Ford government mulls paid sick leave as Ontario sees 3,469 new COVID-19 cases

Ontario reported 3,469 more cases of COVID-19 and 22 more deaths from the illness on Tuesday, as the province announced that 20 pharmacies in the Greater Toronto Area would begin offering 24/7 appointments for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Select pharmacies to offer 24/7 vaccine appointments; province now allowing walk-ins

Nurses move through the halls of the emergency department at Scarborough General Hospital earlier this month. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reported 3,469 more cases of COVID-19 and 22 more deaths from the illness on Tuesday, as the province announced that some pharmacies in the Greater Toronto Area would begin offering 24/7 appointments for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In a news release, the provincial government said 20 Shoppers Drug Mart locations would open round-the-clock appointments starting as early as Wednesday. Sixteen of the 20 locations are in Toronto and Peel and York Regions, according to the release.

Additionally, pharmacies will now be allowed to offer walk-in vaccine appointments, the province said. Eligible adults are urged to call their local pharmacy beforehand to see if it is offering walk-in services.

More than 1,400 pharmacies and some primary care providers in Ontario began offering the AstraZeneca to adults aged 40 and over this morning.

WATCH | Co-chair of Ontario's science table on latest restrictions: 'It wasn't what we recommended' 

Co-chair of Ontario’s science table on latest restrictions: ‘It wasn’t what we recommended’

1 year ago
Duration 4:58
Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released a document Tuesday outlining what it believes should be the province's next steps in the third wave of the pandemic. CBC Toronto News at 6 host Dwight Drummond speaks with Dr. Brian Schwartz, co-chair of the table.

Meanwhile, today's case count is the fewest in the province since April 8.

The new infections come as labs completed 40,596 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a positivity rate of 10 per cent.

Another 158 people with COVID-19-related illnesses were admitted to hospital, according to the Ministry of Health, bringing the total to 2,360. Of those, 773 are being treated in intensive care, while 537 require a ventilator to breathe. All three figures are new pandemic highs for Ontario.

Critical Care Services Ontario, a government agency that compiles a daily internal report for hospitals and health organizations, said that 68 additional patients were admitted to ICUs Monday alone.

Public health units collectively administered 90,409 doses of vaccines Monday, a third straight day below the province's target of at least 100,000 daily.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, however, said that an all-day Rogers outage forced some clinics to do paper-based reporting, meaning today's total is an underestimate of how many shots were actually administered. Clinics are expected to upload revised data to Ontario's central tracking system through the day.

Some 347,597 people have gotten both shots of a COVID-19 vaccine. As of last night, Ontario had used about 76 per cent of the 5,242,495 doses it has received to date.

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said this morning that as part of the 2021 audit cycle, her office will review data the province used to develop its vaccine distribution strategy.

Earlier this month, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on the auditor general to look into how the government built its list of 114 hot spot postal codes, and if any political considerations were introduced in the process. The Ministry of Health said previously that the decisions were based on data from Public Health Ontario.

Meanwhile, today's new cases include:

  • 1,074 in Toronto
  • 775 in Peel Region
  • 406 in York Region
  • 256 in Durham Region
  • 197 in Ottawa
  • 130 in Halton Region
  • 106 in Niagara Region

The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 4,319. A nearly month-long period of exponential growth in the seven-day average appears to have slowed in recent days.

The 22 additional deaths reported today push the official toll to 7,757. The seven-day average of daily deaths rose to 25, a new high for the third wave of the pandemic.

Paid sick leave dominates question period

The question of paid sick leave for workers who fall ill with COVID-19 was front and centre again during question period at the legislature, where Premier Doug Ford was conspicuously absent for a second straight day.

The issue resurfaced after new COVID-19 restrictions announced by Ford last week did not include emergency sick leave despite repeated calls from the government's science table, outside public health experts and physicians for Ontario to supplement the federal program currently available.

Horwath attempted to garner unanimous consent for a provincial paid sick day program, which existed in Ontario until the Ford government nixed it in 2018. Government MPPs voted down the motion.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton then went on to say he was disappointed the federal government didn't boost or improve its own paid sick leave program, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), in Monday's budget.

McNaughton's comments echoed comments made on the budget by Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, who acknowledged that sick pay is key to curbing the pandemic but stopped short of committing any provincial help, even though paid sick leave is provincial jurisdiction.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Health Minister Christine Elliott suggested the province might be rethinking that position.

"It was apparent yesterday with the federal budget that they weren't making any amendments to their sick benefits program and so those gaps still remain and that is what we are going to be addressing."

For his part, Ford has said the province doesn't want to duplicate the CRSB. Public health experts and labour advocates have criticized the program as needlessly complicated and financially insufficient.

Inconsistent policies are 'ineffective', experts say

Meanwhile, Ontario's Science Advisory Table released a document outlining what it believes should be the province's next steps, in which it reiterated the importance of paid sick leave. The document urges the province to offer an emergency benefit to workers that's immediately paid out and more money than the federal program currently provides.

"Policies that harm or neglect racialized, marginalized and other vulnerable populations will not be effective against a disease that already affects these groups disproportionately," the advisory table said. 

"As noted in repeated studies from around the world, inconsistent policies with no clear link to scientific evidence are ineffective in fighting COVID-19."

The province needs to allocate more vaccines to hot-spot neighbourhoods with vulnerable populations and essential workers, the group said. It also called for the province to deem more workplaces non-essential and order their closure, as well as restrict travel between regions.

The advisory table also urged the province to allow small groups of people from different households to meet outdoors if they're wearing masks and physically distancing.

"Policies that discourage safe outdoor activity will not control COVID-19 and will disproportionately harm children and those who do not have access to their own greenspace, especially those living in crowded conditions," said the advisory table.

People should not be gathering indoors with people from other households with the exception of safe essential workplaces, it said. That advice goes against the province's current rule that allows up to 10 people to attend wedding ceremonies, funerals and other religious gatherings indoors.

With files from Lucas Powers and Samantha Beattie


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