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Health experts worry about another COVID-19 spike as Christmas rapidly approaches

TORONTO — As we approach Christmas, health experts are concerned that indoor gatherings this holiday season could lead to a spike of new COVID-19 cases in the new year.

On Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to implement a provincewide lockdown beginning on December 26.

According to a recent poll from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute, one-third of Canadians say they will ignore public health guidelines and celebrate the holidays indoors with family and friends this year.

With Christmas quickly approaching, health officials across the country are once again reminding Canadians that the pandemic is far from over.

“I’m still worried that people still don’t see this as being an issue that relates to them,” Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday. “ICU colleagues of mine are seeing half of their units filled up with COVID patients and that a good number of patients are fully functional and young patients and not coming from nursing homes.”

“So please don’t put your hands too close to the fire and assume that this is just the old, the frail, the weak, long-term care residents… it’s not” he added. “It could be you, it could be some in your family that you least expect could get this terrible disease and die from it.”

Over the weekend, a new strain of COVID-19 in the U.K. forced most of the country into another lockdown just days before Christmas. The new strain was first identified in September, but made headlines over the weekend after the U.K. submitted its findings to the World Health Organization.

Initial reports indicate that this new mutation is 70 per cent more infectious than the previous strain, however it does not appear to be any more deadly.

According to Reuters, 62 per cent of COVID-19 cases reported the week of Dec. 9 were due to the new strain, compared to 28 per cent three weeks earlier. 

In response, the Canadian government announced that effective Monday the country would be restricting travel from the U.K. for 72 hours in an effort to keep the new strain of the virus out of Canada.

When asked what this new strain could mean for Canadians celebrating the holidays Sharkawy said, “It means that we need to be that much more cautious about our exposures to one another. We need to be much more vigilant about masking, about distancing, about limiting our contacts and this is a true test and a challenge given the fact that our holidays are rapidly approaching and that temptation to get together is just really really high.”

He added, “We know people have arrived from the U.K. even before this travel ban was put in place. We can’t afford to be anything but ultra cautious right now.”

On Saturday, Canada added more than half a million COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the global pandemic, adding more than 100,000 cases in the last two weeks. 

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