Strict three-week lockdown needed to stop explosive COVID-19 variant growth, Ontario science table says
TORONTO -- A three-week lockdown in certain regions of the province is necessary to blunt the explosive growth of the variants of concern, Ontario’s COVID-19 scientific advisory table says.
Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of the advisory table, believes Ontario could see between 2,500 to 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day in a few weeks, if the current trends continue.
Ontario recorded more than 1,500 cases on Wednesday, the highest single-day total since early February, owing in large part to the variants of concern which account for more than half of the new cases.
“What we're talking about here predominantly is the Golden Horseshoe, the Golden Horseshoe has a major problem, and we need to tackle this,” Juni told CTV News Toronto.
Cases from Toronto to Niagara Falls have been steadily increasing over the past few days triggering alarm among health experts and health-care advocates who have warned that the rise in transmission rates will lead to the third wave.
“If you look at the seven-day average from early in March it was about a thousand new cases per day, if you look at it now it’s about 1,300 new cases per day in the province,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CP24.
“That’s a real trend, and it’s going up.”
Dr. Juni suggested an “early and hard” lockdown in the Golden Horseshoe could cut down the length of closures from months to weeks, giving the province enough time to vaccinate a significant portion of the population.
“To make it without a renewed lockdown in the situation we're in, that's next to impossible, unless a miracle occurs. This is not about miracles. This is about biology and epidemiology here,” Dr. Juni said.
When asked how lockdowns could be avoided, Dr. Juni suggested even strict adherence of public health measures -- including avoiding all indoor spaces except for essential trips – wouldn’t be enough to escape a third wave.
“We would need to dramatically change, everybody change our way of approaching this. Is it possible? Has anybody shown you know that this can happen worldwide? No, nobody has.”
Vaccines versus variants
While Ontario is racing to vaccinate as many people as its supply will allow, members of the provincial vaccine taskforce admit the variants will ultimately win the battle.
“If we’re billing this as a race between variants and vaccination, we’re going to lose, vaccinations are going to lose,” Bogoch said.
While the province is vaccinating nearly 60,000 people per day, Bogoch noted that several high-risk communities and people aged 60 and older still face a severe risk from the new variants, including a longer stay in intensive care.
“We’re only starting to vaccinate those over the age of 80 so, if this is a race vaccinations is not going to solve our problem,” Bogoch said.
Juni said it could take six to eight weeks for the province to vaccinate its way out of the current lockdown cycle, if it’s able to target 2.5 million people who are elderly and live in communities at the highest risk of transmission.
At the current rate of daily vaccinations Ontario should be able to complete 2.1 million first doses by early April – which Juni said doesn’t give the province enough time for the effectiveness to take hold.
“It will take roughly two weeks until the effectiveness just kicks in,” Juni said.
“Even if we're extremely fast to gamble on that would be extremely unwise.”