Police patrol outside a children’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Scotiabank Arena, in Toronto, as anti-vaccine protesters gather, on Dec.12, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Police patrol outside a children’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Scotiabank Arena, in Toronto, as anti-vaccine protesters gather, on Dec.12, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

‘Incredible urgency’: Health experts say COVID-19 Omicron variant requires response

Ontario official says Omicron is dramatically more transmissible than any other COVID-19 variant

A health expert in Ontario warned Thursday that the Omicron variant is an incredible threat while the country’s top doctor cautioned that public health care in Canada is “stretched dangerously thin.”

“It could be the worst wave of the pandemic yet,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s science table.

Brown said public health measures must cut contacts in half if the province is to avoid having 10,000 daily cases before the holiday season.

Ontario reported 2,421 daily cases — its highest since mid-May. It also had nine more COVID-19 deaths, pushing Canada past a grim milestone of more than 30,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

Brown said Omicron is dramatically more transmissible than any other COVID-19 variant. It requires a quick and extensive response, including a “circuit breaker,” until people can get their booster vaccine dose, he said.

“There is an incredible urgency because of the speed of which it spreads.”

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, wrote in an annual report on the state of public health in the country that the pandemic has exposed long-standing cracks in the system.

“The public health system lacks the necessary resources and tools to carry out its critical work, and is the subject of ‘boom and bust’ funding cycles that leave us ill-prepared in the face of new threats,” Tam wrote.

The report said it is too early to know how the new variant will affect Canada’s pandemic response.

Health officials across the country are weighing additional measures to deal with the Omicron threat as infections rise significantly.

Premier Francois Legault was to announce new restrictions in Quebec, which reported 2,736 new daily infections — its highest tally in 11 months.

Legault called the situation critical in a post on Twitter.

Canada surpassed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths in May and vaccination efforts across the country slowed the deadly pace.

Health experts, urging people to get a third dose, said vaccines will continue to play an important role with the Omicron variant.

“We do have a tremendous amount on which to base hope, not least of which are the vaccines,” Brown said. “But it must be hope built on action. Anything we can do now — whether as an individual or a province — can help.”

In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe urged residents to conduct themselves with caution. But, he added, it doesn’t mean they have to stay home.

Moe also encouraged residents to use rapid test kits before gathering for the holidays.

Saskatchewan decided Thursday to open booster shots to all eligible residents over the age of 18 starting Monday. The time required between the second and third doses was reduced to three months from five.

Moe said case numbers in the province are reasonable at the moment, but he added the government is preparing for the Omicron variant.

“We have a challenge in front of us yet again.”

—Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Canada surpasses grim milestone with more than 30,000 COVID-19 deaths

RELATED: Alberta braces for more Omicron, ramps up COVID-19 testing but loosens health rules

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