Ontario opposition parties call for masking rules, PCR access as over 1,100 hospitalizations reported

Ontario's opposition parties are calling on the provincial government to reintroduce mandatory masking rules in public places and expand access to PCR testing, as the province grapples with the sixth wave of COVID-19 amid mounting cases.

Meanwhile, Ontarians 60+ can book 4th COVID-19 vaccine dose starting today

Jars full of empty COVID-19 vaccine vials are shown as a pharmacist works behind the counter at the Junction Chemist pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday. Ontario is expanding eligibility for second booster shots to those aged 60 and older as well as all Indigenous residents starting Thursday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's three main opposition parties are calling on the Doug Ford government to reintroduce mandatory masking rules in public places and expand access to PCR testing while calling the initial removal of these measures a "huge mistake," as the province grapples with the sixth wave of COVID-19 amid mounting cases.

The comments come as hospitalizations are up 40 per cent week over week and wastewater surveillance suggests COVID-19 activity is higher than it was at the peak of the fifth wave in January.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling for the government to either reinstate masking measures in public places or explain why they won't.

She also says masks should be required in schools and the mandate should not be lifted for hospitals, long-term care homes and public transit on April 27 as planned, in order to blunt this latest wave.

"Health care workers are exhausted, and becoming infected with COVID at an alarming rate. And every bed taken by a COVID patient is another delay for someone waiting in pain for a surgery," said Horwath.

"It's clear that Doug Ford dropped masks too soon, and we're all paying the price — no one more so than the people waiting in pain for a surgery or procedure."

Both Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca and NDP leader Andrea Horwath are urging the government to reinstate mandatory masking in public places. (The Canadian Press/CBC)

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca also says ending mask mandates in those places on April 27 is a "huge mistake" and that masks should be required again in essential indoor settings such as schools, pharmacies and grocery stores.

"With COVID case counts now skyrocketing, Ontarians deserve science, not silence from their provincial government. Doug Ford's Conservatives must stop muzzling the Chief Medical Officer of Health and restore his regular media conferences that ended over a month ago," he said.

Asked why Dr. Kieran Moore has not held a recent pandemic briefing as the province sees climbing case counts and hospitalizations, the director of media relations for the premier's office said that decision is made by Moore himself.

"As we've said several times now, it was Dr. Moore's choice to end his regular updates as the province entered a new phase of the pandemic," said Ivana Yelich.

"If Dr. Moore changes his mind and wants to make himself available to media again, it is up to him to do so."

Green Leader Mike Schreiner, Horwath and Del Duca are also urging the government to broadly expand access to PCR testing so people know for sure when they are sick or contagious.

"Ontarians across the province are seeing friends, family, and colleagues get sick. People are looking to the Premier for direction and guidance, but he's missing in action," Schreiner said.

WATCH | Ontario seeing 100,000-120,000 daily new COVID-19 cases, expert estimates:

Don't panic but wear a mask, Ontario COVID-19 expert says

4 months ago
Duration 5:51
Wastewater testing suggests Ontario is experiencing as many new COVID-19 infections as it did during the peak of Omicron, says Dr. Peter Jüni, the head of the province's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

That's as Dr. Peter Jüni, who heads the province's scientific advisory table, said Wednesday Ontario is now seeing an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 new cases of COVID-19 daily through wastewater data. 

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has repeatedly said the rise in cases was anticipated as the province reopened, and officials will follow the advice of province's top doctor.

"Dr. Moore has recommended that masks don't need to be worn except in certain circumstances in hospitals, in long term care homes and other congregate settings where it's necessary for the protection of people," Elliott said at the legislature Thursday.

"Should Dr. Moore change his views in the coming days we will be making those changes as necessary, but as for wearing masks it is something that is voluntary, although most people are choosing to wear masks in crowded public spaces and we anticipate they will continue to do so."

Ontarians 60+ can book 4th doses starting today

Meanwhile, Ontarians aged 60 and older can book an appointment for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine starting today.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals, as well as all Indigenous residents and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 or older are also eligible to book their shots through the provincial vaccine portal starting at 8 a.m

Fourth doses are being offered at a recommended interval of five months after the initial booster shot.

Residents can also book appointments through public health units with separate booking systems, Indigenous-led vaccination clinics and some pharmacies.

Fourth doses were already available to long-term care and retirement home residents and immunocompromised people in Ontario.

Elliott says a fourth dose provides an extra layer of protection against Omicron and the BA.2 variant.

The expansion of vaccine eligibility comes as administration of third doses has slowed. About 96 per cent of people aged 60-69 have received two doses, but only 78 per cent have received a booster dose.

More than 1,100 hospitalizations reported

Meanwhile, the province is reporting 1,126 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 16 more deaths linked to the virus Thursday, marking the highest daily hospitalizations reported since Feb. 23 when the province logged a total of 1,106.

Thursday's hospitalizations are up from 1,074 the previous day and 807 at this time last week.

Of those hospitalized, 159 patients are in intensive care. That number is down by nine from 168 reported the previous day and 166 reported a week earlier. There are 80 patients requiring the use of a ventilator due to COVID-19.

According to the Ministry of Health, 47 per cent of people hospitalized were admitted specifically for treatment of symptoms brought on by the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive. Meanwhile, 66 per cent of people in ICU were admitted because of COVID-19, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive for the virus.

The province reported another 4,224 COVID-19 cases through limited PCR testing Thursday, with 21,347 tests completed the day before. 

The test positivity rate is 17.2 per cent today, down slightly from Wednesday's 18 per cent.

The additional deaths reported push the total death toll in the province to 12,527.

With files from The Canadian Press


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