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Wednesday, February 8, 2023
COVID spikes elsewhere show preventive measures stillneeded, Hirji says
Dr. Mustafa Hirji. Supplied

Spiking COVID cases in some western provinces and in Nordic countries show Ontario needs to be careful about easing COVID-19 measures, Niagara's top doctor says.

Noting the problems Alberta and Saskatchewan are facing, Niagara Region's acting medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji said countries like Denmark offer lessons for Ontario.

The Danes halted COVID restrictions in early September and are now seeing a huge surge in cases.

“They stopped masking, they stopped social distancing and what they see here is that there’s basically been a new wave of infections,” Hirji said during a COVID-19 update on Monday.

In comparison, Ontario is experiencing a gradual decrease in infections by maintaining basic preventive measures, he said.

The importance of these basic measures is made clear by the fact Denmark has a 75 per cent vaccination rate but is still seeing a case spike since relaxing social distancing and mask wearing rules, Hirji said.

“The imperial advantage here has been both having high vaccinations but also maintaining those other preventative measures going forward because we don’t want to go back on those too fast.”

When comparing the Ontario situation to the current infection spike in the western provinces, Hirji used deaths as his main metric.

“I actually did the math here from the point that Alberta and Saskatchewan opened up in July versus now,” he said.

If Ontario had followed the same pattern, there would be between 65 and 80 extra deaths from COVID-19 in the Niagara region, he said.

He said “65 to 80 people in Niagara are still alive today thanks to our measures to make sure we kept COVID-19 under control.”

“I think that’s a really important thing for us to remember, what the true human cost of it is and why we, as annoying as they are, really want to maintain these COVID precautions.”

Hirjii used data from schools to demonstrate how effective vaccines have been at curbing the spread of the virus.

Elementary schools where kids are unable to get vaccinated account for 77 per cent of school-spread cases. Secondary schools where nearly all students are vaccinated account for only 17 per cent of such cases, Hirji said.

Hirji also noted that statistically a person who is unvaccinated is 23 times more likely to end up in an ICU if they contract COVID-19 than a person who is fully vaccinated.

Cases in Ontario are decreasing but have been rising slightly in Niagara mainly due to Thanksgiving gatherings and increased mobility in the last few weeks, he said.

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