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'We must reopen gradually': Peel top doctor suggests building relief policies into pandemic framework

Last Updated Feb 23, 2021 at 5:06 pm EST

A person wears a mask to protect them from the COVID-19 virus while decorating a store window in Kingston, Ontario on Friday, February 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg THE CANADIAN PRESS

We’ve been through two waves of COVID-19 but are we headed towards another?

A panel of Ontario doctors, including Peel Region’s medical officer of health, says there are ways we can prevent or mitigate a third wave of the virus.

Dr. Lawrence Loh says as they say in medicine, starting low and going slow is the first and fundamental principle in any sort of move forward.

So Loh says when it comes to avoiding or moderating the third wave of COVID-19 we need to reopen gradually. Plus, he says our vaccine rollout is also key.

“The last piece really speaks to an ongoing adherence to limiting contact interactions,” he said Tuesday.

“That starts with our border and the new measures brought in place with the border which wouldn’t have helped us in the first wave because most of our disease mostly came from the United States.”

The head of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) says she knows people are excited about the recent drop in COVID-19 cases but the conversation has shifted to new variants of concern which are expected to be the dominant strain in Ontario by mid-March.

RELATED: Stay-at-home order extended in Toronto and Peel, York Region moving to “Red-Control” zone

The medical association has called for Ontario to tighten COVID-19 restrictions in light of more infectious variants spreading in the province.

The group representing physicians has recommended banning indoor restaurant dining and other non-masked indoor activities for regions in the red tier of the province’s pandemic system.

“After projections of up to 40,000 new cases daily in the second wave, which would have resulted essentially in the collapse of health-care delivery as we know it, the current case count feels like nothing short of a miracle,” said Dr. Samantha Hill, president of OMA, earlier this week.

“The existence of an effective vaccine feels like another miracle. Perhaps our biggest miracle, though, is how during these horribly challenging times, the majority of Ontarians have rallied repeatedly, despite personal and fiscal losses, psychological distress, and mixed messaging on social media, to do the right thing. I know we are all weary, but the last year has proven that we can persevere, be steadfast, and resolute in our adherence to public health guidelines.”

“We can protect our most vulnerable for a short while longer while vaccines get distributed, we see our children back in school and we learn about the new variants.  We can only get through this together, but together we can and we will,” Hill concluded.

Loh and his counterpart in Toronto sought to extend strict shutdown measures and a stay-at-home order for their regions last week, arguing the spread of variants and recent reopening of schools made it too risky to ease restrictions.

The province granted their request, extending the strictest measures for those two regions, as well as North Bay, Ont., until March 8.

The COVID-19 hot spot of York Region, however, saw restrictions ease as it was moved to the Red-Control, or second-strictest, tier of the province’s pandemic response system.

York’s top doctor had sought the loosening of measures, saying his region was not seeing “explosive growth” of variants that were first detected in December.

Dr. Karim Kurji said last week that there was a “reasonable handle” on variant cases, arguing the need for strong measures needed to be balanced with economic and mental wellbeing.

RELATED: ‘A transition to a new pandemic’ – Toronto’s top doctor says now is not the time to relax health measures

The province’s economic reopening began earlier this month. The government has said, however, that it has created an “emergency brake” measure that allows it to swiftly move regions into lockdown if cases spike.

On Tuesday, the Opposition called for the government to clearly define what would trigger the use of that brake measure.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government loosened public health restrictions too soon, without a clearly defined plan.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and Green party Leader Mike Schreiner also expressed confusion over the parameters of the measure.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the measure considers a public health unit’s increase in case numbers, variants of concern, and health system capacity.

With files from The Canadian Press

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