The B.1.1.7 variant is spreading quickly across the country, causing doctors and experts to sound the alarm about a third wave of COVID-19 infections.
Provinces have been easing restrictions after cases began to fall across the country in late January, but the B.1.1.7 variant began spreading in earnest in mid-February.
Ontario and Alberta are each reporting more than 1,000 cumulative B.1.1.7 variant cases at 1,131 and 1,028 respectively as of March 16. B.C. is not far behind with 921 total cases of the variant.
“It’s the presence of cases caused by new variants that’s alarming,” Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.
He said that in Ontario, variant cases have already exceeded 50 per cent of all cases.
“Curve has gone upwards and upwards,” he said. “It’s skyrocketing at the moment.”
The B.1.1.7 variant of the virus is believed to be 35 to 40 per cent more contagious. Other experts are echoing the same concern over the surge in variant cases.
“I think there's no doubt that we're entering the third wave,” Dr. Tasleem Nimjee, physician lead of COVID-19 emergency response and head of medical innovation at Humber River Hospital, told CTV News Channel.
She said that the size of the wave is what we should focus on.
“What's our growth going to look like and how steep is that curve, how big is that wave going to be,” she said. “I think we still need at least a week to 10 days to start to gauge what that slope looks like, what the angle looks like.”
Getting vaccines into arms is also a necessity of driving back this third wave.
“Let's move. Let's move with vaccination, as fast as we can because we are in a race here against the virus and against, especially, the variants of the virus,” Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, told CTV News Channel.
Grinspun has been critical of the Ontario government opening too soon.
“We actually predicted that March be seen as the beginning of the third wave,” she said.
She hoped she was wrong, but recent data suggests otherwise, and the variants are the issue.
“Look at what's happening, look at that data,” she said. “Look at the variant that is increasing, it doesn't increase by itself it finds a way to really spread.”
Experts agree it could take another lockdown to significantly flatten the curve.
“The last lockdown that we had was too soft, sounds depressing I know, too soft to keep the variants under control,” said Juni. “What we need to do is, we need to go harder.”
Nimjee also believes it’s time to take stricter measures. She said, in light of falling case numbers earlier this year, people relaxed a bit and let their guard down, and now it’s time to put it back up.
“Daily counts came down, but the concern was, while this was happening, we had increasing rates of growth especially driven by variants, primarily the U.K. variant,” she said. “So, people need to keep that guard up.”
It’s the continued easing of restrictions instead of enforcing them that is the driving force behind the spread of the variants.
“We haven't done several things,we haven't had stringent public health measures, and we haven't restricted movements even between one another,” said Grinspun
This lack of urgency to bring in restrictions and reinforce public health measures will result in more deaths and an overwhelmed healthcare system.
“I think that by the time they will wake up it will be too late,” she said. “We will have lost many, many more people, and our doctors, medicine, and others in the news will be scrambling to provide services.”