The president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is questioning Canada’s new round of COVID-19 restrictions put in place to stop the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, despite reports that the variant causes less severe illness than its predecessors.
“If #omicron continues to result in very few admissions to hospitals/ICUs, how long will it be before provinces remove their new restrictions and lessen the panic they’ve created. U.S. public health officials say there is no need to close schools or businesses,” Dan Kelly, who is also the chief executive officer and chair of the business advocacy group, wrote on Twitter.
Kelly’s comment comes after Ontario’s top doctor said Dec. 21 that there haven’t been any known intensive care admissions in the province due to Omicron—nearly a month after Canada’s first two cases of the new variant were detected in Ottawa on Nov. 28.
Omicron’s hospitalization rate in Ontario was around 0.15 percent as of Dec. 21—significantly lower than the province’s general COVID-19 hospitalization rate, said Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
Similar findings were reported around the world.
The UK Health Security Agency said on Dec. 23 that a person infected with Omicron is 70 percent less likely to be admitted to the hospital compared to one with the Delta variant, and is 45 percent less likely to require a visit to the emergency department.
The risk of hospitalization due to Omicron was estimated to be 80 percent lower than with the Delta variant, according to a recent study conducted by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and major universities in South Africa.
As the latest variant of concern, Omicron was found to be more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants, probably because it multiplies more rapidly—replicating 70 times faster than the Delta variant—according to a study conducted by the University of Hong Kong.
The study also found that Omicron multiplies more in the respiratory tract, which likely explains why it causes significantly lower infection in the lung than the original SARS-CoV-2.
However, government and public health officials have called for further restrictions and mass vaccinations in response to Omicron.
On Dec. 23, the Quebec government tightened public health restrictions for the third time in less than a week, limiting in-person gatherings to six people starting Dec. 26, while gyms, bars, and schools in the province were abruptly closed following a Dec. 20 announcement.
Other provinces and territories also released tougher COVID-19 restrictions on Dec. 21, including British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
In a statement issued Dec. 23, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) urged Canadians to reduce social contacts and receive a vaccine booster shot.
As of Dec. 22, there have been 3,536 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, reported in 12 provinces and territories, according to PHAC.
While PHAC’s statement said Omicron cases are “expected to add additional strain on the healthcare system” in coming weeks and that the increased hospitalization and critical care admission in Ontario and Quebec are “driving the national trend,” it did not mention the exact numbers of intensive care admissions caused by the variant.