Modeling suggests COVID-19 cases in Ontario could rise in late February

TORONTO (Reuters) - New COVID-19 cases in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, are likely to rise again beginning in late February as a more contagious variant of the coronavirus spreads, and intensive care admissions could follow in March, a panel of experts advising the provincial government said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Healthcare workers prepare to test passengers as they arrive at Toronto's Pearson airport after mandatory coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing took effect for international arrivals in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo

New cases have fallen sharply in the province in recent weeks. Ontario has reopened some schools and is preparing to lift stay-at-home orders that cover much of region.

Aggressive vaccination and “sticking with stay-at-home” would help prevent a third wave of infections, the panel said in briefing materials.

“There’s little room for error in our response to this threat,” Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s science advisory panel, at a media briefing.

A graph in the briefing showed that if public health measures are lifted, daily new cases could top 15,000 by the end of March under a ‘high’ scenario’, or rise slightly to just under 2,000 in a ‘low’ scenario.

Brown said the province’s vaccination drive has reduced deaths in long-term care homes, but noted that most patients admitted to intensive care units in hospitals do not come from long-term care: “The vaccine campaign makes little difference, right now, to our hospitals.”

To control the growth of new variants, the reproduction number, an estimate of how many other people each patient infects, must be no more than 0.7, Brown said. Right now, it is too high, between 0.8 and 0.9.

Facing scarce vaccines, Ontario and other Canadian provinces have focused on vaccinating healthcare workers, long-term care residents and staff, and remote indigenous communities.

When a reporter asked, “Am I missing something here, or is this presentation actually predicting a disaster?”

Brown said: “No, I don’t think you’re missing anything.”

Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Leslie Adler and Aurora Ellis