During the media brief on December 15, Dr Paul Roumeliotis of the Eastern Ontario Health unit (EOHU) appraised the public on the situation surrounding the new Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus and how it may affect public health orders going forward. There were 1,808 new cases across Ontario since the day before, with the majority occurring in unvaccinated people, and six cases in the EOHU are confirmed to be Omicron.
The Omicron variant spreads very quickly, almost three to four times as fast as the Delta variant which itself spread much faster than original strain. All six Omicron cases in the EOHU have been very mild, with no need for hospitalization, but the long-term effects are unknown, so caution is recommended. Current vaccines are only 30 to 50 per cent effective against infection by the Omicron variant, but 70 to 80 per cent effective against hospitalization; this means that while fully vaccinated people may get infected, it is unlikely to progress to the point of hospitalization.
Notably, the vaccine booster shot is at least 75 to 80 per cent effective against infection by Omicron. Thus, the current advice from the EOHU is to prioritize getting the third dose, especially for people over 50. Meanwhile, double-vaccinating those who don’t yet qualify for the third dose is strongly encouraged, as is adhering to all public health measures. Limit social gathering and non-essential travel, wear a properly fitting three-layered mask, and maintain six feet of physical distancing.
Enhanced health measures have already been implemented in retirement and long-term care homes, and if cases continue to rise, other public health measures may be implemented. Roumeliotis cited further proof of vaccination requirements and reinstating capacity limits, as well as making the third dose available for people under 50 and shortening the interval between doses.