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Covid-19, Ontario in the midst of the sixth wave

TORONTO – There are no doubts. Ontario is now in the midst of a sixth wave of pandemic. This was stated by the director of the Covid-19 Science Advisory Table of Ontario Peter Juni. “You only have to look at our wastewater to understand that this is indeed the case,” he said, “the highly contagious sub-variant of Omicron BA.2 cannot be blamed for the increase in the number of cases in Ontario that is instead linked to having thrown caution to the wind.” 

Juni estimated that based on viral levels measured in wastewater, Ontario is currently recording between 30,000 and 35,000 new infections per day. The actual number of cases is almost impossible to measure because tests in the province are no longer being conducted on a blanket basis.

Moreover, hospitalizations for Covid-19 in Ontario have increased by more than 23% compared to a week ago, with 778 patients currently hospitalized. “The fact is that what we are seeing is entirely our responsibility, we went a little too fast and so here we are – said Juni – our task now is only to keep the curve flat so that our hospitals withstand the increase in hospitalizations”.

The elimination or reduction of restrictions and the increased transmissibility of BA.2 could be the motivations behind the beginning of the sixth Covid wave. The Ford government has gone ahead with the lifting of restrictions to contain infections in the province and in April all remaining restrictions are set to fall.

When the province announced its plans several weeks ago, health officials said an increase in cases was expected with a relaxation of restrictions, but that the province now has the tools it needs, such as vaccines and medications, to manage the impact of the virus.

The concept was reiterated in recent days by the Minister of Health Christine Elliott: “As Dr. Moore said earlier, the indicators should increase as the inhabitants of Ontario interact more and more with each other. However, thanks to our high vaccination rates and natural immunity, as well as the arrival of antivirals, Ontario has the tools it needs to manage the impact of the virus – said Elliott – our hospitals and our health system can cope with any scenario without compromising our ability to continue to face the surgical backlog caused by the pandemic”.

The security flaunted by Minister Elliott does not correspond to that of Dr. Juni who explicitly said “Covid has not disappeared, on the contrary it is growing, while prudence and attention to anti-Covid measures are lacking”. Juni warned that the model projections are “just a scenario” based on a moderate increase in transmission corresponding to a slight change in behavior. “That’s no longer what we’re seeing. People are wearing masks less and less and interacting much more – Juni pointed out – so it is to be expected that all the numbers will be higher than expected, we are going towards a worst-case scenario”.

A number of doctors and health officials dislike the elimination of some of the most basic health measures, such as the use of masks in crowded or high-risk environments. According to the director of the Scientific Technical Table, the idea that masks are now part of the past is wrong. “It probably won’t work that way. We must take note of this – he said – we strongly advise people to use masks and get vaccinated”.

On the same wavelength as Juni is epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan who said that the lifting of restrictions “should not be tied to arbitrary calendar dates, but rather to measurable epidemiological indicators.” “I unequivocally predict that the increase in cases will be followed by an increase in hospitalizations and an increase in deaths, probably less than those previously recorded during the pandemic thanks to vaccinations, but it will still be inevitable.”

Like Dr. Juni, Deonandan also calls for caution: use of masks and vaccines because the pandemic is by no means over and the situation could get out of hand.

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