Will Omicron be the Variant That Stole Christmas?
People across Canada are being advised to adjust their holiday gatherings and travel plans, owing to growing concerns about the latest variant of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Manitoba chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin unveiled new modelling that suggests the Omicron variant will take hold in the province early in the new year, which could further overwhelm already-strained hospital resources.
The modelling, which says Manitoba could see up to 1,000 new cases a day in January, came amid news that COVID-19 cases are spiking in Quebec and Ontario, and the Omicron variant is expected to overtake Delta as the most dominant variant in Ontario.
The federal government, meanwhile, is once again advising against non-essential travel – a week before the busiest travel season of the year.
As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, every province is crafting its own approach to the latest wave/variant — in this case, Omicron. Ontario is reintroducing capacity restrictions and shortening the length of time between second doses and boosters from six months to three.
Alberta, meanwhile, despite all the grave warnings related to this highly contagious variant, thought it wise to allow unvaccinated people to attend indoor gatherings.
The Manitoba government is, so far, following its usual path-of-least-resistance playbook, which means it’s largely relying on urgings and recommendations. It seems highly unlikely the province will formally restrict or ban holiday gatherings, especially among vaccinated folks.
It’s going to take concerted effort from us as individuals to minimize transmission risk to one another.
That means it’s going to take concerted effort from us as individuals to minimize transmission risk to one another. And thankfully, we are not helpless in this fight — especially since, unlike last year’s code-red Christmas, we now have vaccines in our arsenal.
And so, if you haven’t yet, get vaccinated. If you are eligible, prioritize getting your booster shot. Be judicious about holiday gatherings. Limit your contacts as much as possible. Stay home if you’re feeling unwell. Get a PCR test if you are symptomatic. Remain vigilant. Practice physical distancing. Avoid crowds.
In other words, do all the things we should have been doing — and most of us have — since March 2020.
World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted: "Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant. I need to be very clear: vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis. It’s not vaccines instead of masks, distancing, ventilation or hand hygiene. Do it all. Do it consistently. Do it well."
The availability of vaccinations, coupled with a largely reopened world, has meant vaccinated people could live more recognizable lives in 2021. But it has also meant, in many respects, that guards have come way down. Omicron — which one Japanese study estimated to be more than four times more contagious in its early stages than Delta, and is conservatively estimated to be present in at least 77 countries — is a stark reminder that COVID-19 is not done with us, nor us with it.
At the 21-month mark of this life-limiting marathon, people are understandably tired and frustrated, especially with our political leaders’ seeming refusal to learn the painful lessons from ghosts of pandemic waves past. "Learning to live with the virus" is not a justification for half-measures and a failure to confront behaviours that contribute to COVID-19’s persistent and cyclical impact on our lives.
As for Manitobans — well, most of us, anyway — we know what we need to do. And, to echo Mr. Ghebreyesus, we need to do it all, do it consistently, and do it well. Our health-care system quite literally depends on it.