Canada Ontario extends stay-home order to six weeks and bans most outdoor gatherings
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Ontario Premier Doug Ford has extended the stay-at-home order by two weeks and has imposed further restrictions on outdoor activities and retail in the hopes of flattening of the COVID-19 surge in the province.
The announcement follows COVID-19 modelling released by the province science advisors Friday, which showed that the province could approach up 20,000 causes a day if strong measures aren’t imposed.
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Ontario’s science advisers say a six-week stay-at-home order and a vaccination rate of at least 100,000 doses a day is the only way to curb the COVID-19 third wave surge.
As of Friday, outdoor gatherings have been limited to household members only, Ford said in a twice-delayed media briefing on Friday. Households with only one member will be allowed to join with one other household.
The province is also shutting down all non-essential construction and limiting outdoor recreational amenities such as golf, soccer and playgrounds.
“We, as a group, are not saying don’t take a walk around and get some exercise,” Ford said, but added that there needed to be measures that target large groups of people who meet in public parks without social distancing.
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“You go by the parks and it’s like business as usual, and I don’t understand it,” he said. “I’ve been up here sounding the alarm bells.”
Big box retail capacity has been capped at 25 per cent. Weddings, funerals and places of worship will only be allowed to host no more than 10 people indoors.
As of Monday, the province will also implement checkpoints at all interprovincial borders and limit border crossings to Manitoba and Quebec, with the exception of essential services such as goods, transit and medical care.
Police enforcement of the stay-at-home order will also be enhanced, according to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Police will have the authority to require any individual who is not in a place of residence to” give an address and ask why they’re out,” she said, during the media briefing.
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Police will also be able to pull over vehicles to check that occupants are only out for essential purposes, she added. Those violating the order could be fined up to $750.
The new authority, she said, will last for the duration of the stay-at-home order.
Inspectors will also visit law offices, accounting firms, warehouses and other locations to ensure that only essential workers are present in the building.
“I’ve never shied away from telling you the brutal, honest truth,” Ford said. “We’re losing the battle between the variants and vaccines … We’re on our heels.”
Several doctors and experts on Twitter have voiced concerns around the measures to increase policing, argueing that the measures could discriminate against low-income and racialized communities, which have already been hit hardest by the pandemic.
“Enhanced restrictions may be needed in Ontario, but we must be cautious of more policing,” tweeted Naheed Dosani, a palliative-care physician and faculty member at the University of Toronto.
“ Low-income racialized people (many are essential workers) have a history of being over-policed. They’ve also been hardest hit by . We can’t police our way out of this pandemic.”
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Health minister Dr. Christine Elliott added that the province will focus 25 per cent of all future vaccine allocations on the 13 public health regions that historically suffered high rates of COVID-19-related deaths, hospitalizations and infections.
Around 700 to 1,000 beds will also be added to build hospital capacity so as to sustain the surge in COVID-9 hospitalizations, Ford added.
Sources on Thursday had hinted at the possibility of a province-wide curfew to clamp down on the third wave. However, onThursday night, cabinet ministers decided against imposing a curfew with some saying that it could cause more harm than good.
“I think the Montreal riots speak to the challenge of both enforcing, and people’s willingness to do a curfew,” Jones said on Thursday.
Variants have accounted for 70 per cent of all recorded COVID-19 cases, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer, said during a Friday afternoon media briefing.
According to the modelling report released Friday, there has been a 67 per cent growth in hospitalizations related to the pandemic as well as a 51 per cent growth in ICU occupancy.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the province’s science advisory co-chair said ICU occupancy from the second wave did not have enough time to empty out by the time the third wave hit. “We’re now filling up our intensive care units on top of what was still there following the second wave and this is one of the reasons that we are in such jeopardy,” he said during the briefing.
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Hospitals were “bursting at the seams” and care was already being compromised, Brown said as the experts urged Ford’s government to order everyone to stay home for six weeks, and ramp up vaccinations as the only way to gain some control of the pandemic.
The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says high case rates will persist into the summer without stronger measures and more support for essential workers and high-risk communities.
The group says vaccines are not reaching high-risk people fast enough to overcome serious illness seen in hospitals.
Brown noted that while the gap has narrowed, people at lowest risk were still receiving more vaccines than those at highest risk.
“That is a difference that needs to be closed,” Brown said, nothing that the province would see “a very, very big return” in the number of cases prevented if shots are allocated to high-risk communities.
Ford said he sent out a call to other provinces on Friday, asking for them to send nurses and other health workers to Ontario, as hospitals buckle under the raging third wave.
Despite the plea, the province turned down Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s offer to send a Canadian Red Cross team to the province to aid the vaccine rollout in hospitals and long-term care homes.
“While we appreciate the Prime Minister’s offer, unless it is matched with an increase in supply, we do not need the Red Cross at this time for the administration of vaccines in Ontario,” a statement released on Friday by IvanaYelich, Ford’s press secretary reads. “We do not have a capacity issue, we have a supply issue.”
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“The reality is there’s few options left,” Ford said, during Friday’s briefing. “We’ve implemented the strictest measures in all of North America, and the difficult truth is every public health measure we have left has a massive cost to people and their lives.”
According to the advisory group, 60 shots of a COVID-19 vaccine would prevent a single case when following an age-based immunization approach across the province. By comparison, just 35 vaccines would prevent a single case when following a vaccination strategy that prioritizes high-risk communities.
Ontario has currently used 75 per cent of the over four million doses of vaccine it has received from the federal government so far.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate medical officer of health described the situation in the province as “dire”. “At some of the previous press conferences I have referred to the situation as worrisome, and even scary. What is truly scary is that when I used those words before, our rates and our trends were nowhere near where we find ourselves today.”
Ontario reported another record in new daily COVID-19 infections on Friday. The province logged 4,812 new cases today, up from Thursday’s record of 4,736. It is also reporting 25 more deaths related to the virus.
The head of the Ontario Hospital Association said Friday the latest data from Critical Care Services Ontario show 684 COVID-19 patients in adult intensive care units, including 74 new admissions.
Elliott says 1,469 of the new cases are in Toronto, 851 are in Peel Region, 491 are in York Region, 366 are in Ottawa and 268 are in Durham Region.
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