COVID-19: New variants having ‘substantial impact’ on Ontario’s health care system, report says

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WATCH ABOVE (March 26): With Canadians now being vaccinated, many expected COVID-19 cases, serious illnesses and deaths to decline. But new forecasts warn more rough times are ahead due to virus variants. Sean O'Shea explains. – Mar 26, 2021

The new variants of concern (VOCs) are responsible for a 21 per cent increase in hospital admissions since Ontario went into its province-wide lockdown in December, according to a new report which warns the VOCs are having a “substantial impact” on the health care system.

The report from Ontario’s COVID-19 science table published Monday said the new variants of concern now account for 67 per cent of all cases in the province, as numbers climb back into the 2000s per day.

Read more: Ontario reports more than 2,300 new COVID-19 cases, 14 deaths

Dr. Peter Juni, the table’s scientific director and a professor of medicine and epidemiology with the University of Toronto, told Global News Radio 640 Toronto’s Kelly Cutrara we need to be aware there are two pandemics now.

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“We have the old variants, the early variants they are under control … then we have the new variants of concern … and since they took hold in Ontario, we never had them under control,” Juni said, stressing the most concerning variant is the one from the U.K.

He said the new variants account for up to 1,700 of the daily cases right now and they double every 11 days.

As of Tuesday morning, there have been 1,800 cases of the B.1.1.7 VOC (first detected in the United Kingdom), 69 cases of the B.1.351 VOC (first detected in South Africa) and 90 cases of the P.1 VOC (first detected in Brazil) reported in Ontario. There has also been a total of 20,117 cases where a mutation was detected but the lineage was not determined.

Juni stressed for everyone to only be inside with members of their own household. If Ontarians need to see anyone else, he said to make sure they do it outside, two metres apart.

READ MORE: 3rd COVID-19 wave will lead to difficult weeks ahead for Ontario hospitals: OHA

The doctor warned denial won’t help what is happening in the province and stressed the need for stricter restrictions, saying they are only needed for the next few weeks, not months.

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“It’s short-term pain for long-term gain,” Juni said, adding it’s only a matter of time before hospitals are overwhelmed again.

“Compared with early variants of SARS-CoV-2, VOCs are associated with a 63 per cent increased risk of hospitalization, a 103 per cent increased risk of intensive care unit (ICU) admission and a 56 per cent increased risk of death due to COVID-19,” the report said.

As of Tuesday morning, Ontario reported 1,090 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 with 387 in intensive care units and 249 patients in ICUs on a ventilator.

Ontario also reported 2,336 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the sixth straight day cases are above 2,000. The provincial total now stands at 347,570 since the onset of the pandemic.

The report said the cases reported now are close to what the numbers were at the height of the second wave, which was the start of the province-wide lockdown that came into effect Dec. 26, 2020.

The most startling observation, the report said is the average age of those being admitted to hospital is trending down.

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“The percentage of COVID-19 patients in ICUs who are younger than 60 years is about 50 per cent higher now than it was prior to the start of the province-wide lockdown,” the report said.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams emphasized this point in a briefing Monday afternoon warning the younger population who may not have been concerned with COVID earlier that it should now be a “big deal” for them.

The panel warned the Ford government the new VOCs, “will result in a considerably higher burden to Ontario’s health care system during the third wave compared to the impact of early SARS-CoV-2 variants during Ontario’s second wave.”

With files from Gabby Rodrigues

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