Ontario reviewing policy directions, could limit gatherings in light of Omicron

Calling Omicron a game changer, Dr. Kieran Moore said the province is “reviewing all its policy directions.”

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With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly across the province, Ontario could move to restrict indoor gatherings as early as this week, just days ahead of the Christmas holidays.


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“We will have further advice coming this week on potential maximum numbers in those gatherings,” Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said during a briefing Tuesday, adding “the smaller the better.”

Calling Omicron a game-changer, Moore said the province was “reviewing all its policy directions.” Among other things, he would like to see consistent pandemic rules across the province to combat its spread.

Provincial cabinet meets Wednesday. Moore’s recommendations to the government are expected to be discussed there.

Currently, local public health units act independently to reduce the maximum numbers allowed to gather indoors and introduce other public health measures if cases spike. Kingston-area public health officials reduced indoor gatherings to five people on Monday in the face of massive Omicron outbreaks there. Other local health units have taken similar steps.


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That regional control system worked when the Delta variant was dominant in the province, Moore said, but the highly transmissible Omicron variant has changed the landscape.

Ontario could put other changes in place to help slow transmission of Omicron, but Moore said he hoped schools could remain open.

“We will be reviewing all our protocols in the face of Omicron across all sectors of education and health and making appropriate recommendations.”

Omicron, which was first identified in South Africa, has burst into Ontario in recent days, bringing with it sharply rising case counts and large outbreaks. Just weeks after it was first identified in the province, with two cases among recent travellers returning to Ottawa, it is on the brink of being the dominant variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. As of this week, cases of Omicron are doubling every three days. At last report from the Ontario Science Table, cases of the variant had an effective reproduction rate of 4.01 in the province, compared to 1.32 for the Delta variant.


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One person with Omicron can infect between four and eight people, Moore said.

He said every positive case of COVID-19 in the province should now be treated as if it was Omicron, meaning all high-risk contacts have to isolate, regardless of vaccination status.

Moore advised anyone who is vulnerable to dramatically reduce contacts immediately to avoid becoming infected.

“I would avoid contact with others if you are vulnerable to this virus,” he said. Moore suggests those who are older, immune suppressed, transplant patients or undergoing cancer treatment should have their pharmacies deliver medication and ask neighbours to deliver food.

“Now is not the time to have social events or to be going to mass gatherings.”


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As for others, he advised them to do their own risk assessments, based on their own health and vaccination rates in the community and to practise basic health measures such as good hand hygiene, wearing a properly fitted mask and limiting social contacts.

“That will limit the spread.”

He also encouraged everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated — whether a first, second or third dose.

He said all “health system partners”, including hospitals, pharmacies and public health were prioritizing the administration of booster doses and vaccines for children five to 11. Currently, just over 30 per cent of children in that age group have had one shot. Just 35 per cent of Ontario residents 70 and over — the first group eligible — have had booster shots. Anyone over 50 in Ontario is now eligible for a third dose. Moore says that, if uptake is slow, third dose eligibility could be expanded to include anyone over 18 sooner than the current plan of early January.


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Vaccines appear less effective at stopping transmission of Omicron than other variants, Moore said, but they likely offer strong protection against severe illness.

Moore also said the province is looking at a plan to administer daily rapid tests for health workers who are isolating because they are high-risk contacts, which would allow them to continue working.

There are growing concerns about the impact of Omicron on staffing levels in hospitals, long-term care and elsewhere.

And, while there is some suggestion that Omicron might be less virulent than other variants, Moore said it is too soon to be certain.

“I hope it is less severe, but we are planning for the worst. Hoping is not a strategy.”

Even a less virulent variant could easily disrupt the health system because it is so easily spread, he said.

Ontario also introduced tougher guidelines for long-term care and retirement homes, including mandatory vaccination for all general visitors and routine rapid testing of all staff, students, volunteers and caregivers, whatever their vaccination status.

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