Ontario faces third wave of COVID-19 pandemic if variants aren't controlled, modelling warns

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Ontario's COVID-19 case numbers are steadily declining, but more infectious novel coronavirus variants of concern pose a threat significant enough that health experts are warning a third lockdown could be required to contain them.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province's science advisory table, is leading the briefing alongside Dr. David Williams, the province's chief medical officer.

Brown said Ontario is enjoying success when it comes to curbing the spread of the virus thanks to sacrifices the public has made, however it now faces a threat in the form of variants, first detected in the U.K, South Africa and Brazil, that spread faster than the initial virus.

The new data comes as the province began a gradual reopening of its economy this week by lifting a stay-at-home order for three regions with low case numbers.

Detected variants in the province are likely between five and 10 per cent of current COVID-19 cases in the province, Brown said. But the B117 variant is spreading fast and is soon expected to become the dominant strain in Ontario.

"The challenge is the growth of these new variants," Brown said.

Williams said the province is still in a "precarious time."

Brown warned if Ontario doesn't maintain control of COVID-19 it faces a third wave of the pandemic that could require a third lockdown.

Brown said if the B117 variant grows in Ontario as it did in the U.K, cases could rise rapidly by the end of February with ICU admissions increasing shortly after.

The science table said in its new report aggressive vaccination and sticking with stay-at-home orders are key to preventing a third wave.

Ontario case numbers, positivity rate down Thursday

Earlier, Ontario's education minister announced the province would be postponing March Break in an effort to curb community transmission.

The province saw fewer than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases Thursday. However, there was an issue with the data from the City of Toronto.

Ontario's network of labs completed 68,812 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and reported a test positivity rate of 2.3 per cent — the lowest it has been since Oct. 17, 2020.

According to the Ministry of Health, the number of people with COVID-19 that were in hospitals fell by 65, down to 883. Of those, 299 were being treated in intensive care, the first time that figure has fallen below 300 since Dec, 28, 2020.