The key member of the provincial COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) are warning the province has entered the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, citing a sharp increase in new variant-of-concern (VOC) cases and rising admissions to intensive care units.
“We’re most definitely in a third wave, for sure,” Dr. Peter Jüni, who serves as the scientific director to the table and is a professor of medicine and epidemiology with the University of Toronto, told Global News Monday evening.
“We have two pandemics going on. We have the pandemic with the old variants, old-fashioned and slow on the control, and then, unfortunately, we have the new variants.”
A tweet posted on the OHA Twitter account Monday afternoon said the third wave is underway, citing data by Ontario’s science table.
According to the dataset, new VOCs were estimated to be 49 per cent of cases as of Monday while the original strains were estimated to make up 51 per cent of cases.
Officials said the new VOCs consist of the B.1.1.7 (first detected in the United Kingdom), B.1.351 (first detected in South Africa), and P.1 (first detected in Brazil) mutations. They said the B.1.1.7 VOC is currently the dominating strain.
Scientists said the new VOCs are more transmissible and reported there have been more instances of serious illness and death.
Jüni said as soon as Tuesday, the new VOCs could be the dominant strains of COVID-19 in Ontario. He noted additional data is set to be released on the same day.
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“Longer-term the prospect is excellent, short-term we’re in the middle of a minefield and just we need to deal with it. We can’t just deny it. A lot of us are right now in denial and it’s not a good thing to be,” Jüni said.
He described how Ontario could see 2,500 to 3,000 new COVID-19 cases a day within two to three weeks and said increased public health measures are needed.
“It’s clear we won’t be able to make it with the current level of restrictions,” Jüni said.
“We need to do a little bit more, a few weeks, and then we’re through.
“This won’t go without really quite severe restrictions again. This will be painful for a moment, but it will be the last time. The only thing I’m sure about is it will be the last time period.”
In data modelling presentations over the past month, officials repeatedly stressed containing variant spread in the short-term, combined with vaccinations, would be key to determining what restrictions will be in place come the summer.
When asked if Ontario is experiencing a third wave in the coronavirus pandemic, the province’s chief medical officer of health said doctors are trying to determine the extent of the rise.
Dr. David Williams said the statistic of 49 per cent is a one-day snapshot, but he noted the rolling seven-day average of variant cases is increasing.
“As the variants of concern are rising as a percentage of the tests being positive, the tests of the other ones are going down,” Williams said.
“I would say we are into that base of a third wave. What does that mean? How big it is? That is to be determined.”
He emphasized maintaining existing public health and personal measures while the province’s current vaccination campaign.
Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said it’s too early to confirm the third wave.
“This is not the direction we want to see the numbers going,” she said, reiterating the need to take self-protection measures.
“We know what actually makes a difference if we would like to see those numbers turn around.”
The declarations came as the Ontario government reported 1,268 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the provincial total to 319,374.
Monday’s case count is lower than Sunday’s which saw 1,747 new infections (a portion of those cases were older ones recently inputted into the provincial data system). On Saturday, 1,468 new cases were recorded and 1,371 on Friday.
Officials reported 1,106 B.1.1.7 cases (up by 70 since Sunday), 44 B.1.351 cases (unchanged), and 34 P.1 cases (unchanged) being detected so far in Ontario.
The death toll in the province to date rose to 7,162 as nine more deaths were recorded since Sunday.
— With files from Gabby Rodrigues