New modelling shows variants could lead to ‘strong’ COVID-19 resurgence: Tam

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Canada is on track to see a “strong resurgence” of COVID-19 cases across the country if the more transmissible variants continue to spread and become more commonplace, and if public health measures remain at current levels, according to new modelling.

New long-range projections being presented by Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) officials show that if Canadians increase, or even maintain the current number of people they come into contact with each day, COVID-19 cases are set to spike to levels not yet experienced during this pandemic.

This is prompting Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam to implore people and provinces to take more precautions and reassess current steps, such as new closures and ensuring people are using effective masks whenever physical distance cannot be maintained.

“Current community-based public health measures will be insufficient to control rapid growth,” she told reporters Friday. “It’s clear that we need to hold on together a bit stronger and longer until vaccines have us better protected,” she said, calling the latest figures “discouraging, after so many months of sacrifice.”


Seeking to offer an incentive to double-down now, Tam said that eventually easing restrictions will only be possible if current spread is brought under control.

Despite these warnings, at least one premier has already come out questioning PHAC’s data. Asked whether it’s time to reassess that province’s restrictions, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney cast doubt on Tam’s past predictions, saying that in his view they have been proved to be “spectacularly inaccurate,” though the most recent past modelling accurately predicted the current uptick in variant spread.

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Kenney is continuing to call for the federal government to gain faster access to more vaccines as the way to prevent further lockdowns or the variants taking hold.

It’s a call that echoes Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent requests. In Ontario, restrictions were recently eased slightly in certain regions, though considerable variant spread is being detected. On Friday, Tam suggested that the frequent up and down of imposing and then lifting of measures as soon as the spread starts to come down, is the wrong approach at this time.

“It may not be stay at home for every area… You’ve got to implement measures that work in your community where people are going to stick to as few interactions,” she said. “If there are detections that this activity is ramping up, then definitely don’t relax.”


The modelling shows that the number of and proportion of variant of concern cases are “increasing rapidly” in several parts of Canada, and that the experience internationally demonstrates that stronger measures are needed if Canada wants to control the spread of more contagious variants.

“In parts of Canada where variants of concern represent an increasingly high proportion of cases and are associated with a greater number of outbreaks, we need to maintain high degree of vigilance to keep COVID-19 infections rates down as vaccine programs scale up,” Tam said Friday, noting Canada is currently in a “tight race” against the variants.

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Following the modelling presentation, Health Minister Patty Hajdu pointed to the $53 million being spent on a national “variants of concern strategy” that includes funding for research into the variants, surveillance of their spread, and sequencing of the virus.

Daily case counts and severity indicators are once again on the rise, after an easing off of lockdown measures in major provinces west of Atlantic Canada, with an average of 4,057 new cases, 2,194 hospitalizations, and 29 deaths over the past seven days.

Source: Public Health Agency of Canada. Data as of March 24, 2021.

“Daily case counts have increased over 30 per cent in the past two weeks… Every 100 cases in Canada, passes the virus to more than 100 others,” said Tam, advising Canadians it is not safe to gather in groups in-person for coming celebrations such as Easter, Ramadan and Passover.

The highest incidences of COVID-19 are currently being experienced in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and parts of Ontario, while overall the incidence rates are highest among young adults aged 20 to 39 and have declined among older Canadians.


In a positive indication that vaccinations are working to tamp down new outbreaks among highly-immunized settings, the number and size of outbreaks in long-term care homes and other retirement residences continue to be on the decline.

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However, Tam said seeing more people vaccinated will not be enough to ease public health measures and other restrictions, noting that virus transmission; efficient public health capacity to test, trace and quarantine new cases; sufficient health care capacity exists to respond to surges; and risk-reduction measures are in place in high risk settings, are all components that will need to be in place before life gets back to some degree of normalcy.

PHAC modelling data as of March 24, 2021
Source: Public Health Agency of Canada. Data as of March 24, 2021.

Summer “holds promise” and Canada is “closer now than ever” to a new-normal, according to Friday’s presentation, but Canadians should expect to maintain, for some time to come, the personal health precautions adopted in the last year.

The short-term forecast is predicting Canada will hit between 973,080 to 1,005,020 cases by April 4, and between 22,875 to 23,315 cumulative deaths.

As of the modelling being issued there have been more than 951,500 COVID-19 cases and 22,790 deaths in Canada.

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