It looks like Omicron is ‘plateau’ in Toronto. Relaxing restrictions is likely to change that, health experts warn

Toronto is in a tough spot in its fight against COVID-19, with key indicators showing that the Omicron wave is flattening or declining as the province prepares to loosen restrictions that have kept many people at home.

Dr. Vinita Dubey, co-medical officer at Toronto Public Health, said indicators as the number of institutional outbreaks and virus levels in wastewater show a local “plateau” of the infectious Omicron variant.

But while virus levels have stopped soaring and may be declining, there is still plenty of COVID-19 circulating and is likely to be more so after Monday’s resumption of indoor eateries, gym visits and other reopening changes.

Dubey said in an interview Thursday that cell phone data shows that Toronto residents have recently spent more time at home than at any other stage in the past year.

“We have certainly seen the positive effects of the public health measures that have been put in place,” she said, “and if we withdraw some of those restrictions, people will spend more time in close contact, especially indoors, with others – that’s how it is. virus spreads. ”

Dr. Anna Banerji, an expert on infectious diseases in Toronto, said that two years after the pandemic, with the threat of new variants looming, there is no clear correct choice between sticking to restrictions and gradually loosening them.

“We still have the highest number of hospitalizations we have had in the entire pandemic, and a nursing shortage, and a lot of people who are very burnt out,” which makes the health care system fragile, Banerji said.

“But most of us have some immunity, so at what point do we throw our hands up in the air and say ‘COVID is here to stay, people who have not been vaccinated have a greater risk of a greater disease, and rather than trying to contain something that is not easy to contain, do we gradually lift protocols and restrictions and move forward? ‘”

It echoes dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s public health chief, told reporters on Thursday that “we need to understand that we need to learn to live with this virus,” when it no longer seems possible to eliminate it completely.

The biggest risk, Banerji said, is a new variant that is highly contagious like Omicron, but which makes people more seriously ill than that variant.

Health officials are looking at a new Omicron sub-variant known as BA. 2. Dubey did not know if it infected any Torontoians. The Star asked Ontario’s Ministry of Health, but did not receive a response in time for the deadline.

Experts say there is still no data to suggest or BA. 2 is more virulent than the now-dominant strain, or if it will become extinct like the P.1 COVID-19 strain that infected some Torontoians a year ago.

Omar Khan, an expert in biomedical engineering from the University of Toronto, sees promise in Pfizer and Moderna to conduct trials of vaccines formulated to resist Omicron infection, as well as Pfizer’s antiviral drug for severe COVID-19 disease to reduce.

But Khan is concerned that low vaccination rates in parts of the world could cause new variants, as well as continued high infection rates in Ontario. That cycle must be broken, he said.

“As we reopen, we need to remember that these (COVID-19 restrictions) are living things and may need to be adjusted if we get into trouble again,” Khan said.

“We need to kick the bones out of (viral) evolution.”

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider


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