Omicron Threat Looms As COVID-19 Rises in Ontario and Quebec

COVID-19 infections are on the rise in Canada thanks to surges in Ontario and Quebec and the national situation will rapidly deteriorate if the new Omicron variant becomes the dominant strain of the coronavirus, federal health officials reported Friday.

Canada’s two largest provinces are already on track for a strong COVID-19 “resurgence” that could double daily infections in the coming weeks, and both provinces will see the situation exacerbated if Omicron spreads further within the country, according to new. data. published by Health Canada.

This could see daily new infections in Canada skyrocket to more than 12,000, from around 3,300 now, by the end of December, assuming that Omicron is three times more transmissible than the currently dominant Delta variant, the data showed.

Ontario responded to the situation on Friday by scheduling the availability of third-dose booster shots for all residents age 18 and older beginning January 4. The boosters will be available to anyone age 50 and over until then.

As of Thursday, Health Canada was aware of 87 cases of Omicron in this country in six provinces and one territory, with recent evidence suggesting that the variant may have started to spread within Canada despite new travel restrictions, the agency said. Director of Public Health Theresa Tam.

This is no time to “panic,” he said, just stay alert.

“Getting the vaccine is still the most important layer of protection,” Tam said, adding that people should also get their booster shots as soon as they are available. He said the vaccines were a “gift” that was not available last year, pointing to lower levels of severe cases thanks to Canada’s increasing vaccination rate.

However, Tam urged Canadians to keep private gatherings “small” during the holidays and to take known public health precautions, although the federal government does not ask people to refrain from traveling internationally or within Canada.

Tam said, however, that it is a “better option” to stay closer to home.

“The winter period will be a bumpy road to a brighter spring,” said Tam. “This is another hit.”

Although preliminary evidence suggests that Omicron is significantly more transmissible than other variants, Tam said there are still questions about whether it leads to more severe cases and can better bypass the immunity that comes from vaccines.

Tam did not call for stronger measures to curb the spread in Ontario and Quebec, noting that the highest number of new infections in the provinces is among children where severe cases are rare. Data from Health Canada says that of 380,000 childhood cases of COVID-19 so far, about one percent were severe cases.

But Tam warned that “the omicron variant could take over pretty quickly” and that could make the situation more dangerous if it results in more severe cases of COVID-19.

During the past week, an average of 1,460 people with COVID-19 were treated in hospitals across Canada, including more than 450 people in intensive care. There were also 20 deaths per day on average.

For now, the federal government does not advise people to travel, although federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said it is now “risky and unstable” for Canadians to venture abroad. He warned that anyone leaving the country during the holidays will face “delays and inconvenience” upon their return.

“Omicron should be a big red part of the radar screen, it should be flashing,” Duclos said. “If you think about traveling, that should be a serious alarm.”

To defend against the variant, the Liberal government is imposing testing and isolation requirements for all travelers from abroad, including people vaccinated against COVID-19. It is also pushing to increase testing capacity for air passengers arriving to 23,000 a day. Duclos said it was 17,000 a day on Dec. 9, up from around 11,000 a day at the end of November.

But despite these measures, Duclos said he still hopes Omicron will put down firmer roots in Canada. He urged people to follow family public health measures, such as physical distancing and wearing masks, and asked Canadians to receive their COVID-19 booster shots as soon as they are available.

“These tests and these procedures are by definition imperfect,” Duclos said of the new measures at Canadian airports. “They are not going to prevent the variant and the virus from entering Canada.”

The federal government will also deliver 35 million rapid tests that the provinces are requesting this month, Duclos said.

With files from Robert Benzie


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