TORONTO — The death toll from COVID-19 in Ontario could be kept below 15,000 if stringent isolation measures aimed at curbing the pandemic prove effective, health authorities said on Friday as the military prepared to move into northern Quebec to help remote communities there cope.
In a sobering presentation, a top health official said projections indicate coronavirus would have killed as many as 100,000 people in Ontario had restrictions not been put in place.
"If we do everything that we can think of, everything that already has been done stays in place (and) all of the other measures which are being considered put in place, I think we could reduce the death toll in Ontario to somewhere between 3,000 and 15,000," said Dr. Peter Donnelly, head of Public Health Ontario.
Donnelly said the figures would likely be shocking to many people and safety measures that have had a brutal impact on the economy might need to be in place for many months at best.
Latest data indicate close to 12,000 Canadians have contracted the virus. Of those, 152 have died, but the numbers could be much higher given gaps in reporting methods.
Ontario released its worst-case projections for the COVID-19 as its known caseload continued climbing, with more than 460 new cases and 18 more deaths reported. The province has now seen 3,255 cases and 67 deaths.
Overall mortality among those 80 years and older in the province has reached 20 per cent of coronavirus cases in Ontario, about 10 per cent for those over 70. A hard-hit nursing home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., reported another four deaths among residents, bringing the toll to 20 at the 65-bed facility.
Canada's top public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, said the country has been seeing a sharper increase in deaths but the health-care system has been coping. The national death rate stands at about one per cent of those who've tested positive.
British Columbia had previously projected its worst case would lead to a shortage of about 182 intensive care beds and at least 38 ventilators. But it has also said distancing measures appear to mitigated that threat.
Donnelly said Ontario was more closely tracking the hard hit United States than B.C.
In an interview late Thursday with The Canadian Press, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said her estimate from three weeks ago that between 30 per cent and 70 per cent of Canadians will likely become infected hasn't changed.
"Having 70 per cent of people get COVID is not the end of the world," Hajdu said. "It is, though, if it all happens at once and that's what we're trying to prevent."
Experts say the flu-like illness poses a threat to the elderly and those with compromised health. The best way to curb the spread is to wash hands frequently and stay at least two metres away from others. Hospitals have reported shortages of personal protective gear for medical staff, while front-line doctors fret about having to choose who lives and who dies owing to potential shortages of crucial ventilators.
In tribute to health-care personnel, all ships in B.C. waters planned to sound their horns at 7 p.m. local time. Toronto's CN Tower has been lighting up blue in a similar show of solidarity, while people in other places have taken to banging on pots or pans.
The pandemic — in particular the stay-at-home measures implemented to try to mitigate its spread — has taken a brutal toll on the economy and jobs.
Trudeau said the government would provide additional aid to low-income people through the GST credit this month rather than next. Qualifying adults will receive up to $300, plus $150 for each child.
Globally, the pandemic has infected more than one million people and killed close to 55,000, according to latest official tracking figures. China, where the virus is believed to have originated, has gradually been seeing life return to normal after draconian lockdown measures curbed the spread.
Italy, with almost 14,000 deaths and Spain with about 11,000, have been hit hardest. The United States, however, leads the world in cases — a quarter of a million to date — and has reported more than 6,000 deaths.
-With files from Joan Bryden in Ottawa and other Canadian Press reporters across the country
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2020.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press