COVID-19 infections are on the rise and omicron could supercharge daily case counts, federal modelling says

COVID-19 cases could quadruple to 12,000 a day in January if 'omicron successfully establishes': PHAC

New modelling released today by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) suggests the number of COVID-19 cases could increase sharply in the coming weeks as the country grapples with another wave of delta infections and the highly transmissible omicron variant.
While there is a lot of uncertainty about how many cases might be reported, an increase from the current level of over 3,300 cases a day is likely, PHAC said, because Canada is experiencing a gradual but steady increase in infections.
The national rT — the metric that tracks the average number of people one infected person subsequently will infect — is now over one. That means the pandemic is again in growth mode.
Pointing to early findings from South Africa, where omicron was first identified and case counts have skyrocketed, PHAC said cases could quadruple to 12,000 a day in January if omicron successfully establishes and the current levels of transmission are maintained.
Omicron’s greater transmissibility and the potential for reduced protection from prior infection/vaccination could drive this resurgence, PHAC said. The effectiveness of the current slate of COVID-19 vaccines against omicron is still under review.
As of December 9, there have been 87 confirmed cases of omicron reported in seven Canadian jurisdictions. To date, all reported cases of omicron in Canada have been asymptomatic or mild.
Even without omicron circulating widely, PHAC modelling suggests Canada could still be grappling with another wave of delta cases in the new year.
If the current level of transmission is maintained, cases stand to double to between 6,000 and 7,000 a day in January. If transmission levels increase, a delta-driven wave of roughly 12,000 cases a day is also possible, PHAC said.
Canadians between the ages of 5 and 11 are the most likely to contract COVID-19 right now given the low vaccine coverage in this demographic. The infection rate among kids aged 5 to 11 is over 20 cases per 100,000 people — four times higher than the rate for any other age group.

New outbreaks reported in schools

Hundreds of new COVID outbreaks have been reported in the nation’s schools and child care centres in recent weeks, driving up the infection rate for kids under 12.
COVID-19 cases in children often do not involve severe illness. To date, PHAC said, there have been over 380,000 reported cases in children and youths up to 19 years of age, with less than one per cent involving severe illness.
PHAC said the best way to blunt the spread of the virus is to ramp up the immunization campaign for people 5 to 11 and roll out third doses for other age groups.

PHAC data demonstrate just how effective the COVID-19 shots have been at keeping people out of the hospital. Unvaccinated people between the ages of 12 and 59 were 32 times more likely to be hospitalized for the virus than those who have had two doses.
Unvaccinated people over the age of 60 are 16 times more likely to end up in the hospital than the fully vaccinated. That’s a positive sign, since older adults are more likely to produce a less robust response to vaccinations.
Modelling suggests hospital capacity can be kept at manageable levels if booster shots are widely available and Canadian kids get their shots. If the booster shot campaign or the rollout of vaccinations for kids 5 to 11 slows down, it’s likely the nation’s hospitals will be overrun in the new year, PHAC said.
While there is still considerable uncertainty regarding the potential for omicron to evade immunity and increase severity, rapid resurgence in cases could potentially strain our still fragile health care system, said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.
Heeding public health advice, completing our primary series of COVID-19 vaccines, getting a booster dose when eligible and keeping up with basic personal precautions — like wearing a well-fitted, well-constructed face mask, avoiding crowding, and improving ventilation and other layers of protection — continue to be our best and safest way forward.
John Paul Tasker  · CBC News