Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam gestures as she speaks at a press conference on COVID-19, at West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canada hits 800,000 total cases of COVID-19, top doctor says numbers trending down

Canada crossed another disheartening threshold in the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday, even as the country’s top doctor said there are hopeful signs with case counts and hospitalizations gradually trending downward.

The national tally of total cases since the onset of the global health crisis surpassed 800,000, led by daily reports from Quebec and Ontario that added 1,204 and 1,388 respectively to the overall count. Federal government data shows Canada has logged 801,057 total infections and 20,702 deaths over the course of the pandemic.

It took three weeks for Canada to add another 100,000 cases to its national tally, with the government reporting just over 700,000 diagnoses on Jan. 16.

Quebec, meanwhile, was poised to record its 10,000th death linked to the illness. The 27 fatalities counted Saturday pushed the provincial death toll to 9,999.

At the same time, a statement from Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said national surveillance data show “hopeful signs of declining COVID-19 activity,” suggesting ongoing public health restrictions across the country are taking effect.

“It is crucial that strong measures are kept in place in order to maintain a steady downward trend,” she added.

“The risk remains that trends could reverse quickly, particularly in areas of the country that are reporting increased, unchanged or only modest declines in COVID-19 disease activity.”

Outbreaks are still happening in high-risk settings and among vulnerable populations, said Tam, including hospitals, long-term care homes, correctional facilities, and remote communities.

Tam repeated her warning that new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 could rapidly accelerate transmission in Canada.

Her warning comes as multiple provinces prepare to ease strict public health measures put in place when case counts were soaring acorss the country.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to reveal details this coming week about plans to reopen the economy following the provincewide shutdown that’s been in place since Dec. 26. A provincial state of emergency declared on Jan. 12 is set to expire Tuesday, and a senior government source with knowledge of the province’s plans told The Canadian Press that order will likely expire on schedule.

Swaths of Quebec — not including Nunavik — have been subject to that province’s strictest public health rules since early January, with updates to alert levels in some regions set to take effect Monday.

Alberta announced Saturday it would allow limited school and team sports for children and teens to resume on Monday, after saying late last month children’s sport and performance activities could resume on that date as long as they related to school programming.

Officials in British Columbia bucked the trend, however, announcing Friday that restrictions on social gatherings would be extended ahead of upcoming events including the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, Family Day and the Lunar New Year.

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