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Ontario Provincial Police check travellers entering Ontario from Quebec as new COVID-19 measures take effect in Hawkesbury, Ont., on April 19, 2021.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

A region in southwestern Ontario reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in the province on Wednesday, with local health officials saying an extremely transmissible variant of the virus was likely behind a recent surge in infections.

Waterloo Region recorded 71 new infections, surpassing the 60 reported in Peel Region and 54 in Toronto, which have both been major COVID-19 hot spots throughout the pandemic.

Local officials said the majority of cases are associated with close contacts and social gatherings, and area politicians called on the provincial government to help.

“We need help to put this fire out IMMEDIATELY,” NDP legislator Catherine Fife, who represents Waterloo, wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

Fife and Kitchener Centre legislator Laura Mae Lindo wrote to the premier and health minister earlier this week asking for support. They raised concerns about infections outpacing more densely populated areas of the province and said their region hasn’t received an equitable allotment of vaccine doses.

“Constituents remain concerned that our region continues to be shortchanged, exacerbating our situation locally,” they wrote.

Ontario’s overall COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been declining in recent weeks, but Waterloo’s figures appear to be moving upward.

The region, which includes the cities of Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge, reported 494 active cases as of Wednesday afternoon. Local officials have also noted an increase in hospitalizations and intensive care admissions.

The region’s public health unit said the highly contagious Delta variant is behind the pattern.

“We are concerned that our trends are not improving as they are in other communities in Ontario because of the Delta variant,” Dr. Julie Emili, associate medical officer of health, said in a community presentation Friday.

As of Wednesday, there were 32 confirmed cases of the variant in Waterloo Region – the third-highest count in the province, after Peel and Toronto. Provincial health officials have noted, however, that the process of confirming Delta variant cases is slow and cases may actually be higher.

An outbreak among homeless people in a congregate setting amounted to 87 cases as of Tuesday, Waterloo said. Emili said that outbreak had seen “a large number of cases, over a short period of time when compared to other outbreaks.”

Ontario’s science advisers have said the Delta variant is about 50 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which drove the punishing third wave of infections this spring. People with one vaccine dose are also less protected against the Delta variant.

The variant has also been linked to a dramatic spike in cases in the northeastern Porcupine Health Unit, the only region that didn’t lift health restrictions on businesses and gatherings last week as it battles the surge.

The province designated Waterloo Region as a Delta hot spot last week, prioritizing people there for accelerated second vaccine doses. However, the region warned that those requesting a new second-dose date might be in for a long wait.

“Depending on the volume of requests and vaccine supply, it may take 2-4 weeks to be contacted about an earlier second-dose appointment,” a Tuesday news release said. “Please be patient.”

Ontario reported 384 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and 12 deaths from the virus.

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