Vaccines not enough to curb Omicron spread, stronger public measures needed: Ontario modelling

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Ontario likely to see ‘hardest wave’ of pandemic as Omicron cases surge'
COVID-19: Ontario likely to see ‘hardest wave’ of pandemic as Omicron cases surge
WATCH: Ontario likely to see 'hardest wave' of pandemic as Omicron cases surge – Dec 16, 2021

Vaccines are not enough to curb the spread of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant and stronger public measures are needed, Ontario health officials say.

The province’s science table released its latest modelling on Thursday which said early evidence suggests that without “prompt intervention, ICU occupancy could reach unsustainable levels in early January.” It also suggested cases could hit up to 10,000 per day by Christmas.

“This will likely be the hardest wave of the pandemic,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair for Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, at a press conference Thursday.

Ontario’s science table confirmed vaccines are less effective against the new variant, however emphasized that booster shots will “substantially” increase protection, adding that even two doses of the vaccine will help against severe infection.

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“The risk of severe illness is dramatically higher in the unvaccinated,” health officials said.

As of Thursday morning, Ontario reported 328 people in general hospital wards with COVID-19 with 165 patients in intensive care units and 147 patients in intensive care units on a ventilator.

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The province said about 600 ICU beds are available, with nearly 500 more available for surge capacity if needed, but experts have said surgeries will start to be affected once roughly 300 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care.

While it is known that Omicron is much more transmissible than the Delta variant, it is not yet known if it is more severe. Based on that notion, the table provided modelling for the scenario where Omicron is 25 per cent less severe than Delta and where Omicron is the same severity.

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In both cases, ICU occupancy rose significantly if no additional measures were provided, with the latter displaying the occupancy of more than 600.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Ontario ICU patients could exceed 600 if additional measures aren’t taken'
COVID-19: Ontario ICU patients could exceed 600 if additional measures aren’t taken

If Ontarians cut their contacts by 50 per cent and the province administers up to 250,000 booster shots per day, it would go a long way to curbing the spread of Omicron, the modelling suggested. Booster shots should be prioritized to those most vulnerable including healthcare workers, long-term care and retirement home residents and caregivers.

“It’s not a lockdown, it’s not a stay-at-home order, but it does require a reduction in contacts,” Brown said.

“That may be capacity limits in different settings, it may be stronger enforcement of masking indoors … It’s not new things that we haven’t seen before, it’s those core public health measures.”

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Furthermore, the province said keeping schools open is a priority and to do that health officials said “high quality masks, physical distancing indoors, improved ventilation, and increased access to rapid testing” is needed.

The new projections come a day after the provincial government announced a series of new measures in response to the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Among them is an accelerated rollout of COVID-19 booster shots, which will be available starting Monday to residents over 18 whose second dose was at least three months ago.

The province also said it will cut capacity to 50 per cent at certain large venues, including sporting arenas and cinemas, starting Saturday.

With files from The Canadian Press and Gabby Rodrigues

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