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True number of Ontario COVID cases likely much higher than what’s being reported, experts say

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WATCH: Quebec and Ontario break COVID case records – Dec 23, 2021

TORONTO — Ontario reported an all-time high 5,790 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a number experts warned shows an incomplete picture of the virus’s presence in the province.

The record diagnoses smashed past the previous high of 4,812 set on April 16, but a member of the province’s science table said the overtaxed testing system means the Omicron-driven fifth wave of the pandemic is likely even larger than it seems.

“Public health units are losing the ability to test everyone who has symptoms that are consistent with Omicron, and so these official numbers are probably far under what the true rate of COVID-19 is in the community,” said Dr. Fahad Razak, who is also an internist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

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Read more: Ontario reports largest single-day increase in COVID cases since pandemic began

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“In all likelihood, you’d have to multiply these numbers at least three or four times to get a sense of what’s actually happening.”

He said even in the best of times, testing was likely only picking up about half of all the province’s cases.

The overwhelming number of cases makes it more important than ever that Ontarians are careful about their contacts, he said.

“You have to assume that anyone you encounter has Omicron,” Razak said.

“It’s really about trying to protect ourselves as much as possible during the surge, and protecting the health-care system. That’s the most important goal.”

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Dr. Jennifer Kwan, a family physician in Burlington, Ont., who’s made a name for herself sharing information about COVID-19 online, agreed that the official case count was likely incomplete.

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“So many people with COVID-19 symptoms ? unable to get an appointment for PCR testing,” she tweeted.

The London-Middlesex Health Unit, for example, tweeted that the demand for PCR testing “currently exceeds the local capacity to perform the tests.”

“If you develop respiratory symptoms, consider your illness as COVID-19, even without a positive test result,” the health unit said Wednesday.

Ottawa Public Health made a similar call earlier in the week.

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Read more: Quebec announces almost 9,400 new COVID-19 cases, 92 hospitalizations

The province has called on overwhelmed public health units to focus their contact tracing efforts on higher risk communities to better protect the health-care system.

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Health Minister Christine Elliott said 440 people were in hospital with COVID-19 Thursday, including 136 who are fully vaccinated.

She said 169 were in intensive care, 32 of whom are fully vaccinated.

The province also recorded seven new deaths linked to the virus Thursday.

Provincial data shows 86.7 per cent of Ontarians five and older have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 81.2 per cent have two.

Elliott said 253,000 doses were administered over the previous 24 hours.

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