Ontario reports 2,448 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 more deaths
Ontario rolling out vaccinations for people 70 and over in 11 more regions
Ontario reported 2,448 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 more deaths on Sunday, marking the fourth consecutive day that the daily case count has topped 2,000.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Toronto has 780 cases, Peel Region has 356, York Region has 278, Durham Region has 219 and Ottawa has 150.
There are 917 people with COVID-19 in hospital, although the province says more than 10 per cent of hospitals have not reported their numbers over the weekend.
Of the people in hospital, 366 are in intensive care units and 217 are on ventilators.
The province's network of labs completed 50,200 tests in the past 24 hours.
As of 8 p.m. on Saturday, Ontario reported that 64,950 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered since the last daily update. A total of 1,981,282 vaccines have been given in the province so far.
The new deaths reported on Sunday bring the province's COVID-19-related death toll to 7,327.
Ontario has a cumulative total of 343,140 confirmed cases of COVID-19. That is the total number of cases recorded in the province since the pandemic began. The province says 317,408 cases have been marked as resolved.
The province also announced that it is extending booking for COVID-19 vaccination appointments to individuals who are 70 and over in 11 additional regions starting on Monday.
There are 60 ongoing outbreaks, or outbreaks not yet declared over, in long-term care homes, 38 in retirement homes and 34 in hospitals, according to the Ministry of Health.
The province's seven-day rolling average, which helps smooth out peaks and valleys in the data, now stands at 2,038. Sunday marks the first time that Ontario has seen this figure higher than 2,000 since late January.
Eligibility expansion for 11 regions
As of 8 a.m. ET on Monday, people aged 70 and over will be eligible to book a COVID-19 vaccination appointment at a mass immunization clinic in the following regions:
- City of Hamilton Public Health Services.
- Grey Bruce Health Unit.
- Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health.
- Lambton Public Health.
- Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit.
- Niagara Region Public Health.
- Ottawa Public Health.
- Peel Public Health.
- Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit.
- Timiskaming Health Unit.
- York Region Public Health.
As of Saturday, more than three-quarters of Ontario residents 80 and over have received at least one dose, while more than one third of residents aged 75 to 79 have received their first shot, according to a statement from the Ontario government.
Variants of concern account for 1,755 new cases
As for variants of concern, Ontario has a cumulative total of 1,625 confirmed COVID-19 cases of the B117 lineage, or the variant first detected in the United Kingdom, 63 of the B.1.351, or the variant first detected in South Africa, and 67 of the P1, or the variant first detected in Brazil.
Variants of concern now account for 1,755 COVID-19 cases across the province.
Early evidence suggests all of the variants of concern make COVID-19 more transmissible, while the variants first detected in South Africa and Brazil also are believed to reduce the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
Samples that test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are tested for mutations common to variants of concern. If the samples screen positive for a mutation, genome sequencing is done to pinpoint the variant of concern.
Education minister asks Ottawa for vaccines for children
In a letter on Friday, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce asked the federal government to consider procuring and distributing COVID-19 vaccines for children.
The letter was addressed to Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand and Ahmed Hussen, the Families, Children and Social Development Minister.
"We are now entering a new phase of the pandemic, one represented by cautious hope with the introduction of vaccines for adults that will help reduce the impact of COVID-19," Lecce wrote.
"As Canada continues its vaccination efforts for adults, it is critical that we look ahead and apply lessons learned on the importance of forward planning for the procurement and distribution of vaccines for our students and children."
Lecce noted that the clinical trials are underway to determine vaccine efficacy in children and results are expected in months.
"While this is hopeful news, it also underscores the necessity to start to plan immediately so that Canada is the leader on vaccine roll-out. Vaccination of children and students will be a critical part of ending the pandemic and keeping our children safe," Lecce continued.
The minister said that while children and young people often experience milder COVID-19 symptoms, they are not immune to the virus and can spread disease in child care and education settings, among family members and in the larger community.
First, Lecce called on Anand to ensure that the federal government secures vaccine supply from a range of suppliers for children under 16.
Second, he asked Health Canada to be ready to review, and, when possible, approve vaccines when they are safe for children. And third, he called on the federal government to earmark funds for educating children about vaccinations.
"We cannot count on the vaccination of adults alone to end the pandemic," Lecce wrote.
Get vaccinated, Toronto mayor urges those 70 and older
Toronto Mayor John Tory, meanwhile, urged residents 70 years and older to get vaccinated.
Tory said three new COVID-19 mass vaccination clinics will open on Monday, but there are still many appointments unfilled. He said supply issues of the vaccine have been resolved and the city is ramping up its rollout of the shots.
Tory said more than 450,000 people in Toronto have received doses so far. He said he won't be satisfied until all the vaccination appointments are "sold out."
'No one likes a lockdown'
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital and member of Ontario's COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, told CBC News on Sunday that it's not too early for provinces, including Ontario, to start talking about another lockdown to bring case numbers down. The variants of concern are taking over, he said.
"No one likes a lockdown," Bogoch said.
"Obviously, we know what the harms are and we know how devastating that can be on people's mental health and on people's financial health, but again, you can't have a situation where your hospitals are overwhelmed," he added.
Targeted and focused measures work when "your case burden" is relatively low, he said.
"When your hospital system is going to be stretched beyond capacity, there aren't very many options left. That's when at least you need to consider the idea of a lockdown."
Intensive care units in Ontario hospitals never fully regained capacity from the second wave, he said. As a result, he added: "We're in a very precarious place here in Ontario right now."
Amazon facility reopens in Brampton
On Sunday, meanwhile, an Amazon Canada facility in Brampton, Ont., reopened after it was shut down for two weeks to allow all employees to go into isolation amid an outbreak of COVID-19. The outbreak at the facility, which employs about 5,000 workers, began in October.
Dave Bauer, a spokesperson for Amazon, said in an email on Sunday that the company worked with Peel Public Health to curb the spread of the virus. Employees were in isolation from March 13 to March 27.
"To our employees: thank you for your resilience throughout this process, your commitment to safety, and your dedication to providing Canadians with the essential goods and products they rely on," Bauer said.
Peel Public Health said there were more than 600 cases in total at the 8050 Heritage Rd. facility.
Amazon has said it has implemented a handful of safety measures at the Brampton facility, including testing all employees twice before it was shut down, hiring private buses to transport employees, providing employees with sick pay for up to 14 days when they were isolating and investing $17 million in COVID-19 safety measures and equipment.
Sunday's numbers come one day before the province moves two regions into more restricted areas of its colour-coded reopening framework. Starting on Monday at 12:01 a.m., Hamilton will move into the grey-lockdown zone, while the Eastern Ontario Health Unit will move into the red-control zone.
Five regions in the province's grey-lockdown zone, including Toronto and Peel Region, will see some restrictions loosen on Monday and later in April.
With files from The Canadian Press and Muriel Draaisma