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While the rate of growth of Ontario’s daily reported COVID-19 cases seems to be coming down, new modelling data shows that the B117 variant, initially detected in the U.K., is a “significant threat.”
The latest information from the province shows that with between a one per cent and three per cent decrease in cases, which Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, identified is likely where the province’s case reduction is at the moment, Ontario will see between 1,000 and 2,000 new cases a day by the end of February.
As variants of concerns (VOC) are prevalent in the province, they are expected to cause a significant impact on COVID-19 transmission.
“As the more transmissible variant takes hold, as the U.K. variant takes hold, its increased transmissibility will actually lead to an increase in the total number of cases,” Dr. Brown said.
He added that it is “quite possible” that a COVID-19 variant will emerge that the vaccines does not work against.
“The ability to adapt the vaccines quickly to these new variants means that we actually can probably stay on top of this but it’s going to require strong vaccine supply, strong and quick ability to get the boosters...into the arm of people and importantly, surveillance to understand where these new variants are popping up,” Dr. Brown said.
“It’s not just the three that we’ve seen so far, we could see an Ontario variant and it’s that surveillance, looking for the disease both where we think we’re going to find it and people who think they might be sick but also looking for it in places where we would not expect to find it, that’s actually going to allow us to stay on top of this.”
When asked if restricting incoming travel could assist in preventing the spread of the U.K. variant or other variants of concern that may emerge, Dr. Brown said it is “really important” to control “inflow” in to the province to control the spread of new variants.
The B117 variant is likely at least 30 per cent more transmissible, while its transmissibility was found to be 56 per cent higher in the U.K.
With a more transmissible variant spreading, the benchmark for the effective reproduction number needs to be reduced to 0.7 to compensate.
The existing information from the U.K., highlighted in Ontario’s modelling data, states that there is a “realistic possibility that infection with VOC B.1.1.7 is associated with an increased risk of death compared to infection with non-VOC viruses.”
Ontario’s current COVID-19 situation
In term of the impact COVID-19 is having on hospital capacity, no previous flu seasons resulted in the number of beds occupied “anywhere close” to the peaks that hospitals have seen with COVID-19, Dr. Brown stressed.
Many ICUs in Ontario do not have any beds available, or just one or two free beds. COVID-19 patients are occupying half or more than half of ICU beds in many regions.
Many public health units in Ontario are seeing a substantial decrease in COVID-19 case growth, although there was an uptick reported on Thursday.
When asked if Ontario has passed the peak of the second wave, Dr. Brown said it is “too early to tell.”
“We still are in a precarious position,” he said. “I think the challenge right now is if the mobility pops back up, if there’s continued...high incidents of new cases in our central workplaces, if we see very quick spread of the new variants, you could easily see a dramatic climb again in the number in the number of cases.”
The modelling data shows that there has been a significant reduction in mobility overall in Ontario, even compared to many other Canadians provinces.
The rate of COVID-19 cases is still higher in communities where there are the highest number of residents who engage is essential work.
Dr. Brown said this stresses the importance of ensuring that workplaces are safe and ensuring that people who may be sick do not have to go to work.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said he is still cautious about loosening COVID-19 measures, including lockdown, too quickly.
“We want to be very cautious that we don’t do it too fast and then we get this, as we’ve seen in some other countries, as now we’ve had the introduction...of the VOCs, and that could really rebound very fast and we do not want to see that occur,” Dr. Williams said.