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'Remain vigilant': Ontario's top doctor says province could see rise of COVID-19 subvariant 'Kraken'


Ontario’s top doctor is urging residents to “remain vigilant” as some regions see a rise of the “Kraken” subvariant of COVID-19.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, Dr. Kieran Moore said the highly transmissible XBB.1.5 variant is “not associated with a change in severity of illness.”

“But due to its increased transmissibility, more individuals may get infected as it becomes the main variant in Ontario,” he said.

This is the first time the chief medical officer of health has addressed the new subvariant, which the World Health Organization says is a sub lineage of Omicron.

“We must remain vigilant as many jurisdictions across the province continue to see a rise in the number of cases of the more transmissible XBB.1.5 variant of COVID-19,” Moore said in the statement.

“I continue to strongly recommend that everyone stays up to date with their vaccinations as it remains our best defence against COVID-19 and its variants, especially for those at increased risk of severe infection and for anyone who has not received a booster or been infected in the past six months.”

Dr. Fahad Razak, an internist at St. Michaels Hospital and former head of the province’s science table, has said its likely XXB.1.5 will become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Ontario.

"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," he said last week.

“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."

The last COVID-19 genomic surveillance report from Public Health Ontario noted the XBB.1.5 subvariant was expected to account for 22.2 per cent of COVID-19 cases by Jan. 25.

At the same time, Moore indicated overall respiratory virus trends—which includes influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus—are continuing to decline after a peak in November.

“The impact on our communities, hospitals and intensive care units is improving,” he said.

More advised Ontarians to stay home when they feel sick, to wash their hands often, and to wear masks in crowded indoor public spaces.

“We have the tools we need to reduce the spread of respiratory illness in our communities, and I am grateful to Ontarians for continuing to utilize them,” Moore added. “These important choices help preserve our hospital capacity to ensure care is always available for those who need it.”

At the same time, when asked if he strongly recommended vaccines and less strongly recommended masking, Moore said that was a “fair assumption.”

Individuals with underlying conditions in particular, however, should continue to mask while inside indoor public spaces such as malls or on transit, Moore said. Top Stories

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