Ontario is putting schools online for at least two weeks, temporarily shutting down restaurants and indoor gymnasiums, and suspending elective medical procedures as it faces a record number of cases which public health officials say , threaten to overwhelm the province’s health system.
Premier Doug Ford announced the changes at a morning press conference Monday. He was joined by his ministers of health and finance, as well as the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario and the CEO of Ontario Health.
The new restrictions are part of an amended version of the second stage of the roadmap for reopening the province, which was first implemented earlier last year.
“Our public health experts tell us we could see hundreds of thousands of cases every day,” Ford said of the continuing wave of new COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant.
He said that could mean hospitals would end up with thousands of beds short.
“If we don’t do everything we can to get this variant under control, the results could be catastrophic. It’s a risk I can’t take.”
The province has announced that all public and private schools will switch to distance learning from January 5 to January 17 at least.
Ford said the decision to close the schools, a decision that would last at least two weeks, was made because the province could not guarantee that schools would be fully staffed with so many teachers who would have to be on leave. sickness.
The move comes after last Thursday’s announcement, when Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Kieran Moore said the back-to-school date would be pushed back two days to Wednesday, but would still be in person. Moore said the province wanted to give schools more time to supply N95 masks to staff and deploy 3,000 HEPA filter units.
Although they were repeatedly questioned by reporters on Monday, provincial officials did not provide any list of other specific steps they planned to take to ensure a safe return to school on January 17. .
Closed indoor dining room, new capacity limits
The new restrictions announced today also include:
- Indoor meals in restaurants and bars are closed.
- Only alfresco dining, take-out, drive-thru and delivery are permitted.
- Social gathering limits reduced to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors.
- Retail stores, malls, public libraries and personal care services are limited to 50 percent of their capacity.
- Closed saunas, hammams and oxygen bars.
- Capacity at weddings, funerals and religious services limited to 50 percent of capacity per room.
- Outdoor services must have a distance of two meters between all participants.
- Employees should work remotely unless their job requires them to be on-site.
- Closures of gymnasiums and other indoor recreational sports facilities, with the exception of athletes training for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and certain professional and elite sports leagues.
- Outdoor facilities are permitted but with a 50 percent spectator capacity limit.
- Museums, galleries, zoos, science centers, historic sites, theme parks, festivals and other attractions closed.
- Outdoor establishments authorized with restrictions and capacity limits.
- Indoor meeting and event spaces are closed with a few exceptions, with the exception of those with outdoor spaces, which may operate with restrictions.
The new measures will come into effect on Wednesday, January 5 at 12:01 a.m. and will remain in effect for at least 21 days, until January 26.
New modeling from Public Health Ontario shows that the Omicron variant could eventually overwhelm the entire healthcare system.
Projections suggest hospitalizations could peak by the end of this month, but health officials noted that tightening public health measures would slow the rate of Omicron’s spread.
Non-urgent surgeries suspended
As part of the amended second stage of the province’s reopening plan, Moore reinstated a directive ordering hospitals to suspend all non-emergency surgeries and procedures in order to preserve intensive care capacity.
This measure had been taken during previous waves of the pandemic, contributing to a significant backlog of procedures that the health system had struggled to reduce in recent months.
Elliott said the decision was made due to staff pressures and the need for sleeping spaces in light of Omicron’s growth across the province.
The CEO of Ontario Health, which oversees the province’s health system, said the directive would affect between 8,000 and 10,000 procedures per week.
“It was a tough decision, a high cost, but something that is necessary given what we’re seeing in the numbers,” said Matt Anderson.
Between 1,200 and 1,500 additional beds have been designated to provide care for patients with Omicron, Moore said.
“We predict through modeling that these 1,200 to 1,500 beds will be essential to be able to provide oxygen and care,” he said.
Moore noted that the number of hospitalizations will dictate when the restrictions can be relaxed.
The “tsunami” of Omicron cases is expected to result in 20 to 30 percent absenteeism among employees across Ontario in the coming weeks, he said.
Expanded rebate program for affected businesses
Employers are urged to let employees work remotely “unless the nature of their work requires them to be on site”.
The government has said free child care will be provided to frontline workers with school-aged children. The decision to switch to virtual learning comes less than a week after the government announced it would open in-person schools on Wednesday.
An expanded rebate program for businesses affected by the new list of closures was also announced on Monday.
The government has said that some businesses ordered to close will be reimbursed 100% of property taxes and energy costs, and those that must reduce capacity to 50% will receive reimbursement for half of those expenses.
Ahead of the press conference, Ontario reported 13,578 new cases of COVID-19. This followed 16,714 cases on Sunday and a pandemic peak 18,445 cases the Saturday.
Public Health Ontario recently warned that the daily case count was “an underestimate” given changes in test eligibility and the rapid spread of Omicron.
The number of Omicron cases is increasing
Ontario discovered its first case of the Omicron variant on November 28, just days after South African researchers alerted the world to its existence. About three weeks later, Omicron has become the dominant variant, constituting the majority of new daily infections in the province.
On December 16, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table called for “circuit breaker” restrictions to combat the rapid spread of Omicron and prevent intensive care admissions from reaching “unsustainable levels” of here in early January.
In response, Ontario reintroduced capacity limits in restaurants, bars and retailers on Dec. 19, capping most at 50%. He also imposed their closing at 11 p.m., imposed limits on the sale of alcohol and limited private gatherings inside to 10 people.
Some limits were also placed on sports and extracurricular activities, and capacity restrictions at large venues were also imposed.
But some experts have warned that even these measures were not strong enough to brake the transmission “out of control” virus.
Hospitalizations, ICU admissions on the rise
While a more comprehensive provincial update is expected on Tuesday, below are some key indicators and figures for the pandemic provided by Health Minister Christine Elliott on Monday morning.
The number of people with COVID-19 in intensive care units across the province rose to 248 on Monday, from 224 on Sunday and 214 on Saturday. The seven-day average currently stands at 210.
In total, there are 1,232 people hospitalized with COVID-19, although Elliott noted that not all hospitals report on weekends.
More than 89,000 doses of the vaccine were administered on Sunday, Elliott said, and to date 27,422,363 doses have been administered in Ontario. Almost 91 percent of Ontarians aged 12 and over received one dose of a vaccine, while more than 88 percent received two doses.