TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Ontario is entering a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Chief Medical Officer David Williams said on Thursday, though he added that it was not clear how quickly infections would rise.
New COVID-19 infections in Canada's most populous province rose to an average of 1,427 per day over the last seven days, up from 1,252 in the previous week, Williams said during a news briefing.
"While we are entering the third wave, the question is what type of wave will it be? Is it an undulating wave? Is it a rapidly rising, breaking wave?" Williams said.
An expert panel warned last week that new variants of the coronavirus were spreading rapidly in Ontario and could unleash a third wave of infections.
While mutations in viruses are inevitable, strains identified as "variants of concern" have worrisome changes that may give the virus advantages, increasing transmissibility or reducing the effectiveness of vaccines.
While Ontario has lifted stay-at-home orders, the densely populated Toronto area remains under what the province calls "lockdown" measures, which strictly limit the size of most social gatherings and restrict bars and restaurants to takeout orders.
Most of the coronavirus variant cases in Ontario have been identified as B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. The variant is more transmissible, which makes outbreaks difficult to control. Approved vaccines appear to be effective against it so far.
Canada's vaccination campaign has lagged other rich nations, in part because the country's procurement deals guaranteed relatively few doses of the vaccines in the first quarter.
The Canadian government has distributed some 4.8 million doses so far and 6.8% of Canadians have received at least one dose, federal officials said during a separate briefing on Thursday. Vaccine shipments are expected to rise significantly in the weeks ahead, with more than 3 million doses expected over the next two weeks.
(Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Paul Simao)