Variants the big unknown as London area swamped by third wave

London and Middlesex County reported 129 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, the first day of Ontario's stay-at-home order – topping a two-week surge driven by more contagious variants and outbreaks.

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New coronavirus cases in London and area surged to their highest level since January, topping a two-week swell, with the top public health boss warning the virus variants are a wild card.

There were 129 new cases but no new deaths reported Thursday in London and Middlesex County, just as Ontario’s stay-at-home-order kicked in. It’s the largest single-day jump in cases the region has seen since new cases eclipsed 140 in January.

“Those two statistics together are remarkable,” Chris Mackie, medical officer of health, said of the new cases and the unchanged death toll.

“We’re seeing case counts virtually as high as we’ve ever seen, very close to the peaks of Wave 2, and accelerating upwards quickly. The death count remains very low, fortunately. Hopefully that continues. We know it will increase from the zeroes we’re getting now.”

The region’s death toll remains at 190 since the start of the pandemic.

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New daily case counts have risen dramatically over the past two weeks. On March 24, the London area had just 31 new cases. The next day, there were 43.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit is now consistently reporting new cases in the triple digits. More than 120 infections were reported on four of the last five days COVID-19 data has been released.

Mackie said the more contagious variants of the virus — nearly 500 of London and area’s total COVID-19 cases have been linked to them, including nine additional ones on Thursday — are the big unknown.

If people adhere to restrictions and stay home, COVID-19 numbers could come down, and quickly, Mackie said.

Still, he was pulling no punches about London’s reality.

“There’s no sense we’ll be out of this in the very short term,” he said.

There are almost 1,000 active cases in the area.

Six Western University residences are in outbreak, spread that’s also linked to the variants, prompting the school to ask its on-campus students to head home early.

Mayor Ed Holder was blunt: “The way our numbers are trending, they’re not looking good.”

The 100,000th vaccine dose was given in the area on Thursday. Roughly 20 per cent of the eligible population of London and Middlesex County is vaccinated with at least one shot, Mackie estimated.

And more pharmacies in London will soon be able to vaccinate those 55 and older, Holder said, saying Ontario Premier Doug Ford was receptive to his complaints that just two northwest locations are giving out doses.

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London’s explosion in cases comes as the province is plunged back under a state of emergency, its third in the last year, and a month-long stay-at-home order, with all non-essential businesses closed to in-person customers.

“People are beyond tired. They’re nervous and scared,” Holder said.

The increased restrictions are necessary to stem the tide of the third wave, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said. Intensive care units are seeing more COVID-19 patients, and increasingly at younger ages than seen previously.

London Health Sciences recently took in seven critically ill patients from the Toronto area and Thunder Bay. A total of 13 people are in intensive care here with COVID-19 as of Thursday.


Recent daily new COVID-19 cases in London and Middlesex County

Wednesday, March 24: 31 new cases

Thursday, March 25: 43

Friday, March 26: 54

Saturday, March 27: 46

Sunday, March 28: 78

Monday, March 29: 57

Tuesday, March 30: 46

Wednesday, March 31: 97

Thursday, April 1: 84

Friday, April 2: 122

Saturday, April 3: 122

Tuesday, April 6: 76

Wednesday, April 7: 126

Thursday, April 8: 129

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