How many people died of COVID-19 in Canada last year?
It’s not as simple a question as it may seem.
Officially, if you tally up every death announced by every province and territory, there were 15,606 people killed by the novel coronavirus in this country in 2020 – equivalent to nearly twice the population of Banff, Alta.
That number would have represented Canada’s third-leading cause of death in any year since the turn of the century, according to Statistics Canada data.
Cancer and heart disease are consistently Canada’s top two killers. In 2019, they accounted for 80,152 and 52,541 deaths, respectively. The next three leading causes of death are accidents and unintentional injuries, cerebrovascular diseases, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Each of these typically accounts for more than 10,000 deaths a year in Canada, but none has topped 15,000 since 2003.
“[COVID-19] could conceivably have been No. 1, and been way ahead of heart disease and cancer, if we had not done what we have done – and had better continue to do,” Heather MacDougall, a University of Waterloo professor who specializes in the history of medicine and public health, told CTVNews.ca via telephone on Tuesday.
“All of these deaths are tragic, but realistically it could be a whole lot worse. That seems to be a point that isn’t really getting out there.”
COVID-19 was not necessarily the primary cause of every single one of those 15,606 deaths; some of the patients may have died of something else after contracting COVID-19. On the other hand, that total does not include patients who died of COVID-19 without ever realizing they had it or being tested for it – something that was much more likely to happen in the early days of the pandemic. There’s also the question of indirect deaths – those who died by suicide because of depression worsened by lockdowns, or those who died of natural causes because they were unwilling to seek hospital treatment.
In other words, 15,606 is most likely not the exact number of deaths from COVID-19 in Canada in 2020. However, experts who spoke with CTVNews.ca say it’s a reasonable early estimate.
COVID-19 VS. THE 1918-20 FLU PANDEMIC
Estimates are often as good as it gets for pandemic death tolls. Nobody knows exactly how many Canadians died due to the influenza pandemic that devastated the world between 1918 and 1920. The federal government’s own webpage on the topic says “approximately 55,000 people in Canada” were killed, and no other official sources attempt a more exact count.
“It’s always putting together a puzzle,” Esyllt Jones, a professor at the University of Manitoba who specializes in the history of medicine, told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday via telephone.
Attempting to piece together that puzzle now, 100 years later, involves combing through sources, such as church records or even individual death certificates – some of which may still be considered protected information.
Even where the records are available and accessible, though, there may be questions about their reliability. There was no lab test to confirm influenza presence in a body 100 years ago, the way there is for COVID-19 today, and flu-like symptoms can indicate plenty of other infections.
“You have to be cautious in interpreting them, because death certificates are not always completely accurate indications of the cause of death,” Jones said.
“People are doing their best, but it’s not foolproof – and when you have a pandemic and you have hundreds of people dying a day, those processes also tend to break down a bit.”
MacDougall said that in the Ontario of 100 years ago, local public health authorities – which led efforts to control the pandemic – often had to rely on funeral directors to let them know about deaths. Sometimes, there could be a backlog of several months between a death occurring and it being officially recorded.
“There’s only 24 hours in every day – and if your community is in the midst of an actual outbreak … they are busy making coffins or trying to get people buried. I can see that the paperwork was not a priority at the time,” she said.
Inaccurate, incomplete and slow data remains a concern today. Former federal health minister Jane Philpott told CTV News Channel last month that the release of data related to deaths in Canada tends to lag behind the deaths themselves by about two years, making it difficult for governments to spot and address emerging trends in a timely manner.
OTHER PANDEMICSAND WARS
The full extent of death in Canada caused by the 1918-20 flu pandemic may never be known at all, but Jones said it’s clearly greater than that of COVID-19 thus far.
“The flu pandemic had very high mortality – over six per 1,000 population,” she said.
“So far, our [COVID-19] death rates are not that high – of course, they are higher than any other infectious disease outbreak that we’ve had.”
Indeed, a search through the annals of recorded Canadian history yields few other events with death tolls even remotely comparable to the current pandemic.
COVID-19 has already proven deadlier to Canada than other major flu pandemics of the 19th and 20th centuries, some of which killed a few thousand people apiece here.
“COVID is far more publicly recognized, largely because it is a new disease – it is a second novel coronavirus – whereas the flu in 1957-58 and the one again in 1968-69, it was identified as flu,” MacDougall.
The two world wars both claimed a similar number of Canadian lives to the 1918-20 flu, with nearly 67,000 deaths attributed to the First World War and more than 45,000 to the Second World War. An estimated 10,000 British troops and 10,000 Indigenous allies were killed during the War of 1812.
Nearly 25,000 people in Canada have died from HIV/AIDS over the past four years, according to advocacy group CATIE, and it is estimated that more than 20,000 were killed in a typhus epidemic in 1847. While Canada has not hit either of these numbers yet, another year similar to 2020 would put us past both.
What seems extremely unlikely, though, is that COVID-19 will kill people here at a similar rate to the deadliest event (per capita) in Canadian history: the first contact between Indigenous Peoples and European settlers.
While data on the death toll from smallpox and other infections introduced to these populations is very difficult to come by, the First Nations Health Authority says it is estimated that Indigenous populations shrunk by between 50 and 90 per cent after European contact – and recent research suggests the true number is likely on the higher end of that range.
Source: – CTV News
Canada working with the U.S. to close travel 'loophole' – CTV News
Canadian officials said Friday they are working with the Biden administration to close what they describe as a travel “loophole” and to get more symmetry with COVID-19 safety protocols between the two countries.
“A loophole, frankly, does exist because the Americans previously had not placed any restriction on international flights coming into the U.S.,” said Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety minister, during a news conference Friday.
“That concerns us because that restriction is at our land border but not at air travel,” he added.
While the Canada-U.S. border remains closed and all nonessential travel is prohibited until at least February 21, in the 10 months since the border restrictions were put in place, hundreds of thousands of travelers have made discretionary trips between both countries as air travel has not so far been subject to the same restrictions.
With the United States not imposing any air travel restrictions from Canada, the loophole has allowed everything from Canadian snowbirds going to the warm climes of Florida and Arizona for winter to family members on both sides of the border setting up nonessential visits.
TRUDEAU TO CANADIANS: AVOID TRAVEL
On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau underscored his plea to Canadians to stay home and avoid travel of any kind, including domestic and international travel.
Trudeau has acknowledged that constitutionally he cannot prevent Canadians from traveling, but he did warn that it might soon become much more difficult to return to Canada.
“We could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada, at any given moment, without warning,” Trudeau said during a news conference Friday, adding, “The bottom line is this: This is not the time to travel either internationally or across the country.”
International air travelers who currently enter Canada must show proof of a negative test result for COVID-19 taken within 72 hours of departure and are also subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine with violators facing stiff financial penalties. There are exceptions for essential workers.
LOOKING FOR MORE MEASURES
Canadian officials say they are looking for more measures that would discourage as much travel as possible, and they are hoping a new agreement with the United States will help.
“We are looking at a number of measures that can include further restrictions on international travel, additional tracing measures, additional quarantine measures and enforcement measures in order to de-incentivize and discourage people from making unnecessary trips,” Blair said Friday.
Officials also indicated that weeks of lockdowns throughout most of Canada are slowly starting to work with new daily cases of COVID-19 falling.
“This gives us hope that community based control measures are starting to take effect,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. “But it is still too soon to be sure that these measures are strong enough and broad enough to set us on a steady downward trend.”
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged Canadians to hold off on travelling abroad until mass vaccinations against COVID-19 can be administered.
“If you’ve got [a trip] planned, cancel it, and don’t book a trip for spring break. We need to hang on and hold tight for the next few months and get through to the spring in the best shape possible,” Trudeau said on Friday.
The federal government is mulling a mandatory 14-day quarantine in hotels for returning travellers, as well as other measures that could make it more difficult to re-enter the country, he said.
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“We could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada at any given moment without warning,” Trudeau warned.
Public Health Agency of Canada figures show 153 flights have arrived from outside Canada over the last two weeks on which at least one passenger later tested positive for COVID-19.
Transport Canada now requires people flying into the country to present a negative test result conducted within 72 hours of boarding a plane.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu on Friday said 50,000 tickets for international travel have been cancelled since the new rule was announced on Dec. 31.
Trudeau said these requirements are starting to convince Canadians to stay put.
WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions on first full day in office:
The prime minister added that the next few weeks will be challenging for vaccine supply as Pfizer-BioNTech slows deliveries to Canada and other countries while the company retools its plant in Belgium. Trudeau said Pfizer-BioNTech has committed to ensuring Canada will receive four million vaccine doses by the end of March.
Provinces have reported that a total of 738,864 vaccine doses have been administered so far. That’s about 80 per cent of the available supply.
British Columbia’s oldest residents will be able to pre-register to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 starting in March after the most vulnerable groups have been immunized, according to a plan announced Friday.
WATCH | British Columbia lays out details of COVID-19 vaccine rollout:
April is when the vaccine becomes available for the general population in B.C., starting with the oldest residents and descending in five-year increments until age 18 by September. People who register for the plan will get a reminder to book appointments when eligible,
The province is currently administering the vaccine to people living in long-term care homes and those who look after them or their essential visitors, people waiting for long-term care, people in remote Indigenous communities and hospital workers caring for patients with COVID-19.
They will be followed in February and March by seniors over 80, Indigenous seniors over 65, Indigenous elders, more health-care workers, vulnerable populations and nursing home staff.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had reported 739,766 cases of COVID-19, with 65,032 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,880.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The Edmundston region in the northwest will go into lockdown on Saturday at midnight amid climbing case numbers and a series of outbreaks.
Nova Scotia reported four new cases — and Premier Stephen McNeil said the province also detected two variants of the virus in cases previously reported in December. Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case on Friday; there is currently one person hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the province.
Quebec reported 1,631 new cases and 88 additional deaths on Friday, 18 of which occurred in the last 24 hours.
There were 1,426 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, with 212 in intensive care. Premier François Legault said on Thursday that there were still too many COVID-19 patients in hospital to consider lifting the provincewide curfew.
Ontario reported 2,359 new COVID-19 cases and 52 more deaths on Saturday. That’s down from 2,662 new COVID-19 cases and 87 more deaths reported on Friday.
Ontario is reporting 2,359 cases of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> and nearly 63,500 tests completed. Locally, there are 708 new cases in Toronto, 422 in Peel, 220 in York Region, 107 in Hamilton and 101 in Ottawa.
While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.
WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says:
Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place Long Term Care earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.
The variant was identified in six cases, and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.
At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.
WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:
Manitoba reported 173 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths on Friday. The province also announced it will immediately halt bookings of new appointments at its immunization supersites in Winnipeg and Brandon after the federal government advised of another reduction in shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Saskatchewan reported 312 new cases and eight deaths on Friday, while Alberta reported 643 new cases and 12 deaths.
British Columbia reported 508 new cases of COVID-19 and nine more deaths on Friday.
In the North, Nunavut reported one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, the territory’s first case since Dec. 28.
The positive result is in Arviat and was part of followup surveillance testing in response to the earlier outbreak, said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday morning, more than 98.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 54.2 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to the coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.
In Asia, thousands of Hong Kong residents were locked down in their homes on Saturday in an unprecedented move to contain a worsening coronavirus outbreak.
Authorities said 16 buildings in the city’s Yau Tsim Mong district would be locked down until all residents were tested. Residents would not be allowed to leave their homes until they received test results.
The restrictions, which were announced at 4 a.m. in Hong Kong, were expected to end within 48 hours, the government said.
Hong Kong has been grappling to contain a fresh wave of the coronavirus since November. More than 4,300 cases have been recorded in the last two months, making up nearly 40 per cent of the city’s total.
WATCH | CBC goes inside unique inoculation site in U.K:
In Europe, French doctors have new advice to slow the spread of the virus: stop talking on public transport.
The French Academy of Doctors issued guidance on Friday saying people should “avoid talking or making phone calls” in subways, buses or anywhere in public where physical distancing isn’t possible. Masks have been required since May, but travellers often loosen or remove them to talk on the phone.
Infections in France are gradually rising this month, at more than 20,000 per day. France currently has the longest virus curfew in Europe, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and restaurants and tourist sites have been closed since October.
France has seen 72,647 virus-related deaths.
Canada adds 206 new COVID-19 deaths while officials consider mandatory hotel quarantine – Global News
Another 5,957 cases of COVID-19 were reported by Canada on Friday as government officials considered a mandatory hotel quarantine for all incoming travelers.
The announcement comes amid news of at least one passenger aboard one of the 153 flights that arrived in the country over the last weeks testing positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Current health protocols require people flying into the country to present a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 72 hours of boarding a plane bound for Canada as well as a mandatory two-week quarantine on arrival, but the government is still considering further options to make it harder to return from trips abroad in light of the pandemic.
News of Canada considering further restrictions on incoming travelers comes as the country’s top doctor warned that easing the country’s virus restrictions could rapidly cause new case of the virus to increase again.
“Every day we are one step closer and better times are ahead. But there is no fast track. We must stick with public health measures and individual practices that we know are effective for controlling spread. Unless and until infection rates are low enough to allow public health authorities to test, trace and isolate effectively, easing of restrictions risks even stronger resurgence,” said Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in a statement Friday.
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“This is why we must all continue to do our part to slow the spread: that means postponing vacation travel to a better time in the future.”
Canada’s total COVID-19 caseload now stands at 737,407 following the release of Friday’s case data. Another 206 deaths linked to the virus were also announced on Friday, with Canada’s COVID-19 death toll now standing at 18,828.
At least 651,000 patients have since recovered from COVID-19 however, while more than 21,041,000 tests have been administered to date. A total of 769,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have also been administered across the country so far.
Coronavirus: Tam reports 31 cases of U.K. variant, 3 cases of South Africa variant of COVID-19 in Canada
Ontario reported another 2,662 cases of COVID-19 Friday, as well as another 87 deaths. While daily case numbers in the province have decreased slightly in comparison to last week, Ontario is still on track to surpass Quebec as the province with the highest number of confirmed cases this weekend.
Quebec, which has been under a province-wide curfew for almost two weeks, reported another 1,631 infections and 88 deaths on Friday.
B.C. added another 508 cases on Friday, as well as another nine deaths linked to the virus. The coastal province’s total caseload now stands at 63,484, of which 565 are considered “epi-linked” — patients who were in close proximity to confirmed infections and display symptoms, but were never formally tested.
Alberta announced another 643 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as well as 12 additional deaths from the virus. A total of 691 Albertans are also currently in hospital with COVID-19, of which 115 are in ICU.
Manitoba added another 171 cases on Friday, as well as two more deaths. In Saskatchewan, eight more deaths were recorded, as well as another 305 confirmed infections.
Several Atlantic provinces reported new cases Friday as well, with Nova Scotia adding another four COVID-19 infections, New Brunswick reporting another 30 and Newfoundland and Labrador reporting just one.
Nunavut reported a single case on Friday as well, its first infections since Dec. 28. Both the Yukon and the Northwest Territories as well as P.E.I. reported new COVID-19 cases on Friday.
Worldwide, cases of the novel coronavirus continue to increase with a total of 98,112,625 patients having been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Over 2,104,000 people have since died, with the U.S., India and Brazil leading in both cases and deaths.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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