Andreas Laupacis is Senior Deputy Editor at CMAJ.
The Ontario COVID-19 Science Table just provided a master class in clarity, honesty and the importance of science. Their brief about Omicron, presented yesterday by Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, is a must read for all Canadians.
The Science Table convincingly showed that Omicron spreads like wildfire and there is a good chance it is as severe as previous strains. Even if it turns out to cause slightly less severe disease than other variants, its ability to spread rapidly will kill many people and leave more with symptoms of long-COVID. Three doses of vaccines work much better than two and likely provide about 75% protection against COVID-19. If Ontario continues its current rate of vaccination and standards of social distancing, the province’s historic maximum number of daily SARS-CoV-2 cases will likely be exceeded before Christmas and for sure before the new year. Dramatically increasing both the delivery of third doses of vaccine and the stringency of social distancing, along with liberal use of rapid testing, gives us a chance of avoiding disaster.
The public rarely sees the detailed information provided to policy makers in real time. The Science Table has given us that opportunity, which allows us to hold politicians, our institutions and ourselves accountable.
Based on this information, how can the Ontario government possibly allow 10,000 people to sit one seat apart from each other in the Air Canada Centre, often yelling and not correctly wearing masks? (The Montréal Canadiens played in an empty arena last night.) If Ontario’s government is too timid to act, how can the directors of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) allow games to go ahead that have a high chance of being super-spreader events? If MLSE allows the games to continue, how can fans willingly put themselves in a position where they have a good chance of spreading the virus to their community?
We are all tired of this virus. Most of us, including members of the Science Table I suspect, thought we’d be in a much better place 2 years in. That makes us angry and discouraged. But ignoring reality and not using the effective tools available to us will only make things much worse. The Ontario Science Table has done us the favour of clearly sharing real-time scientific information about Omicron. With knowledge comes responsibility. If governments, institutions and individuals don’t make sensible decisions, we can’t say we didn’t know.