Delta COVID-19 variant cases are rising, prompting caution on reopening plans

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“The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” — the Calgary Stampede — will open on July 9, with a few changes given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m hoping people see that we’re doing things responsibly but it’s still going to be a lot of fun,” Steve McDonough, president and chairman of the Stampede board, told Global News.

The parade won’t be downtown this year, and the event will reflect all current public health guidance, he said, but the Stampede will go ahead.

Other provinces are cautiously reopening too, allowing outdoor dining, some shopping and other limited gatherings. But experts wonder if the more transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 might jeopardize some of those big reopening plans, as cases appear to be growing across Canada.

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Evidence from the U.K. suggests that the Delta variant spreads much more easily than other variants that have appeared in Canada so far. It currently represents around 91 per cent of new cases in the U.K., said the country’s secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock on Thursday.

Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, a prominent U.K. epidemiologist, told reporters that estimates of Delta’s transmission edge over Alpha — also known as B.1.1.7 — had narrowed, and “we think 60 per cent is probably the best estimate.”

In Canada, Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario have confirmed to Global News that they are testing for cases of the Delta variant. The remaining provinces didn’t respond to Global’s request for comment by publication.

And cases seem to be increasing.

The B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, in a report on June 2, wrote, “The new variant of concern B.1.617.2 appears to be increasing in number in many jurisdictions, including BC.”

There have been 501 cases of the Delta variant in B.C. as of June 3, according to the BCCDC. Alberta has had 208 cases as of June 8, according to provincial data.

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Ontario predicts that the Delta variant will soon take over in the province.

“The variant that hit India so hard is here and it is on track to be the dominant form of the virus this summer. But we believe we can control it with the right actions,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, at a press conference Thursday.

 'Ontario expands 2nd dose COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for 7 Delta hot spots starting June 14' 1:15 Ontario expands 2nd dose COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for 7 Delta hot spots starting June 14

Ontario expands 2nd dose COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for 7 Delta hot spots starting June 14

Ontario is taking the Delta variant seriously when it comes to its vaccination strategy. The province announced Thursday that it would accelerate second dose appointments for Delta variant “hotspot” areas, in an effort to protect the highest-risk groups.

“That’s why we’re taking the steps that we are today, starting on Monday, to allow for those seven public health unit regions that have significant volumes of the Delta variant to be able to offer the second doses, assuming people have had their first dose within a time period before the 9th of May,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott at a press conference Thursday.

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 'Could the Delta variant put a pause on Ontario’s reopening' 5:25 Could the Delta variant put a pause on Ontario’s reopening

Could the Delta variant put a pause on Ontario’s reopening

One dose of COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t protect from the Delta variant nearly as well as two, said Craig Jenne, an associate professor in the department of Microbiology Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary.

“The evidence on the ground is that one shot of vaccine, so people who receive first dose, do not have full protection against Delta,” he said.

“In particular, it looks like the one shot might only be about 30 per cent effective. So, we need to make sure that people get that second dose, which has been shown to be very effective against Delta — greater than 80 per cent effective when people are fully vaccinated.”

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Given the data, Ontario’s strategy of prioritizing hotspots for second doses might be a good one, Jenne said. “Now it’s time to double down on our effort to contain and limit the spread of Delta and the best way to do that is to get people in Delta hotspots fully vaccinated.”

Still, big events, even outdoors, might not be a great idea, he added.

“I think I’d be quite cautious about Stampede.”

— With files from Reuters and Global News’ Heather Yourex-West

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