New Brunswick

New Brunswick COVID-19 trajectories 'difficult to predict' with Omicron, says province

New Brunswick has no modelling yet for new cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, or deaths, as it braces for the full impact of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

New highly transmissible variant could generate 4.5 cases for every Delta case, says Department of Health

The COVID-19 Omicron variant will 'soon overtake' Delta as the dominant strain in the province, Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, has said. (Lightspring/Shutterstock)

New Brunswick has no modelling yet for new cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, or deaths, as it braces for the full impact of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Public Health is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada and other provinces and territories "to understand the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, its trends and trajectories and how to mitigate spread," said Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.

"However, trajectories remain difficult to predict given the evolution of variants of concern and variants of interest, particularly as Omicron was only first reported at the end of November," he said in an emailed statement.

Sixteen more cases of Omicron were confirmed in New Brunswick on Friday, bringing the total to 30.

Public Health is not reporting their location, but the first 14 confirmed cases are spread across the Moncton region, Zone 1, Saint John region, 2, Fredericton region, Zone 3, and Miramichi region, Zone 7, the Department of Health told CBC News.

"Many more" are expected, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard has said. "It's going to kick our butt."

The World Health Organization has warned Omicron is spreading across the globe at an unprecedented rate, confirmed in at least 77 countries.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, has said Omicron has "great spread potential" and cases are expected to "rapidly escalate" in the coming days. 

Canada is a "few days or maybe a week" behind the United Kingdom, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday is dealing with a "tidal wave" of new infections.

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Omicron is at least 30 per cent more transmissible than Delta, according to New Brunswick Public Health. That means it has the ability to generate an estimated 4.5 cases for every one Delta case in the province, said Macfarlane.

It also has a doubling time of roughly every two days, Public Health has said.

Other experts have suggested Omicron could be anywhere from 1.5 to six times as transmissible as Delta.

Grim Ontario predictions

Earlier this week, Ontario's COVID-19 science table estimated the doubling time for the Omicron variant in the population to be every 2.8 days. That's enough for four cases to escalate into 2,048 over 28 days.

By contrast, it measured Delta to be doubling about once per month, or from four cases to eight in the same period.

Ontario modelling released Thursday shows its daily cases could reach between 6,000 and more than 10,000 per day by the end of 2021, and its ICU admissions could reach "unsustainable levels" of about 600, without circuit-breaker restrictions to reduce social contacts by roughly 50 per cent, and a sustained booster dose campaign administering about 250,000 to 350,000 shots a day.

The most new infections Ontario ever recorded during the pandemic was 4,812 on April 16, during the peak of the third wave.

No plan to further reduce booster interval

On Wednesday, Ontario announced it's shortening the interval required to wait before getting a booster to three months from six for anyone aged 18 and older over Omicron fears.

Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson asked Health Minister Dorothy Shephard in the legislature Thursday whether New Brunswick intends to follow its lead. Shephard said Canada's chief public health officer addressed the issue during a call Wednesday night with the provincial and territorial health ministers.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization still recommends people wait until six months after their second dose to get their booster, said Shephard.

Between the five and six-month interval, the efficacy is much higher and is retained longer.- Dorothy Shephard, health minister

"And it is true that … between the five and six-month interval, the efficacy is much higher and is retained longer," she said.

"So, Mr. Speaker, at this time, we will be staying with our protocols that we've set in place."

On Dec. 8, Premier Blaine Higgs announced the province was reducing the time people 50 or older had to wait to get their COVID-19 vaccine booster shot to five months.

Public Health says anyone in this age group who got their second dose in June can book their booster this month, and those who received their second dose in July, will be eligible for their booster dose anytime in January.

With files from Robert Jones

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