Duration of COVID-19 Measures Depends on Obeying Health Authorities: PM

April 1, 2020 Updated: April 1, 2020

OTTAWA—The longer it takes for all Canadians to follow the rules and stay home, the longer it will be before life can return to normal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the public health chief of Canada’s biggest city told Torontonians they should expect to be restricted to their homes except for “the most essential” needs for at least the next 12 weeks.

In his daily briefing to Canadians amid the COVID-19 crisis, Trudeau said Canadians have a “duty” to stay home right now. He would not discuss the best- and worst-case scenarios that have been laid out to cabinet for how long the extreme measures will last, but said Canadians can expect a minimum of weeks, and possibly many months.

“Everything depends on how Canadians behave,” he said.

He said staying at home, limiting trips for groceries to no more than once a week and not to multiple stores, keeping two metres from people if you’re out for a walk, and staying in no matter what if you’re quarantined with symptoms or recent exposure or travel, are the things Canadians should be doing to help get the spread of the novel coronavirus under control.

“How well we do this right now determines where our country will be in two weeks or in two months,” Trudeau said. “It’s in our hands. It’s in your hands.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said this is a critical week in Canada’s understanding of the effect social-distancing measures are having on the spread of the virus. Most provinces began slowing things down in mid-March, and there can be about a two-week lag in data on positive tests because it takes several days after exposure for symptoms to appear and several days after that for a test to yield results.

Canada is reporting more than 9,000 positive tests and more than 100 deaths but Tam said what matters more than the overall numbers is the epidemic curve that shows when the people who test positive actually got sick. The current curve suggests the number of people first showing symptoms began to peak in the third week of March, but there is still a lot of data missing for positive cases detected in the last week or so.

Tam said she won’t know when Canada has hit its peak for COVID-19 until that peak is behind us.

Ontario reported its biggest single daily jump in positive cases thus far Wednesday, with 426 additional positive tests, but information on those people’s likely method of exposure—through travel or community for example—as well as when symptoms began is not clear yet.

The jump is particularly concerning for Toronto public health chief Dr. Eileen de Villa, who asked Wednesday for stricter measures to force people who are sick, and anyone who has come into contact with them, to stay home for 14 days. She asked other Torontonians to limit trips to the store and stay away from other people as much as possible. Like Trudeau, she said the 12-week time frame is dependent entirely on how well people listen.

Tam said most of the big outbreaks in Canada are concentrated in long-term care facilities, and while younger people can and are getting very sick from this virus, older Canadians are at higher risk for serious complications. Current data shows people over the age of 60 account for 60 percent of hospitalizations and 93 percent of deaths, said Tam.