Experts are not convinced that we are on track for a second lockdown. In fact, some are cautiously optimistic.
Lockdowns and a second wave? What could the coronavirus pandemic look like this fall
“It’s less likely to happen this time around because preparations have been made this time around,” said Dr. Alon Vaisman, infectious disease and infection control physician at University Health Network in Toronto.
“But that doesn’t mean it’s off the table. ”
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Recent modeling data from the Public Health Agency of Canada presents best and worst case scenarios for fall and winter.
Best case: Canada is experiencing multiple small spikes in cases – fluctuating numbers – over the next few months. Worst Case: Canada falls into a second wave that overwhelms the healthcare system, followed by smaller spikes in the following months.
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The data clearly indicates that “there’s always a possibility” for things to get worse again, Vaisman said, “but it’s hard to know how likely that will be.”
“It’s a back and forth. Ultimately, people should expect a dynamic situation. “
How would we know?
A second wave of the virus would be the first sign of a tightening.
While there is no fixed number of cases that would define a second wave – just the steepness of the curve that rises quickly – there is no doubt that Canada will see some form of it, said Colin Furness, epidemiologist. of Infection Control and Assistant Professor at the University. from Toronto.
But for things to stop, he said the increase in cases would need to be large enough to “overwhelm” the ability to quickly test and trace contacts.
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“It’s the line in the sand,” Furness said. “As soon as we lose this, we are in trouble. We have an uncontrolled spread. ”
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Summertime has so far provided a buffer for the spread of the virus, Furness said. As colder conditions force more people in, cases are likely to “bloom,” he said, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Canada will revert to lockdown orders at the March level.
Since the start of the pandemic in the spring, Canada has stepped up testing and contract traceability, obtained more personal protective equipment (PPE), improved public health measures, improved compliance with these measures and “transformed” its health care system to deal with this type of problem. emergency, Furness said.
There will inevitably be epidemics, he admitted, but that will not force everyone to lock themselves up.
“We will be smarter in how we respond and how we defend ourselves against COVID in a way that we just weren’t in March.”
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Canada will likely draw inspiration from other countries that have gone through a sort of second wave, experts agree.
Places like Spain and France have recently seen a sharp increase in cases, but not in deaths and hospitalizations. This has led to tighter restrictions, but a far cry from the curfews and closed economies of March and April.
“A lockdown would only be considered if the capacity of the health system is exceeded, which does not appear to be the case in European countries, which have opened earlier than us,” said Dr Prabhat Jha, epidemiologist at the University of Toronto and Director of the Center for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
There are a number of factors contributing to this, Jha said, which are reflected in Canada.
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On the one hand, he said that more young people are being tested and appear in the test data. There is also a better understanding of sorting and protecting hospitals and nursing homes.
“The elderly are less exposed to the young now. They are more isolated, ”he says.
Vaisman believes Canada would see a “phase reversal” if cases rose again, with high-risk activities halted while low-risk activities were maintained.
It would cascade down from there. If low-risk things get riskier as cases continue to rise, more closures could be imposed.
“There is fruit on hand that we can cut first,” Vaisman said.
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Schools a “big test”
Schools are a “major variable” in what could worsen the COVID-19 situation in Canada, resulting in tighter restrictions, Vaisman said.
“This will be a major test of our system, because it essentially introduces a rupture into the bubbles of many people and opens potential chains of transmission with many, many people,” he said.
“And then we’ll wait two or more weeks after the opening date to really understand the effect of that. ”
Some countries had to close schools a second time when outbreaks swept through classrooms. Israel closed schools two weeks after fully reopening them, as did South Korea and some in Germany.
“Every time you open something, you throw coins on the risk pile. You make this bigger, ”Furness said. “If you want a balance, every time you throw something on the risk stack you have to throw something on the same stack. Opening schools throws a lot into the risk pile. “
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Can we avoid it?
Proven protocols – hand hygiene, mask wear, physical distancing – are and will continue to be essential as fall and winter approach Canada.
“Wearing a mask is a huge tool that we have and we are seeing high compliance,” Furness said. “Compliance tends to go up when things get scary, not down.”
Stepping up testing is another way to increase protections, Vaisman said. He highlighted the pressure to speed up Health Canada’s approval of home test kits and saliva tests as a means to simplify testing and make it more accessible.
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An effort to attract more Canadians to the country’s coronavirus exposure notification app, Covid Alert, is also an important tactic, Jha said.
The app has been downloaded around 2.2 million times in the first month of its launch, but only 90 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so far. Experts fear this is not enough.
“He was poorly promoted,” Jha said. “Where’s the ad? Why don’t bars and restaurants try a “no app, no entry” approach? Without high application coverage, it will not be effective. ”
At the end of the day, Canadians looking for “light at the end of the tunnel” may have to watch last winter when flu season passes and a vaccine draws near, Vaisman said.
“There is no reason the lockdown cannot happen, but you just have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
– with files from Associated Press and Leslie Young of Global News
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