TORONTO — Ontario’s two main opposition parties are calling for the government to reinstate or continue several public health measures, such as mandatory masking, in order to blunt the sixth wave of COVID-19.
Hospitalizations are up 40 per cent week over week and wastewater surveillance suggests COVID-19 activity is higher than it was at the peak of the fifth wave in January.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling for the government to either reinstate mandatory masking in public places or explain why they won’t.
She also says masks should be required in schools and the mandate should not be lifted for hospitals, long-term care homes and public transit on April 27 as planned.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca also says ending mask mandates in those places on April 27 is a “huge mistake” and masks should be required again in essential indoor settings such as schools, pharmacies and grocery stores.
Both Horwath and Del Duca are also urging the government to broadly expand access to PCR testing so people know for sure when they are sick or contagious.
Raywat Deonandan is an epidemiologist with the University of Ottawa. He said reimposing the mask mandate is “absolutely the right thing to do,” adding that it was “released far too early.”
“It was done based upon, I think, political desires, not based on objective epidemiological indicators,” he said.
Deonandan said Ontraio is in the “thick of the sixth wave.”
“We have over 100,000 cases per day in Ontario, according to the Ontario Science Table, which puts us near the peak of the Omicron wave,” he explained. “So if you can imagine what the Omicron wave would have been like without masking – that’s what we’re about to experience.”
Deonandan said everyone must do their part to “curtail transmission” of the virus.
“The number one thing we can do right now is to wear masks,” he said. “And by mandating the masks, we sort of take the onus off of the business owners and individuals and put it back in the government’s hands.”
He said when it comes to cases per day, the pandemic is the “worst it’s ever been” in Ontario.
However, Deonandan said that does not necessarily mean the pandemic’s impact will be the worst it has been.
“We have vaccination, we have really good treatment options now, we have the antivirals. We have more knowledge as individuals to manage risk accordingly, so it is possible to navigate this appropriately,” he said. “But in terms of the burden of actual infection, it’s pretty bad.”
“The impact of that infection is yet to be seen and that can be mitigated by the appropriate choices and policy directions,” Deonandan continued.
Meanwhile, Ontarians aged 60 and older can start booking appointments for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine today.
First Nations, Inuit and Metis individuals and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 and above are also eligible to start booking those shots today.
Fourth doses are being offered at a recommended interval of five months after the initial booster shot.
Residents can book appointments through the provincial vaccine portal, public health units with separate booking systems, Indigenous-led vaccination clinics and some pharmacies.
Fourth doses are already available to long-term care and retirement home residents and immunocompromised people in Ontario.
-with files from Global News