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May. 21, 2022 | Saturday
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Hirji: Late-May could bring relief from COVID restrictions — if people stay home now

Niagara’s top doctor says COVID-19 worries could start to ease by mid-May, thanks to vaccinations.

However, that depends largely on people limiting their social interaction for a bit longer – and now is not the time to start acting like the threat is diminished.

“(It’s) absolutely not the time to be taking steps as if we are safer,” Dr. Mustafa Hirji told reporters Monday, noting the province should be tightening restrictions.

The province’s swift reopening, when hospitalizations and cases hadn’t fully flattened out, is a move Hirji for weeks has been saying was the wrong one  amid rising cases of COVID-19 and a surge in variants of the virus.

Based on current modelling predictions by the federal government, Hirji said cases could rise drastically in April.

"Just on this graph you can see just to the month of April, you get the really astronomical cases," Hirji said, showing a chart that predicts a massive spike in cases mid-April.

"Things are not going in the right direction. It's absolutely not the time to be taking steps as if we are safer," he said. Some more restrictive measures likely will be needed in the short term to bend the curve while people who are at the greatest risk get vaccinated, he added.

"We can't lose our nerve now and throw our hands up in the air and really completely reopen, because this is what the modelling shows is going to happen if we do that. I think we actually really need to pull back over these two months to make sure that we keep things under control."

Once we get past Victoria Day, "there'll be the opportunity to really recalibrate and lessen a lot of restrictions in society."

If the province does lock down again, Hirji said it should treat the entire Golden Horseshoe as one unit, "given all the travel, given all the integration between us."

That whole area needs the same higher level of restrictions, he said. "We've seen that the grey-lockdown doesn't really keep cases under control. Hamilton went into that grey-lockdown back in December. It didn't slow their growth of cases," he said, noting it hasn't slowed cases in Toronto or Peel either.

Hirji said Niagara is "in some limited ways" already seeing the benefits of vaccination.

"When we look at infections in the 80-plus age group, we can actually see that their infections are falling while it's rising for other age groups and I think that's a reflection that the 80-plus age group is getting vaccinated."

While Niagara is experiencing another wave and cases are rising, "we've fortunately not seen very large numbers of deaths, yet at least."

However, those not yet vaccinated, mainly in their 50s, 60s and 70s are most at risk "of being hospitalized, most at risk of needing an ICU admission. And we're definitely seeing those numbers still go up because we have not been able to vaccinate them."

Outbreaks at long-term care homes are also much more manageable now that vaccines have been administered.

"It's really night and day of what we see with outbreaks now compared to where we were a couple of months ago," he said.

Previously infections would spread throughout care homes but "now, fortunately, one of those infections appears and it really just seems to fizzle there."

"It's really protecting a lot of lives as a result of us being able to get those residents vaccinated. I hope this is a message that really everybody else in society takes, that these vaccines are really working and we should all be taking them so that we can make sure we get out of this pandemic."

He said it will likely be "a couple more months" until public health is able to get those groups vaccinated to the level that hospitals won't be threatened with high admissions because of COVID 19 cases.

If people do what it takes to keep cases down, he expects restrictions could be eased in late May. If cases are high coming out of a third wave, he said it will likely be another couple of months after that before vaccines will distributed enough to open up.

Until then, the threat of another lockdown remains real, and it's going to take more than "staying the course" to get numbers back down.

The province needs to "absolutely no longer" continue to open and people need to stay home, he said.