The number of new daily COVID-19 cases in Ontario could reach 6,000 to 10,000 by January 1, 2022 if no new health restrictions are put in place to bypass the spread of the Omicron variant. “This could be the worst wave of the pandemic,” warned Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario Scientific Advisory Group on COVID-19.
According to the dean of the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health, contacts must be reduced by 50% starting today if the province is to limit the number of new daily cases to 5,000. It will not be possible to flatten the curve, says Dr Brown, only to “soften” it. Each case of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant infects 6.1 more people than the Delta variant.
To reach the 5,000-case limit, the province will also need to administer a third dose to approximately 250,000 Ontarians each day. Based on an analysis by the group of Ontario scientists, the effectiveness of two doses of Pfizer-BionNTech vaccine in preventing infection is 35% after fourteen weeks. A third dose increases the effectiveness to 75%, one month after it is obtained.
If the Omicron variant is as severe as its predecessor, the Delta, nearly 300 people could be hospitalized in intensive care by the end of the year, even with new health measures. Without these, the figure could reach 600. But experts believe that the level of severity is not yet clear.
Recent data from South Africa suggests that COVID-19 contracted by this variant may be 25% less severe. In this event, the number of patients in intensive care could still reach 300, despite the imposition of new public health measures to reduce person-to-person contact.
“South Africa is cited as evidence of the lesser severity of the Omicron variant, but hospitalizations, intensive care unit occupancy rates and hospital deaths are on the rise despite a younger population with some degree of immunity, ”reads the report of the Ontario Scientific Advisory Panel on COVID-19.
Based on preliminary data from Denmark, Dr Brown pointed out that 0.81% of people who contracted the Omicron variant were hospitalized, compared to 0.75% for other variants in the past six months.
New public health measures would reduce the rate at which people are infected, give them time to get their third dose and let it give them better immunity, Dr Brown explained.
The Ontario government announced new public health measures on Wednesday, December 15, such as the availability of third doses to people aged 18 and over as of Monday, December 20. Indoor gathering places that can accommodate 1,000 people will be required to reduce their capacity by half and free drug testing will be offered at LCBOs.
But the co-chair of the Ontario Scientific Advisory Group to fight COVID-19 declined to say whether those restrictions will be enough, only stressing that the measures should be “strong.” “This is not a confinement or an order to stay at home,” he said.
This story is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.