Ontario 'absolutely not' ready to move into Step 3, scientific director says

The scientific director of the Ontario science advisory table says the province is “absolutely not” ready to move into the next step of the reopening plan due to the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant.

Dr. Peter Juni described the COVID-19 variant as a “completely different beast.”

"If you have uncontrolled growth with (the) Alpha (variant) after four weeks, we have roughly 6,000 cases. But after the Delta, you have around 60,000 cases. This shows you how careful we need to be," Juni told CP24 Wednesday evening.

"What we now need is roughly 75 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated and we need to see how step two of the reopening works out. We only see that roughly after two and a half weeks after we started with step two. So, we need to wait now, be patient and not get ahead of ourselves. It's an absolute no-go to rush this."

"What we now need is roughly 75 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated and we need to see how step two of the reopening works out. We only see that roughly after two and a half weeks after we started with step two. So, we need to wait now, be patient and not get ahead of ourselves. It's an absolute no-go to rush this."

When asked why Ontario's COVID-19 situation is different from other Canadian provinces that have fully reopened, Juni said it's because the Delta variant accounts for about 80 per cent of all new cases in the province.

"The only reason for what we're seeing right now is that we are much more connected to the U.K., therefore we have (the) Delta much earlier than the rest of the provinces, but they will struggle too at a certain time," he said.

Ontario is supposed to remain in Step 2 for at least another 14 days, meaning that a wide swath of indoor venues and businesses, such as gyms and movie theatres, will have to remain close until at least July 20.

However, business leaders and several local politicians are calling on the Ford government to enter Step 3 ahead of schedule. One of them is Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown.

He told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday that he believes it is "time we show the public some more goodwill" amid rapidly improving public health indicators and rising vaccination rates.

"If you look at the targets for stage three, we have exceeded all those vaccination thresholds and I really want to get our economy going," Brown said. "It pains me to think that we still have sectors that are not allowed to be open. It pains me to know that in the middle of a heat wave, we've got indoor recreation facilities that our kids can't use, and we've got indoor pools that kids can't use. I want to get kids' sports back on. I want to see indoor dining opened up, and I want to see our economy opened up again now that the sacrifices we have made have paid dividends in terms of health outcomes."

Ontario's daily case counts have plunged in recent months and are now consistently among the lowest the province has reported since last September.

The pressure on Ontario's healthcare system has also lessened and on Wednesday, Brown said that there are now only three COVID-19 patients receiving treatment at Brampton Civic, which had been one of Ontario's hardest-hit hospitals.

At the same time, the top public health official for Peel Region has expressed concerns about the Delta variant, which has already prompted officials in a number of other countries, including Israel and the United Kingdom, to re-impose some public health restrictions.

“We do know that the thresholds for vaccination that were identified previously were in the face of the Alpha variant; not the Delta variant and we do have obviously a recognition that each day, in the province we are vaccinating upwards of 200,000 to 250,000 people so every day that we advance reopening we're essentially leaving 250,000 doses of coverage on the table,” Peel’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh warned during Wednesday’s briefing.

“We do also recognize that it has been a long lockdown and that there have been many sacrifices but we also know, and most importantly for us in public health, is that we want this reopening to be the last reopening and the best way to do that is to make sure that we are getting to as high, broad second dose coverage as possible.”

The Ford government has previously moved up the start of both Step 1 and Step 2 by a few days but Ontario’s new Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Kieran Moore has said that he wants to wait the full 21-day interval before moving to Step 3 given concerns about the Delta variant.

Support for moving up step 3 among GTHA leaders has also been tepid.

“We've come so far and rushing us too quickly into the next step of the provinces reopening plan could put all the gain that we have made to date at risk,” Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said during a briefing later on Wednesday afternoon.

“The first two steps of the reopening were largely focused on outdoor activities. Well, step three focuses on large outdoor events and indoor activities, which we all know are significantly higher risk. So I have asked the province to continue its cautious approach. Let's make sure we never have a lockdown again.”