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‘It’s not a lockdown’: Ontario needs stronger public health measures to fight Omicron, experts say

Ontario’s panel of COVID-19 expert says that without further measures, there could be 10,000 daily new cases before Christmas

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TORONTO — Ontario must introduce strong public health measures that cut contacts by 50 per cent to blunt Omicron’s impact, which could soon cause 10,000 cases per day, the province’s panel of COVID-19 experts said Thursday.

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Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s science table, said the highly contagious variant is already dominant in Ontario and an accelerated booster campaign doesn’t go far enough to keep the hospital system from becoming overwhelmed.

“It’s not a lockdown, it’s not a stay-at-home order, but it does require a reduction in contacts,” he said Thursday at a news conference.

“That may be capacity limits in different settings, it may be stronger enforcement of masking indoors … It’s not new things that we haven’t seen before, it’s those core public health measures.”

Those measures would buy time for the province to bolster its booster coverage, Brown said.

Without further intervention, the science table’s modelling suggests Ontario is poised to see 10,000 new daily cases by Christmas. Even with a circuit breaker, the science table said the daily case count could approach record levels by New Year’s Day.

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Hospitalizations are also expected to rise rapidly now that Omicron has overtaken Delta as the dominant variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, Brown said.

Without additional public health measures, ICU admissions could exceed 600 by New Year’s Eve. Omicron is predicted to push intensive care occupancy to “unstable levels” by early January.

The province has said about 600 ICU beds are available, with nearly 500 more available for surge capacity if needed, but experts have said surgeries will start to be affected once roughly 300 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care.

“This will likely be the hardest wave of the pandemic,” Brown said. “But if we can control it and drive vaccination as hard as we can, we can make it to the exit.”

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On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford announced that all adults will be able to book a booster starting Monday, provided it’s been at least three months since they received their second dose.

He also reintroduced a 50-per-cent crowd limit in venues with a capacity of more than 1,000, but declined to limit occupancy at restaurants and bars or introduce stricter limits for social gatherings.

“Today’s modelling would not have factored this action into their assumptions,” said Alexandra Hilkene, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott.

But Brown said that while those limits will have some effect, it won’t change the thrust of the predictions.

“They’re not enough to really curb the rapid growth of the variant,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2021.

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