Christmas might be a little different for Canadians this year. While it is unclear exactly how long the social distancing and home isolations will need to continue, recent pandemic models out of Ontario and other places indicate that the health crisis may persist well beyond this year's Christmas season.
According to provincial health officials, projections are showing that the country as a whole could be dealing with the effects of the novel coronavirus for up to 18 months to two years. This could mean that Ontarians, as well as other Canadians in provinces with similar circumstances, will have to spend the upcoming holiday season behind closed doors.
Within that time frame, anywhere from 3,000 to 15,000 lives may be lost in the province, even with the current public health measures in place. Unfortunately, such results already serve as the silver lining to this health crisis.
"Had we done nothing, Ontario may have suffered 100,000 deaths," said Dr. Peter Donnelly, the head of Public Health Ontario. "Thankfully, that is not the position we are in."
There is some good news, however. In British Columbia, projections show that their efforts have been effective at slowing down the spread of the virus. The number of new daily cases in B.C. has been reduced by nearly half, from 24% before public health measures were implemented, to 12% after they were implemented. It also does not look like the health care system in B.C. will be overwhelmed by new cases as time progresses. Such could be the first signs of the flattening of the curve.
It is important to keep in mind that such numbers are not conclusive and are always subject to change. While pandemic models are useful tools for planning, they can be just as hit or miss as weather forecasts. Dr. Ross E.G. Upshur, the head of clinical public health at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana Faculty of Public Health, believes anything could happen between now and December.
"Don't obsess about the numbers because they will change," he told The New York Times. "[That said], all models lie, but some are more useful than others."
The time frame given by Ontario's pandemic models is comparable to that seen in German studies. Dr. Lothar Wieler, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, said that the coronavirus crisis will take about two full years to run its course unless a vaccine is developed. Until then, all we can do to shorten the time frame is keep up with social distancing and home isolations that have been set for our protection.
"The more everyone does what they're supposed to do now, the shorter the period will be," said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health.
However, Donnelly thinks that "we are some way off" from easing the current restrictions we are under. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will reach a point before Christmas where it will be safe to go out and live our lives as usual. That means the gift shopping, the big parties, the light festivals, and the Christmas markets may not be a part of our holiday celebrations this year.
The last thing we would want to do is relax our public health measures too soon and open the door for a second or third wave to hit us even harder. Recent news out of China says as many as 20,000 people flocked to a mountain range tourist destination as soon as the country eased its restrictions. While the Chinese government is surely keeping a close watch on its infection numbers, it is still risky to let that many people congregate together while the virus continues to exist—and without a vaccine, no less.
Experts say the end goal is to have enough of the population—that is, around 60 to 80 percent of people—to develop immunity against the novel coronavirus. Such numbers would ensure that infection rates are not enough to cause a significant detriment to the public and our health care systems. Unfortunately, no one knows how long it will take for us to achieve that. Until a vaccine is developed, Dr. Upshur thinks that it is pointless to ask when life will return back to normal.
"Of course we all want things to go away fast, but you cannot will a virus away," he said. "I really implore all Canadians to trust in the public health and medical system."
Photo by Hip Wallpapers
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