Ford takes aim at border as Ontario reports 3,887 new COVID-19 cases

Ontario reported 3,887 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, shortly before Premier Doug Ford provides an update on the province's pandemic response at noon.

'As long as these massive loopholes exist we're not safe,' says Ford of land border measures

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is set to provide an update on the province’s pandemic response at 11 a.m. on Friday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Premier Doug Ford took aim at quarantine measures at Canada's land border with the United States on Friday, as Ontario reported 3,887 new COVID-19 cases and 21 additional deaths.

Ford's pandemic response update came more than a week after his last news conference. Ford was originally scheduled to speak at 11 a.m. but that was pushed back twice to noon.

"We can't take anything for granted right now, we need to be more vigilant than ever," Ford said Friday.

"Not enough is being done to keep these deadly variants out of Canada," he said, outlining a scenario in which people fly to Buffalo, N.Y., and take a taxi over the border to avoid quarantining.

Ford continued to focus on borders even as he was asked why his government's sick-leave announcement didn't include 10 days of paid sick days, as Ontario's scientific advisory table had recommended.

In response, Ford said he appreciated the science table, but also takes advice from hospital CEOs and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. 

CBC News reported Thursday that Ford's government sent the federal government a letter asking for quarantine measures, such as mandatory hotel stays, to be implemented to the land border with the United States.

Prime Minister Trudeau said meanwhile that Ford has called on Ottawa to suspend the arrival of international students in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Ontario is the only province to make this request, Trudeau said.

The prime minister said he's not considering barring international students from entering Canada at this point, but he's willing to work "more narrowly" with Ontario.

Ford has repeatedly blamed the COVID-19 pandemic's third wave on "porous borders."

PM rejects assertion of 'loopholes' letting new variants in

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who spoke to reporters at the same time as Ford, said he would "continue to work with the province" while casting doubt on the "massive loopholes" scenario Ford outlined.

For more than a year now, Trudeau said 95 per cent of travel to Canada has been suspended. Anyone still crossing in from the United States would be a permanent citizen or Canadian returning home, an essential worker, or "a limited number of exception cases," Trudeau said.

He said the reason why they're not required to quarantine in a hotel like airplane travellers has to do with the circumstances of their arrival. 

Trudeau said those who come by land from the U.S. have already been subjected to American quarantine rules, meaning that they already have had a PCR test done in addition to needing to quarantine for two weeks there.

To get into Canada, Trudeau said they need that negative PCR test from within 72 hours, they get tested again upon arrival, and then go into a quarantine, enforceable by police. 

A third test is done on day eight of their quarantine, Trudeau said, to ensure a negative result.

If Ford wants to take advantage of the "underutilized" rapid testing kits in the federal government's possession to test every new arrival, Trudeau said the federal government will provide them but leave the logistics to the province.

"It's something that has been done," the prime minister said. "We've watched the Atlantic provinces severely limit domestic travel with very strong measures… they didn't require the support or intervention or the permission of the federal government to do it."

Newcomers being left behind on vaccines, data shows

As of Friday, there are 1,331 new cases in Toronto, 871 in Peel Region, 267 in York Region, 208 in Durham and 204 in Hamilton, according to health minister Christine Elliott. The seven-day average currently sits a 3,722, down from 3,810 on Thursday.

As of 8 p.m. on Thursday, the province says it has administered 5,139,984 doses of the vaccine. Ford said Friday the province has now achieved its goal of giving 40 per cent of the province's adult population at least one dose of a vaccine.

Ford's news conference came at the tail end of a busy week for the province, which announced Thursday it plans to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults within one month. All Ontarians over the age of 18 are expected to be able to use the province's call centre and booking portal starting the week of May 24.

Ontario is looking to accelerate its vaccine rollout in the month ahead, a move it says is possible with millions of doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines expected to soon arrive in the province. Education workers across the province will be eligible to book in for a vaccine appointment starting on May 3, according to a tweet from education minister Stephen Lecce.

But despite a shift to hotspot neighbourhoods meant to prioritize vaccinating Toronto's hardest-hit, lower-income areas, a new report from ICES, a not-for-profit research institute, indicates some residents most at risk for the virus are still being left behind.

Vaccine coverage among Ontario adults reached 34 per cent on April 26, up from 28 per cent the week prior. However, coverage climbs to 38 per cent for long-term residents or Canadian-born adults while going down for refugees, immigrants, and recent OHIP registrants.

Per the report, vaccine coverage among immigrant groups is 28 per cent, while coverage among refugees is just 22 per cent. For new OHIP registrants, the figure is even lower at 12 per cent.

Ford also fielded questions about the findings of Ontario's Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission. The commission investigated how and why the virus ravaged nursing homes and what steps were taken to prevent its spread. It's set to deliver its final report today, although it will be the Ministry of Long-Term Care's decision whether or not to release it publicly.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath urged the government to release the full report publicly. Already, family members of residents and advocates have been calling on the government to take specific action, to retain certain policies put in place during the pandemic, and relax others.

Ford spoke briefly only briefly about long-term care homes Friday, calling what happened "tragic and terrible" before saying, "it can never be allowed to happen again."

With files from The Canadian Press