Canada could lose ability to manage COVID-19 cases, says chief medical officer

FILE PHOTO: Ontario prepares for more phased re-openings from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Toronto

By David Ljunggren and Allison Martell

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada could lose its ability to manage the coronavirus pandemic due to a worrying recent spike in new COVID-19 cases, the country's top medical officer said on Thursday.

The warning from Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam is the clearest indication yet of how worried authorities are about the potential for the outbreak to spiral out of control.

An average of 779 new cases had been reported daily during the most recent week, more than double the level in July, Tam said. Officials in major provinces blame social gatherings for the spike.

"The ongoing increase in new cases being reported daily continues to give cause for concern," Tam said in a statement.

"With continued circulation of the virus, the situation could change quickly and we could lose the ability to keep COVID-19 cases at manageable levels."

Hours earlier, a source in Ontario, the most populous of the 10 provinces, said the government was considering strict new limits on social gatherings in three hot spots.

A draft plan would reduce the size of indoor gatherings to 10, down from 50, and outdoor gatherings to 25 from 100, the source said.

The surge in cases, combined with school rules that require tests for most children or parents with mild symptoms, have driven tens of thousands to testing centers, where many have had to wait hours to be seen.

Erin O'Toole, the leader of Canada's official opposition Conservatives, blamed the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the testing delays, saying it had refused to approve other methods for detecting COVID-19.

O'Toole and his family waited in line for testing for hours on Wednesday before being turned away because the assessment center had reached its capacity, the party said. The family was tested on Thursday at a special facility for legislators.

Canada has so far recorded 139,747 cases and 9,193 coronavirus-related deaths.

(Reporting by Allison Martell and Mahad Arale in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Denny Thomas, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)