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New Omicron subvariant expected to become dominant in Ontario as cases rise


Cases of a new, highly-transmissible Omicron subvariant have risen in Ontario, and the former head of the province’s science table said it will become the next dominant COVID-19 strain.

Speaking to CP24 on Tuesday, Dr. Fahad Razak said subvariant XBB.1.5, also known as the 'Kraken,' has been surging south of the border and it's only a matter of time until Ontario sees a similar jump.

"If we follow the U.S. trajectory, that means that this will become the dominant version of the virus circulating probably within just a few weeks in Ontario and across the country," said Razak, an internist at St. Michael's Hospital.

According to the latest COVID-19 genomic surveillance report from Public Health Ontario released Tuesday, the XBB.1.5 subvariant is expected to account for 22.2 per cent of COVID-19 cases by the end of this week.

That is a significant jump from weeks ago when only 0.7 per cent of COVID-19 cases were that of the Kraken subvariant. Between Dec. 4 and Dec. 31, there were 105 cases of XBB.1.5 in Ontario. Most of the infected were from the 40 to 59 age group.

As of last week, the Omicron BQ.1.1 subvariant was still the dominant version.

But that will change soon as Razak said XBB.1.5 has emerged as the most concerning among other Omicron subvariants.

The World Health Organization said last week in a report that XBB 1.5 "may contribute to increases in case incidence."

That's why Razak said proactive measures should be taken now to blunt the expected Kraken surge.

"In parts of the U.S. where that occurred, they did see a rise in hospitalization -- nothing like what they saw earlier in Omicron, where we had these huge surges -- but still something meaningful. As all of you know, we've had such a strain on the health care system over the last few months, children's hospitals, adult hospitals," he said.

"So there is a need, I think, now to recognize that we're probably going to see a surge of infections in the coming weeks and talk about what we can do to reduce infection as much as possible."

He also noted the importance of getting vaccinated to prevent from getting sick.

While there is still not much known about the efficacy of the updated COVID-19 vaccines against the subvariant, Razak said it appears XBB.1.5 has a tendency to evade some immune protections and could reinfect people, especially those whose immunizations are out of date.

"I think we have to treat these viral surges and this latest variant as something that's probably going to happen again and again," Razak said.

"It's really about being able to adapt in the moment. Take the strategies you need, things like keeping your vaccines up to date, the other protective measures during a surge like masking in indoor, crowded settings and not mixing with friends, family and co-workers when you're sick. And so I think we need to use those strategies adaptively so we can do the things that are most valuable to us and not allow these viral surges to really disrupt us and I'd like to see us." Top Stories

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