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People wait outside a COVID-19 assessment centre, in Scarborough, Ont., on Dec. 2, 2020.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Experts advising the Ontario government say the province needs to be very careful with loosening public health measures as a risky period of the pandemic lies ahead.

The province’s science advisory group says more infectious variants of COVID-19 will likely make up 40 per cent of cases by the second week of March.

The group says declines in cases and hospitalizations that followed strict lockdown measures have begun to slow.

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Projections show hospitalizations will likely rise as variants spread, and intensive care capacity will be strained over the next month.

The group says vaccinating high-risk communities and older people will drive down hospitalizations and deaths.

It also says the province will need to react quickly with strong public health measures when flare-ups happen.

Meanwhile, Ontario is reporting 1,138 new cases of COVID-19 today and 23 more deaths linked to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 339 new cases in Toronto, 204 in Peel Region and 106 in York Region.

Ontario says 1,094 cases were resolved since Wednesday’s report.

Today’s data is based on nearly 66,400 tests.

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Another 19,112 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were given since the last daily update.

A total of 621,960 vaccine doses have been administered in the province.

There have been 297,311 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario since the pandemic began, 280,324 of which have been resolved and 6,916 were fatal.

Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay, Ont., remain under a stay-at-home order but the province recently loosened restrictions for all other regions.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says results from COVID-19 vaccinations so far are encouraging enough that she thinks the need for massive lockdowns could be over before the end of the summer. But Tam says some of the more personal measures, like wearing masks and limiting close contact outside our households, may be with us longer. The Canadian Press

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

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