Toronto

Ontario reports 1,057 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

Ontario is inching closer to a return to some semblance of normalcy, with the province easing restrictions on outdoor activities as the COVID-19 case count continues to drop.

As of 8 p.m. on Friday, the province has administered more than 8.8 million vaccine doses

Ontario Premier Doug Ford shows off the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, December 30, 2020. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Ontario is inching closer to a return to some semblance of normalcy, with the province easing restrictions on outdoor activities as the COVID-19 case count continues to drop.

That's in part thanks to the fact that at least 60 per cent of the province's adult population has now had a first dose of a vaccine, Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases specialist, told CBC News on Saturday.

"We have a supply that's gotten much better recently," Chagla said, and "we're seeing great results for first doses."

Ontario reported 1,057 new COVID-19 cases for Saturday, down from 1,273 cases on Friday.

Friday's cases were the most in four days, although still substantially lower than the week prior when the province logged 1,890 new infections in one day. The province is also reporting 15 new deaths.

The new case count includes 228 cases in Toronto, 178 in Peel Region, 82 in York Region, and 71 in Hamilton.

Chagla said he's "very hopeful" moving forward and expects that "Canada is probably going to be [end up as] one of the world leaders because of vaccine rates… it's going to help us get back to normal a bit sooner."

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Canada's top doctor echoed Chagla's optimism, saying the pandemic's third wave seems to be at an end.

However, Dr. Theresa Tam is urging people to stay vigilant. Re-opening too quickly could lead to "pockets of resurgences" in under-immunized populations, she said.

As such, she's advising people not to get ahead of themselves as provinces move to loosen COVID-19 restrictions.

Health Canada extends expiry date for AstraZeneca doses 

As of 8 p.m. on Friday, 8,839,445 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered.

Ontario pharmacists who expected to spend the weekend racing to administer 45,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine set to expire have been given a reprieve from Health Canada.

The federal agency has extended the expiry date from May 31 to July 1, according to a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.

The decision was made "following the review of submitted stability data," Elliott's spokesperson said via an email.

The doses, which sat in storage for a few weeks while Ontario re-evaluated the safety of the vaccine, were held up by quality checks and only reached pharmacies on Friday.

People who received their first dose between March 10 and March 19 are eligible for their second dose.

As more people get vaccinated, the landscape of the pandemic will change, according to Chagla.

"A case that's vaccinated has a lower risk of ending up in hospital, ending up dying, than a case that isn't vaccinated," he said.

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So while the provinces should anticipate a potential bump in cases as lockdown restrictions ease, Chagla noted the real metric of progress will be hospitalization rates.

"That's really what the next phase is," he said.

As of Saturday, Ontario said there are 934 patients who have been hospitalized because of COVID-19. Of that figure, 626 are in intensive care units.

Ontarians await word on whether schools will reopen soon

Premier Doug Ford is still weighing whether to reopen schools for the final month of this academic year or to keep them closed until September.

Earlier this week, the premier released an open letter calling on dozens of experts to offer their advice. The deadline for their submissions was Friday at 5 p.m. 

However, with no word on when Ford intends to make his decision, many in the province are on tenterhooks. Provincewide, students have been learning remotely since April.

In Toronto, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa has already said that the city would like to see schools reopen.

"At Toronto Public Health, our preference is that the restoration of in-person learning should precede the lifting of any other restrictions implemented to reduce COVID-19 transmission," de Villa wrote in a response letter to Ford.

In a note published Saturday morning, the province's Science Advisory Table released its advice to the premier, reiterating earlier statements that "schools should be the last sector to close and the first sector to reopen" and calling schools "the essential work of Ontario's children."

The Science Table says its modelling reveals any increase in COVID-19 cases from reopening schools would be "small" and manageable.

The advisory group is recommending schools be reopened on a regional basis, with chief medical officers of health like Toronto's Dr. de Villa advising.

Other sectors should stay closed while the province continues to vaccinate as many Ontarians as possible, the group says. "We must keep case numbers low enough during the next three months to ensure a return to consistent, in-person schooling in September."

In addition to reopening for the final month of the year, the Science Advisory Table is recommending Ford's government begin to think about longer-term investments that will "mitigate the significant short and long-term harms arising from school closures."

With files from The Canadian Press

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