Canada's top public health official struck an optimistic tone about the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday, saying that efforts to flatten the curve are working as provinces across the country reported more positive figures.
"By following public health recommendations, we have collectively brought down the rate of infection. We are flattening the curve," Dr. Theresa Tam said in a press release as federal officials and the prime minister took a break from their daily press conferences.
"While we can continue to be cautiously optimistic, it is important that everyone remains aware of our duty to protect one another, especially those who are most vulnerable, as we navigate the next few weeks."
The message came as New Brunswick reported they had no more active cases of COVID-19 on Saturday after two weeks without a new infection, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province could get through the pandemic faster than previously expected.
"We're seeing a gradual downward slope in the public domain, and the lower we get the more we can open up and get back to the new normal," Ford said.
"I don't know the exact time ... but if we keep going the way we're going, we're going to get out of this a lot sooner than we thought we might've been able to get out a couple of months ago."
At the provincial legislature, demonstrators gathered for a second Saturday in a row for an anti-lockdown protest. Ford blasted the protesters for disrespecting the Canadian flag by flying it upside down during the demonstration.
"I understand, people are hurting out there and people want to get back out there," Ford said. But he added that flying the flag upside down disrespects members of the armed forces who are overseas, as well as those helping in long-term care facilities in Ontario.
"What they're doing is putting their lives in jeopardy as far as I'm concerned with congregating side-by-side," he said.
Ford said he respected their right to protest but wondered whether it's fair that mothers with their children receive fines for being in parks while anti-lockdown protesters aren't fined.
Provinces across Canada are preparing to start relaxing lockdown rules in the coming week.
Businesses such as gardening centres and auto dealerships will be allowed to open in Ontario on Monday, while residents in Newfoundland and Labrador will be allowed to interact with one household other than their own.
Quebec has announced plans to gradually reopen daycares, elementary schools, retail businesses, construction and manufacturing during the month of May.
That province has seen most of its deaths in long-term care homes, and Quebec Premier Francois Legault has said the fight against COVID-19 is entirely different in those facilities — an argument Ontario's premier agreed with on Saturday.
"There's two different worlds right now we're fighting this virus, one in long-term care homes and one in the public domain," Ford said. "In the public domain, everyone has done an incredible job ... and that's the reason why we see the trend going down."
Ford's comments came as deaths continued to mount, with another 114 deaths in Quebec, 55 in Ontario and two in Nova Scotia.
Canada counted more than 56,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday afternoon and more than 3,500 deaths.
British Columbia's top medical official Dr. Bonnie Henry urged people to stay vigilant, asking anyone with symptoms to contact health officials and take measures to protect their family and community members.
"It is far too easy to tip the scales against us and undo the hard work and sacrifice that everybody here in B.C. has made," she said Saturday as the province announced just 26 new cases.
"We cannot afford any missteps as we look to ease our restrictions in the coming days and weeks."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with his counterpart in New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, to share information about fighting the pandemic while protecting the economy.
A readout of the call said the two leaders also spoke about the need to keep supply chains working throughout the global crisis, particularly in regards to medical supplies.
New Zealand has widely been seen as a success story in the effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2020.
Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press