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COVID-19 vaccination level must top 85 per cent to avoid a fall lockdown, Doug Ford’s science team says


COVID-19 vaccination level must top 85 per cent to avoid a fall lockdown, Doug Ford’s science team says

Ontario needs to boost COVID-19 vaccination levels “substantially above” 85 per cent and reduce person-to-person contacts to avoid a fall lockdown and potential crowding of hospital intensive care units, says the science table advising Premier Doug Ford.

“Among the unvaccinated, we do expect to see a rapid increase in the number of seriously ill people needing hospital care as workplaces and education reopen in September,” the table said in a brief based on new modelling and released late Wednesday afternoon.

“We do not expect to see the same proportion of severely ill cases in the vaccinated.”

In Ontario, more than 76 per cent of the eligible population over age 12 is fully vaccinated, with the unvaccinated accounting for the majority of infections and hospital admissions.

The modelling projections note Ontario is faring better than several countries in the fourth wave and came hours after Ford announced a proof-of-vaccine certificate system for non-essential businesses such as gyms, restaurants, theatres and sports venues.

It takes effect Sept. 22.

Ford said the goal is to improve protection levels in higher-risk indoor spaces and provide an incentive for millions more Ontarians to get their shots so they can go to movies, work out and have dinner inside a restaurant as the weather turns cooler.

“We need to avoid lockdowns at all costs,” Ford told a news conference.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the modelling suggests “Ford’s strategy of waiting until the very last moment to take action has jeopardized our province’s reopening.”

Calling the more highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 “an acute threat to public health,” the volunteer science table said it’s more than twice as contagious as the original strain and the risk of hospital admission is “two to three times higher” after becoming infected.

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The vaccine certificates, vaccine mandates and ongoing outreach to under-vaccinated areas will help control the fourth wave that began over the summer, according to the modelling prepared by teams at five Ontario universities.

In a mid-range scenario, the province could see 4,000 daily cases by Oct. 1 — up from an average of about 700 this week and nearing the peak seen in the third wave last spring. The forecast drops to fewer than 500 daily in a best-case scenario.

“We are confident that Ontario is currently trending between the projected medium and best-case scenario,” said Alexandra Hilkene, press secretary to Health Minister Christine Elliott.

“There’s no question the months ahead will require continued vigilance.”

An unlikely worst-case projection has Ontario topping 9,000 cases by the end of the month. Ontario has never reached the worst-case scenario forecast by the science table.

In the best-case scenario for hospital intensive care units, there will be 200 patients in ICU from mid-September and into mid-October rising to 900 in a worst-case projection. ICU occupancy topped 900 in the third wave, severely limiting the ability of hospitals to function normally.

“We’re extremely confident we have the capacity to withstand the numbers we expect to see in hospital ICUs,” said a government source, speaking anonymously to discuss internal matters.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have more than tripled since Aug. 1, to 339 patients in hospital as of Wednesday’s report. That includes 163 patients in intensive care units and 96 on ventilators to help them breathe.

In previous waves, health-care officials said surgeries in hospitals became pinched once ICU admissions across the province hit 150 patients with COVID-19 and were severely limited at 350 patients.

The third wave saw Toronto hospitals transporting ICU patients with COVID by air ambulance to hospitals in other cities to make room for incoming patients — a system that narrowly prevented Toronto hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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