WEATHER ALERT

New COVID wave likely imminent, city microbiologist warns

Advertisement

Advertise with us

Omicron subvariants are gaining ground across the globe, and Manitoba is no exception.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.

Omicron subvariants are gaining ground across the globe, and Manitoba is no exception.

A new summer wave of COVID-19 transmission could be soon headed this way as existing Omicron strains start to take over.

Subtypes of the Omicron variant — BA.4 and BA.5 — are on the rise in Winnipeg and could become dominant strains of the virus. The subvariants are driving surges of transmission in several other countries, as documented by the World Health Organization, after officials in South Africa first detected them in January. Both BA.4 and BA.5 are considered to be more contagious and better at evading immune responses, but there’s a lack of evidence about whether they cause more severe illness.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Another COVID-19 wave is likely imminent and it’s time now for people who only have two doses of vaccine to get their third shots, said Winnipeg medical microbiologist Dr. Philippe Lagace-Wiens.

BA.5 currently accounts for about 10 per cent of sampled positive COVID-19 test results in Manitoba, a provincial spokesperson stated Tuesday. That’s an estimated 10 cases of BA.5 a week. Overall, Cadham Provincial Laboratory aims to sample 10 per cent of all positive COVID-19 results, which is roughly 100 samples per week. Only positive PCR test results are part of the sample, even though most Manitobans have access only to rapid antigen tests.

Over the past month, levels of BA.4 and BA.5 in the city’s wastewater have risen from barely detectable to moderate. Only trace levels were found starting in May, but those variants have become more prominent in the north and south ends of Winnipeg, according to wastewater data from mid-June published by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Levels of these subvariants are rising as the dominant COVID strain — Omicron subvariant BA.2 — declines. Levels of BA.2 are still high, even though they are on a downward trend.

Another wave is likely imminent and it’s time now for people who only have two doses of vaccine to get their third shots, said Winnipeg medical microbiologist Dr. Philippe Lagace-Wiens. Expanding eligibility of fourth booster doses will be necessary, but “there does need to be a bit of a balancing act,” with that expanded rollout, he said, because immune protection decreases over time. Ideally, people would be boosted in time for a surge, but not too far in advance of it.

Currently, fourth doses are open to Manitobans 50 and older, as well as First Nations residents 30 and older. The rollout should be expanded to health-care workers sooner than later, Lagace-Wiens said.

He’s not advocating for a resumption of widespread COVID-19 public-health orders, but long-term care residents and other immunocompromised Manitobans need to be protected.

“I think we need to be ready and sort of psychologically prepare ourselves (for the idea) that we might need to return to some restrictions,” Lagace-Wiens said.

He noted there is still a “significant disconnect” between COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, which leaves room for hope a future wave won’t cause serious illness.

Neither the provincial government nor Manitoba public-health officials have publicly warned about another wave or signalled any move toward re-imposing restrictions. During his most recent public appearance in May, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said fourth-dose eligibility would likely be expanded this fall, in time for an anticipated surge of infections.

Across Canada, the BA.5 subvariant is present in 20 per cent of confirmed positive test results. Although it’s present in only about three per cent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario, rates have been doubling week over week since it was first detected, according to a mid-June evidence and risk assessment report from Public Health Ontario (http://wfp.to/oej). The report raised concerns that BA.5 and other Omicron sublineages could reverse downward trends and cause a summer surge in COVID-19 cases, and some Ontario-based experts spoke out publicly this week to warn the summer 2022 wave has already begun in that province.

katie.may@winnipegfreepress.com

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

Report Error Submit a Tip

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

COVID-19: Latest News

LOAD MORE COVID-19: LATEST NEWS