3,100 deaths, with infections peaking in mid-May.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2020.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press