London

London's 2022 pandemic deaths are on track to surpass all of 2021 — and it's only July

Data from the Middlesex-London Health Unit suggests the southwestern Ontario region is on track to surpass last year's total number of COVID-19 deaths, even though most people act as if the pandemic is over.

Last year, 155 people died. As of July 25, there have been 153 deaths in 2022

Health-care workers wearing protective equipment wheel a COVID-19 victim on a gurney in December 2021. The London, Ont., region is already poised to surpass last year's COVID-19 death tally, and it's only July, as the pandemic continues to rage. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

With five months left to go until 2023, the London, Ont., region is on track to have more COVID-19 deaths in 2022 than it did last year, according to data from the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU).

As of July 25, there were 153 deaths attributed to the virus, according to MLHU data, two short of the 155 total deaths from COVID-19 in 2021. 

Case numbers are also up. Roughly half of the region's 40,000 cases since the start of the pandemic have been reported this year, according to health authorities. 

It's why the MLHU told CBC News on Wednesday that despite the fact pandemic restrictions have eased, this is no time for complacency, as the BA.5 variant continues its spread at a highly aggressive rate. 

"COVID-19 is still circulating in our community and it's still is a deadly disease to those who are at highest risk," said Marylou Albanese, the MLHU's director of environmental health and infectious disease control. 

'Fatigue' has led people to drop safety precautions

Despite the fact COVID-19 is still a killer, few people appear to be taking the same level of precautions they were at the beginning of the pandemic as wearing masks in crowded places has now become the exception rather than the rule. 

Emergency vehicles are seen outside the emergency department at the Victoria campus of London Health Sciences Centre. (Colin Butler/CBC)

"What we're seeing is fatigue and people wanting to get back to what it was prior to COVID," she said. "People are tired."

They're not just tired. In some cases, they're downright angry. Elected leaders have faced relentless pressure to undo virus restrictions from protesters and anti-vaxx groups, who argue pandemic health restrictions are no longer worth the isolation, depression and interruptions in the school year. 

It's still out there. It's still killing people because people are taking more risks.- Marylou Albanese

Premier Doug Ford's government, for one, dropped all provincial enforcement of pandemic health restrictions in April.

As a result, people wearing masks have become the exception rather than the rule at crowded indoor spaces such as grocery stores, malls and sporting venues.

Despite the fact the majority of people act as if the pandemic is over, recent polling suggests half of all Canadians are still worried about "becoming moderately sick" with the virus, especially in the context of returning to the office.

Still, much of the city has abandoned the safety precautions of social distancing and masking indoors, something Albanese said is simply part of human behaviour. 

"We tend to follow whatever is going on around us. 'No one else is wearing a mask, so I'm not going to be the odd one to wear a mask,' that peer pressure kind of thing."

Health officials still recommend masking, boosters

Albanese said regardless of what people are doing and what the law requires, the MLHU is still recommending people regularly mask when outside their regular social circles, wash their hands and keep a safe distance from others in order to avoid spreading the virus. 

"Getting out there and getting the vaccine and getting up to date with the vaccinations is vitally important." 

Health authorities warn that autumn and winter may become grim as activities move indoors. Infections and hospitalizations may rise, putting even more pressure on an already overloaded health-care system. 

"We will see more respiratory infections and people, if they're not staying home when they're ill will get COVID or another respiratory disease," she said, noting infections are now far milder than they were at the start of the pandemic, but still a cause for concern.

"It's still out there. It's still killing people because people are taking more risks." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Reporter

Colin Butler covers the environment, real estate, justice as well as urban and rural affairs for CBC News in London, Ont. He is a veteran journalist with 20 years' experience in print, radio and television in seven Canadian cities. You can email him at colin.butler@cbc.ca.

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