Ontario’s third COVID-19 wave is ‘killing faster and younger’

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Ontario has entered the third wave of its coronavirus outbreak, driven by virus strains that are much more contagious and dangerous, provincial health officials said.

“As the new variant spreads, you will see that Covid is killing faster and younger. It’s spreading far more quickly than it was before and we cannot vaccinate quickly enough to break this third wave, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario Covid-19 Science Advisory Table, said Thursday at a news conference.

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In perhaps the grimmest update so far, officials said the main variant spreading through Canada’s most populous province is 50% more lethal, twice as likely to send patients to intensive care units and three times as likely to require ventilation.

Variants of concern are also affecting younger patients: Almost half of those admitted to ICUs from March 15 to March 21 were under age 60 -- and are far more contagious, including through asymptomatic transmission.

Ontario hospitals are under strain, Brown said, with some entire families ending up in intensive care. Meanwhile, only 64% of the over-80 population is vaccinated, excluding those at long-term care facilities. That drops to 39% for people age 75 to 79 and 16% for those 70 to 74. (Overall, Canada has fully vaccinated less than 2% of its population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.)

All of this is expected to push Ontario back to lockdown on Saturday. Premier Doug Ford is set to announce a widening of restrictions on stores, gyms, restaurants and hair salons for 28 days, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported late Wednesday, citing multiple unnamed people.

The new rules are intended to counter the virus’s spread in Ontario, which includes Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. The restrictions aren’t expected to be as tight as the province-wide lockdown imposed in December, CBC reported. Some regions of the province, including the financial capital of Toronto, are already operating under similar rules; Ford’s mandate would extend them to the entire province of 14.7 million people.

Ontario joins a growing number of locations, including France and Italy, that are returning to strict limits on social interactions in an effort to slow the latest virus surge. Even as vaccinations continue, not every area has equal access. Novel variants are hastening the spread, and case rates are rising in many regions.

In Canada, that’s meant tighter restrictions in several provinces. Quebec said Wednesday that it would close schools and non-essential stores for 10 days in two regions to keep hospitals from overflowing. Even British Columbia, which had managed to dodge the worst of the pandemic, isn’t immune: On Monday the province closed indoor dining, worship services and most indoor fitness activities for three weeks.

Canada’s coronavirus efforts were complicated on Monday when health officials across Canada suspended the use of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine for people under 55 for fear of blood clots.

In Ontario, Ford has repeatedly criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government for failing to secure and deliver adequate vaccine supplies to the province. Ontario, which imposed strict measures in December including temporary school closings, had begun to loosen restrictions in recent weeks.

Ontario reported 2,557 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, bringing its total case count to 352,460, according to Public Health Ontario. Almost 17,100 residents have been hospitalized because of the disease, and 7,389 have died from it. The biggest hotspot is Toronto. Almost half of the cases reported Thursday were in Toronto and Peel, a suburban region just west of the city. New daily cases in the province have more than doubled since the first week of March.

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