Ontario’s top doctor doesn’t think the province’s COVID-19 numbers are good enough to proceed into Stage 1 of the reopening plan earlier than scheduled.
Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health, said he’s troubled by a slight uptick in cases this week that could be a blip caused by gatherings over the Victoria Day long weekend — or signal transmission is rising, potentially driven by the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant.
“Data at the moment is less promising,” he said at a news conference Thursday. “I don’t want to see a rise over the weekend getting to more than 1,000 [cases per day]. Let’s hope we can turn that around fairly assertively.”
Premier Doug Ford said on Wednesday that he was prepared to move into Stage 1 earlier than the forecasted date of June 14 if he received the green light from Williams. On Thursday, Williams appeared to withhold his approval.
“When the numbers drop, we’ll have some better answers from the premier and the [health] minister,” he said.
Moving into Stage 1 means restaurant patios could reopen, up to 10 people could gather outdoors, and non-essential retail businesses could welcome back a limited number of customers.
Although cases overall are trending down, the proportion of infections caused by the Delta variant is rising. Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s medical officer of health, said Thursday that the latest modelling suggests Delta could become the dominant strain in Ontario within eight weeks.
Williams said the latest figures suggest the variant jumped from 12% of cases to detection in up to 23% of them in recent weeks.
“Those numbers are rising as our volume of tests drops down,” he said. “It will be interesting to see with the higher numbers over the last few days.”
Labs still need to do whole genome sequencing to determine if a case is the Delta variant, meaning it’s a slower process than detecting the Alpha (B.1.117) or Gamma (P.1.) strains.
The World Health Organization released new names for the four known variants of concern this week to combat the stigma that’s arisen from people referring to the strains by the countries where they were detected.