Ontario reported 1,031 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the most on a single day in six months, as Toronto and York Region confirmed their first cases of the omicron variant.
The province's latest daily new case count is the highest since May 30 — when the third wave of the pandemic was slowly receding.
Toronto Public Health confirmed its first three cases of the omicron variant on Friday evening. Two of the individuals affected had recently returned from Nigeria, while another had returned from Switzerland.
The city's public health agency says it is following up with the individuals and providing instructions to close contacts.
"These are the first cases of the omicron variant of concern which have been confirmed by whole genome sequencing, reported in Toronto," it said in a news release.
"While scientific data is limited at this time, scientists and health professionals are carefully monitoring the emergence of the new omicron variant as early data suggests that the variant may be more transmissible."
Residents are being asked to seek testing immediately if they have any cold or flu-like symptoms, or if they have returned from or travelled to South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Egypt, Nigeria or Malawi between Nov. 1 and Dec. 6, 2021, the public health agency said.
Asymptomatic family members and other household contacts are also eligible for testing.
York Region confirms omicron variant in child under 12
York Region also confirmed its first positive case of the variant Friday afternoon. Officials said in a news release that the case was discovered in a child under 12 in Vaughan, who returned to Canada from southern Africa on Nov. 22.
The child has been isolating at home since then, and public health workers are following up with close contacts, who are also isolating at home, the news release says.
"York Region Public Health continues to monitor and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and we should expect to see the number of omicron variant cases rise across York Region," said Dr. Barry Pakes, the York Region medical officer of health, in a statement.
"Our best protection against COVID-19 and the variants of concern remains vaccination. If you are eligible for your first, second or third vaccine, I strongly urge you to get it."
Today's case count marks an 11 per cent increase over the same time last week and includes:
133 in Toronto.
106 in Simcoe Muskoka.
68 in Windsor-Essex.
60 in Peel Region.
59 in Sudbury.
58 in Ottawa.
56 in York Region.
47 in Hamilton.
44 in Durham Region.
The seven-day average of daily cases has climbed to 866, up 21 per cent from last Friday and its highest point since early June.
According to the latest estimate from Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, cases are currently on track to double every three and a half weeks.
Importantly, the burden of COVID on the province's intensive care units has remained relatively steady throughout the last several months, despite a rise in cases in most public health units.
As of Thursday evening, there were 146 patients being treated for COVID-related illnesses in ICUs. Compare that to May 30, the last time a daily case count topped 1,000 — there were 614 people with COVID in critical care.
Ontario: New daily cases of COVID-19
For the first time Friday, the Ministry of Health has published updated vaccination figures to include children aged five to 11 years old. As of Thursday evening, 154,925 children in that age cohort, or about 14.4 per cent of those eligible, had received a first dose.
Nearly 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians have now had two doses of vaccine, while a total of 738,075 have had a third dose or a booster shot to date.
In a new report issued today, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) says it is "strongly recommending" all Canadians over the age of 50 and other vulnerable groups, such as health-care workers, Indigenous people and those living in congregate-care settings, get a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
The committee, an independent body composed of volunteer vaccine experts, is also recommending the younger cohort — Canadians age 18 to 49 — get a third mRNA shot at least six months after their second.
The updated guidance comes after Ontario officials on Thursday said that starting on Dec. 13 at 8 a.m. ET, people aged 50 and older will be able to schedule their booster through the COVID-19 vaccination portal, by calling the provincial vaccine contact centre, through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, and in select pharmacies and primary care settings.
Starting in January, the province said, eligibility for booster shots will be further expanded based on age and risk, with an interval of six to eight months from a second dose.
Meanwhile, here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health's daily provincial report:
New school-related cases: 172, including 152 students and 18 staff. Nine of Ontario's 4,844 publicly funded schools are currently closed due to COVID. According to Public Health Ontario data, as of Wednesday there were 233 ongoing outbreaks of the illness linked to schools and child-care centres.
Tests completed in the previous 24 hours: 39,748, with a 2.9 per cent provincewide positivity rate.
Active cases: 7,217.
Deaths: Four, pushing the official toll to 10,016.