The head of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says that it is “very clear” that Ontario is now in the middle of a sixth wave of the pandemic driven by a relaxing of restrictions in the province.

“Oh, we’re in the middle of it,” Dr. Peter Juni told CP24 Tuesday night when asked whether he thinks the province is in the midst of a new wave. “When you look at our wastewater, it's very clear. You can call it whatever you want, you know; whether it’s a resurgence of the Omicron wave we had or a sixth wave, the point is really to understand this is not a BA.2 wave.”

He said the highly infectious Omicron subvariant cannot be blamed for Ontario’s rising case count and said it has much more to do with ‘throwing caution to the wind.’

“The point here really is it's entirely our responsibility what we're seeing and we just got a little bit too much ahead of ourselves and here we are,” Juni said. “And we just have our task at hand to keep the slope of the wave upwards relatively flat so that we are not challenged again in our hospitals.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Ontario have risen by more than 23 per cent compared to a week ago, with 790 patients currently in hospital.

Juni estimated, based on viral levels measured in wastewater, that Ontario is currently seeing somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000 new infections per day. The real number of cases is almost impossible to measure because testing in the province has been severely scaled back.

The Ford government has been moving ahead with lifting COVID-19 restrictions in the province, with virtually all restrictions set to lift in April.

When the government announced its plans several weeks ago, health officials said that a rise in cases was to be expected with any easing of restrictions but that the province now has the tools it needs, such as vaccines and drugs, to manage the impact of the virus.

In a statement to CTV News Toronto Tuesday, Ontario’s Ministry of Health did not specifically say whether it sees the province as being in the middle of a new wave, but did say that Ontario hospitals are equipped to cope.

“As Dr. Moore has previously said, indicators are expected to rise as Ontarians increasingly interact with one another. However, thanks to our high vaccination rates and natural immunity, as well as the arrival of antivirals, Ontario has the tools necessary to manage the impact of the virus,” the ministry said in its statement. “The latest modelling shows that our hospitals and health system can manage any of the projected scenarios, while not compromising our ability to continue addressing the surgical backlog caused by the pandemic.

“The Chief Medical Officer of Health will continue to monitor the data and evidence on an ongoing basis, as he has throughout the pandemic.”

However Juni warned Tuesday that the modelling projections are “just a scenario” based on a moderate increase in transmission corresponding with a moderate change in behaviour.

“That's not what we're seeing anymore. We see more than that, people mask less and they have more contacts,” Juni said. “Therefore, you can expect that all numbers will be higher than what we projected in the upper limit. It will go more towards a worst case scenario.”

A number of doctors and health officials have said there should not be any urgency in lifting some of the most basic health measures, such as masking in crowded or high-risk settings.

Juni said the idea that mask restrictions will lift and never come back “probably won’t play out this way. We just need to be aware of that.”

“If we now lift masking for instance in our congregate settings etc., this could be very, very challenging.”

He added that “we first need to ride this out before we lift any more restrictions and strongly recommend to people again: please mask, please get vaccinated.”

Epidemiologist Dr. Raywat Deonandan also spoke with CP24 Tuesday night and said that lifting of restrictions should not be tied to arbitrary calendar dates, but rather to measurable epidemiological indicators.

“I anticipate just as night follows day, that the rising cases will be followed by rising hospitalizations and a rise in deaths, probably less so than we have had previously in the pandemic due to the power of vaccination, but unavoidably so.”

He said tools such as mask wearing, vaccinations and symptom checks should be kept for “as long as possible.”

Dr. Allan Grill, chief of family medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital, told CP24 that he is concerned about rising cases among his patients, but also about people not seeking treatment for other illnesses because they are trying to avoid the virus.

“The last thing we want to do is to have patients who are not seeking care because they're worried about COVID and worried about leaving their homes and all of a sudden you have a bunch of sick people with COVID and on top of that, you have people that aren't managing their other health care needs that we have to look after,” he said. “So we're going to continue to do our best with the resources that we have.”