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Canada thought it had flattened the curve: what went wrong?


In the early fall, Canadian public health officials warned that private gatherings in homes were driving an increase in cases and community transmission.

Couple marries on the border of the US and Canada 0:52

Ottawa (CNN) -

"At least we are not as bad as the United States."

Those were the words that many Canadians spoke during the first wave of coronavirus, perhaps without malice but with a good dose of presumption.

But that complacency may have helped fuel a deadly second wave in Canada that is now overwhelming hospital capacity in nearly every region of the country as health officials impose more restrictions and lockdowns.

"What you're saying is we're better than the worst country in the world," says Amir Attaran, a US-raised Canadian professor of law and public health at the University of Ottawa, in an interview with CNN.

For months, Attaran has been a relentless critic, warning that when compared to an American yardstick, Canada's response to COVID-19 was bound to falter.


And it has given up.

What went wrong with covid-19?

«In recent days, we have seen new records of covid-19 cases in several provinces.

Hospitalizations are increasing, families are losing members, and the most vulnerable are at risk.

Just because we're close to vaccines doesn't mean we can afford to become complacent, "Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned during a press conference on Monday.

So what went wrong?

"You need to bring community transmission to near zero or near zero and then do the aggressive tracing tests and contact isolation, which we never did," Attaran says.

During the first wave of covid-19, Canadians were mostly obedient, cautious, and serious about staying home, wearing a mask, and following orders issued by serious public health officials.

And the pandemic was rarely politicized.

But in early fall, Canadian public health officials warned that private gatherings in homes were driving an increase in cases and community transmission.

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Then, Canadian Thanksgiving in early October seemed to seal the country's fate, as infection rates spiked over the following weeks.

Canada's figures are heading in the wrong direction

Canada has posted records of new coronavirus cases and deaths in the past month, according to covid-19 tracking data from Johns Hopkins University.

The country has reported more than 425,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 12,800 deaths to date, according to Johns Hopkins.

New daily cases are now 10 times higher than they were in late summer, with deaths averaging around 88 per day now, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

For a few days in summer, Canadian government data reported zero deaths from covid-19.

By almost all covid-19 monitoring measures, Canada is still better off than the United States, but Canadian officials have warned that hospital capacity is reaching its limit and that community transmission must be reduced.

According to government data, Canada now has around 2,400 people with the virus in hospitals.

That's a few hundred fewer than what Los Angeles County reported Monday, despite Canada having a population nearly 4 times as large.

So far, more than 14.9 million cases of coronavirus have been reported in the US and more than 284,000 people have died.

The United States is also grappling with a spike in cases that health experts expect will worsen, anticipating new waves of holiday gatherings in December, plus a potential spike for Thanksgiving week.

But again, public health experts caution that comparisons with the United States should offer Canadians little comfort.

Lack of evidence

For weeks, Canada's public health agency has reported that, on average, 75,000 coronavirus tests are performed daily in the country.

That means Canada is testing at about half the rate, per capita, as the United States.

Public health experts say Canada should be more aggressive with testing to reduce community transmission and detect asymptomatic spread.

According to a report released Monday by one of Canada's largest long-term care operators, that lack of testing has tragically allowed the virus to stalk and kill residents of nursing homes in Canada.

Data from the Canadian government shows that, in August 2020, nearly 80% of all coronavirus deaths in the country occurred among residents of long-term care facilities.

During a press conference in late October, Canada's director of public health Theresa Tam confirmed that the figure did not change much in the fall, although the national public health agency is awaiting data.

And yet, the lack of adequate testing at such facilities continues.

In a report released Monday by a government-owned long-term care operator, an advisory panel of experts noted not only the failures of the first wave tests, but that inadequate testing continues.

“… Although it was widely understood that residents of long-term care facilities faced an extremely high risk of serious complications and death from COVID-19, so they had a lot to gain from testing, they and the staff who provided them care were not a priority for testing within the system, "according to the report titled" A Perfect Storm. "

Vaccines are yet to come, but the schedule is a problem

Trudeau has said for weeks that Canada has secured "one of the most diverse vaccine portfolios" in the world, and a CNN analysis of government purchasing deals shows Canada could easily have 4 to 5 times more vaccines than it needs. to vaccinate its entire population, of about 38 million people.

The problem is the schedule.

"The vaccines are coming," Trudeau announced during a news conference in Ottawa on Monday.

He said Canada has an agreement with Pfizer to begin early delivery of up to 249,000 doses of its vaccine.

But the launch of the vaccine in Canada in 2020 is largely symbolic, representing only a fraction of the 20 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine that Canada claims to have previously purchased.

Trudeau himself said late last month that because Canada had very little capacity to make vaccines, other countries like the US, UK and Germany could vaccinate more citizens in a faster time frame than Canada.

Addressing these earlier comments, Trudeau said that "we didn't want people to get their hopes up."

Canada's health ministry is expected to approve Pfizer's vaccine candidate in a few days and is currently reviewing data from three other candidates, including those from Moderna, Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

The concern is that despite aggressive acquisitions, Canadians will be vaccinated later than US and European citizens.

“It's a shock, I really didn't expect that when I warned Canada that I would be late on this it would prove me right.

It's heartbreaking, it really is.

It will be heartbreaking because it will cost lives, ”Attaran said.

Confinements of several weeks do not seem to work

In recent weeks, the tone of public health officials across the country has been the same: They are pleading with Canadians to stay home, stay away and wear face masks.

That is backed up by lockdowns to varying degrees and new restrictions in cities and towns across the country, including larger urban centers like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

But there is little evidence that lockdowns and restrictions have a significant impact on the infection rate.

In Toronto, now in its third week of a second lockdown, cases continue to rise with daily records being broken in recent days.

"The number of cases is so high that I can only call this a very, very serious situation," Dr. Eileen de Villa, a Toronto health medical official, said at a news conference Monday.

He said the virus was spreading so aggressively in the city that he didn't want to think about what the burden of cases would be if Toronto hadn't gone into lockdown.

Aggressive propagation

There is a similar story in the province of Alberta, where restrictions, which do not reach a total closure, have failed to stop the increase in community transmission.

Alberta now has one of the highest per capita infection rates in Canada.

"I'll be frank, we are not turning the curve now, we are still witnessing very high transmission of the virus that is putting enormous pressure on our hospitals, intensive care units and healthcare workers," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer for health, at a news conference Monday.

Attaran says Alberta and other Canadian regions failed to close early enough with strict enforcement believing they were saving the economy.

"What Canada did wrong is what many parts of the world have done wrong and that is that their politicians have chosen to treat the virus as a stakeholder with whom agreements can be reached," Attaran said.

He added that the current half-measures will take much longer to control the infection rate.

The government steps in to help financially

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Trudeau has tried to reassure Canadians that he "stood behind them."

And he has delivered on that promise with stacks of cash given to tens of millions of Canadians.

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A CNN review of nearly a dozen programs reveals a payout to Canadian residents and businesses during this pandemic of nearly $ 200 billion and counting.

The programs range from direct payment to individuals, through unemployment benefits and the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, with approximately one-third of all Canadian adults receiving US $ 1,500 a month for several months.

Add to that a salary and rent subsidy program for business owners, payments to students and people with disabilities, and special programs for fishermen and farmers.

Trudeau says the programs and money will keep coming until the pandemic subsides.

In fact, the Canadian stimulus plan was so effective that Statistics Canada reported an increase in disposable household income of more than 7% in the past nine months, and government payments increased personal savings.

It is not clear, however, what the long-term impact of the spending will be on the Canadian economy.

Across the border, U.S. political leaders are scrambling to agree on another stimulus package, as several key pandemic relief programs expire at the end of the year.


Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2020-12-09

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