An infectious disease expert says he believes that highly contagious variants of COVID-19 will trigger an "ugly" third wave of the pandemic around April that could send Ontario into a third lockdown.
"The third wave is inevitable," Colin Furness, an expert in infectious disease epidemiology from the University of Toronto, told CTV News Toronto. "And I think the third wave is the big one for us."
Earlier this week, the Ontario government revealed the framework for the regional reopening of the province as COVID-19 case numbers declined to levels not seen since last year.
But as a stay-at-home order is expected to be gradually lifted across Ontario over the next two weeks, Furness worries that COVID-19 variants, including the strains first identified in Brazil, South Africa and the U.K., will be difficult to slow down.
Ontario health officials have so far discovered 228 cases of the U.K. variant, also known as B.1.1.7, and three cases of the South African variant, also known as B.1.351.
"I am really nervous about reopening in the middle of winter," Furness said.
Furness pointed to the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Roberta Place, a retirement home in Barrie, Ont., where the B.1.1.7 variant spread rapidly through the facility, as evidence of how dangerous the strain can be. Health officials said that the variant played a role in how quickly the disease spread between staff and residents, which ultimately lead to the deaths of at least 69 people.
He said he worries the public health measures Ontario is taking now won’t be enough if the COVID-19 variants become the dominant strains in the province.
According to provincial modelling data released in late January, the U.K. strain of COVID-19 is expected to become the dominant source of infection by March in Ontario.
Furness said he believes that sometime around April, Ontario's case numbers will rise high enough that the province will need to close schools and go into lockdown once again. But he said the summer could be better for Ontarians.