Ontario’s top doctor says “recommendations” are being brought to the provincial government to have “more of a consistent provincial approach” in battling the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Dr. Kieran Moore made the remarks during a briefing Tuesday in response to a reporter’s question regarding regional restrictions being implemented by public health units, and what his advice would be to Ontarians travelling over the holidays.
“We would like to have consistency in the public health measures across Ontario,” Moore said.
“We understood under Delta, because there was a significant differential on where Delta was occurring and which communities have already been through a third wave, a second wave, and we knew it was occurring more in areas of our province that have not had a significant previous third wave.
“With Omicron, that game is changing.”
Moore previously has said that any future public health measures that may need to be brought in would likely be done on a regional level. He said Tuesday that has changed with Omicron.
“None of us have previous, prior exposure to this new strain and we see that we’d like to have more of a consistent provincial approach,” Moore said.
“We’ve been meeting with our public health colleagues, our public health measures table and are bringing recommendations to government to have a more consistent approach across all of Ontario heading into Omicron.”
Moore said vaccines appear to be less effective in preventing the spread of the Omicron variant, but likely still provide strong protection against severe illness, especially with a booster shot.
He said the variant appears more infectious than the Delta strain.
“This means even if it is less severe, with so many people infected, there may be significant demands on the health-care system,” he said.
Moore added that the province continues to analyze international data on Omicron as it becomes available. He said while he hopes Omicron won’t be as severe, they are “planning for the worst, so equal to Delta.”
It is not clear what recommendations are being made to government officials.
But Moore said he believes a discussion will be had “in the coming days about what additional measures we may need, if any, to best protect Ontarians against Omicron.”
He hinted that gathering sizes may be one topic of discussion.
“We will have, I think, further advice coming this week on potential maximum numbers in the gatherings. As you know, the smaller the better,” he said.
He was also asked about whether capacity restrictions may be placed on large sporting events.
“We’re reviewing all of our policy directions in light of Omicron but again they have to be proportionate, they have to be prudent, they have to be reasonable against the risk of Omicron,” he said.
“That review … started as soon as we heard about Omicron and then will be presented to government for options and I think further news will be announced later this week.”
Moore said he is most concerned about those who are most vulnerable to COVID, including older adults, those who are immune-suppressed, have received a transplant, or are undergoing cancer therapy. He said they should avoid social events and in general, contact with others.
“For the rest of Ontarians, what’s done us well in the last 20 months and kept us as a world leader in being able to control Delta in our communities has been sticking to the basics of good hand hygiene, physical distancing and wearing an appropriately fitting mask,” Moore said.
“Also … limiting the total number of social contacts.”
Moore said he is not telling Ontarians that they need to cancel Christmas gatherings, however.
“I think Ontarians have always been prudent. They’ve been reasonable and that you should be doing a risk assessment, based on your own personal health, your risk of having an adverse event or outcome associated with Omicron and the vaccination level of the community around you.”
As for what the variant means for schools, Moore said he hopes to keep schools open “as long as we can,” with protocols being reviewed to make schools safer. He said he still considers schools safe.
Omicron is on track to become the dominant strain in Ontario and Moore said all new cases should be treated as Omicron going forward, meaning all their contacts must isolate for 10 days even if they are vaccinated.
Ford to make announcement Wednesday on booster shots: gov’t official
Meanwhile, Ontario’s cabinet is set to meet Wednesday to discuss efforts to expand the province’s booster shot capacity, a government official says.
The official, speaking on background, also said that Premier Doug Ford will have an announcement regarding booster shots Wednesday.
It is not clear if the recommendations that Moore referenced will be reviewed at the cabinet meeting.
— With files from The Canadian Press