Ontarians 18 and older can begin receiving COVID-19 booster shots on Monday as the province scrambles to slow the rapid advance of the Omicron variant.

Vaccine doses will be sent to large employers for more injections quickly and the new, more highly contagious strain will take off just over a week before Christmas, government sources said Wednesday.

“We are going on a war footing to put as many needles into arms as possible, working with unions and companies to do everything possible,” a senior official told the Star before a late afternoon press conference. of Prime Minister Doug Ford.

Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Medical Director Dr. Kieran Moore will release more details on the plan, which has changed substantially since Friday, when it was announced that boosters for people 18 to 49 years would not start until January 4.

But the surge at Omicron since then has changed the situation dramatically, with Wednesday’s tally of 1,808 new infections, the highest since late May, up 80 percent from the same day last week, and a moving average of seven. case days up to 50 percent. up to 1,514.

“It doesn’t look like a new wave, it looks like a wall,” Wilfrid Laurier University epidemiologist Todd Coleman told Star of the case projections in the coming weeks.

“Vaccines are disappearing for the largest proportion of Ontarians, who received their second dose in the summer.”

Ontario residents age 50 and older have been able to book booster appointments since Monday, as long as 168 days have passed since their second dose, although there have been complaints that it may take weeks to get an appointment.

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While hospitalizations have risen in the past week, closely monitored occupancy levels in intensive care units remain stable at around 150 patients across the province, well within capacity. And there are signs that Omicron could cause less serious illness than the Delta variant it is rapidly replacing.

However, the government and health experts are concerned that a high number of infections could eventually flood the hospital system, particularly with unvaccinated patients at increased risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.

Additionally, there is a risk that Omicron is hired by healthcare and nursing home workers, resulting in a staffing shortage affecting levels of care.

The University Health Network was holding an emergency staff meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the redeployment of nurses, doctors and other medical professions in the event of a crisis.

Meanwhile, the scientific board of physicians and epidemiologists advising the Ford government will unveil a new model Thursday after giving the prime minister and his ministers a preview at a cabinet meeting where the accelerated booster plan was approved on Thursday. Wednesday.

More public health measures are expected to curb the person-to-person transmission of Omicron starting Friday.

Robert Benzie is the bureau chief for Star’s Queen’s Park and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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