Ontario reports 3,216 new COVID-19 cases and 3rd wave high of 47 deaths on Sunday
Daily death count has nearly doubled since Saturday
Ontario logged 3,216 new COVID-19 infections and registered a third-wave high of 47 deaths linked to the illness on Sunday.
The new deaths bring the province's official death toll to 8,308. Sunday's figure is the highest daily death count since Feb. 19, when 47 deaths were recorded in a single day.
The new cases include 903 in Toronto, 752 in Peel Region, 335 in York Region, 187 in Durham Region and 150 in Ottawa.
The numbers come as the province's network of labs completed 38,500 tests. The provincial test positivity rate is now 7.1 per cent
The rolling seven-day average of new cases dropped slightly to 3,120 from 3,588 recorded last Sunday.
Hospitalizations and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions continue to slowly decline, with 1,640 people in hospital with the illness and 848 in ICUs. Of that number, 580 people require ventilators to breathe, according to the Ontario health ministry.
Public health units collectively administered 121,075 doses of COVID-19 vaccines on Saturday for a total of 6,144,685, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott.
To date, 392,835 people have been fully vaccinated.
4th wave 'in all of our hands'
Meanwhile, the province quietly announced on Friday that nearly 140 pharmacies started offering COVID-19 vaccines to all adults in some hot spots this weekend.
The government website lists 78 pharmacy locations in Toronto and Peel Region that now offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people aged 18 and older.
In Durham Region, Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor and York Region, 58 pharmacies are offering the Moderna shot to anyone in that age group.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is also being offered in Ontario pharmacies to people aged 40 and up.
On Sunday, Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu spoke with Rosemary Barton, CBC's chief political correspondent, about the critical role vaccines are playing in attemtps to stop a potential fourth wave of COVID-19.
Watch: Canada's health minister Patty Hajdu on vaccinations to stop 4th wave:
"It's going to play a huge role. That is why we keep saying when it is your turn, please get vaccinated," Hajdu said on CBC TV's Rosemary Barton Live.
She added that the fourth wave is "in all of our hands," and while there is "clearly no silver bullet in the pandemic," vaccinations are an extremely important tool.
Last week, Ontario health officials said delivery levels of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to ramp up again in late May and stay consistent at more than 938,000 doses per week throughout June.
The province is currently on track to administer first doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 65 per cent of adults by the end of May, provincial health officials said on Wednesday.
In response to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization's "preferred vaccines" messaging on Monday, which sparked criticism and concern from health experts, Hajdu maintained that every vaccine that has been used has been approved by Health Canada and the best and safest shot is the first one that everyone is offered.
"We can't take this virus lightly. We cannot assume we're out of the woods. We can see the finish line, for sure, but that doesn't mean that the hard work ends today or ends in two months. It means we have a powerful tool of vaccination, but all of us have to do our part to bring those case numbers down."
Ottawa responds to Ontario calls for stricter travel control
The federal government, meanwhile, responded this weekend to three letters written by the Ontario government that call for stricter measures on international travellers crossing at land borders and on interprovincial travellers flying into the province.
In a letter dated May 7, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones that the federal government is willing to work with Ontario but is waiting for the province to produce a list of international travellers it would like Ottawa to ban from entering the province.
In a four-page letter, LeBlanc wrote that "the federal government stands ready," but has not received such a request.
The letter notes that the federal government has prohibited all non-essential travel into Canada since March 2020. This measure includes closing the border with the U.S. except for essential supply lines and essential workers who deliver food and medicine and some humanitarian purposes.
The letter does not respond specifically to a request made by the Ontario government for a three-day hotel quarantine for international travellers crossing at land borders.
Alexandra Adamo, spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford, said in an email on Sunday in response to the federal letter: "The Premier has said he will use every tool at his disposal to protect Ontarians. This is an extremely urgent situation and we need the federal government to act now. We cannot sit back and watch the fourth wave of COVID-19 walk across our border."
The three letters written by the Ontario government include: requests for the implementation of a three-day hotel quarantine at land crossings, further restrictions to interprovincial air travel through pre-departure PCR testing; and the reduction of more incoming international flights at the Canada-U.S. border.
Premier Doug Ford and his ministers have been calling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at press conferences for weeks, calling on him to implement stricter measures regarding travel. On Friday, Trudeau pushed back against an attack ad released by the Progressive Conservative party, which accuses him of failing to appropriately restrict travel into the province.
'Show us the benchmark': Niagara Falls mayor
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, meanwhile, says the impact of the border restrictions have been devastating for his city's economy, which relies heavily on tourism — 25 per cent of which comes from the U.S., he said.
"We understand that the border is going to open more like a dimmer switch than a light switch, we know it's going to be gradual," he said on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.
"What we're asking is please, show us the benchmark, show us the targets."
Watch | Niagara Falls mayor wants targets for U.S. border reopening:
Diodati said Niagara's objective is finding a way to safely open up borders, pointing to the ramp-up of vaccinations in the U.S. and the reduction of its per capita case rate as a sign that it's "time to have the discussion."
He said he's been given zero directive from the federal government. On Sunday, Hadju said reopening the border is "a complicated conversation" but that discussions are happening.
"With 40,000 people that need tourism to work to put food on the table ... we just want some answers. Show us the targets and we'll shoot for them," Diodati said.
Rapid testing key in fast action
On Friday, Ontario announced it is expanding rapid testing initiatives for businesses small and medium-sized businesses in the province.
The program, called "COVID-19 Rapid Screening Initiative," will provide free rapid antigen tests for employees. The province said more than 760,000 rapid test kits have been shipped to 28 chambers of commerce and more than 50 others have expressed interest in participating.
Hajdu said rapid testing can highlight asymptomatic cases in the workplaces and allows employers to take action quickly.
The announcement of the program's expansion came after federal data showed that only a small fraction of the millions of tests deployed across province had actually been used. Some experts have said rapid testing could help stem the spread of COVID-19 in hot spots.
"If nothing else, I think the virus has taught us all that we have to move quickly, and that when we suspect or find cases of COVID-19... what happens next is very critical," Hajdu said.
With files from Sabrina Jonas, Muriel Draaisma, Lucas Powers, and The Canadian Press