Day after day, premiers have announced new restrictions on Canadians’ civil liberties that they say are critical to limiting the spread of COVID-19.
But it is the chief medical officers at their side who provide the science buttressing the calls for sacrifice. Some have become stars in their own right, displaying a kind of televisual bedside manner that combines a reassuring, fact-based approach with occasional levity.
Quebec’s chief doctor, Horacio Arruda, recently shared his weekend self-isolation plan to bake Portuguese tarts, while Alberta’s Deena Hinshaw recently wore a periodic-table-themed dress that lit up social media.
The scientists are pushing aside athletes and other entertainers for the public’s attention as citizens try to navigate through unprecedented times.
Behavioural scientist Samuel Veissiere, a McGill University professor of psychiatry, said that confronted with a vague sense of impending doom, people want to reduce uncertainty.
“They want meaning, and they are looking to people they perceive as experts to give them answers in terms of what’s going to happen,” Veissiere said in an interview Friday. “People want stats, numbers. They want answers.”
Before the pandemic, academics often lamented the public’s loss of trust in institutions and in expert knowledge, Veissiere said. But that might be changing.
“People are becoming a little more humble,” he said. “I think they are becoming aware of just, perhaps, the limitations of individualism and how important it is to work together as a community, including in identifying reliable sources of information.”
These are some of the key figures helping Canadians comprehend an unfamiliar, invisible enemy.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada
The country’s chief public health officer knows pandemics, and what it takes to fight them.
Each day, Tam’s steely, distinctive voice reminds Canadians that there’s little public health officials can do on their own, and everyone has a role to play in protecting the community from COVID-19.
Her main job is to provide advice to the federal minister of health, and she is responsible for heading the Public Health Agency of Canada.
She is also the main co-ordinator among public health agencies across the country. In a system where each province manages its own health system, perhaps her most important job is to be Canada’s unifying and rallying voice in the fight against COVID-19.
Internationally, she has advised the World Health Organization on infectious diseases like Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and poliovirus.
Born in Hong Kong, Tam got her medical degree in the United Kingdom before completing her pediatric residence at the University of Alberta and a fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta
Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has become the reassuring face of the response to COVID-19, delivering daily web updates to thousands in a Spockian tone, urging calm while not shying away from the fatal consequences of ignorance and indolence.
In doing so, Hinshaw has become a pseudo-celebrity in her own right. Twitter blew up with concern last week when Hinshaw announced she was self-isolating after waking up with cold symptoms. She delivered her update from home that day and was back at the podium the next day after testing negative for novel coronavirus.
When she wore a dress patterned on chemistry’s periodic table, the garment’s Victoria manufacturer received a slew of orders for it.
Some on social media are calling for her to be the next parade marshal for the Calgary Stampede.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia
When Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, cried during a press conference at which she confirmed two elderly people had contracted COVID-19 in a long-term care home, her compassion and resolve was described by colleagues and friends as a galvanizing moment in Canada’s fight against the global virus.
Henry paused to compose herself before warning that Canada’s elderly are most at risk from COVID-19, and she urged everybody to do what they can to protect the vulnerable.
Those who know Henry say she is both knowledgeable and battle-tested. Appointed to the position in 2018, she is an experienced virus hunter who has battled SARS, Ebola, H1N1 and polio during her career.
Henry headed the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on an acting basis during H1N1 and is the author of “Soap and Water and Common Sense,” a guide to staying healthy in a microbe-filled world.
Former B.C. health minister Terry Lake called her “the voice of reason and calm.”
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia
Strang was no stranger to Nova Scotians before the COVID-19 pandemic, having frequently spoken out on prominent health issues.
The province’s chief medical officer since 2007, Strang has been a passionate anti-smoking advocate, and last May he lent his voice to a successful campaign to have rugby reinstated in the province’s high schools.
In recent days, he’s used his authority to monitor social media and admonish those spreading rumours and false information about the novel coronavirus. He also took people to task for attempting to “out” others who weren’t self-isolating upon their return from vacation, urging the public to leave the detective work to health officials.
Strang completed his community medicine residency in 1997 in British Columbia. He worked in that province as an associate medical officer of health until 1999, when he moved to Halifax.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec
When Arruda recently told Quebecers that he would spend part of the weekend baking to take his mind off the COVID-19 pandemic, it was his way of lightening the daily barrage of bad news about the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Arruda’s colourful language and his stern but fact-based approach to the province’s pandemic response has endeared him to many Quebecers.
Photos and videos of him are circulating widely on social media, including an image of his face edited onto a photo of actor Will Smith, whose character in the 2007 movie, “I am Legend,” fights a viral outbreak in a post-apocalyptic dystopia.
“I don’t want to distress people. I don’t want to make people anxious,” Arruda recently said. “Don’t be anxious. If you’re anxious, call somebody, try to have an activity that you love. Everybody is different. It could be yoga, it could be music, it could be dancing …. Just be innovative.”
Arruda, 59, the province’s director of public health since 2012, played a central role after the Lac-Megantic rail disaster that claimed 47 lives. A medical specialist in community health, he has focused on epidemiology and the prevention and control of infectious diseases.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick
Russell has been put under the spotlight as her province navigates through a state of emergency imposed Thursday by Premier Blaine Higgs on her recommendation. The province’s chief medical officer of health since 2015, Russell has a background working for the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs.
She weaves directives to citizens about avoiding mass gatherings and implementing social distancing with calls for people to stay connected with one another by phone or through social media, to eat well, exercise and take deep breaths.
“It is up to us to take actions that will slow the spread of the virus, and give our doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals the best chance to cope with its impact,” Russell said last week.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba
Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, recently told reporters he would work every day until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.
Roussin and Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer, have drawn praise for providing up-to-date information about the spread of the virus in the province.
Roussin’s calm demeanour and straightforward answers in the province’s daily online briefings have been noted. He takes time to discuss the unique challenges COVID-19 poses for Manitoba’s Indigenous population and has held a specific news conference to discuss how northern First Nations communities can stay safe during the pandemic.
A specialist in public health and preventive medicine, Roussin worked with the federal First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and was a medical officer of health for northern Manitoba before taking up his current position.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto
Toronto’s top public health doctor is used to making headlines.
De Villa has previously commanded coverage for criticizing Ontario’s loosened alcohol regulations and calling for the decriminalization of all personal-use drugs in Canada, saying drug use should be treated as a public health issue rather than a criminal one.
She also called gun violence a growing public health concern, prompting the Toronto Board of Health to ask the prime minister to ban the sale of handguns.
Since COVID-19 was first reported in Canada in late January in a Toronto-based patient who had recently returned from China, de Villa has urged calm and vigilance instead of panic and apathy.
A recent video clip of her laying out the dos and don’ts of social distancing _ do stay home, don’t hang out with friends or go shopping _ attracted much attention online, and a Twitter account has been created celebrating her stylish scarves.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador
Fitzgerald has urged residents to practise social distancing to protect others in the community while reminding them to exercise, tend to their mental health and check in on family and friends.
On Friday, she told people it’s normal to be afraid and assured them health officials are working to protect them.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s interim chief medical officer of health has attracted praise from politicians for leading her small staff through the province’s pandemic response, and she has become popular on social media.
“We removed the title ‘interim,’ but she hasn’t signed a contract yet, and I don’t know whether that’s intentional or not,” Health Minister John Haggie joked Friday. Premier Dwight Ball suggested there would be widespread support for keeping her in the job.
Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon
Hanley studied medicine at the University of Alberta, the University of Liverpool and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
He came to the chief medical officer job in Yukon from being chief of emergency at the Whitehorse General Hospital, where he still practises part-time.
His experience includes practices in rural and inner-city locations around Canada and internationally. He has spent many years working in the Canadian Arctic. He has also seen regular service with Doctors Without Borders and other relief organizations.
During his time in Yukon, Hanley has worked to create partnerships in the territory’s small and far-flung communities to strengthen its overall public health system.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan
Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer since 2012, has been the calm face at the front of Saskatchewan’s response to COVID-19.
He’s been on the front lines of Saskatchewan’s public health since 2009, when he was named deputy chief medical health officer.
Prior to that he worked internationally as an internist. He has also worked as a public health expert with multilateral health and donor agencies.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2020
_ With files from Laura Osman, Dean Bennett, Dirk Meissner, Sidhartha Banerjee, Keith Doucette, Julian McKenzie, Kelly Geraldine Malone, Nicole Thompson, Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Bob Weber
Canada is expecting rise in Coronavirus deaths as job losses touch 1 million – International Business Times, Singapore Edition
Canada is expecting the increase in the number of coronavirus deaths from the current 435 to as high as 22,000 by the time the pandemic ends, health officials stated on Thursday, while the economy suffered a loss of one million jobs last month.
The officials outlined two scenarios which are most likely to take place, showing that between 11,000 and 22,000 people will die. The total number of positive coronavirus cases ranged from 934,000 to 1.9 million.
The officials said they expected between 500 and 700 people in Canada to die from the coronavirus by April 16. There have been 18,447 positive diagnoses so far. “Models are not a crystal ball,” Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, told a briefing, saying it was too early to predict when the peak would be.
Canada may witness 22,000 deaths due to Coronavirus
Tam said it was crucial that people continued to obey instructions to stay at home as much as possible. “While some of the numbers released today may seem stark, Canada’s modeling demonstrates that the country still has an opportunity to control the epidemic,” she said. “We cannot prevent every death but we must prevent all the deaths that we can.”
Local governments across Canada have ordered non-essential businesses shut to combat the spread of the coronavirus, throwing millions out of work. Canada lost a record-breaking 1 million jobs in March while the unemployment rate soared to 7.8 percent, Statistics Canada said on Thursday, adding that the figures did not reflect the real toll. “Sticker shock for sure. This was about as bad as it could be,” said Derek Holt, vice president of capital markets economics at Scotiabank.
More than five million Canadians had applied for all forms of federal emergency unemployment help since March 15, government data showed on Thursday, suggesting the real jobless rate is closer to 25 percent. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has so far announced a range of measures to help businesses that total around C$110 billion ($78.3 billion) in direct spending, or 5 percent of gross domestic product. Canada’s independent parliamentary budget officer predicted the budget deficit would balloon to C$184.2 billion in the 2020-2021 fiscal year from C$27.4 billion in the 2019‑2020 fiscal year.
(With agency inputs)
Controls can keep Canadian COVID-19 deaths under 22,000, health agency says – Agassiz-Harrison Observer
With strong control measures, the federal public health agency projects that 11,000 to 22,000 Canadians could die of COVID-19 in the coming months.
In a report released Thursday, (April 9) Public Health Agency of Canada says short-term estimates are more reliable, and it anticipates 500 to 700 deaths by the end of next week.
The agency released modelling data this morning with different possible scenarios, warning that what happens depends very much on how Canadians behave to keep the respiratory illness from spreading.
With poor containment measures, the death toll could be much, much higher, the agency says.
It says the COVID-19 battle in Canada is still in its early stages but Canada’s numbers of confirmed cases have been increasing more slowly than in other countries.
The agency the fight against the novel coronavirus will likely take many months and require cycles of tighter and weaker controls.
Later on Thursday (April 9), Chief medical officer Dr. TheresaTam said the “aspirational and our ambitious goal” was that just one per cent of the population is infected with COVID-19. With a population of 37.6 million, that would mean about 376,000 people would be infected.
Tam said there were 17,766 total confirmed cases of the virus and 461 deaths as of Thursday.
“I recognize there changes in our daily lives… are extremely difficult,” Tam said during a press conference in Ottawa.
She said the measures had “allowed the healthcare system to cope.”
She called on Canadians to make the upcoming long weekend a “staycation for the nation,” and stay home to celebrate with their household, or virtually with other friends and family.
Tam said health officials were evaluation the effect of measures like physical distancing and self-isolation daily.
“No one is gathering, really… we’re just trying to strengthen the message to Canadians that you should avoid all non-essential travel and stay at home as much as possible,” she said.
“We know that contact tracing is very key.”
The Canadian Press
Virus modelling estimates 11,000 to 22,000 Canadian deaths if physical distancing continues – The Globe and Mail
In the next year, between 11,000 and 22,000 Canadians could die as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in what officials say are among the best-case scenarios for the disease.
The federal pandemic models released Thursday show that the country could see 22,580 to 31,850 cases by April 16, resulting in between 500 and 700 deaths.
Canada already has 19,291 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 435 confirmed deaths as a result of the disease.
Disease modelling is meant to show what might happen as the illness spreads across Canada, and does not predict what will happen.
In reading the models, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has warned they are not a “crystal ball,” and instead serve to inform decision-makers about where they need to put resources, the health system’s capacity to respond to the virus, and what other measures need to be put in place to further limit transmission.
At a technical briefing, Dr. Tam and her deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo, outlined three possible scenarios facing Canada over the next year.
With strong epidemic control measures, such as a high degree of physical distancing and a high per cent of testing and contact tracing, the models show the epidemic could last until the fall and infect between one and 10 per cent of the population. Officials say that is Canada’s best-case scenario.
The potential 11,000 to 22,000 range in deaths is based on an overall infection rate of between 2.5 and 5 per cent.
“We cannot prevent every death but we must prevent every death that we can,” Dr. Tam said, adding that the models show Canada must continue with its physical-distancing measures already in place.
If no policy measures, such as physical distancing, were put in place, the models show 70 and 80 per cent of people could become infected and more than 300,000 people could die.
A middle-of-the-road scenario, where weaker controls would delay and reduce the peak, could lead to between 25 and 50 per cent of residents becoming infected with COVID-19 and more than 100,000 people could die. In that case, officials said the first wave of the pandemic could last until spring, 2021.
Dr. Tam said the models released by Ottawa show the first wave of the virus and warned that even when Canada is over the peak of the outbreak, some restrictions will need to stay in place to ensure the epidemic does not “reignite.”
She added that it is not clear yet when the pandemic will peak in different parts of the country, because no region is on the downward slope of its infection curve. Since at least half of all cases will come after the initial peak, the need for strong measures to reduce contact among individuals will need to continue for some time after it is clear that the first wave of the pandemic has crested, she said.
Nicholas Ogden, a senior scientist with the health agency, said that the fatality rate estimated for the Canadian figures – about 1.18 per cent of confirmed cases – was based on a range of factors and international data.
The federal government released its modelling after many provinces had done the same. On Wednesday, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador all released their models. British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec have also already made their models public.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is benefitting from being hit by the global pandemic after many other countries. “For the time being,” he said, the health care system is able to cope with the spread of the virus but the country is “at a fork in the road.”
“We have the chance to determine what our country looks like in the weeks and months to come,” Mr. Trudeau said, meaning Canadians will have to continues to stay home and remain disciplined.
“This will be the new normal until a vaccine is developed,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Experts say making the models public is a way for officials to build trust with citizens who are being asked to take restrictive and economically painful measures to blunt the impact of the virus.
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