Chris Fox, CP24 Web Content Writer
Ontario could see upwards of 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day by New Year’s Eve and will likely have to reintroduce some capacity limits in order to protect the healthcare system while it embarks on a broader rollout of third doses, the head of the province’s science table says.
Dr. Peter Juni, who is the scientific director of the Ontario science advisory table, made the comment during an interview with CTV News Toronto’s Colin D’Mello on Wednesday. During the interview he called the 10,000 cases a day estimate “absolutely realistic” based on an estimated doubling time of three days for cases involving the Omicron variant.
However, he said that case counts could even surpass that number if things continue to worsen. The science table has since updated its dashboard to reflect a doubling time of only 2.2 days for Omicron cases.
Juni’s warning comes in the wake of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore acknowledging on Tuesday that Ontario may need a “more consistent” province-wide approach to public health measures amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant with news on that front likely to be announced “later this week.”
“The point really is that you have to do enough that you basically can get this curve down – and now it’s a wall….it is quite crazy – and bring it relatively flat and keep it flat for as long as we need to get to roughly 50 per cent of the eligible population who are vaccinated with a third dose,” Juni said. “So if you can do that in, you know, three to four weeks, great. This is not forever. But you know it’s really an extraordinary circumstance and nobody has seen what’s happening right now. So we need to stop, you know, thinking this (Omicron) will be mild or it’s not a problem. Of course it’s a problem. Even if it were half as severe it wouldn’t help us a penny, nothing."
Ontario has seen its rolling seven-day average of new cases jump 50 per cent over the last week to 1,514 but with cases involving the Omicron variant doubling every three days, it is likely only a matter of time until the province sees case counts that significantly exceed what it saw during the height of the third wave of the pandemic last April.
Meanwhile, a new report from Public Health Ontario suggests that the Omicron variant likely already accounts for more than 80 per cent of the COVID-19 cases being confirmed in the province each day, based on projections that take into account likely time lags in the incubation period.
The same report also estimates that each Omicron case identified in Ontario between Nov. 28 and Dec. 9 infected 7.7 times as many people as each case involving the previously dominant Delta variant, underscoring the real threat that the province faces.
The authors of the report says that Ontario will need to “rapidly implement public health responses to contain the rapid spread of Omicron,” though they don’t provide specific recommendations.
In his interview with CTV News Toronto, Juni seemed to suggest that Ontario can avoid the sort of widespread lockdown it had to put in place in the spring but he said that that capacity limits will have to reintroduced for many venues and the rollout of third doses will need to be accelerated significantly, given research suggesting that individuals who are six months out from their second dose have only minimal protection from infection.
“The point is we need to scramble (on third doses) and we need to combine this with public health measures even though everybody will hate it,” he said. “It is not going back to square one with public health measures, that’s really important. We learned what is high risk. But unfortunately for restaurant owners restaurants are high risk. Unfortunately for people who organise a Christmas party at all, that’s high risk,” he said. “It’s about capacity limits. In sports arenas, you know, 20,000 people is probably too much. We need less people and all of them masked, so drop food and drinks there.”
During the third wave of the pandemic in spring Ontario’s rolling seven-day average of new infections reached a peak of 4,370.
The province has not seen a significant increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations amid the fourth wave of the pandemic, though that is usually considered a lagging indicator.
“That’s the problem. If we just wait and we just wait until case numbers go up and then wait until hospital numbers go up then we’re far too late,” Juni warned. “Remember Omicron doubles every three days that is the reality. Unless there is a miracle happening this trajectory won’t change without public health measures.”
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