Ontario’s COVID-19 cases are declining but the UK variant is posing a “significant threat” health officials said on Thursday.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chairman of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams presented the updated COVID-19 modelling data.
Brown noted that the new variant of concern, B.1.1.7, is spreading in Ontario and “is a significant threat to control of the pandemic.”
However, modelling and international examples suggest that maintaining public health interventions will support continued reductions in cases even with the variant and a return to school.
The UK variant is 56% more transmissible.
The current UK evidence summary notes the potential for higher mortality saying there is a “realistic possibility that infection with VOC B.1.1.7 is associated with an increased risk of death compared to infection with non-VOC viruses.”
It’s mentioned that vaccines are still likely to be effective and that other variants are likely to emerge.
Brown also said that cases and positivity rates are down across public health units but testing volumes are also slightly down.
While Ontario’s case showed a slight uptick on Thursday, the overall trend is going downwards.
The province reported 2,093 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday morning, an increase from Wednesday’s 1,670 which was the lowest case count in over two months.
However, the lower numbers could also be due to low test numbers, which Brown adding that sustained high testing volumes “will be important to control of the pandemic.”
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And even though cases are declining across long-term care homes, deaths continue to rise with 215 in the last seven days, “we are still likely to surpass total deaths from the first wave. Interventions to reduce deaths in long-term care will be critical.”
In addition, hospitalizations are declining but “strained” ICU capacity continues as COVID-19 has an outsized impact on the health system. The access to care deficit continues to grow and will have short and longer-term negative impacts on health.
Ontario health officials are also projecting just over 2,000 daily COVID-19 cases by the end of February, as the overall trend continues to decline.
During the last update, it was projected Ontario could have 10,000 cases today at the current growth rate of 3%. Now, the numbers are much less with 2,100 by February 28.
When looking at how effective the Stay at Home order — which was implemented two weeks ago — and the lockdown has been, there is reduced mobility. However, essential work is still “strongly associated with risk of infection.” Therefore, Brown says safe workplaces will be important to control COVID-19.
To date, Ontario has seen 262,463 COVID-19 cases and 6,014 virus-related deaths.