Federal modelling data suggest lockdowns have slowed COVID-19 spread

The stringent public health measures implemented in some provinces have slowed the rapid spread of COVID-19, according to new modelling data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Top health officials are now urging provinces to maintain those restrictive policies until the summer to keep the pandemic at a manageable level.

While recent weeks have seen a troubling spike in the number of deaths and hospitalizations as COVID-19 variants wreak havoc, lockdowns in B.C., Ontario and Quebec are already showing results.

The national “rT” — the metric that tracks the average number of people one infected person will pass the virus on to — has dipped below 1. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, called that “a spark of good news.”

If the provinces can keep the rT below one, then the number of new cases will continue to decline, she said.

“For the first time in many weeks, the epidemic has dropped out of a growth pattern,” Tam said.

While the federal modelling suggests there will be a slight acceleration in the number of deaths over the next two weeks — a consequence of sky-high caseloads in some provinces this month — short-term forecasts predict there will be a slower increase in the number of cases between now and May 2.

The number of deaths is expected to rise from the 23,822 reported Thursday to a high of 24,570 by May 2.

The number of new cases will be “brought under control,” said Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, if the public continues to adhere to lockdown rules for the foreseeable future.

Keep the lid on until summer: Tam

“There’s reason to be hopeful. We are starting to see provinces and territories implement public health measures and there are positive results. We can see the rates of infection are going down,” Njoo said in French.

The modelling suggests that, without these measures, daily case counts would rise to at least 15,000 a day nationwide. If people continue to stay home as much as possible and reduce their social interactions, the number of new daily cases could fall below 5,000 by mid-May.

Tam said the most restrictive measures could be gradually lifted after more adults have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A high vaccine uptake in the coming months — with at least 75 per cent of adults getting one dose — will help to decide whether it will be safe to lift lockdowns this summer, she said. The data suggest that at that rate of vaccination, hospitalizations would be kept to a more acceptable level.

There’s hope for a more normal summer if people get vaccinated as soon as they can, Tam said.

She said that once 20 per cent of the adult population is fully vaccinated with two doses of a COVID-19 shot, officials can start to ease the most stringent measures.

Pointing to the U.K. — where government officials have maintained lockdowns even as their vaccine rollout has accelerated — Tam said experience shows “strong and sustained measures” are needed to suppress rapid growth of the more contagious variants.

The data suggest COVID-19 vaccines have had their desired effect already in older age cohorts. The number of COVID-19 cases among people over 80 has dropped dramatically from 35 cases per 100,000 in January to less than 5 now.

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