UPDATE: When Niagara Region corrected an error in data reporting that showed significantly lower cases, it was still good news, with case numbers coming down, but still relatively high. There were 164 new cases Saturday, 105 Sunday, 160 on Monday, 101 Tuesday and 146 new cases Wednesday.
The current restrictions across Ontario are unlikely be lifted until June, when cases should be coming down and 75 per cent of the population should have received one dose of a vaccination.
The provincial lockdown is set to be lifted on May 20, but Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara’s acting chief medical officer of health, says he doesn’t think reopening will be safe or sustainable by then.
“I’m sure that’s not the news anybody wanted to see,” he says, “but the data is telling us that’s going to be the situation that gets us to a sustainable reopening.”
He referred to Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public officer of health, who has said health restrictions could be lifted when 75 per cent of Canadians have received their first vaccination. At the rate Ontario is now getting those first shots into arms, that could be accomplished by June, Hirji said, if there are no further problems with the supply of vaccine.
In Niagara, we’re increasing vaccinations at about 5 per cent per week, with 26 per cent vaccinated at the start of last week, and 31.5 per cent with their first dose by Monday, closely mirroring the provincial rate.
However, while the provincial number of new cases has been trending downwards, with the number of daily cases dropping below 4,000 for the first time in weeks, Hirji says he can’t say the same for Niagara. Only 24 new cases were reported Monday, and 33 on Sunday, when there was an average of 175 new daily cases the week before, but those unusually low numbers early this week are likely a problem with the data reported from the province, rather than a reflection of actual cases, he said.
However, hospital and intensive care unit admissions are definitely trending upwards, and as a “lagging indicator,” are expected to continue to grow “until we are well past the danger zone in ICUs.”
While the provincial messaging is helping to drive down cases, Hirji said he’d like to see people doing a better job of staying home to limit infections even more.
Federal modelling is showing a 20 to 30 per cent increase in people staying home would help flatten out the upwards trajectory of cases, he said.
With the right conditions met by June, restrictions could be lifted on personal services such as hair salons and barbershops, malls might be open, stores will be able to increase their capacity, and restaurants could open with outdoor dining, Hirji said.
We may even see students back at school by late May or early June, he added.
Physically distancing will remain, we will likely still have to wear masks indoors, and we’ll continue to use a lot of sanitizer, he said. “Those are the easy measures we can continue to follow.”
Although Hirji talked about vaccine possibly being diverted from Niagara to go to hotspots elsewhere in the province, where it can do a better job of saving lives, he said Monday he isn’t seeing any sign of that happening. Instead, he is expecting more doses arriving in Ontario will cover those areas.