Ontario could see 3,000 cases, nearly 400 in ICU in Jan even without variant: experts

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TORONTO — Ontario could see up to 3,000 daily COVID-19 infections and nearly 400 patients in intensive case by mid-January even without accounting for the Omicron variant, the province's expert science advisers said Tuesday.

The projections from the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table note that the new variant's impact could be "substantial," though its characteristics aren’t yet known.

The group said public health measures and increased vaccination are needed to reduce virus transmission as cases rise in most public health units.

"COVID will almost certainly rise through (January) even before Omicron hits us in full force. Case numbers count, because too many Ontarians remain un/under vaccinated and will end up in hospital," the expert group said on Twitter.

"We can't predict Omicron precisely, but it will almost certainly hit us hard and fast."

Infections could hit up to 3,000 daily if residents maintain their current behaviour and 30 per cent of children aged five to 11 are vaccinated by the end of December, the group predicted.

Another scenario with maintained current behaviour and 50 per cent of young children vaccinated predicts 1,750 daily cases by mid-January and 300 hospitalized patients in intensive care.

A third scenario with a 15 per cent decrease in transmission through more public health measures pegs the mid-January daily case count at just over 1,000 and 250 patients in intensive care.

The science table said intensive care occupancy will also increase over the next month, "likely exceeding" 250 patients by the end of this month without the Omicron variant, which is already detected in the province.

The provincial government said in a news release Tuesday that Ontario can "safely admit" approximately 300 critically ill COVID-19 patients without risking urgent surgery capacity, with capacity to add more spaces.

The science table pointed to the COVID-19 hospital situation in Europe as a warning to Ontario, noting that the province's hospital system is "depleted" from the second and third virus waves.

Ontario reported 928 new COVID-19 cases and nine deaths from the virus on Tuesday.

There were 165 people are in intensive care with COVID-19 related critical illness, including 95 people on ventilators and one patient from Saskatchewan.

The province reported 80 per cent of residents aged five and older as fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 84 per cent with at least one shot. Twenty-two per cent of children aged five to 11 had received their first vaccine doses as of Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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