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Several provinces are now pausing their reopenings after seeing COVID-19 cases surge. British Columbia and Manitoba made masks mandatory in indoor public spaces again in late August after not requiring them for most of the summer, while Quebec tightened its masking policies for schools.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Increasing vaccination rates among young people and upholding public-health measures like masking and physical distancing could help Canada avoid record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases in the fall, according to new modelling by the federal government.

Projections by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) show that if the current rate of COVID-19 transmission holds, the country could find itself reporting as many as 15,000 new daily cases by the middle of September. But decreasing spread by 25 per cent could cause the country’s case numbers to plateau, and then decrease later in the month.

Longer-term modelling forecast in Canada

If further reopening increases transmission by 25%

If we maintain the current levels of

transmission

If public health measures reduce transmission

by 25%

Reported cases, in thousands

14

12

10

8

6

4

2

0

Jan.

Feb.

March

April

May

June

July

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

2021

Data as of Aug. 30

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: public health agency of canada

Longer-term modelling forecast in Canada

If further reopening increases transmission by 25%

If we maintain the current levels of

transmission

If public health measures reduce transmission

by 25%

Reported cases, in thousands

14

12

10

8

6

4

2

0

Jan.

Feb.

March

April

May

June

July

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

2021

Data as of Aug. 30

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: public health agency of canada

Longer-term modelling forecast in Canada

If further reopening

increases transmission by 25%

If we maintain the current levels of

transmission

If public health measures reduce transmission

by 25%

Reported cases

14,000

12,000

12,000

10,000

8,000

6,000

4,000

2,000

0

Jan.

Feb.

March

April

May

June

July

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

2021

Data as of Aug. 30

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: public health agency of canada

On Friday, at a news conference where the new modelling was released, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam urged Canadians, vaccinated or not, to continue masking and distancing. She asked those who haven’t received their shots to get them as quickly as possible – ideally by the end of Labour Day weekend – to stifle the virus.

“This is a crucial moment,” she said, in her first public address since the start of the federal election.

The Conservatives have criticized Dr. Tam and PHAC for not holding COVID-19 briefings during the election campaign. The party has suggested the health agency, and not the Liberal government, should be in charge of health updates.

“We have a window of opportunity to rapidly accelerate vaccine uptake and close the protection gap in younger age groups with the lowest vaccine coverage,” Dr. Tam said.

The modelling shows that hospitalization and death numbers are now not as high, relative to new cases, as they were during previous waves of the virus, largely because of higher vaccination rates. But hospital admission rates have climbed quickly in recent weeks, particularly among unvaccinated Canadians, who are 36 times more likely to be admitted for COVID-19 than those who have received their shots.

Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. PHAC reported that more than 84 per cent of eligible people had received at least one dose as of Aug. 28, and 77 per cent were fully vaccinated.

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But those rates have stalled since July, and young adults are bringing down the national average. Only 63 per cent of those aged 18 to 29 are fully vaccinated. The modelling shows that increasing the vaccination rate in younger people would greatly reduce the risk of exceeding the country’s hospital capacity this fall.

Dr. Tam said that although it is difficult to predict how a certain vaccination rate will affect case numbers and hospitalizations, getting 80 per cent of Canadians fully vaccinated before winter, and before the Delta variant drives case numbers any higher, should now be a priority.

She also said widespread masking and physical distancing will go a long way toward blunting the severity of the fourth wave, and in avoiding fall lockdowns.

Several provinces are now pausing their reopenings after seeing COVID-19 cases surge. British Columbia and Manitoba made masks mandatory in indoor public spaces again in late August after not requiring them for most of the summer, while Quebec tightened its masking policies for schools.

Alberta recommended on Friday that unvaccinated people limit their social contacts and delay their returns to offices. (Earlier this summer, the province suspended a plan to lift nearly all of its COVID-19 restrictions.) In August, Ontario likewise paused its reopening roadmap.

Ontario, B.C. and Quebec are in the process of implementing vaccine passports, which will prevent unvaccinated people from participating in many non-essential activities, such as eating inside restaurants and going to the gym. All three provinces reported surges in vaccine appointments following their respective announcements.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at a campaign stop in Mississauga on Friday, suggested a federal vaccine passport could be as much as a year away. He said the government is working with provinces that have instituted their own vaccination certificates on adding a “federal element” of certification for international travel.

Reporters asked Dr. Tam on Friday if it is appropriate to have an election as the country struggles to weaken a fourth wave. Given how quickly the virus is spreading in some areas of the country, she said, people should attend rallies and events at their own risk, and not without wearing masks.

“I think right now is not the time to gather in huge numbers with people that are not within your household, without taking significant layers of protection,” she said.

A reporter asked Mr. Trudeau, who spoke in advance of the release of the federal modelling, if he still feels comfortable campaigning under the circumstances, or following through on plans to expand access to Canada’s borders for vaccinated international travellers next week.

Those who choose not to get vaccinated are putting themselves and others at risk, the Liberal Leader said. He added that his party would implement strong vaccine measures if it forms government after the Sept. 20 election. The Liberals have proposed mandatory vaccines for federal civil servants, workers in federally regulated industries, domestic air travellers and interprovincial rail, bus and cruise passengers. But the party has provided few details on how the mandates would work or be enforced.

“Erin O’Toole won’t do any of that. He is not showing the plan we need to get though,” Mr. Trudeau said, referring to the Conservative Leader.

The Conservatives have said they would allow unvaccinated travellers and public servants to take rapid COVID-19 tests instead of getting shots.

Mr. O’Toole said at a news conference in Montreal on Friday that the country should not be having an election campaign right now.

“Only Mr. Trudeau wanted this campaign for his own personal interest,” Mr. O’Toole said. “I want to meet as many people as possible to talk about our recovery plan, but we have to make sure that public health and safety is paramount.”

While speaking in Quebec City on Friday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that Mr. Trudeau calling an election at this stage in the pandemic was a “bad decision.”

Mr. Singh said his party will shift to a virtual campaign if need be.

“If at any point in time we look at the modelling and the advice of public-health experts and they advise … a change in course for our campaign, we’re prepared to do that,” he said.

With reports from Laura Stone, Marieke Walsh and Menaka Raman-Wilms

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