Ottawa

Mini-wave likely coming as Omicron subvariant begins to pick up speed

Data from Europe and western Canada suggests the more transmissible BA.2 subvariant is on track to replace the original Omicron strain, and it's likely to happen in eastern Ontario as well.

BA.2 more transmissible than Omicron, but not more virulent

Proof-of-vaccination rules have already been dropped in most places and mask mandates drop in many settings on Monday. (Sam Nar/CBC)

A new COVID-19 mini-wave could take hold in eastern Ontario as many health mandates end across the province, but experts say it won't cause nearly as much stress to the health-care system as Omicron did at the start of the year.

Data from Europe and western Canada suggests the more transmissible BA.2 subvariant is on track to replace the original Omicron strain in those areas, and is likely to do so in eastern Ontario as well.

Modelling from Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released Thursday also suggests more people will end up in hospital and require intensive care in the coming weeks.

But the numbers aren't expected to be anywhere near as high as during the peak of the original Omicron wave.

"We're not going to go back to these really heartbreaking numbers," said Dr. Doug Manuel, a physician and senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital — numbers that cancelled elective surgeries and caused other stresses on the health-care system earlier this year.

Dr. Doug Manuel says BA.2 won't create the same strain on the health-care system as Omicron did at the start of the year. (Submitted by Dr. Doug Manuel)

While Manuel said the subvariant won't be a game changer like Omicron was, there will be increased transmission, especially as mask mandates are lifted and people return from March Break travels.

The uptake of third vaccine doses in Ontario is also stagnant as COVID fatigue has set in.

"If we could get more people getting a third dose or a fourth dose for those people who are eligible, that's going to put the seatbelt back on for all of us," said Manuel. "We're going to have more insurance that we're not going to get into troublesome levels of cases, of transmission."

Some health officials urged caution

How quickly BA.2 is overtaking cases differs across Ontario.

In Toronto, 40 to 50 per cent of Omicron cases are BA.2, but in eastern Ontario it's closer to five to 10 per cent, according to Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen's University and member of the science table.

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New Omicron subvariant could cause yet another wave of cases, expert says

3 months ago
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Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen’s University, says a subvariant of Omicron called BA.2 could cause another wave of infections in the province, especially as public health measures are lifted.

The province and chief medical officer of health didn't consult the science table before choosing to lift restrictions, Evans said. If they had, the table would have advised holding off.

"Our advice would have been to delay or at least push back a little bit some of the dates ... because of this potential that we were going to see with the rise of something like BA.2," Evans said.

But he admits it's getting more and more difficult to convince people to stick with current health measures, including vaccination.

"Everyone's tired of them. I'm tired of them myself as an infectious disease doctor," he said.

"There's a consequence to saying that we need to just get rid of all these measures, the pandemic is over, because really the virus and the disease itself is following its own trajectory. We have to be ready to respond to any big changes that happen, like BA.2."

With files from Joanne Chianello

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