“You will know if ever it becomes positive, I promise you that,” said Trudeau, who turns 50 on Dec. 25.
Trudeau acknowledged people are tired at the same time that he warned of difficult weeks ahead fueled by Omicron.
“I get it. None of us want to be here,” he said. Trudeau asked Canadians to wear masks, “keep our distances” and reduce contact numbers.
The prime minister’s message is a stark contrast to President Joe Biden, who appealed to vaccinated and boosted Americans on Tuesday to not panic about Omicron and try to enjoy the holidays.
Trudeau said getting vaccinated, getting boosters and reducing contacts is key to getting through this latest wave.
When asked about the contrast in messages Canadian and American leaders are sending, he said, “We’re just going to have to hunker down for the coming weeks as it’ll prove to be a difficult winter.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was more direct about Canada’s “very different choices” on pandemic management.
“Canada is not the United States,” she said. “We have understood from the beginning of this pandemic that the strongest economic policy was a strong health care policy.”
The federal government announced Wednesday that it will expand eligibility benefits for two new lockdown programs to help businesses through a new round of restrictions.
Capacity limits have been reintroduced in response to surging Covid-19 cases. New-again measures have subsequently prompted some restaurants and bars to temporarily close.
Quebec leads the country with nearly 30,000 active cases, prompting the province to ask the military to help ramp up booster campaigns. Montreal declared a state of emergency Monday over rising cases.
More than 76 percent of Canada’s total population is fully vaccinated, including 87 percent of the population aged 12 and older. Just over 1 percent of Canadian children between 5 and 11 are fully vaccinated.
Government data suggests there are at least 72,500 active cases of Covid-19 across the country as of Monday. The figure is an underestimate. It doesn’t account for positive antigen results that have not been followed up by positive molecular tests due to limited lab testing capabilities and shortages related to the spread of Omicron.
Omicron received its formal Greek name from the World Health Organization at the end of November. About 50 mutations set it apart from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Omicron has more than double the number of mutations identified in the Delta variant.
More mutations impact the behavior of a virus and Covid-19 transmissibility and severity. The WHO cites early evidence to suggest Omicron poses a higher risk for reinfection compared with the behavior of other variants.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said last week that all of the Omicron cases that have been reported so far are either mild or asymptomatic. “There’s a range of mild and some people are short of breath or they’re not hospitalized,” she said.
Not all Omicron cases are detected or reported, she added.
Yet Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, told reporters last week that the province’s latest modeling suggests Omicron “could be the worst wave of the pandemic yet.” He said Ontario data suggests a “huge increase” in hospitalizations and increase in ICU use which could “reach unsustainable levels in early January.”
It’s unclear now how many people who test positive with Omicron will experience long Covid-19, he said, adding there was a 10 percent risk for long Covid-19 with previous variants. New mandate letters revealed that studying the long-term health impacts of long Covid-19 is on the radar of the federal health and innovation ministers.
Several Canadian leaders have first-hand experience with the new wave of Covid-19.
Freeland delivered an economic and fiscal update virtually last week after two staff members tested positive with antigen tests. Freeland tested negative with two subsequent PCR tests.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly became the first member of Cabinet to contract the contagious disease.
Other high-profile political leaders have also tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days such as Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. Both are fully vaccinated.
Canadians are now being asked by health officials to reduce their contacts — and get free vaccine boosters since studies suggest protection from vaccines fade after six months.
That timeline, up against the holidays, has made rapid antigen tests a hot commodity — and a source of political debate and frustration.
Distribution of rapid tests has been largely disorganized. In Nova Scotia, free antigen tests were made available through libraries, whereas in Ontario, the country’s most populous province, a limited supply was temporarily available in government-owned liquor stores.
The federal government is responsible for buying and delivering rapid tests for the provinces and territories. It’s up to provincial and territorial governments to distribute the tests.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the majority of 35 million rapid antigen tests for December have been delivered to the provinces and territories.
“The remaining tests will be received before the end of the month, and tens of millions more will be delivered in January and February,” Duclos said.
Freeland announced last week that the federal government will spend an additional C$1.7 billion on purchasing rapid tests and to distribute them free to provinces and territories.
The strongest travel restrictions remain at international borders.
Canada re-tightened its border last week, bringing back a requirement for all returning travelers who spend fewer than 72 hours outside of Canada to have a pre-arrival negative PCR test result. The rule was temporarily lifted Nov. 30 before being reintroduced this week.
Trudeau said he believes the border measures “slow the arrival of Omicron” and bought some time for governments to act. Despite his message’s earlier collective tone, Trudeau directed questions about rapid tests to his provincial and territorial counterparts.
“There will be more questions around distribution,” he said. “Questions around speed and ease of access are more properly given to the provinces.”