When the delta variant came into play in Canada in the spring, leaders didn't take sufficient notice, Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Files, said. Now, they really need to start.
"I really think … you have to separate this pandemic into two stages: you've got the delta era, and the pre-delta era and now we're in the delta era," Tetro told Peter Mills on CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend.
In Saskatchewan, about one in five cases are variants of concern, the province's COVID-19 dashboard said. Of those about 10,825 have been sequenced and identified.
As of Sunday, about 30 per cent of those, or 3,298, were the delta variant, the Saskatchewan government's dashboard showed. It stopped testing for variant type on Sept. 13 to support overall COVID-19 testing.
"If we don't shift gears soon and thankfully many provinces ... are starting to do that, the last 18 months are going to look pretty mild to what we're about to go through," Tetro said.
Tetro had previously predicted a 40 per cent vaccination rate would fend off the earlier variants of the virus. But, the delta variant is much stronger and transmissible than its predecessors. He said that it transmits in a way comparable to the common cold.
"When delta showed up … we did not take that into consideration when it came to figuring out how we should be doing the reopening," Tetro said.
"When we … in Alberta, hit the 70 per cent [of people vaccinated with one dose], we all of a sudden opened up absolutely everything. And, now we realize that's probably not what we should have done."
Saskatchewan has been nearing or breaking records for cases and hospitalizations. On Sunday, there were 543 new cases in the province—the highest number yet.
The delta variant can cause more severe illness and makes up to 1,000 times more of the virus than the original COVID-19 virus, studies suggest. He expects the country will need to vaccinate 85 per cent of people to contest with this most concerning variant.
In Saskatchewan, about 72 per cent of eligible people have been fully vaccinated and 80 per cent have received at least one dose, according to CBC's vaccine tracker. When looking at the entire provincial population, including those ineligible, rates drop to 61 and 68 per cent, respectively.
In contrast, 69 per cent of all Canadians are fully vaccinated and 79 per cent of eligible Canadians are as well.
How we ought to respond
Tetro believes that government responses needs to adapt to the delta variant, something that didn't happen over the summer. In Saskatchewan, the public health order that mandated masks in public settings and limited business hours among other things, was lifted in July. Since then, cases have risen exponentially to early 2021 levels.
Government response now, he argues, should include vaccination measures, like passports, and masking—some of which has been recently announced in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
"I can be pretty confident, and remember I was already wrong once (about the virus increase), that this will probably be the last wave for this particular virus — delta variant," he said.
"But again we do need to get to that 85 per cent vaccination rate and that really is where we need to be focused."
Lockdowns, however, may not be as effective if they were to be enforced again, he said.
"You can only get away with lockdowns once or twice or maybe three times and then people start to get angry, people start to get tired … and then all of a sudden what happens is that lockdowns are just avoided," Tetro said.