The fifth wave of COVID-19 is here. Early evidence suggests that omicron is far more transmissible than previous variants, but our understanding of the virus is still growing. As exhausted, frustrated and angry as all Canadians are, we cannot ignore our reality or simply wish it away.
The medical and scientific community is watching omicron closely, and the next few weeks will help us determine how severe cases caused by the omicron variant will be, even as we anticipate the number of cases to increase significantly. We need to be vigilant until we know more about this variant. But here is what we do know:
- Our health system is ALREADY overwhelmed. Hundreds of thousands of people have experienced delayed care and are waiting for critical procedures. The existing backlog will take years to clear.
- People are dying who have been unable to access care because acute care systems are overwhelmed by COVID-19. Thousands of Canadians are estimated to have lost their lives for this reason.
- Cancer screening has dropped by 25 to 35 per cent. These patients will show up eventually, but they will be much sicker and will need more resources to treat them. Their outcomes will be worse than they could have been.
- Health care workers are exhausted, some to the point of leaving the system altogether. There is no one waiting in the wings to be called up; we are all already in the game.
- Vaccines protect against severe illness and hospitalization. Yes, vaccinated people can carry and even transmit the virus, but data clearly shows that their outcomes are significantly better overall and put less strain on our hospital system. People choosing not to be vaccinated are contributing to the overwhelming of the system and the lack of access to care for our families, friends and neighbours. The physical and mental health of our population will continue to decline. People will continue to suffer because the health care system has no space for them.
We need to get serious about vaccination; the consequences of choosing to be unvaccinated; third doses; proper masks, ventilation and air filtration; rapid testing; and limiting contacts.
It is absolutely heartbreaking for Canadians to once again have to modify their holiday celebrations. As a mother, a wife, a friend, and a Canadian, I truly feel your angst, your sadness, and your frustration. As a health care worker, I cannot overstate how difficult this has become for us. Our system is breaking and so are the people in it who are desperately trying to care for our patients.
I remain convinced that we can get out of this in time. But doing so requires us to act.
We are asking governments across Canada to listen to the experts to ensure proper measures are put in place now. Omicron is here. We cannot stop it, but we can still mitigate some of the damage if we act rapidly.
We are asking all citizens to once again help us slow the spread: keep your contacts low, wear a well-fitting mask such as an N95 mask in public, get vaccinated with three doses, and ensure your children get their vaccines too. These measures are not new, but they remain our best tools to prevent further chaos and to one day get this pandemic under control.
Dr. Katharine Smart
President, Canadian Medical Association