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Ontario expanding boosters with Omicron set to overtake Delta in January – Toronto Star

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, has announced further details of the booster as those aged 50 and up become eligible for third shots on Monday.

By Rob FergusonQueen’s Park Bureau

Robert BenzieQueen’s Park Bureau Chief

Fri., Dec. 10, 20213 min. read

Article was updated 1 hr ago

Ontarians are being urged to keep gatherings small for the holiday season with the more contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 rapidly spreading.

After just arriving in November, Omicron could completely replace the dominant Delta strain in Ontario “by the beginning of January” and already comprises 10 per cent of cases, chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore revealed Friday.

But he did not issue any orders to shrink gathering limits — now set at 25 inside and 100 outside — or impose any new restrictions as he announced Ontarians at least 18 years of age will become eligible for booster shots Jan. 4. Those 50 and older will become eligible on Monday.

As the Star reported previously, the province is also extending the proof-of-vaccination system indefinitely and clamping down on questionable medical exemptions for shots.

“The smaller the better,” Moore said when asked about the size of social gatherings.

“I know many already had plans,” he added, urging families to be cautious and assess the risks for friends and loved ones.

“Even with vaccination, it appears with Omicron that you can still transmit it with two doses vaccinated. I would ensure even in those venues going forward that we’d have to be masked in those social settings to best protect our elderly, our frail, and anyone immune-suppressed.”

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said this week the jury is still out on whether Omicron is more dangerous than Delta.

“Emerging data from South Africa suggests increased risk of reinfection with Omicron,” he said Wednesday, stressing “there is also some evidence that Omicron causes milder disease than Delta.”

Moore shot down rumours circulating on Twitter that schools will shut down early for an extended Christmas break because Omicron’s trend toward dominance.

“That may change our approach, but at present we’re not contemplating any early closure or delayed opening of the school system.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Omicron increases the importance for Ontarians to get their first, second or booster shots “to reduce the risk of transmission” and protect the capacity of hospitals to provide a wide range of medical services.

While the province is administering about 70,000 shots a day, the goal is to reach 120,000 soon “given how quickly this is moving,” Moore added, hinting at getting more medical professionals involved.

The accelerated boosters are a change of heart for Moore and the science table of health advisers, who had resisted a broader booster shot program last summer over concerns Ontario was hoarding precious vaccines that could be shared with the developing world.

The Verify Ontario QR code system for proof of vaccination, already used by more than 10 million Ontarians, will be beefed up, forcing those with a doctor’s note excusing them from getting a COVID-19 shot to have it verified by a local public health unit.

That information would then be included on a QR code on a phone or on a printout so they could access services, such as indoor dining in restaurants, theatres or sports arenas. Moore said businesses will be required to use a scanner and enforcement of that will increase.

New Democrat MPP Sara Singh (Brampton Centre) said improving the QR code system and limiting medical exemptions were long overdue.

“We know that legitimate medical exemptions are rare and that the Ford government could have done much more right from the get-go to verify them,” said Singh.

The government believes a small cadre of doctors is handing out bogus exemptions on questionable medical grounds. While the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which regulates doctors, has been barring some from issuing notes excusing patients from getting vaccinated, the problem continues.

“We’ve seen the same doctors giving out exemptions to everyone who asks,” a senior official confided.

But it is not known how many potentially invalid exemption letters are circulating.

The changes come as Ontario hit a six-month high with 1,453 new infections on Friday, though intensive care unit hospitalizations remain stable with 151 COVID-19 patients, 90 of whom are on ventilators.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie


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