Variants of concern cause more than 40% of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario, experts say


Variants of concern are currently responsible for about 42 per cent of new daily cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, the province's science advisory table said Thursday.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto.(Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Variants of concern are currently responsible for about 42 per cent of new daily cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, the province's science advisory table said Thursday.

The group, made up of health experts and professionals, launched a new online dashboard focused on the variants of concern (VOCs) ahead of revised modelling that is set to be released at a briefing this afternoon.

It shows that the variants continue to spread. The data is more or less right on track with what was predicted in models released by the table in late February.

Critically, the reproduction value — an estimate of how many people each positive case will go on to infect — for VOCs is about 1.24, the table said. Any value above one suggests that the rate of new cases is growing.

Meanwhile, for the "old" variants — those that were present before the current VOCs were circulating — the reproduction value is 0.9.

So far in Ontario, labs have definitively linked 956 cases to the variant first found in the United Kingdom; 41 to the variant identified in South Africa and 28 to the variant found in Brazil.

But those figures are a drastic undercount of the real situation. Specific variants can only be confirmed once the samples have undergone whole genomic sequencing, an intensive process that can lead to reporting lags in the data of up to three weeks.

As of yesterday, however, 6,513 test samples had screened positive for the tell-tale mutation that indicates the presence of a VOC. Labs are still trying to pinpoint specific variants in the vast majority of those samples.

1,092 new cases as Sudbury set for lockdown

Ontario reported another 1,092 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while public health units administered a record-high number of vaccine doses.

The 40,610 shots given out yesterday are the most on a single day so far and come as a pilot project to give 194,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to some adults through pharmacies and primary care providers begins in earnest this week.

A total of 281,714 people in Ontario have now had both shots of a vaccine, according to the province's health ministry.

The new cases reported today include 293 in Toronto, 199 in Peel Region, 79 in York Region and 48 in Thunder Bay — the health unit with the highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita.

An additional 11 cases were also confirmed in Sudbury. This morning, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the province would implement its so-called "emergency brake" to move Sudbury to the grey-lockdown zone of the restrictions framework starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

In a news release, health officials said the decision was made "due to the concerning trends in public health indicators and in consultation with the local medical officer of health.

"From March 3 to 9, 2021, the region's case rate increased by 54.1 per cent to 75.9 cases per 100,000 people," the release said. The health unit is currently in the red "control" tier of the colour-coded system.

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Ottawa: 64
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 43
  • Windsor-Essex: 39
  • Hamilton: 38
  • Waterloo Region: 37
  • Durham Region: 36
  • Halton Region: 33
  • Lambton: 33
  • Middlesex-London: 26
  • Niagara Region: 26
  • Eastern Ontario: 18
  • Chatham-Kent: 10

The seven-day average of new daily cases climbed to 1,252, its highest point in about a month (though it is important to note that, due to a data error, the daily case count on March 8 was artificially inflated by a few hundred infections that should have been reported the previous Saturday).

Meanwhile, labs completed 60,619 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.4 per cent.

Labs confirmed another 35 cases of the virus variant first found in the United Kingdom, bringing the total number so far 956. They also reported 11 and two more cases caused by the variants first identified in Brazil and South Africa.

Public health units also recorded the deaths of 10 more people with the illness, pushing Ontario's official toll to 7,109.

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