Ford government hitting 'emergency brake' to put all Ontario in lockdown: sources

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government will announce on Thursday that it's putting the entire province under lockdown restrictions for 28 days, multiple sources tell CBC News.

Stricter COVID-19 measures set to take effect Saturday

Sources say Premier Doug Ford's government will move all of Ontario to the grey lockdown zone of public health restrictions effective on Saturday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

UPDATE: This story has developed since it was first published.

For the latest on Ontario's province-wide shutdown, click here. Meanwhile, Ontario has released new modelling showing the spread of variants of concern is dangerously outpacing Ontario's COVID-19 vaccination campaign. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government will announce on Thursday that it's putting the entire province under lockdown restrictions for 28 days, multiple sources tell CBC News.  

The move for all public health units will take effect on Saturday under what the government has called its "emergency brake" provisions. 

The restrictions would not be as tight as the provincewide lockdown that was imposed in December, according to the sources. 

Non-essential retail stores would be permitted to open but with occupancy capped at 25 per cent of maximum, while essential retail outlets such as grocery stores would be limited to 50 per cent occupancy, said one source. 

Indoor dining would be prohibited at restaurants, but the sources were unclear on whether patios would remain open as currently allowed in lockdown zones.  

The third wave of COVID-19 has grown steadily in Ontario since early March. The supply of vaccines hasn't come quickly enough to rein in the spread of more contagious and deadlier variants of the virus among the general population. (Sam Nar/CBC)

Construction would remain open, as would religious services, although capacity limits will be in place, the sources said. 

Some outdoor activities such as golf would be permitted but indoor fitness facilities and personal care services such as hair salons would be closed.

Schools are to continue as normal next week, though the cabinet has not yet decided what will happen after spring break, which takes place the week of April 12, the sources said.  

The decision from Ford's cabinet on Wednesday followed the news that Ontario's hospitals have a record number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. 

Critical Care Services Ontario reported 421 patients with the virus in ICUs across the province. The previous peak of 420 came in mid-January, during the height of the second wave of the pandemic.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ford said he was "extremely concerned" about both rising ICU admissions and daily case counts.

Asked by a reporter about the possibility of any further restrictions coming into effect to help curb current trends, Ford said "stay tuned" and added that an announcement is coming Thursday. 

Among the province's 34 public health units, 22 are currently under what the government calls lockdown (grey) or control (red) restrictions.

Ontario has reported an average of about 2,300 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the past week.

On Dec. 21, when Ford announced plans for a post-Christmas province-wide lockdown, the average number of new daily cases was 2,276. 

A key difference between the situation in December and current third wave is that those Ontarians most vulnerable to dying of COVID-19 — residents of long-term care — have largely been vaccinated against the disease.

The latest provincial figures show just 10 active cases among residents of long-term care. More than 15,000 residents were infected over the course of the pandemic, and more than 3,750 of them died. 

The count of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario schools for last week was the highest weekly total since the pandemic began. For the week of March 22, schools reported 1,222 cases among staff and students. The previous record was 999, during the final week of school before the Christmas holiday. 

Education unions in some of the worst-hit regions are calling for classes to move online-only immediately after this long weekend.

With files by Mike Crawley and Hannah Thibedeau