An expected, but likely different, COVID-19 wave is “almost baked in” for this fall, the scientific director of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table says.
Dr. Peter Juni told CTV News Channel on Saturday that while Canadians need to be aware of an upcoming fall wave, there is hope for a “honeymoon period” this summer as long as no new COVID-19 variants emerge.
But the challenge will come once the weather starts to cool and immunity against infection starts to decrease, he says.
“It will be different than before because nearly all of us will have had some [exposure] to the virus multiple times,” Juni said.
“Typically through vaccines only or a combination of vaccines and infections, some of us just through infection, and then it will just depend on what we see there [and] how strongly we need to react then.”
Juni suspects that Canadians 50 and older will need to get another booster shot at that time to protect themselves from serious infection that would require hospitalization.
“If it needs to be stronger then it would be a mass vaccination campaign for all above the age of 17 and, in addition to that, we will need to take into consideration that we might have a few months where masks will be needed indoors again.”
Canada’s provinces and territories have loosened many of their pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates, in recent months.
This also comes as the federal government on Friday announced it would ease a number of travel restrictions starting Monday for those who are fully vaccinated and children regardless of their vaccination status.
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children ages five to 11, and accompanied by a fully vaccinated parent or guardian, will not have to complete a pre-entry COVID-19 test to enter Canada.
Pre-entry tests will still be required for eligible partially vaccinated or unvaccinated travellers ages 12 and older. Children under five are not required to provide a negative test.
Fully vaccinated Canadians also will not be required to mask up in indoor and outdoor public spaces for 14 days upon their return.
This requirement from the federal government had applied even if provincial and territorial rules were less restrictive.
Juni previously told CTVNews.ca that he did not believe this rule was necessary at this stage in the pandemic.
Passengers, meanwhile, are still required to wear a mask throughout their entire journey when travelling by air or rail in Canada.
Travellers also must still use the ArriveCAN app or webpage to provide their contact info and proof of vaccination within 72 hours of arriving in Canada or before boarding an incoming plane or cruise ship.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV News Channel on Saturday that he believes this gradual lifting of measures is a “very reasonable direction to head in.”
“Listen, we still have to be careful. We know there’s a lot of COVID out there, we should still be vaccinated, we should still be wearing a mask, but are we really preventing more COVID from entering the country, meaningfully impacting this current wave with that policy? We are not, and I think it’s very reasonable that they lifted that,” he said.
Juni says some restrictions can be lifted, including at the border, given the landscape is changing.
One challenge though is the potential for more health-care workers to be “knocked out” by COVID-19 if community transmission remains high.
This is on top of the burnout health-care workers have gone through both before and during the pandemic, Juni says.
The number of patients in hospital for COVID-19 in Canada has risen over the past several weeks but remains below the peak seen during the Omicron wave this past winter, figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada as of April 18 show.
In Ontario, the number of people in hospital for COVID-19 appears to have levelled off slightly in recent days and is still well below the peak of the Omicron wave.
Most patients in hospital with COVID-19 currently in Ontario were admitted for other reasons but later tested positive, the provincial government’s data show, while most in intensive care are there for a COVID-related reason.
As of April 22, roughly three-quarters of all people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Canada have been 50 and older.
With files from Rachel Aiello
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