How Canada’s first long-term coronavirus pandemic projections hold up today – National


In early April, Canada’s public health agency first published estimates of the extent of the spread of the new coronavirus in the country and the number of people who could die from it.Those projections, released on April 9, predicted that COVID-19 could kill between 11,000 and 22,000 Canadians during the pandemic, if strong public health controls were implemented. The agency also offered worse estimates for scenarios involving weaker epidemic controls, if any.

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Almost four months later, the deaths of around 9,000 people have been linked to the virus in Canada – but the pandemic is far from over, according to the World Health Organization.

How did these initial predictions influence the behavior of Canadians – if at all – and how do they hold up today? Here’s what the experts have to say.

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How Canada Responded

Estimates from April 9 showed that weak or no controls during the pandemic could see between 25% and 80% of the population infected and between 100,000 and 350,000 deaths – a startling difference from the roughly 500 deaths reported to the time.

” I think [the projections] scared people, at least helped people understand the magnitude of what we were talking about, ”said Ashleigh Tuite, infectious disease epidemiologist and mathematical modeler at the University of Toronto.

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Nicholas King, an associate professor at McGill University who does research in public health ethics and policy, said he felt the early modeling numbers likely served as a wake-up call for Canadians and decision markers.

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“I think it’s likely that this has helped convince policymakers of the need to act, and to act sooner than in many other jurisdictions,” King said.

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Tuite argued that the lockdown and distancing measures that Canadians imposed and followed in the following months “had a huge effect.” She pointed to the first results of an analysis of 10,000 samples from blood donors which suggested that less than one percent had been infected with the virus.

How do the first projections hold up?

These early projections were based on case data available in Canada at the time, as well as expert knowledge of the virus’s behavior, said Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, on April 9. .

Four months after the start of the pandemic, Tuite said those projections may still be “relevant” today. But she said long-term estimates of deaths and cases could be “too optimistic” if there were resurgences of the virus and continued outbreaks across the country.

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King agreed, arguing that we’re probably only in the middle of the pandemic at the moment.

“It may turn into something much more like the flu or other viruses that become endemic and stay with us for a long time – in which case the projection of 11,000 to 22,000 (deaths) for the pandemic is likely. be an underestimate, ”he says.

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“I think it’s really hard to assess these things just because we have no idea when the pandemic will end.”

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It could go the other way, however. The increase in the total number of deaths ultimately depends on the overall number of cases and the infected population, said Caroline Colijn, infectious disease modeler and math professor at Simon Fraser University.

“We might expect to see fewer deaths per number of cases reported if our cases are mostly in younger people – which is starting to happen due to more community-wide transmission – as opposed to epidemics in hospitals or long-term care where people are more numerous. vulnerable. “

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While nearly 200 deaths from COVID-19 were linked to long-term care homes on April 9, Tuite says she doesn’t think the initial forecast reflects the extent of the spread in homes for the aged.

“I don’t think the extent of it is known,” she said. “I know that most of the models that have been developed have not incorporated outbreaks into long-term care homes.”

Will PHAC publish updated long-term estimates?

Since the start of April, the Public Health Agency of Canada has released four rounds of short-term projections for the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths – most of which turned out to be true accurate.

With a second wave of the virus expected this fall, Global News has asked PHAC if it will release another set of long-term projections for COVID-19.

“As we learn more about the virus, we update our models accordingly. A future presentation will be announced near the date, ”said a press release from the agency.

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Experts say the course of the pandemic rests largely on the actions and behavior of peoples. While these things are difficult to predict – and the COVID-19 situation varies by province – Coljin said she believed it was warranted to have “national level image and federal level communication on this. that will be needed ”.

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She said officials can make long-term national forecasts “based on the behaviors and level of control we currently have.”

“These forecasts are always a sort of brainstorming experiment on what might happen and I think they can help us make decisions about what to do,” she said.

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