Ontario has entered third wave of COVID-19, say province's science advisers

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TORONTO — Ontario has entered the third wave of COVID-19 as more transmissible virus variants account for almost half of new cases, the province's science advisers warned Tuesday.

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said new data shows variants of concern are now driving pandemic growth, accounting for 733 of 1,489 total cases on March 15.

The group, which provides independent advice and analysis to the Progressive Conservative government, said that growth is taking place across the province.

"So, here we are: Ontario's Third Wave," the group posted to social media Tuesday. "Sadly, we are in fact 'all in this together'. Ontario is organized into 34 public health units; almost two-thirds are now experiencing exponential growth of (COVID-19)."

The findings come a day after the province's top doctor said that Ontario could be going into a third wave but the extent of it was still developing.

"You can always tell you're in it after it's over," Dr. David Williams said Monday. "I would say we are into that base of a third wave. What does that mean, how big it is, that's to be determined."

The Ontario Hospital Association said Monday that it believes province is now in a third wave, citing data from the science advisory group and saying the number of patients in intensive care is trending up.

"Strong adherence to public health measures is urgently needed to prevent overwhelming hospitals," the hospital group said on Twitter.

The CEO of the Ontario Registered Nurses' Association said the government lifted a stay-at-home order too soon, allowing the virus variants to spread.

Doris Grinspun said she fears the province will need to move back into lockdown.

"We need to be zeroing in 100 per cent on the vaccine now because this is our saving grace," she said. "We are slow on the vaccines and we are quickly moving into the third wave. It's a colliding disaster."

The new data comes one day after the province launched a new COVID-19 vaccine online booking portal and call centre.

About 100,000 people aged 80 and older booked their COVID-19 vaccine appointments Monday despite technical issues with the website and long wait times to get through to the call centre.

Ontario reported 1,074 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 11 more deaths linked to the virus. More than 28,500 tests were completed.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said there are 313 new cases in Toronto, 199 in Peel Region and 101 in York Region.

Another 51,579 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered in Ontario since the last update.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press