Top doctor says Ontario ‘must remain vigilant’ past flu peak, COVID variant advances

Click to play video: 'The latest on the spread of the new COVID variant in Canada'
The latest on the spread of the new COVID variant in Canada
WATCH: The latest on the spread of the new COVID variant in Canada – Jan 23, 2023

Ontario’s top doctor says even though COVID-19 and flu activity is declining, the province “must remain vigilant” as a more transmissible variant gains ground.

As of Thursday, Dr. Kieran Moore said there were still around 100 Ontarians in intensive care units (ICU) with COVID-related infections and 37 needing ventilation.

Adding to that, parts of Ontario are reporting a rise in the number of cases of the more easily spreadable XBB 1.5 variant of COVID-19.

“So it is an ongoing issue for Ontario, for Canada and the globe,” Moore told Global News Radio’s the Bill Kelly Show.

He says the province will keep it’s testing capacity and continue to inform the public of risks, including alerts about latest strains like BQ.1.1 and XBB 1.5.

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Both strains have followed a pattern of mutating “on a regular basis,” according to Moore, at a 90 to 100 day cycle

However, they have yet to prove to cause more severe illness.

“We are anticipating another smaller wave of activity across Ontario (this month,)” Moore said.

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“We all still need to be protected with the bivalent booster. If you haven’t take advantage, please go ahead and do so.”

He goes on to say eligibility for oral outpatient Paxlovid, a free treatment for COVID sufferers, has become more readily available to anyone 60 and over as well as those 18 and over with a complex medical condition.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is set to meet on Friday to discuss whether the current pandemic situation still constitutes a global emergency, almost three years from the day they first declared a public health emergency amid growing COVID cases.

Moore says the possibility of ramping down the warning is likely a measure to put some focus on other health issues, but insists Ontario will continue to push COVID vaccinations and treatments for the foreseeable future.

Close to 91 per cent of Ontarians aged 18 and over have had at least two basic doses of a COVID vaccine, as of mid-January.

In addition, almost 3 million have had a bivalent booster dose.

The province is also seeing a decline in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu activity, providing some relief to hard-hit hospitals.

Moore says it appears Ontario has “very unusually” finished the influenza season with only about one per cent of tests in recent weeks coming back positive for infections after a November peak.

“Normally it lasts 12 weeks,” said Moore.

“It started two months earlier, (this year.)  It’s very rare for me to be able to say that influenza now is a much lower risk for Ontarians.”

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Public Health Ontario estimates some 5.2 million doses of the latest flu vaccine have been distributed to pharmacies, primary care and public health clinics.

Moore says uptake appears to be high and in a couple of months expects to report that most of those shots were used.

Ontario pediatric hospitals have also ramped up surgeries after a three-month surge of flu and RSV cases pushed them to redeploy staff to intensive care units and emergency departments.

– with files from the Canadian Press

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