Three of four Atlantic provinces say COVID-19 modelling coming next week

HALIFAX — At least three provinces in Atlantic Canada will attempt to provide COVID-19 modelling projections sometime next week, after Ontario released figures Friday that prompted a blunt warning from Nova Scotia's premier.

Stephen McNeil said while his province is working on modelling and hopes to have figures available for the public next week, people need to take notice of what was presented by health officials in Canada's most populous province.

"Today Ontario provided modelling that suggested tens of thousands of people will die unless public health protocols are followed," said McNeil. "Our population is a lot smaller than Ontario but the virus does kill. I'm not trying to scare you but part of me wishes you were scared — this is serious."

On a day that saw the number of confirmed cases in Nova Scotia shoot past the 200 mark, McNeil said he's tired of seeing full parking lots at grocery and large retail stores on most weekends.

He said there will be increased community spread in the province if people continue to blatantly ignore warnings from health officials.

"And then everyone will put pressure on public health to solve it, our health-care system to deal with it, and government to pay for it when all we have to do is stay the blazes home."

Health officials in Ontario said Friday that between 3,000 and 15,000 people could die of COVID-19 in the province even with the public health measures that are in place. Their projections suggested the death toll might have climbed to 100,000 without strong public health measures.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said smaller provinces have limited capacity to do highly technical modelling work.

"At the end of the day each province has to look at their own epidemic and we are all at different phases on it," Strang said. "We are doing the best we can within that capacity in a very specialized area."

In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday that modelling data would likely be available in about a week, after previously saying it could come as early as next Tuesday.

Higgs said the data would be based on the worst cases seen in other countries.

"We are now using our own data and the more data we have, the better and more accurate our predictions will be," he said. "We will be able to actually model what we see in New Brunswick."

Higgs said the information would allow the province to better assess the capability of its hospitals and its overall health plan to deal with the worst case scenario. New Brunswick reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the provincial total to 95.

The country's smallest province, Prince Edward Island, also promised data next week while reporting no new cases of COVID-19 Friday, leaving the provincial total at 22.

P.E.I.'S chief medical officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, said the Island's projections would look at how it compares to other parts of the country and the world.

"It's a little more challenging for us to do some projections based on fairly low numbers here," said Morrison.

Newfoundland and Labrador, however, said it lacked sufficient data to produce a predictable model of when a surge of cases could hit locally.

Premier Dwight Ball said models are still being looked at, but he emphasized that following physical distancing measures will have a bigger impact on the spread of COVID-19 within the province.

"The fact is, the model will help us in preparation, but it's not going to prevent things from happening," Ball said.

The province reported 12 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 Friday, bringing the provincial total to 195.

— With files from Kevin Bissett in Fredericton and Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2020.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press