Dalhousie Study Links Lifted Restrictions to COVID-19 Surge Amid Omicron Outbreak

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An insightful report was recently published by six researchers from Dalhousie University, indicating that government-imposed restrictions during the initial two years of the COVID-19 pandemic effectively aided in controlling the disease’s spread. However, they also found that cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities escalated when these constraints were lifted and the highly-infectious Omicron variant emerged.

By March 2022, Nova Scotia had terminated its COVID-19 state of emergency and removed the mandate to wear masks in most public areas. Unfortunately, the consequence was an unprecedented surge in cases the following month.

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According to Gustavo Martinez, one of the study’s researchers, the sharp rise in cases, infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities can be partially attributed to increased mobility observed among Nova Scotia’s population.

The researchers employed publicly available data, pulling from diverse resources like Google’s community mobility reports, Bank of Canada’s Stringency Index, covid19tracker.ca, and government response data.

The study shed light on Nova Scotia’s impressive vaccine administration rate. While Martinez acknowledged that immunization against COVID-19 could not entirely avert the contraction of the disease, it did significantly decrease the risk of severe illness resulting from it.

He also addressed the challenge of maintaining restrictions as the pandemic marches into its second year, citing the growing difficulty of sustaining any intermediate to long-term restrictive measure due to the widespread incidence of ‘pandemic fatigue’.

As the Omicron variant presented itself, natural progression coupled with relaxed measures amplified the number of cases. However, Martinez conveyed the essential takeaways for the general public from the study. These include receiving the vaccination to prevent severe illness, circumventing large gatherings, and adhering to mask-wearing.

Final observations from the researchers suggested that Public Health, when implementing restrictive measures, must regard three key factors; the characteristics of the circulating virus strain, the population’s level of immunity, and the movement dynamics of the populace.