Canada’s coronavirus death toll is set to soar from the current 461 to as high as 22,000 by the end of the pandemic, health officials said yesterday, while the economy lost a record 1mn jobs last month.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added to the sombre tone by saying that the country would not return to normal until a vaccine had been developed, which could be as long as 18 months.
Health officials said the two most likely scenarios showed between 11,000 and 22,000 people would die.
The total number of positive diagnoses of Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, ranged from 934,000 to 1.9mn.
The officials said they expected between 500 and 700 people in Canada to die from the coronavirus by April 16.
There have been 19,774 positive diagnoses so far.
Chief public health officer Theresa 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 modelling demonstrates that the country still has an opportunity to control the epidemic,” she told a briefing. “We cannot prevent every death but we must prevent all the deaths that we can.”
Howard Njoo, Tam’s deputy, said if all went well, the first wave of the outbreak could end by July or August.
But he emphasised that there would be subsequent smaller secondary waves.
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 1mn jobs in March while the unemployment rate soared to 7.8%, Statistics Canada said, 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 5mn Canadians have applied for all forms of federal emergency unemployment help since March 15, government data showed, suggesting the real jobless rate is closer to 25%.
Trudeau told reporters that the country was “at a fork in the road between the best and the worse possible outcomes”, predicting that once the first wave was over, the economy could partially be reopened.
“Normality as it was before will not come back full on until we get a vaccine for this and ... that could be a very long way off,” he added, saying it could take 18 months.
The Liberal government has so far announced a range of measures to help businesses totalling around C$110bn ($78.3bn) in direct spending, or 5% of gross domestic product.
Canada’s independent parliamentary budget officer predicted the budget deficit would balloon to C$184.2bn in the 2020-2021 fiscal year from C$27.4bn in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Meanwhile, Trudeau has warned that donations of medical equipment by foreign companies like Huawei in the fight against the virus will have no influence on government policy.
“We will be receiving donations of equipment from various companies and we’re happy that people are offering that,” he said on Tuesday.
“But no, we do not expect this to have any impact” on future decisions, he said. “This will not affect our decision on other issues in the years to come.”
Trudeau was asked if donations to Canada by Huawei could influence his government’s policies toward the Chinese telecoms giant, which is at the centre of a protracted diplomatic crisis between Ottawa and Beijing.
At a time when the world faces a shortage of masks, Huawei gave Canada more than 1mn, 30,000 face shields and 50,000 pairs of gloves, according to the Globe and Mail daily.
A Huawei spokesperson in Quebec did not confirm those figures in a statement to AFP.
“Numerous companies made similar efforts and we were lucky to be in a position, technologically and financially, to help the Canadian population,” the statement said. “Our goal was to help the Canadian population and not to gain publicity.”
In January, a Canadian court began deliberating on whether to proceed with the extradition to the United States of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, accused of bank fraud by Washington.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was arrested in 2018 during a stopover in Vancouver at the request of the United States, setting off an unprecedented dispute between Canada and China.
Canada must decide in the coming months whether it will authorise Huawei to deploy a 5G network in its territory, which Washington opposes, warning that it would pose risks of espionage and sabotage of western networks.
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