Ontarians Should 'Reconsider' Holiday Plans Due To Growing Concerns Of Omicron Variant

Head of Ontario's science table says people should postpone big gatherings and travel.

Toronto Associate Editor
Ontarians Should 'Reconsider' Holiday Plans Due To Growing Concerns Of Omicron Variant

Even though the holidays are a time to celebrate, the scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, Dr. Peter Juni, told Narcity that Ontarians should think twice before visiting loved ones this year due to the growing concerns about the new Omicron variant.

"Meet with your closest friends or closest family, and postpone big family gatherings to summer, full stop," Dr. Juni advised. "Reconsider your travel plans. There is no way right now that this won't be a headache. [...] What's coming is a highly transmissible variant that is also evading our immune system partially. We need to deal with that. There is no time right now and no opportunity to pretend it won't come — it will come."

According to Dr. Juni, who is also an epidemiologist, the new Omicron variant is "considerably more transmissible" than other variants that have been seen so far, but it is yet to be determined just how virulent the new strain is. The World Health Organization, however, has already dubbed Omicron a "very high global" risk.

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Ontario reported its first two cases of the Omicron variant on November 28, and more cases have since been reported across the province, with one of the most recent cases being discovered in the GTA. A restaurant is being investigated by Toronto Public Health over a potential Omicron case, too.

"The challenge here is that it's so transmissible, and it can infect so many people in a very short timeframe that our health care system could struggle again," Dr. Juni said. "So we need to get ready here, we need to up our game, immunity-wise. Third doses for those who are eligible already, more first and second doses, rapid rollout of vaccines in children 5 to 11 — all of that holds. But we also just need to reconsider how we handle the Christmas holidays, et cetera, and we need a little bit more restrictions, we need a little bit less contact, a little bit less potential for transmission of the virus, during the next few months."

Several public health units across Ontario have already reintroduced stricter COVID-19 health measures due to surges of cases in the region, with Windsor-Essex County Health Unit being the latest to do so.

Dr. Juni also mentioned that anyone planning on flying across Canada or outside of the country to see family over the holiday season should "for sure" cancel their travel plans.

"We just need to be aware that we don't understand yet how long we will be able to push back Omicron from taking over Ontario or Canada," Dr. Juni said, and added that it "doesn't make sense" to travel due to increased risks of transmission.

"Why would you travel now? Why would you now meet as part of a larger gathering? It's not the time for that, I'm sorry to say."

The feds have already implemented stricter travel rules for international travellers, including barring any foreign nationals who have recently been in Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa or Zimbabwe.

Last holiday season, Ontarians were advised to only celebrate with loved ones in the same household or carry on with the festivities virtually. However, exceptions were made for those who lived alone so they wouldn't be, well, alone over the holidays.

Ontario previously released some guidelines for gatherings this holiday season in late November, and the province has even more recently announced that it is "prepared" to deal with the new variant.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

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