Infectious disease expert questions why Manitoba delta variant modelling remains incomplete

An infectious disease modelling expert questions why the Manitoba government’s own model on the highly infectious delta variant isn’t done yet or hasn’t been released publicly.

“The fact that the models are still not available, despite opening up very broadly, brings up questions about exactly what is guiding their decisions,” said Souradet Shaw, an epidemiologist, infectious disease modelling expert and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba.

Provincial officials have been asked several times in recent weeks for local disease modelling predictions for Manitoba heading into fall that take into account the delta variant, originally detected in India. 

On Monday, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Jazz Atwal was asked again by reporters and said it remains “a work in progress.” 

Atwal said staffing shortages were an issue early in the process, but those have since been resolved.

Delta variant modelling data for Manitoba remains incomplete, although the recently relaxed public health orders were created using many other variables and models, according to Atwal.

Most mandated restrictions for businesses in Manitoba were lifted on the weekend, including an end to the mask mandate.

“I would find it surprising to see scenarios where the parameters used for Delta could result in more optimistic results, compared to other variants that have already been modelled in Manitoba, especially in the context of the surprising decision to remove the indoor masking mandate,” said Shaw.

Manitoba announced last week that schools won’t be required to mandate mask use either.

Experts anticipate a delta-driven fourth wave in the province sometime this fall, largely among unvaccinated people. Only those 12 and up are currently eligible to be immunized.

“With kids about to head back to school and the concerning experiences with delta in other jurisdictions, we really need this modelling, and yet the [Progressive Conservatives] continue to put their staffing cuts ahead of the needs of Manitoba families,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said. “The province needs to get this modelling done and release it immediately — no more excuses.”

Delta is considered significantly more contagious than the original strain of coronavirus. Some experts suggest it may be spreading 50 per cent faster than the alpha variant, originally detected in the U.K. That variant is considered 50 per cent more infectious than the original strain.

Atwal said the complexity of the computer modelling process can take a long time to complete. On June 11, he said work was underway on future models that would factor delta into predictions.

Shaw suggested a model that takes the impact of delta into account this fall isn’t something the province would be starting from scratch.

“I can’t speak to the specifics of the model, mostly because there has been no transparency around how the model is built,” said Shaw, “but two months does seem like a very long time.”