COVID-19 Variants Causing More than 40% of New Cases in Ontario Experts Say

Variants of concern are currently responsible for about 42 percent of new daily cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, the province’s science advisory table said Thursday.

The group made up of health experts and professionals, launched a new online dashboard focused on the variants of concern (VOCs). It shows that the variants continue to spread.

The data is more or less right on track with what was predicted in models released by the table in late February.

So far in Ontario, labs have definitively linked 956 cases to the variant first found in the United Kingdom; 41 to the variant identified in South Africa and 28 to the variant found in Brazil.

But those figures are a drastic undercount of the real situation.

Specific variants can only be confirmed once the samples have undergone whole genomic sequencing, an intensive process that can lead to reporting lags in the data of up to three weeks.

Speaking to CBC News on Thursday afternoon, Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of the province’s science table, said the province is facing a “race against time” between the variants and vaccines.

Ontario will need to tighten restrictions “very soon,” he said.

Juni added, given that some variants are thought to be about 40% more contagious, the way the province handled the previous situation won’t be enough to keep things under control.

Provincial health officials say this “highly transmissible” variant will “soon dominate.”

The science table report also says that aggressive vaccination and sticking with stay-at-home orders would “help avoid a third wave and third lockdown.”

The report also notes that public health measures have helped with cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations.

Focusing vaccination on long-term care homes has helped drive down deaths, it says.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said vaccinating in long-term care has been a “clear success.

” Now, the province is focusing its attention on the larger community.

Brown provided three scenarios for the next three weeks from the province’s modelling, though he noted there is “a lot of uncertainty” around what will happen in the coming weeks in Ontario.

In the most optimistic scenario, there would be relatively small but continued growth, he said, topping out around 2,000 cases a day.

In a medium scenario, cases “increase substantially” up to 6,000 cases a day, he said.

A worst-case scenario would be even more than that.

A total of 281,714 people in Ontario have now had both shots of a vaccine, according to the province’s health ministry.

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