New restrictions may be coming to combat Omicron variant

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Dr. Sudit Ranade, Lambton's Acting Medical Officer of Health,

It’s like deja vu all over again as provincial public health officials say more restrictions are likely to combat the new highly transmissible version of COVID-19 called Omicron.

The world learned of the variant just two weeks ago. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kerian Moore, said Tuesday it is likely to become the dominant strain of COVID-19 by the end of this week.

While there are reports from South Africa that the variant doesn’t cause as many people to get severely sick, Moore says the sheer number of people infected by Omicron could mean more people in hospitals and intensive care units than ever before. Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Table predicted there could be 10,000 cases of Omicron a day by Dec. 31.

Tuesday, the province clamped down on visitors to long term care homes and retirement homes saying everyone will have to be double vaccinated to enter, although medical exemptions will still be allowed.

Moore said the Ford government’s cabinet would be meeting in the next few days to look at further restrictions, although he did not give specifics.

Moore says vaccination clinics are quickly ramping up with 95,000 doses being given Monday, to help combat severe illness from the new variant.

Booster shots are now available to people over 50, although when registration opened Monday, The Independent found only a handful of open appointments just an hour and a half after booking started.

“But we know getting the vaccine alone isn’t enough,” he told reporters adding people should continue to wash their hands, wear a proper fitting mask, keep their distance from others and “reducing the number of contacts you have.”

It’s widely speculated the province will reduce the number of people who can gather indoors in a private setting to 10 as Chatham-Kent and London-Middlesex have done to fight the variant.

While Lambton County is seeing more cases of COVID-19, it is not in the same situation as London and Chatham-Kent, so Dr. Sudit Ranade does not see the need to order new restrictions at this time. “What we’re seeing is the virus is largely circulating in unvaccinated groups of people, and largely circulating due to social intentional contact with others,” he told reporters Dec. 8.

“The key to changing the driver of transmission is in a largely unregulated and largely unregulate-able setting. And that is going to be one of the key challenges that we have moving forward, especially into the holiday season.”

In the absence of any provincial restrictions, Ranade is urging people to be smart while planning holiday gatherings.

“Small is better, …that’s an important point. The other important point is you need to create an environment where everybody can talk about what makes them comfortable, and what makes them uncomfortable. You need to create a space for people to easily bow out of those events, if they’re not feeling well, if they’re like, I woke up with a headache today. And I don’t want to disappoint anyone but I don’t think I should go. Great, no problem; we want you to stay away if you’re not feeling well in any way.”
And Ranade says for the most part, people gathering together should be fully vaccinated.

The MOH is also warning holiday travelling could be dicey again this year.

“Anyone who might be traveling across the border, even for short trips, check what the rules are right before you go and expect that the rules might change while you’re gone.”
But will Lambton residents have to watch for the pandemic rules to change here?

“It’s a bit of a judgment call,” says Ranade.

“And it’s also getting to the point where the interventions that we have are actually harder, because they require a lot of cooperation for people that we had early on in the pandemic. And then I know that people are just exhausted, so their ability to sort of keep shifting and keep changing according to different rules is being tested. That’s going to be one of the considerations.

“So it’s going to be about (the number of) cases, it’s going to be about what’s happening in the hospital system, it’s going to be about what do we think is people’s ability to kind of cooperate and collaborate on these additional restrictions,” he says.

In Lambton as of Tuesday, there were 82 people ill with COVID-19 and five outbreaks – all but one are in elementary schools. All the schools have less that 10 cases of COVID and only John Knox Christian School has closed because of the virus.
In Ontario, there were 1,429 cases.