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Ontario to resume non-urgent surgeries on Monday when province lifts some COVID-19 restrictions

Some Ontario surgeries that were paused due to a surge in Omicron cases will resume on Monday, when the province will lift some public health measures and allow businesses to reopen after being forced to shut earlier this month.

Province saw drop in COVID hospitalizations and ICU admissions, 70 more deaths

A paramedic checks on a patient waiting in the hallway of the Humber River Hospital emergency department in Toronto on Jan. 13, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Some Ontario surgeries that were paused due to a surge in Omicron cases will resume on Monday, when the province lifts some public health measures, and allows businesses to reopen after being forced to shut down earlier this month.

Non-urgent surgeries were put on hold in early January to preserve hospital capacity, affecting an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 procedures a week.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday that some operations and procedures will resume in stages starting next week, as the province is set to lift restrictions on businesses that were ordered to close 

Alex Hilkene says the first stage will include pediatrics, diagnostic services, cancer screenings, some ambulatory clinics, private hospitals, and independent health facilities.

Hilkene noted this does not mean all hospitals will immediately resume the surgical and procedural activities permitted.

Ontarians must 'learn to live with this virus,' Moore says 

"It will be a difficult February, but it will be a better March," said Ontario Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore at a news conference Thursday, referring to the numbers indicating the surge caused by the Omicron variant is easing.

The news conference was Moore's last regularly scheduled public appearance before restrictions ease on Monday

When asked if the public health measures are being lifted too quickly and will be putting Ontarians at risk, Moore said with the added protection of vaccines, particularly with third doses, people will have to "learn to live with this virus."

"In the face of Omicron, I absolutely think we have to start to understand we have to learn to live with this virus and we've let our lives be controlled for the last two years in a significant amount of fear and now we're going to have to change some of that thinking."

Reaction to Moore's statements came quickly online from epidemilogists.

"Well, we can't eliminate or even reduce the threat if we eliminate all public health measures. Without those measures, we will not 'live with it,' we will die from it," said Dr. Farah N. Mawani, a social and psychiatric epidemiologist, in a tweet.

"The worst part of this ridiculous, unscientific statement that justifies deadly policy is that it will continue to widen social and health inequities, especially for Black, Indigenous, and racialized people," Mawani said.

WATCH | Ontario's top doctor says people must learn to live with the virus:

‘We've let our lives be controlled’ says Ontario’s top doctor amid surge of Omicron cases

5 months ago
Duration 0:20
Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday that Canadians have lived with a significant amount of fear about COVID-19 but that thinking is going to have to change.

Moore said it is time for a balanced response to reopening and managing COVID-19.

"We have to look at the mental, physical, social, economic, and the educational impacts that this virus has had on our children and our businesses and learn from the last two years that sometimes we were too cautious," Moore said. 

"It'll never be exactly right for everybody."

Additional measures set to lift Monday

Starting Monday, the province will allow food or drink services at indoor sporting events, concert venues, theatres and cinemas, bingo halls and other venues.

Masks will continue to be required when patrons are not eating or drinking.

In addition, the government will also be removing the legal requirement to work from home except where necessary. 

The province will also no longer be requiring most businesses to collect patron information for contact tracing. 

"This is aligned with recent changes to the testing and case and contact management guidance and will allow businesses to focus their efforts on the enforcement of other public health measures in these settings, such as masking requirements," the Thursday release reads.

Indoor social gathering limits are set to increase from five to 10, and restaurants will be able to reopen their dining rooms at 50 per cent capacity.

Theatres will be able to reopen, and "spectator areas" such as arenas and concert venues will be able to welcome back up to 500 guests, with smaller venues limited to half capacity.

Starting Monday, indoor social gathering limits are set to increase from five to 10, and restaurants will be able to reopen their dining rooms at 50 per cent capacity. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Initially, guests at movie theatres weren't going to be allowed to consume food or beverages until the next phase of restrictions easing, currently set for Feb. 21.

January on track to be one of the deadliest months

Meanwhile, Ontario reported drops in both overall hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care for COVID-19 patients on Thursday.

The Ministry of Health said Thursday morning that, as of yesterday, there were 3,645 people with COVID-19 in hospitals. That's down from 4,016 the day before and 4,061 at the same time last week.

About 56 per cent of those patients were admitted for COVID-related illnesses while 44 per cent were already in hospital when they tested positive for the virus, according to the ministry.

There were 599 patients with COVID-19 who required intensive care, a second straight day the overall number has fallen. It's down from 608 the day before but up slightly from the same time last week.

Roughly 82 per cent of the people with COVID-19 in ICUs were admitted for reasons directly related to the virus.

The health ministry also reported another 70 deaths of people with the virus, bringing the official toll to 11,230.

More Ontarians with COVID-19 have died this month than in any other month since last January. January 2022 is currently on track to be among the deadliest months of the entire pandemic in the province, with 1,036 deaths confirmed thus far.

Ontario releases guidelines for Paxlovid COVID-19 treatment

Ontario is prioritizing older, unvaccinated residents and immunocompromised individuals for a new antiviral COVID-19 treatment.

The province received its first shipment of Paxlovid last week, and Health Minister Christine Elliott had said the drug would be directed toward adults at the highest risk.

Ontario has now released its guidelines for who is eligible for the treatment, including immunocompromised adults, unvaccinated people aged 60 and over, and unvaccinated people aged 50 and over if they have one or more risk factors, or are First Nation, Inuit or Metis individuals.

"The early data on antivirals is promising. They have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by 88 per cent," said Moore.

"But Paxlovid is not a replacement for vaccination. We strongly encourage you to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible."

The treatment, currently available in limited quantities, will be available at clinical assessment centres throughout the province, though not all of the 75 centres will necessarily have the antivirals on hand.

People who would qualify for Paxlovid have to first test positive for COVID-19, and the province says eligible individuals can receive either a PCR test or a rapid test at those sites.

Treatment with Paxlovid — six pills a day for five days — has to start within five days of symptoms beginning in order to be effective.

With files from Sara Jabakhanji and The Canadian Press

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