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Miscellaneous: 27 Jan 2021
Ontario will move into lockdown on Boxing Day, as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and Premier Doug Ford warns that without action “the consequences could be catastrophic.”
Province-wide lockdown coming Dec. 26 as health officials warn ability to control COVID-19 cases ‘precarious
But even though the province’s own COVID-19 science advisory table said sooner is better for a shutdown to combat soaring cases and deaths in the coming months, Ford said businesses need time to prepare for the stricter measures that closely resemble what is already in place in Toronto and Peel.
“This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” Ford said Monday of the move that will ban indoor and outdoor dining and also limit retail activities, among other things.
“Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake right now,” he said. “If we fail to take action now, the consequences could be catastrophic ... The health officials are telling us that province-wide action is needed if we’re going to break these trends.”
The lockdown will last until Jan. 9 across the province, but extend to Jan. 23 for southern Ontario where numbers continue to climb.
Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, said the move is needed “to contain this virus, especially as the health system is on the verge of really collapsing.”
But, she added, “my concern is that it’s on the 26th. It really should be before the holiday season because it allows people to think that between now and the 26th they can squeeze in a Christmas dinner” or get-together.
“If you are going to have a lockdown and want it to be most effective, if you are going to inconvenience people and change people’s lives, you might as well do it with the maximum impact and that would be to put the lockdown in as soon as possible,” she said.
Schools will be closed to all of the province’s public elementary and secondary students, who will learn online from home after the Christmas break. All students in Northern Ontario can return to in-person learning on Jan. 11, but elsewhere in the province elementary students will return to in-person classes Jan. 11 and high schoolers Jan. 25.
“Based on the latest modelling data, cases are expected to continue to grow, with multiple models predicting rates of at least 1,500 cases per day for several weeks under current restrictions. Daily mortality is also increasing,” said the province’s report on the shutdown, released Monday, on the same day Ontario recorded more than 2,100 new COVID-19 cases.
“There has been a significant reduction in people staying home, especially when compared to the spring” when the first province-wide lockdown was put in place, the report said. “Patterns also continue to show trends of people moving across public health unit regions. Escalating case counts have led to increasing hospitalization rates and capacity challenges in many large urban hospitals, which has resulted in new disruptions to scheduled surgeries and procedures.”
Early discussions had the province-wide lockdown starting on Christmas Eve, but it will now start at 12:01 a.m. on Boxing Day instead.
Ford said the lockdown is set for the 26th to “give (businesses) the opportunity to get ready and get ready to hunker down. We can’t do it overnight and leave these people with the inventory, especially the restaurants, with food inventory.”
But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called it “pretty terrifying to see the rapidity of the growth in case numbers as well as deaths ... that’s why I was shocked to hear the premier say he’s OK with waiting until Boxing Day, when something could have been done today to address those inevitable increases in numbers.”
Ford also announced $12.5 million to help hard-hit, vulnerable communities in Durham, Peel, Toronto, York and Ottawa, as well as a new grant of up to $20,000 to help small businesses survive the shutdown.
Earlier Monday, provincial health officials released the latest COVID-19 modelling numbers, warning that in the worst-case scenario, the province will hit 30,000 cases a day by the end of January with 1,500 intensive-care beds in use by mid-January.
Even in keeping with current trends, with a 1 to 3 per cent growth in cases, within weeks Ontario could soon hit up to 5,000 cases a day, as well as 50 deaths daily.
“We are in a very very challenging situation in terms of the control of the disease,” said Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table and dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
He said lockdown measures should be put into place as soon as possible, saying thousands of cases could be avoided if a lockdown started Dec. 21, and said the province’s “ability to control case growth is still precarious.”
Dr. Naveed Mohammad, CEO of the William Osler Health System serving Etobicoke and Peel, urged Ontarians to “please stay home, starting today.”
The Retail Council of Canada said the government needs to prioritize health, “but the lockdowns we’ve seen over the past several weeks have created nothing short of economic carnage — lost jobs and businesses — without improving health outcomes.”
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The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association called the move to online learning for a week or more in January “unfortunate, yet understandable” though President Cathy Abraham said “we cannot ignore the impacts of removing that critical face-to-face contact for students and their teachers for as many as five weeks for students across Ontario.”
Dr. Camille Lemieux, chief of family medicine at the University Health Network, said the lockdown should be immediate, but wondered why schools were included given cases among students and staff are largely community acquired.
“Given the psychosocial impacts of closing schools, I am unclear why the decision to close them was made,” she said. “Further, children may now be incentivized to congregate with other children in private home settings, which is less safe than a controlled school setting.”
Kristin RushowyQueen's Park Bureau-The Record/AA
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