As Britain gears up for a Christmas like no other, Canada is reckoning with a post-Thanksgiving surge in coronavirus cases that should act as a cautionary tale.
In the middle of October, families across the country gathered around the dinner table to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, which occurs a month before the holiday in the US. In Vaughan, a middle-class suburb of Toronto, an extended family of 12 got together in one home.
Within days, local health officials had labelled it a “cluster”. Overall, ten family members contracted Covid-19, including three infants, while one member spread it to four people in another household. Another then went to work, exposing two colleagues.
Canada entered its Thanksgiving weekend with daily infections at around 2,000 and edging upwards. Six weeks on, the Commonwealth country recorded 5,631 new cases on Thursday, and is on course to reach 20,000 by the end of December, according to government modelling.
Within a fortnight – the incubation period of Covid-19 – almost all of Canada’s provinces were regularly breaking their daily case records.
The prairie provinces, largely unscathed during the first wave, have seen runaway spread since Thanksgiving.
In Manitoba, the seven-day case average is ten times higher today. Alberta’s average cases have risen from 211 to 1,301 since the holiday, making it one of Canada’s hardest-hit provinces today.
Cases have risen sevenfold in British Columbia since Thanksgiving, while French-speaking Quebec, where the annual festivities are less popular, has seen a far smaller spike.
“Prior to Thanksgiving I made a lot of appeals to people about the need to keep the family gatherings small,” Dr Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s health officer, said while assessing the damage. “Unfortunately, there were a number of events that have happened that have led to quite dramatic increases.”
The surge is concerning for a country that won plaudits for its first wave response. While cases spiralled in the US, neighbouring Canada, with a population of 37.6m, steered daily infections down to 172 in June, boosting the popularity of Justin Trudeau, the prime minister.
But Canada has now recorded 353,000 cases and 11,799 deaths, 2,186 of them since Thanksgiving.
“It’s still a highly transmissible virus and in Canada, [the US] and the UK we still have a population that is largely susceptible,” said Dr Matthew Oughton, a professor of medicine at McGill University. “The safest thing you can do is to ask people to give it a miss this year.”