MONTREAL -- A report by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI), an economics think tank, says early COVID-19 death toll projections were grossly exaggerated.

In mid-March, professor Neil Ferguson with the Imperial College of London made a series of projections, including one that predicted upwards of 326,000 Canadians would die as a result of COVID-19 if mitigation measures weren’t put in place. With physical distancing and lockdown measures in place, he predicted that toll could be reduced to 46,000. 

The Canadian economy shut down quickly after these models were released. 

“The problem here is that the actual numbers that have come in have been massively lower than those predictions,” said Peter St-Onge from the MEI. 

As of Thursday, more than 7,600 Canadians have died of COVID-19 – a number well under Ferguson’s best-case scenario. 

“That is the eternal curse of preventative measures,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases expert. “If you institute the preventative measures, and assuming they are actually effective, after people will always say ‘Well, look there was no problem, we over reacted.’ "

Still, St-Onge said a blanket shutdown was unnecessary, given the fact that the virus has mostly affected seniors in long-term care facilities. 

“If that’s the case – locking down working age people; waitresses, truck drivers – it completely missed the mark, but meanwhile it causes this massive economic damage,” he said. 

St-Onge predicts that the economic downturn will bring its own set of consequences on health, that may be worse than the virus itself – but Quebec Premier François Legault disagrees. 

“With the information we had at the time… it was important to make sure we put all chances on our side, to not spread too much the virus,” he said. 

While the MEI uses Sweden as an example of a country that didn’t shut down and still managed to beat early COVID-19 projections, the country’s public health officials issued a mea culpa on Wednesday for having one of the highest death rates per capita in the world. 

Health experts are learning more about the virus and are using that information to update models and projections, so if a second wave does occur, politicians will be better prepared to make decisions accordingly.