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Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam, seen here on April 15, 2020, explained that she is citing data at the national level, meaning a composite of many epidemics across the country.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Physical distancing measures are working to slow the pandemic, but now is not the time to ease restrictions, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam says.

For weeks Canadians have embraced strict measures to stop the spread of COVID-19; Dr. Tam said officials are “closely monitoring” how those efforts are affecting the epidemic curve.

“At this point, we don’t have all the answers, but there is some cause for cautious optimism coming from our epidemiological data,” she told reporters gathered for the daily pandemic briefing on Wednesday.

“In late March, when the growth rate was the fastest, we saw case numbers doubling every three days. In recent days, we’ve observed a doubling time of over 10 days. This means the epidemic is slowing down.”

Dr. Tam explained that she is citing data at the national level, meaning a composite of many epidemics across the country. “What I can tell you is that our daily testing rates haven’t gone down. … They are continuing to be sustained or improved upon," she said.

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She cautioned, though, that while everyone is hoping for a sprint to the finish, preventing the spread of COVID-19 is a marathon, and that “there are no rewards for quitting early.”

“To use another analogy, coming down from this epidemic curve will be like making our way down a mountain in the darkness – we mustn’t rush, or let go of our safety measures, or the fall will be hard and unforgiving."

She emphasized the highly contagious nature of the virus, saying that a few cases can multiply quickly, which would result in a sharply rising curve. ​

And while she believes physical distancing measures are working, she wanted to clarify that she did not say Canada had reached its peak in the number of cases.

“We’ve got many challenges still to deal with including managing the outbreaks in long-term care facilities so I do think the epidemic growth rate has slowed for sure. The main message for all Canadians is actually not to let go​.”

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Earlier, at his daily update outside Rideau Cottage, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, everyone will have to remain vigilant.

“Once we see this first wave pass through Canada without having overwhelmed our health care system and our health care workers as we certainly hope, we will be able to look very carefully at how with extraordinary vigilance and very rapid response times to any future resurgences of the virus we can carefully re-engage in certain sectors of our economy in loosening up the restrictions. But we are not there yet," he said.

Canada has to get through the first wave of cases to know that the country has the capacity to “stamp out and restrict any future outbreaks as they come along,” he added, which means better testing capacity and continued vigilance.

“We’re still a number, a number of weeks away from that, but we are reflecting on what that looks like and what sort of technology and medical solutions will be necessary.”

Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says before life can return to normal, officials need to be able to detect and stamp out new outbreaks of COVID-19.

The Canadian Press

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