New COVID-19 cases due to Omicron in Ontario expected to peak this month, health minister says

New cases of COVID-19 linked to the Omicron variant are expected to peak this month in Ontario, Health Minister Christine Elliott said Wednesday, while an announcement on lifting current public health restrictions is likely coming later this week.

“We are starting to see glimmers of hope. The sacrifices you are making now mean we are beginning to see signs of stabilization,” Elliott said at a morning news conference.

Further hospitalizations are starting to slow, she added, and are now doubling every two weeks or so. Earlier this month, they were doubling every few days.

Hospitalizations are anticipated to peak in the weeks after new cases do so, but February will still be difficult for the province’s health-care system, she said.

Elliott was joined at the news conference by Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, and Matthew Anderson, CEO of Ontario Health. 

Public health measures and restrictions introduced in early January appear to be helping to slow transmission of the virus, Moore said.

Restaurants were ordered to close for indoor dining. Museums, zoos and other such attractions were shut down, as were gyms, indoor recreation facilities, cinemas and indoor concert venues. Retail settings and personal care services were capped at 50 per cent capacity.

Schools were also moved online for two weeks, and classes are resuming in person this week.

Moore said at the time that the restrictions would remain in place until at least Jan. 26. Speaking today, Elliott suggested an announcement on lifting those measures is coming at some point this week.

Meanwhile, Ontario this morning reported there are 4,132 people with COVID-19 in hospital, down 51 from the day before. 

According to the province, 53.4 per cent of those patients were admitted to hospital because of COVID-19 while 46.6 per cent were admitted for other reasons and tested positive once there. Doctors and public health experts, though, say so-called “incidental” cases are still placing immense strain on the wider system.

Moreover, there were 589 patients with COVID-19 in the province’s ICUs, marking the highest point since June 5 — shortly after the peak of the third wave of the pandemic in Ontario. The province says 82.1 per cent of those people are in ICU for reasons directly linked to COVID-19, while 17.9 per cent were admitted for other reasons.

Though ICU numbers continue to rise, there may be some cause for cautious optimism. In an exchange on Twitter Tuesday, Anthony Dale, CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, said the rate of new admissions to critical care “does appear to be decelerating.”

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