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Epidemiologist says stricter measures needed to reduce Ontario’s COVID-19 variant spread

Click to play video: 'Ontario is seeing ‘significant increase’ in number of coronavirus variants' Ontario is seeing ‘significant increase’ in number of coronavirus variants
WATCH ABOVE: Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said Monday that the province is seeing a “quite a significant increase” in the number of COVID-19 cases that are screening positive for a “variant of concern.” – Mar 8, 2021

TORONTO — A provincial shutdown, similar to one imposed when the pandemic hit, is needed to curb the alarming spread of COVID-19 variants in Ontario, the scientific director of an expert panel advising the province said Thursday.

Currently, even the strictest level of the province’s pandemic framework isn’t enough to reduce rising infections from more contagious variants, said Dr. Peter Juni of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

“This pandemic has never been under the control since it started to (take) hold in Ontario, and that’s the challenge,” Juni said in an interview.

Read more: Have COVID-19 variants pushed Canada into a third wave of the pandemic?

“We need stronger, more strict public health measures to keep the new variants contained enough to avoid tremendous challenges for the health-care system.”

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Provincial officials have said variants of concern now make up 50 per cent of the province’s daily cases of COVID-19.

The variant first detected in Britain is the most common one in Ontario, though variants first detected in South Africa and Brazil have also appeared across the province.

Read more: Ontario reports more than 2,300 new COVID-19 cases, 17 deaths

While Ontario’s vaccination effort is ongoing, Juni said it can’t move fast enough to protect the population from the variants that have also driven dire waves of infection across Europe.

The province should move quickly to impose strict measures to clamp down on variants, he said, while encouraging safe outdoor activities where people stay at least two metres apart.

“If we now do everything right, this will be the last time that we need to go into harsh restrictions,” he said.

The province’s top doctor has said variants of COVID-19 are causing more severe illness, leading to intensive care admissions and deaths.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: New data suggests variants will make up 40% of new cases by mid-March in Ontario' Coronavirus: New data suggests variants will make up 40% of new cases by mid-March in Ontario
Coronavirus: New data suggests variants will make up 40% of new cases by mid-March in Ontario – Feb 25, 2021

Dr. David Williams also noted this week that more young people appear to be getting more severely ill from the variants.

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Ontario reported 2,380 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, although the Ministry of Health said the number was inflated by about 280 cases due to a data processing issue.

Ontario also reported 17 more deaths linked to the virus.

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