As Canada continues to struggle to contain the second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic, experts say the holiday season is going to look very different this year.
“We know that it’s going to be a modified Christmas, it’s pretty clear that that’s going to be the case,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases faculty member at the University of Toronto said.
However, he said there are “certainly steps that we can do” to make the holidays as safe as possible.
First and foremost, Bogoch said people should educate themselves on the public health restrictions in their region, as they differ across Canada.
“Let’s just all know what’s expected of us and get that information from a credible source and act accordingly,” he said.
But regardless of where you are, Bogoch said everyone should be limiting their close contacts “as much as possible” and “really double down and adhere to our fundamental public health principles.“
“Putting on a mask when we go into an indoor environment,” he said. “Keeping physically distanced and really having a sense of situational awareness about not getting into settings like where we know the virus can be transmitted — which are basically crowded indoor settings.”
Countdown to Christmas
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that there are “many weeks still until Christmas.”
“It’s right to give people hope that there might be ways we can gather at Christmas but so much depends upon what we are doing right now, immediately to reduce our contacts and get through these next weeks and see the cases that are right now spiking almost out of control get back under control,” he said.
Trudeau said a normal Christmas is “quite frankly, right out of the question.”
“But what kinds of limits we have in place, what kinds of permissions public health is going to encourage us to have depends a lot on what we do right now.”
He urged Canadians to “tighten up” in the coming weeks.
However, Dr. Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said while we may be able to slow the growth rate of the virus in the next few weeks, Canadians will need to be “disciplined in December” if the country hopes to get the outbreak under control and keep schools and businesses open.
He said suggesting we may be able to relax measures to gather for the holidays is not responsible messaging.
“I mean, I guess [Trudeau] wants to transmit hope, but I don’t think it’s responsible to get people looking forward to something that absolutely should not happen,” he said.
He said Canada is going to need to have “pretty significant restrictions” in place until at least April.
Bogoch echoed Furness’ remarks, saying he doesn’t think it’s “realistic” that the most heavily impacted areas of Canada would see enough improvement by Christmas that would allow public health policy to be modified.
Virtual or outdoor gatherings
Furness said no one should be gathering indoors this holiday season.
“I’m concerned about gatherings because gatherings among people who know each other well tend to be mask-less,” he said. “That’s going to drive COVID really high.”
Dr. Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health said this will “not be a normal Christmas, by any stretch of the imagination,” but said Canadians should embrace using video-chat software like Zoom or Skype to connect with their loved ones.
“I think most of the joy of this time of year is getting together with other people maybe you haven’t seen for a while. But we’re going to see them in a two-dimensional screen,” he said.
“I think that’s the way to do it.”
But, Furness said only connecting online can be a “bit depressing,” adding that outdoor visits are still possible if done from a safe distance.
“I think you can do porch things,” he said. “It’s easy to say ‘oh, it’s cold, we can’t be outside,’ but of course we can, just dress for it.”
Shopping for gifts
When it comes to shopping for gifts, Sly said Canadians should order online where possible.
If you need to shop in person, Furness said you should avoid large retailers and stick to smaller stores whenever possible.
“Small stores, I think can be far more responsive in terms of things like appointment only and doing curbside [pickup] more effectively,” he said.
By the numbers
On Saturday, Canada added 4,992 new cases of the virus, with four provinces — New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta — reporting new highs for daily infections.
By Sunday at 12 p.m. ET, the total number of infections in the country stood at 326,943.
Since the virus was first detected, it has claimed 11,420 lives in Canada.
On Friday the Public Health Agency of Canada released new modelling which said Canada could see 20,000 new cases per day by the end of December if people fail to limit their contacts.
In a statement on Saturday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the modelling indicates a “stronger response is needed immediately” in order to “interrupt transmission and slow the spread of COVID-19 across the country.”
“Canada needs a collective effort, from individuals and public health authorities, to support and sustain the response through to the end of the pandemic, while balancing the health, social and economic consequences,” the statement said.
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