We must slow the spread of the Omicron variant

By MPP Toby Barrett 

As we come out of the first few weeks of 2022, we enter a New Year that will be dominated by the need to adjust to new realities . . . one being the alarming increase in hospitalizations attributed to the highly contagious Omicron variant. 

Unlike other variants throughout the pandemic, evolving data from Public Health Ontario is showing that while the Omicron variant is less severe, its high transmissibility has resulted in a larger number of hospital admissions relative to ICU admissions. Staff absenteeism is rising and affecting workplaces across Ontario due to Omicron infection and exposure, including in hospitals and schools. 

In response to Omicron, people with mild symptoms are asked to not seek testing to ensure publicly-funded testing is available for the highest risk settings to help limit transmission, maintain critical work forces and to protect the most vulnerable. Anyone who is sick should help protect their community by staying home. 

Real-world experience and evidence in Ontario reveal approximately one per cent of Omicron cases require hospital care. The rapid rise of Omicron cases, which may soon number in the hundreds of thousands, is causing hospital capacity to become overwhelmed. 

According to experts, if one in 100 cases goes to hospital, it means that with this rapid increase in transmission, the number of new cases requiring hospitalization will also rapidly increase daily. For example, 50,000 cases per day, would mean 500 hospital admissions per day, which is greater than the peak daily hospitalizations of 265 per day from last spring, when hospital were under significant strain. 

On January 5, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health reinstated Directive 2 for hospitals and regulated health professionals, instructing hospital to pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to protect critical care and human resource capacity. 

As part of Ontario’s response to the Omicron variant and the recent trends that showed a very large increase in hospitalizations, all publicly funded and private schools moved to remote learning on January 5, and will continue in this manner until at least January 17. 

In recognition of the impact the Omicron variant and additional public health measures have on small businesses, the government is expanding the Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program.  Eligible businesses required to reduce capacity to 50 per cent, such as smaller retail stores, will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 50 per cent of their property taxes and energy costs, while businesses required to close for indoor activities, such as restaurants and gyms, will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 100 per cent of their costs. A full list of eligible business types will be made available when applications for the program open later this month. To improve cash flows for Ontario businesses, effective January 1, 2022, the government is also providing up to $7.5 billion for a six-month interest- and penalty-free period for Ontario businesses to make payments for most provincially administered taxes. 

Omicron isn’t like the other variants – this is a problem that could only get worse. We must do everything we can to slow the spread of Omicron and protect our hospitals. 

As with every year, we can continue to work together for the common good – to meet the challenges of onslaughts like Omicron, and seize the opportunities of pending economic recovery. 

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk