COVID-19 remains 'very serious health threat': Trudeau
OTTAWA -- While the COVID-19 curve continues to show signs of flattening and progress is being made to reopen some aspects of society, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging Canadians to continue to take the pandemic seriously, saying the deadly disease “remains a very serious health threat.”
As much good news as it has been to see some aspects of society emerge from lockdown, now federal health authorities are warning of the risk of “quarantine fatigue,” saying that if Canadians become too lax, the last two months of staying at home and staying apart could be for nothing.
During his address from Rideau Cottage on Thursday, the prime minister reemphasized Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam’s calls for Canadians to wear non-medical masks or other adequate face coverings any time they leave their house and think they could be in a situation where physical distancing can’t be maintained.
“It’s never been more important to follow public health instructions,” Trudeau said, adding that while some aspects of life are returning to some semblance of pre-pandemic activity, the public health steps Canadians have become used to need to continue.
This includes proper hand washing and maintaining two metres of distance between yourself and those not in your bubble to prevent coming into contact with potentially infectious droplets emitted when people speak, sneeze, cough, sing, or laugh.
The government is watching closely what is happening in other countries that have progressed further in their phases of reopening and will not hesitate to pull back on the reins if COVID-19 cases surge again.
Tam noted the growing “quarantine fatigue” in Canada, and cautioned that while it may be difficult, COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future and “we’ll need to pace ourselves.”
“As things are beginning to reopen, we want to get out, but at the same time many of us are still feeling trepidation. Is the time right? How do I keep myself and my family safe? These are valid concerns,” Tam said.
She said that while there remains a lot to be understood about the novel coronavirus that’s swept the globe, infecting more than five million people and killing nearly 330,000, the known deterrents to further spread like physical distancing remain the best line of defence.
“This is quite a difficult period. I think it's one of the most difficult periods of time where people have been observing this public health advice. And now, some things are easing up, and there is this exuberance of maybe getting out there. [It] means that people may forget to do all the core public health measures,” said Tam.
TESTING, TRACING STILL LACKING
The prime minister also committed to working with the provinces and territories on a national testing and tracing strategy to increase capacity so that as businesses begin welcoming customers and staff are sent back to work, the country can try to stay on top of any future spikes.
He said overall the rate of testing still needs to be increased.
“It is going to be important to increase testing now… but also make sure that as we move forward through the summer and obviously into the fall, we are ready to act extremely quickly so that the population at large won't be in situations of having to go back into confinement,” Trudeau said. “But that depends on citizens doing their part.”
Tam said on Thursday that on average 28,000 people are being tested daily, despite saying for many weeks that the target rate is closer to 60,000 per day. In total, Canada has tested nearly 1.4 million people.
As of 1:30 p.m. EST, there were 81,277 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, 41,098 of which have fully recovered, while 6,145 people have died.
IMMUNITY LEVELS UNKNOWN
She said that despite the number of tests done, with a population of more than 37 million the true infection rate remains unknown, and is likely much higher than current data indicates.
A big aspect of the uncertainty is the likelihood of a number of cases going undetected due to Canadians not getting tested because they had no known symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
“So there will still be susceptible people and if they reignite another chain of transmission, we have to jump on it really fast… So we have to be really cautious because it might not take much for another chain of transmission and escalation to occur,” Tam said.
Evolving the testing strategy is on the agenda for Trudeau’s call with the premiers Thursday evening.
In April, the federal government announced it was spending $1.1 billion for a national medical and research strategy that included studies into vaccines and immunity testing. This included a dedicated fund of $350 million for testing, modelling, data-monitoring and tracking of COVID-19 in Canada.