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Too early to predict end to pandemic as B.C. cases decline, experts say

Some countries are seeing a five or 10 per cent increase in case numbers daily, doubling their cases on a weekly basis: modeller
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML

While COVID-19 cases are on a steady decline in B.C., experts say unexplained growth in cases in Europe means it’s too early to talk about an end to the pandemic.

A report by an independent modelling group offered some optimism this past week for the situation in B.C., showing cases declining by about two per cent a day with decreases projected to continue over the next three weeks.

However, that good news is tempered by rapid growth in many European countries over the last month that doesn’t appear to have a clear explanation, said Dean Karlen, a physics professor at the University of Victoria who is part of the modelling group.

“Whatever is the main reason for that in Europe, there’s no reason to think that that couldn’t happen here in North America,” Karlen said.

Case growth was mostly concentrated in eastern European countries three or four weeks ago, he said, but now a majority of European countries, which were in a similar situation to B.C. recently with constant or declining numbers, are seeing rapid growth.

Some countries are seeing a five or 10 per cent increase in case numbers daily, doubling their cases on a weekly basis, he said.

“Can you imagine in B.C. we’re at, say 600, next week 1,200, the following week 2,400. That’s the kind of shocking situation that they’re on, that trajectory right now,” Karlen said.

Worldwide case numbers, on the decline from late August until mid-October, saw an increase recently. It appears to be driven by a spike in Europe’s case numbers. Cases rose globally by nearly five per cent from the week of Oct. 11 to Oct. 18.

While the daily lives of British Columbians are no longer significantly affected by the pandemic, the global pandemic can’t really end until all countries have access to enough vaccines for their populations, said Caroline Colijn, a math professor at Simon Fraser University and Canada 150 research chair.

“If there are whole countries where people haven’t had access to vaccines yet, people aren’t vaccinated. That’s going to make this really hard to stop globally,” she said.

While the virus is likely to linger for a long time, how long it remains an international emergency will depend on how the virus evolves and how governments and people respond, Colijn said.

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