Ford orders lockdown for all of Ontario starting Boxing Day
Hospitals warning of unsustainable burden on front-line health-care workers
All of Ontario will move into a lockdown on Boxing Day in a bid to curb climbing COVID-19 case numbers and spare hospitals and their intensive care units from being inundated in January, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, Ontario recorded another 2,202 new COVID-19 cases while ICU admissions reached a new high. You can get the latest here.
The announcement comes as Ontario recorded 2,123 more COVID-19 cases and new modelling painted a grim picture of intensive care units overwhelmed with coronavirus patients if further restrictions aren't implemented.
The lockdown will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26 and remain in place until at least Jan. 23, 2021 in the 27 public health units that comprise southern Ontario, the government says.
In Ontario's north, where daily case numbers have been significantly lower, the lockdown is set to expire on Jan. 9, 2021.
Ford said the virus is spreading rapidly from areas with a high number of cases to areas with fewer cases, and the province needs to preserve capacity in its health-care system.
"This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks," he said.
"Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake right now."
When asked why Ontario is waiting until Dec. 26 to start the lockdown, Ford said he wants to give businesses ample time to prepare and noted that the hardest hit areas like Toronto and Peel Region are already under lockdown orders.
The province also announced it will create a grant program offering some small businesses a minimum of $10,000 to help offset losses.
While the shutdown will begin a day after Christmas, Ford is continuing to urge Ontarians to not gather for the holidays.
"If we fail to take actions now, the consequences will be catastrophic," Ford said.
"We need to do everything in our power to protect our hospitals and our most vulnerable."
WATCH | Ford announces new measures across province starting Dec. 26:
New restrictions under provincewide lockdown
No indoor public events or social gatherings will be allowed, except with members of the same household.
The lockdown also means Ontarians are advised to stay home "to the fullest extent possible."
Ford said people should only leave home for essential trips such as work or groceries, however the lockdown doesn't include curfews or travel restrictions.
"We've flattened the curve before and we can do it again," said Health Minister Christine Elliott.
For the five regions already under grey-lockdown zone — Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton — the new measures will not look much different than what is currently in place.
However, the new measures also mean all non-essential businesses must close, and essential businesses that remain open will now have stricter capacity limits than the ones already in place in lockdown zones. Discount and big-box retailers will now only be limited to 25 per cent capacity while grocery stores and pharmacies will be limited to 50 per cent.
Hardware stores and pet stores will not be deemed essential under new measures and must switch to curbside pickup and delivery.
Casinos, indoor sports facilities, personal care services, such as salons, will all be shuttered when new restrictions kick in.
Under the lockdown, schools in southern Ontario will switch to remote learning when classes resume in the new year. Elementary schools will be closed for in-class learning until at least Jan. 11 while secondary schools will remain closed until Jan. 25.
All public and private schools — both elementary and secondary — in Northern Ontario would be permitted to resume in-person learning on Jan. 11.
Child care centres will remain open for the duration of the provincewide lockdown.
CBC Toronto first reported the lockdown could begin on Boxing Day, but over the weekend there were reports the government was eyeing a Christmas Eve start to the shutdown.
'Hard lockdowns' have worked elsewhere, officials say
The measures come against a backdrop of modelling that forecasts, under any scenario, Ontario could see up to 300 patients with cases of COVID-19 in intensive care units by the end of December.
In a worst-case scenario, that number could balloon to more than 1,500 by mid-January — about 75 per cent of Ontario's entire intensive care capacity, said public health officials at a morning briefing.
- You can see the full government modelling at the bottom of this story
During the height of the first wave of the illness in Ontario, some 264 patients required intensive care. As of this morning, there were 265 people with COVID-19 in Ontario ICUs.
Over the past four weeks, officials said, there have been a 69.3 per cent increase in overall hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 and an 83.1 per cent jump in the number of patients requiring intensive care.
Experiences in other jurisdictions, such as in Victoria, Australia and France, show that four to six-week "hard lockdowns" have resulted in "dramatic reductions" in case numbers, officials said.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory team, said that anything short of four weeks will not be effective in Ontario, and that implementing a hard lockdown as soon as possible would be the most advisable path forward.
While jurisdictions around the world have approached "hard lockdowns" differently, they typically include stringent stay-at-home orders, strict enforcement, curfews, the closure of non-essential businesses and clear communication of the seriousness of the situation, Brown added.
A hard lockdown in Ontario could eventually result in fewer than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day, if it is accompanied by increased testing and supports for people who need to self-isolate.
"Unless there is strong support for people to isolate and stay home, we will not get ahold of the pandemic," Brown said.
WATCH | Brown says the longer the shutdown, the better:
OHA 'disappointed' to learn 5 days until new measures take effect
The revised forecasts come as hospitals in some of Ontario's hardest-hit regions are warning of unsustainable pressures on front-line staff and rippling effects throughout the health-care system.
Dr. Naveed Mohammad, CEO of the William Osler Health System that operates hospitals in Peel Region, said people needed to act as if the lockdown started immediately.
"Until the people of this province realize what each trip out their home risks for themselves and their loved ones, we won't get through this," he said, noting that hospitals in Brampton, Ont., are grappling with capacity issues.
"Please stay home, starting today."
The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), which had called for strict new restrictions, said it was disappointed the lockdown wouldn't take effect sooner.
"The Dec. 26 implementation date sends a confusing message about what [residents] should and shouldn't do at this crucial moment," said OHA CEO Anthony Dale.
"We are already hearing from hospital and health system leaders who are shocked that the restrictions will not come into effect until after Christmas."
Strain on hospitals 'simply not sustainable'
Last week, CBC Toronto reported nearly half of all ICU beds at one Scarborough hospital were taken up by COVID-19 patients.
In a joint statement over the weekend, hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, along with the Ontario Hospital Association, said that health-care workers are "stressed and overstretched."
Rising admissions of patients with COVID-19 mean that some hospitals have already been forced to postpone or cancel unrelated procedures, many of which were already put off in the spring.
"This level of strain is simply not sustainable for much longer," the statement said, adding that a potential surge following the holiday season will only make things worse.
Ontario reports more than 2,000 cases for 7th day in a row
It is the seventh straight day of more than 2,000 further cases in the province.
The new cases include 611 in Toronto, 480 in Peel Region, 192 in York Region and 138 Windsor-Essex. All four public health units, along with Hamilton, are currently in the grey lockdown tier of the province's COVID-19 response framework.
There are currently 19,019 confirmed, active cases of the illness in Ontario, also a new record high.
The province's network of labs processed 54,505 test samples and reported a test positivity rate of 4.7 per cent.
Public health officials also reported 17 more deaths of people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 4,167.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in today's report were:
- Waterloo Region: 94
- Halton Region: 92
- Durham Region: 91
- Niagara Region: 68
- Middlesex-London: 64
- Simcoe Muskoka: 61
- Hamilton: 36
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 33
- Ottawa: 32
- Southwestern: 21
- Brant County: 16
- Eastern Ontario: 11
(Note: All of the figures used for new cases in this story are found on the Ontario Health Ministry's COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit because local units report figures at different times.)
Combined, the additional infections push the seven-day average to 2,276, the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic.
The Ministry of Education also reported 154 new cases that are school-related: 119 students and 35 staff members. Around 976 of Ontario's 4,828 publicly funded schools, or about 20.2 per cent, have at least one case of COVID-19.
Following the provincial announcement on Monday, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) issued a statement urging the government to consider tightened restrictions on elementary schools when they are permitted to reopen.
"The plan to reopen elementary schools in the midst of a province-wide lockdown doesn't make sense," said Sam Hammond, president of ETFO.
'These new provincial restrictions will not be effective unless every possible action is taken to prevent COVID-19 transmission in elementary schools when they reopen. It's time to do what is urgently needed, not what is politically convenient."
The union, which represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers across Ontario, is calling on the Ford government to reduce class sizes, establish mandatory caps, fund improvements to schools, among other things.
"Teaching during a pandemic is incredibly challenging and educators' commitment has been unwavering. This government must come through not only with a better plan, but with the necessary supports and funding for educators, students and their families," Hammond said.
Here's the latest modelling on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario:
With files from Lucas Powers, Sara Jabakhanji and The Canadian Press