Ontario's top doctor says COVID-19 response is 'lightyears ahead' of SARS

Elisabetta Bianchini
·2-min read

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Looking back at a year since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Canada, in Toronto, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said he would have liked to have more information earlier in the pandemic, but the province was “lightyears ahead” of the response to SARS in 2003, calling that timeframe “painstakingly slow.”

“I always would like information sooner, the more information the better, the more science the better, but as compared to SARS, we were lightyears ahead of what we had to face back then,” Dr. Williams said. “We had to work most of the time in the dark.”

“This is a new era for us... My challenge has always been to listen as much as I can to all of the recommendations coming in and to be as up to date as possible.”

Dealing with new COVID-19 variants

Dr. Vanessa Allen, the chief of medical microbiology at the Public Health Ontario Laboratory, confirmed that 34 cases of the B117 COVID-19 variant, initially detected in the U.K., have been confirmed in Ontario. She added that there is evidence that this variant is both more transmissible and may cause more severe disease.

Dr. Allen shared that a screening test has been introduced by Public Health Ontario that looks for one of the mutations that is in the B117 variant, as well as the variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Some of the situations where this test is performed includes samples that come from a travellers confirmed to have COVID-19 and sample from outbreaks, particularly those that are believed to be more “aggressive,” or “super-spreader” events.

The province is also performing a point prevalence study on all of the samples that were detected positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 20.

Dr. Allen said these samples continue to be sent to Public Health Ontario to “ensure that we have an immediate snapshot of the prevalence of variants in Ontario.”

The province is also using whole genome sequencing across the laboratory system to detect early variants if and when they emerge.

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