Canada crushed the Covid curve but complacency is fueling a deadly second wave

But that complacency may have helped fuel a deadly second wave in Canada that is now straining 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, an American-raised Canadian professor of law and public health at the University of Ottawa during an interview with CNN.

For months, Attaran has been an unsparing critic, warning that by measuring itself against an American yardstick, Canada’s Covid-19 response was bound to falter.

And falter it has.

“Over the last few days, we’ve seen new records of Covid-19 cases in a number of provinces. Hospitalizations are rising, families are losing people and our most vulnerable are at risk. Just because we’re getting closer to vaccines doesn’t mean we can afford to become complacent,” warned Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a press conference Monday.

So, what went wrong?

“You need to drive community transmission to almost nothing or near nothing and then do the aggressive testing contact tracing and isolation which we never did,” says Attaran.

During the first wave of Covid-19 Canadians were mostly compliant, cautious and serious about staying home, masking up and following orders issued by earnest public health officials. And the pandemic was rarely politicized.

But in early fall, Canadian public health officials warned that private, household gatherings were fueling a surge in cases and community transmission.

Then, Canadian Thanksgiving in early October seemed to seal the country’s fate as infection rates surged for weeks afterwards.

Canada’s numbers are heading in the wrong direction

Canada has logged record new cases and deaths from the coronavirus in the past month, according to Covid-19 tracking data from Johns Hopkins University.
The country has reported more than 425,000 cases of Covid-19 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 about 88 per day now, according to Canada’s Public Health Agency.
Health care workers talk to people waiting to tested for Covid-19 at a clinic in Montreal on Sunday, December 6.

For a few days in summer, Canadian government data reported no deaths from Covid-19.

By nearly every measure of Covid-19 tracking, Canada is still faring better than the US but Canadian officials have warned that hospital capacity is reaching its breaking point and community transmission must be reduced.

According to government data, Canada now has about 2,400 people with the virus being treated in hospitals. That’s a few hundred less than Los Angeles County reported Monday even though Canada has nearly 4 times the population.
More than 14.9 million coronavirus cases have been reported in the US so far and more than 284,000 people have died. The US also is dealing with a surge in cases that health experts expect worsen, anticipating new waves from December holiday gatherings on top of a potential surge from Thanksgiving week.

But again, public health experts warn American comparisons should offer little comfort to Canadians.

Lack of adequate testing

For weeks now Canada’s public health agency has reported that, on average, about 75,000 Canadians are being tested daily. That means Canada is testing at about half the rate, per capita, than the US.

Public health experts say Canada must be more aggressive with testing in order to bring down 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 and retirement homes in Canada.

Canadian government data show that as of August 2020, nearly 80% of all Canadian coronavirus deaths were among residents of long-term care facilities. During a press conference in late October, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam confirmed that figure did not change much in the fall although the national public health agency is awaiting data.

And yet lack of adequate testing in these facilities continues.

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

“…although it was widely understood that long term care residents faced an extremely high risk of serious complications and death from Covid-19, and so had much to gain from testing, they and the staff who look after them, were not prioritized for testing within the system,” according to the report titled “A Perfect Storm.”

Vaccines are coming but timeline is an issue

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 purchase agreements shows Canada could easily have 4 to 5 times the vaccines needed to vaccinate its entire population of about 38 million people.

It’s the timeline that’s the problem.

“Vaccines are coming,”…

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