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Does B.C. need another COVID-19 circuit breaker? Here's what doctors are saying

Vancouver -

The announcement of tough new COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario has left many B.C. residents wondering if their government will soon follow suit.

Protect our Province B.C., a group of independent health-care workers and researchers, including some prominent medical doctors, has already called for a three-week circuit breaker to combat unprecedented levels of COVID-19 transmission fuelled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

On Monday, Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a retired emergency physician who spent years at Vancouver General Hospital, and is part of the group, told CTV News the province has been entirely reactive in its policies since the first wave of the pandemic, and that needs to change because of Omicron’s infectiousness.

“You want a grade (for B.C.'s Omicron health policy)? D, F, take your pick,” she said.

A circuit breaker, which in Filiatrault’s view would at the minimum close non-essential businesses and reduce capacity at others below 50 per cent, would be a pause aimed at slowing transmission.

But not everyone agrees that new restrictions are necessary. Dr. Brian Conway of the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre argued B.C.'s current measures could suffice – if they're properly enforced.

"The main problem we would have with stricter measures is: Would people follow them, or try to find ways around them?" Conway said in an interview with CTV Morning Live on Monday.

Conway argued that better access to rapid tests and following through on the existing COVID-19 restrictions – which would include more policing of social gatherings – would help the province through this latest phase of the pandemic.

He also noted that COVID-19 hospitalization numbers haven't seen a major surge in recent weeks. There were 220 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in B.C. as of Friday, up about 15 per cent from the previous week, but well below the province's all-time high of 515 recorded back in April.

"If hospital bed capacity, ICU bed capacity is threatened, that's what really triggers circuit breakers," Conway said. "We're not there yet in B.C."

Dr. Christopher Labos, an epidemiologist and cardiologist based in Montreal, who is also not part of the group, was more circumspect.

“It’s a question of priorities. It’s a question of balancing risk,” Labos said.

“If you let businesses stay open, you're supporting the economy, but you risk allowing the virus to spread. And it's not an easy thing to know where that line is,” Labos added.

Meanwhile, Protect our Province B.C. has predicted if something isn't done to curb transmission, the rapid spread of Omicron could quickly impact "every single industry," causing staffing shortages of 20 to 30 per cent as employees stay home due to infection or exposure.

The group also argued hospital resources are already stretched too thin dealing with many ailments that went unaddressed in recent months, as the Delta variant caused a spike in serious cases of COVID-19, largely among the unvaccinated.

"We have increased hospitalizations not only from Delta patients but also from all the chronic disease management cases that have waited until the very last minute to come into hospital to actually get care," Dr. Amy Tan said.

"Our entire system continues to be over-burdened and over-stretched and short-staffed and I'm going to say short on morale."

Both Dr. Conway and Dr. Labos agreed that Omicron still has the potential of overwhelming the health-care system.

Labos suggested the province might further look at options that may not overburden businesses, but could target areas with transmission, by potentially closing restaurants and further delaying in-person school starts.

Filiatrault advocates that everyone “up their mask game” and that the issue of ventilation in schools, long-term care, and hospitals can be tackled more holistically.

“It doesn't matter that you have six people at the table. Doesn't matter that you have magic Plexiglas around you. This floats in the air,” she said.

Ontario's latest restrictions, announced Monday morning, include a ban on indoor dining at restaurants and new limits for social gatherings. The province also ordered gyms to close, similar to what B.C. health officials did last month.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Andrew Weichel Top Stories

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