An Ontariowide “shutdown” will be put in place to combat an “alarming” surge in COVID-19 infections, Premier Doug Ford said Thursday as intensive care admissions related to the virus surpassed those of the second wave of the pandemic.
Citing the need for drastic action, Ford said the change will take effect Saturday and continue for at least four weeks.
The government is asking Ontarians to limit trips outside the home to necessities such as food, medication and other essential services, but stopped short of imposing a stay-at-home order like it did in January.
Retail stores will see limits on capacity while restaurants will be restricted to takeout, delivery and drive-through service, the premier said.
The government has said schools will also remain open because they are crucial to students’ mental health.
“The decision was not made lightly,” Ford said in announcing the new measures. “I know the toll these restrictions continue to take on people’s mental health and well-being.”
The announcement came hours after the province’s science advisers said stay-at-home orders are needed to control the third wave driven by more contagious and deadly COVID-19 variants.
The Ontario Science Advisory Table said that otherwise, the province could see up to 6,000 new infection cases by mid-April. With the restrictions in place, the modelling data shows there will still be about 800 people in ICUs by the end of April.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the group, said short-term case projections will depend entirely on the public health measures implemented by the government and vaccination rates.
Brown said the province’s vaccine rollout is not reaching the highest risk communities, hampering its impact as an effective strategy to fight the pandemic.
6:09COVID-19: Premier Ford says restrictions work but people still gathering
COVID-19: Premier Ford says restrictions work but people still gathering
He also said that 40 per cent of Ontario residents aged 75-79 and 72 per cent of those aged 70-74 still have not received their first dose of the vaccine.
“We are expanding first dose coverage, but it remains incomplete,” Brown said.
The leader of the official Opposition slammed the Ford government for ignoring experts’ early warnings about the third wave.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the new restrictions fall short of what’s needed, pointing to the lack of paid sick leave, workplace protections and smaller class sizes in schools.
“It’s a too little, too late response by this government to what we knew was coming,” she said. “I’m worried that this failed approach is going to fail us again.”
Experts have been saying for months that COVID-19 infections are happening mostly in workplaces. Warehouses and distribution centers in some hot spots have reported massive outbreaks.
The spread of variants threatens the province’s health system’s ability to deal with regular intensive care admissions and care for all patients, Brown said.
His group said that COVID-19 hospitalizations are up by over 40 per cent over the past two weeks.
Brown said variants of concern are now the dominate strain of the virus in the province.
The science advisory table also suggested Thursday that limiting inter-provincial movement – similar to what was imposed in January and expired starting in mid-February – would help brings the number of new cases down.