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A nurse performs a test at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic, in Montreal, on Oct. 21, 2020.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is warning that Canada’s future hangs in the balance if people don’t reduce their contacts to prevent dire new COVID-19 projections from becoming a reality.

Trudeau summoned his full powers of persuasion on Friday to bring home the stakes of federal forecasts predicting that Canada is on track to see tens of thousands of new COVID-19 cases per day absent a severe reduction in socialization.

During a news conference outside his home at Rideau Cottage – the site of his daily briefings during the first wave of the pandemic last spring – Trudeau urged Canadians to reverse the grave trajectory by staying home and strictly limiting contacts.

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After weeks of similar calls, Trudeau acknowledged the mounting emotional and economic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken as the crisis drags on.

But he warned that if Canadians don’t take immediate action, the consequences may be felt for generations to come.

“This is the future of our country. It’s the future of our children. It’s the future of our loved ones and our seniors. It’s our economy, it’s our businesses, it’s everything altogether,” Trudeau told reporters.

“We’re going to need to have to do this for another few weeks, for another few months, and we can begin to see the other side of this.”

The caution came as public health authorities released their latest modelling on Friday indicating that COVID-19 case counts have far surpassed levels seen during the first wave.

If Canadians increase their contact rates going into the holiday season, COVID-19 cases could skyrocket to 60,000 per day by the end of the year, according to the updated projections.

That would be a twelvefold increase from the current level of around 5,000 cases per day, which is already putting pressure on health-care systems in some regions.

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At current rates of contact, officials predict that Canada is headed toward a surge of more than 20,000 cases per day by the end of December.

Trudeau said he’s consulted with provincial and municipal officials who are rolling out tighter restrictions to rein in infection rates.

The prime minister said he recognizes the financial toll closures could take, pledging his government’s commitment to helping businesses shoulder lost revenues.

But Trudeau said the long-term economic fallout of out-of-control transmission far outweighs the short-term costs of shuttering stores.

“Doing things to protect people’s health is the best way to minimize lasting damage to the economy,” Trudeau said.

“Going into lockdown and supporting businesses … is a better way of ensuring their success in a few months, in a few years, than trying to tough (it out) through a virus that is running around unchecked.”

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Still, Trudeau said he would refrain from using his federal powers to reinforce this message, such as setting limits on interprovincial travel, noting that Atlantic Canada and the northern territories have taken steps to control their borders.

“I’m not looking to bring in a federal hammer to try and do things when we’ve seen provinces be very effective at doing them,” he said.

“But I will add my voice to all those voices across the country – from doctors, to premiers to mayors – who are saying, let’s do what we need to do right now.”

Earlier on Friday, Canada’s chief public health officer issued a sobering warning: If contacts increase above current levels, Canada could be careening toward a worst-case scenario.

“Absolutely do not go above what we have now,” Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters. “Otherwise, we’re really in trouble.”

Tam warned “the time is now” for Canadians to do everything in their power to reduce their contacts, saying it will take a combined effort on the part of individuals and officials to bring infection rates down to manageable levels.

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The strain on the health-care system is already showing in some regions, said Tam, with some hospitals postponing important medical procedures and intensive care units reaching near or full capacity.

Tam pointed to western European countries confronting COVID-19 resurgences as a cautionary tale of where Canada could be heading, and what it will take to douse the wildfire spread of the virus.

Countries such as France and Belgium are starting to curb massive case increases and surging hospitalizations after closing non-essential businesses and limiting outings, said Tam.

She noted that several provinces, such as Manitoba, have implemented tougher restrictions in recent days, saying authorities will hopefully see the rewards of those measures in the weeks to come.

The federal forecasts predict that at current rates, Canada’s case total could land between 366,500 and 378,600 and the death toll could fall between 11,870 and 12,120 by the end of the month.

Currently, Tam said an average of 4,800 cases are being reported daily – an increase of about 15 per cent from last week.

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She said there’s been troubling growth in the number and size of outbreaks in high-risk communities and settings such as long-term care homes, health-care facilities and Indigenous communities.

The models suggest the percentage of people testing positive has increased to about 6.5 per cent, above the World Health Organization’s benchmark of five per cent.

Tam said this could indicate that Canada is not testing enough, and is a clear sign that the spread of the virus is accelerating.

There are about 52,000 active cases in Canada, with a cumulative tally of more than 315,000 cases.

Still, Tam said that amounts to less than one per cent of the population that has tested positive, meaning the vast majority of Canadians are still susceptible to infection.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is tapping a former national security adviser to lead a probe into whether Canada's pandemic warning system fell down just before COVID-19 reared up. The Canadian Press

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