Ontario’s top doctor said Tuesday that it may take “a couple of years” for COVID-19 to reach “low, endemic rates” in the province.
Dr. Kieran Moore made the remarks during a COVID-19 briefing at Queen’s Park.
Moore was asked by a reporter whether COVID is “something we’re just going to have to learn to live with” and whether it would ever go away.
Moore responded by saying that COVID-19 is a “global illness” and as such, worldwide immunization needs to greatly increase before rates of the virus will decrease substantially.
“We have along ways to go with the World Health Organization and other international organizations to try to decrease the number of individuals in which this virus can mutate and/or spread,” he said.
“Within Canada and Ontario in particular, I do see a day when we’ll have low, endemic rates of virus.”
Moore said international surveillance will likely still be required to monitor for changes in strains of COVID-19.
“But I do see a time when we’ll have low, endemic rates and it will turn out to be like influenza or other winter respiratory viruses where there’s a seasonality to it, where it does have an intermittent impact on our health-care system and like influenza, you need an annual vaccine to protect against it,” he said.
Moore said it may be possible for the influenza and COVID-19 vaccines to be combined in order to create an annual shot that provides protection “against whatever the new circulating strain is.”
“That may take a couple of years to see that low, endemic rate and then the winter effect where the virus is most commonly active during November through to March,” he said.
The World Health Organization previously told Global News that if a disease is “globally present but at expected or normal levels” it would be considered an endemic.
Moore said the goal is to limit the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on “mental, physical, social and economic well-being.”
He again repeatedly called for people to get immunized against COVID-19 if they have not done so already, as it provides strong protection against severe illness.
Experts who spoke to Reuters previously said they expect the first countries to emerge from the pandemic will have had some combination of high rates of vaccination and natural immunity among people who were infected with the coronavirus, such as the United States, the UK, Portugal and India.
But they warned that SARS-CoV-2 remains an unpredictable virus that is mutating as it spreads through unvaccinated populations.
None would completely rule out what some called a “doomsday scenario,” in which the virus mutates to the point that it evades hard-won immunity. Yet they expressed increasing confidence that many countries will have put the worst of the pandemic behind them in the coming year.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s seven-day average of COVID-19 cases continues to rise with 928 new cases being reported on Tuesday. Last Tuesday saw 687 cases reported. The seven-day average has now reached 975, which is up from the week prior when it was 794.
Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released modelling Tuesday that indicated COVID cases and ICU admissions are expected to rise in the coming weeks.
The Ontario government has said they would not like to implement provincewide restrictions in the future and instead would like to see individual public health units implement restrictions if needed.
Ontario currently has a plan to lift almost all public health restrictions by the end of March, depending on COVID-19 trends.
— with files from Gabby Rodrigues, Saba Aziz and Reuters