TORONTO - The fast-moving omicron variant is fueling a surge of new infections. Not exactly the ‘positive’ start many were hoping for at the beginning of a new year. In just one week, the 7-day rolling average of new infections in Ontario jumped from 8,318 new cases up to 14,435 (January 4).
Furthermore, Public Health Ontario cautions that daily counts are underestimated and do not reflect the true number of infections within the community. So far, any hopes of this year starting out better than 2021 appear to be fading as fast.
Once again, Ontario has implemented a ban on indoor dining, has forced gyms to temporarily close their doors, lowered capacity limits for most businesses and has returned students to remote learning. For the next three weeks, these measures will remain in place until the situation may be reassessed. This modified “Stage 2” brings little joy to families, children and business that have been doing their part to help stem the spread of the virus.
Throughout the two years of multiple lockdowns and restrictions, restaurants have lost more than 408 days of indoor dining due to closures. Gyms have been forced closed for more than 395 days.
While businesses try to recover from the impacts of Covid-19, only 35% of small firms in Ontario have reached normal revenues, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). For others struggling to pull through the pandemic, the CFIB says the average small business debt from Covid-19 is an alarming $190,000.
The weight of that debt has left many worried about the future of their business and the ability to repay the government aid in the months ahead. The CFIB estimates that roughly 18.5% of businesses are actively considering bankruptcy.
With the healthcare system bracing for a surge of infections in the coming weeks, health officials maintain that vaccination is the best way to protect against severe infection and further restrictions. Yet, despite more than 88% of eligible Ontarians (aged 12 years and over) considered fully vaccinated, the Ontario government indicated the measures are “time-limited” and necessary to “blunt transmission and preserve hospital capacity”.
There may be a silver lining to the unsteady 2022 start. World Health Organization (WHO) officials suggest the highly transmissible Omicron variant is less severe than previous strains. As reported by Reuters, a WHO official told reporters that emerging evidence suggests Omicron affects the upper respiratory tract causing milder symptoms - unlike previous variants when the virus would cause severe pneumonia.
He cautioned that while the observations appear promising, more studies are required to prove the severity of this variant. In the meantime, he also echoed the message of global health leaders: that vaccination is the best way to reduce the impact of the variant.
Hopefully this “phase” of the pandemic will be short lived allowing for a more positive outlook for the year ahead.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter