Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the newly discovered Omicron COVID-19 variant is “scary,” but once Canadians get through the winter, the summer will be “better.”
He made the comments in a year-end interview with Red FM Toronto on Tuesday morning, following revelations from chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam that Omicron could ramp up its spread through Canadian communities in the coming days.
“This Omicron variant is scary, and it’s the last thing anyone needs — to have to worry, again, about another wave,” Trudeau said.
“But if we keep getting vaccinated and people get their booster shots and we get kids vaccinated and we continue to follow public health rules, we’re going to make it through this winter and into a much better summer.”
Trudeau added that Canadians just need to “hang in there.”
Canadians wouldn’t be wrong to feel a sense of déjà vu at the prime minister’s latest assurances. His comments mirror ones he made in a similar interview just shy of one year ago. At the time, Trudeau said Canadians will only need to hold on for “a few more months.”
“People just need to hang on. It’s not forever,” Trudeau said in an interview for The Mike Farwell Show, which aired on 570 News Kitchener on Nov. 17, 2020.
“We can do what we need to do to keep our loved ones safe and mostly as well keep our front-line workers from being overwhelmed and our hospital rooms from being overfilled.”
The Omicron variant has created renewed cause for concern in Canada, public health officials have warned.
According to Tam’s latest COVID-19 projections, which she unveiled on Friday, Canada is currently seeing a Delta variant-driven resurgence of cases. However, if infections keep rising and Omicron takes hold, that variant could outpace Delta and drive infections up to 26,600 a day by mid-January.
Tam’s recent warning, like the one Trudeau issued, also echoes one she made in November 2020, when she warned that the country could see daily case counts of more than 10,000 by early December.
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“Fires are burning in so many different areas and now is the time to get those under control,” she said at the time.
However, Canadians didn’t have vaccines at that time. Vaccines have since been proven to prevent hospitalizations and death from COVID-19. That means Canadians have an effective tool in their toolkit as they stare down this latest wave. The most important thing they can do is use it, according to Tam.
Despite case spikes, hospitalizations are different this time around — that is, different before the world had effective vaccines. Over 80 per cent of cases and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, while just over eight per cent of cases have been confirmed in fully vaccinated individuals. Just over six per cent of hospital admissions have been from those who are fully vaccinated.
While Omicron does appear to be more transmissible than preceding variants, according to Tam, some early studies show it might not be as severe as the Delta variant. But with winter weather kicking into high gear and more people gathering indoors, officials have warned that the months ahead could create ideal conditions for COVID-19 to spread.
Tam said the best thing Canadians can do right now is follow public health advice and “get your booster shots.”
“And actually, it is equally, if not more important, for those who haven’t had the vaccine to also get the first and second doses, including the younger children,” Tam said.
“But vaccines take the time to, of course, take effect. And in that period of time, the virus can transmit rapidly and spread rapidly among populations.”
In the meantime, Tam recommended Canadians “observe public health measures” and “reduce those contacts.”
Looking ahead to the holidays, Trudeau warned that Canadians might want to consider how their plans measure up against existing public health rules.
“As we look at Christmas and the holidays coming, people need to be listening to public health advice and making decisions that minimize their risks,” Trudeau said.
“I think we’ve all learned an awful lot about how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, and I know Canadians are going to be thoughtful about everything we can do to keep the numbers down, because nobody wants to have another winter in which our hospitals and our front-line health workers are getting close to overwhelmed.”