Experts: Infections will rise from Christmas, New Year's celebrations

doublewhammy

Health experts are warning that the current rise in COVID-19 cases across the country will likely increase through January and February due to gatherings during the Christmas holidays and New Year's.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti explained to CTV News Channel on Friday that current cases numbers measure those that would have become infected prior to the holiday season. Given the novel coronavirus’ one-to-14-day incubation period, he says, Canadians will start to see the impact of gathering over Christmas this week.

"We do know that there was a significant amount of transmission that occurred around Christmas time, and unfortunately with New Year's being just about a week [after], you're at your most infectious. And at that point you can get almost this -- for lack of a better phrase -- double whammy, and I do think January unfortunately is going to be a bit of a bumpy ride for us in health care," Chakrabarti said.

Despite public health measures being in place, Chakrabarti said he is concerned about the Canadians who chose not to follow guidelines and gathered with friends and family during the holidays.

"I'm more worried about the likely indoor gatherings that were happening all over invisibly, but happening all over the country. I suspect it's going to lead to a significant amount of cases in the coming weeks," he said.

Canada passed 600,000 total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic on Sunday, as provinces continued to tally the data they didn't release over New Year's.

ARE LOCKDOWN MEASURES WORKING?

Dr. Ronald St. John, former director general for the Public Health Agency of Canada, told CTV News Channel on Sunday that lockdown measures remain Canada's best defence against COVID-19 transmission.

"Lockdowns and restrictions are the tools that we have at present time until the vaccine can reach more people," St. John explained. "Now is the time to continue to follow the lockdown rules as necessary. It's not the time to get COVID and spread it to your parents or your grandparents or your children or anybody else."

While vaccines have begun being rolled out, St. John said Canadians need to continue to keep their social contacts low, adhere to physical distancing, and wear face coverings when adequate distance cannot be achieved.

Despite some experts anticipating an increase in cases due to the holidays, Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician at St. Joseph's hospital in Hamilton, Ont., is hopeful that lockdown measures will continue to work.

Chagla, who is also an associate professor at McMaster University, told CTV News Channel on Saturday that he believe the "vast majority of people did comply" with public measures over the holidays.

"Yes, we are seeing people that didn't, but in public health we worry about what the bulk of the population does, not necessarily what a small percentage does and hopefully that large percentage does cover things off," he said.

Chagla added that "only time will tell" if lockdown measures can keep transmission low.

"We've see promising signs from elsewhere in the country that have had to institute these measures and I hopefully think in the next week we will start seeing the rewards of this start showing up," he said.

Given that many stores and restaurants remain closed, Chagla explained it is likely that COVID-19 cases caused from gathering over the holidays won't lead to as widespread community transmission as they would have if those businesses were open.

"Even if those transmission events have happened in some of those gatherings in private residences, there's not a lot of places to send it afterwards in the sense that people's contacts are limited," he said.

-- with files from CTV News --