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Peel Region’s top doctor recommends holding off on reopening due to coronavirus variants, schools

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WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region’s medical officer of health, said he would like the region to wait two more weeks while they assess the outcome of COVID-19 after the reopening of schools in the region this week as well as the rising number of variant cases – Feb 17, 2021

Peel Region’s medical officer of health says he would like to see the region wait two more weeks for reopening to assess the COVID-19 situation as schools resume in-person learning and rising variant cases.

Dr. Lawrence Loh said that although the original COVID-19 virus strain first detected in the community in 2020 is now declining, variant cases in the region are accelerating.

In the span of seven days, Loh said the number of confirmed variant cases jumped to 45 from five. He said more than 200 additional samples still need to undergo further testing and confirmation, but noted he is “almost positive all 200 of those could be confirmed as variants of concern” soon.

Read more: New variants spark fears of turmoil at Scarborough hospitals after 11 straight months of battling coronavirus

“Can we reassess our anticipated return to the provincial framework?” Loh remarked on Wednesday during his weekly briefing on COVID-19 in Brampton.

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“Holding the status quo for just one incubation period, 14 days, will allow us to see better where the variant trends go and review any impact that school reopening might have on community contacts and transmission.”

Students in Peel Region returned to the classroom on Wednesday after being put on virtual learning following the winter break when COVID-19 cases surged. Schools were originally supposed to reopen on Tuesday, but the facilities were kept closed due to a snowstorm.

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As of Wednesday, the Ontario government reported 338 U.K. variant cases (B.1.1.7), six South African variant cases (B.1.351), and a Brazilian variant case (P.1) have been detected so far in the province.

Read more: ‘Perfect storm’: Is Canada headed for a third wave of COVID-19?

Health officials have repeatedly said the variants of concern are highly contagious and more easily transmissible than SARS-CoV-2, the original strain that causes COVID-19.

Loh said it appears the variants are linked to “much shorter interactions as opposed to the typical close contact that is needed to transmit the original strain.”

“This means that opening too quickly risks another surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths just as vaccines are on the way,” Loh said.

He said if Peel Region does return to the province’s colour-coded system next week, he wants to see issues facing essential workers addressed such as “blitzes, rapid testing, paid sick days and protections for temporary and contract workers.”

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“We’ve said this for months, and that is the balance we must target if we are going to return the provincial framework as of next week,” Loh said.

Read more: Ontario reports 847 new coronavirus cases, 10 more deaths

The Ontario government began the gradual reopening with three regions that moved out of the stay-at-home order on Feb. 10 and another 27 regions on Tuesday.

The remaining regions in COVID-19 hotspots such as Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and North Bay Parry Sound are expected to receive an update in the coming days on if the stay-at-home order will be lifted on Monday and if those regions will fall under Ontario’s colour-coded system from green-yellow-orange-red-grey.

“I know everyone is tired,” Loh said.

“We can’t afford a third wave and a painful lockdown, so the next few weeks are crucial.”

In Brampton, Loh noted the city’s current test positivity rate is 7.7 per cent and it is “flat” compared to the previous week, which was 7.9 per cent. For every 100,000 people, Loh said Brampton is seeing 136 individuals test positive for coronavirus — slightly down from 155 people last week.

Meanwhile, officials in Toronto are set to address reporters Wednesday afternoon and it’s expected similar concerns about variant cases will be raised.

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