On Dec. 21, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that starting at 12:01 am on Dec. 26 (Boxing Day), Halton Region will officially go into lockdown along with the entire province, with Southern Ontario slated to experience a 28-day (at minimum) shutdown.
Northern Ontario will face a 14-day (at a minimum) shutdown.
While Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), Toronto, York Region, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex were placed in lockdown prior to today’s announcement, the newest shutdown will include temporary school closures until at least Jan. 11 for elementary schools and Jan. 25 for high schools.
All students will be able to learn online after the Christmas holidays end, as only in-class learning will be temporarily suspended.
Prior to today, Halton Region was in the Red-Control level of the province’s colour-coded system in the fight against COVID-19.
Following Ford’s announcement today, Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward issued a statement that supported the province-wide lockdown.
“I support additional measures to curb the spread of COVID-19,” said Meed Ward, adding that current measures in lockdown areas are “not sufficient.”
“New measures must be effective, enforced and based on health evidence. More must be done to protect long-term care homes, essential workers and improve workplace safety.”
During today’s provincial announcement, Ford said, “The number of daily cases continue to rise putting our hospitals and long-term care homes at risk.”
“We need to stop the spread of this deadly virus. That’s why, on the advice of Dr. Williams and other health experts, we are taking the difficult but necessary decision to shutdown the province and ask people to stay home. Nothing is more important right now than the health and safety of all Ontarians.”
Ford told reporters that hospitalizations for COVID-19 have increased by 74 per cent over the last four weeks and are more than 15 times higher than they were at the beginning of September. Intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy for COVID-19 has more than doubled over the last four weeks and is 20 times higher than at the beginning of September.
Ontario currently has 915 COVID-19 patients requiring acute care, 265 patients in ICU, with 152 on a ventilator.
Based on the latest modelling data, cases across the province are continuing to grow and the number of people requiring an intensive care bed is projected to rise well above 300 people within the next 10 days.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said anything less than a four-week lockdown will not work, based on the experience of other jurisdictions.
“Hard lockdown, a very stringent lockdown, with very strong communication, of four to six weeks can reduce case numbers in Ontario,” he said. “The duration of lockdown is very important.”
The new data was released hours before Ford held a news conference.
Brown said approaches employed by other jurisdictions that have been shown to work include the use of curfews, limiting mobility, use of strong work-from-home orders, and the closure of non-essential businesses.
Ford has declined to implement curfews or inter-province travel bans at this time.
Brown said that if Ontario’s COVID-19 case rate continues to grow between one to three per cent, the province will have 3,000 to 5,000 daily cases by the end of January.
If the province sees “substantial growth” of seven per cent, Ontario will have 30,000 daily cases.
The new projections show that under all scenarios the province will see 300 intensive care unit beds filled within 10 days – double the 150-bed threshold where surgeries must be cancelled.
Under a worst-case-scenario, ICU occupancy could hit 1,500 beds by mid-January.
The data also shows that deaths due to COVID-19 will continue to increase, especially in long-term care where there have been 633 resident deaths since Sept. 1, and 100 over the past week.
The province’s newest lockdown measures include, but are not limited to:
Restricting indoor organized public events and social gatherings, except with members of the same household (the people you live with). Individuals who live alone may consider having exclusive close contact with one other household.
Prohibiting in-person shopping in most retail settings – curbside pickup and delivery can continue. Discount and big-box retailers selling groceries will be limited to 25 per cent capacity for in-store shopping. Supermarkets, grocery stores and similar stores that primarily sell food, as well as pharmacies, will continue to operate at 50 per cent capacity for in-store shopping.
Restricting indoor access to shopping malls – patrons may only go to a designated indoor pickup area (by appointment only), essential retail stores that are permitted to be open (e.g. pharmacy, grocery store), or, subject to physical distancing and face-covering requirements, to the food court for takeout purchases. Shopping malls may also establish outdoor designated pickup areas.
Prohibiting indoor and outdoor dining. Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments will be permitted to operate by takeout, drive-through, and delivery only.
Ford said all Ontarians are advised to stay home as much as possible and only leave home to go to work, buy food or medicine, attend medical appointments or support a vulnerable community member. Employers in all industries are asked to make “every effort” to allow employees to work from home.
The current COVID-19 Response Framework will be paused when the Provincewide Shutdown comes into effect.
“This was not an easy decision before the holidays, but we have reached a tipping point,” Elliott said in a statement.
“We continue to see sharp increases in hospitalizations and occupancy in intensive care units is reaching concerning levels. Urgent action must be taken to prevent our health care system from becoming overwhelmed. By implementing a Provincewide Shutdown, we can work to stop the virus in its tracks, safeguard hospital capacity, and save lives.”
The government also announced that it’s providing $12.5 million to implement a High Priority Communities Strategy to contain the virus in high-risk communities. The strategy will take a tailored, community-based approach to fund community agencies in 15 priority communities in the York, Peel, Durham, Ottawa, and Toronto regions.
Additional funding of $42 million will also be available to establish isolation centres.
“We continue to see the number of cases in the province grow and the trends in public health indicators worsen. Additional measures are needed provincewide in order to interrupt this concerning growth,” said Dr. Williams in a statement.
“We must work together to enable everyone to follow these new and time-limited restrictions and protect our health system and our communities.”
The province says the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is leading a multi-ministry COVID-19 Safety Team to help curb workplace outbreaks.
During this shutdown, child care centres, authorized recreational and skill-building programs and home-based child care services will remain open.
From January 4-8, 2021, when elementary students move to remote learning, before and after school programs will be closed and emergency child care for health care and frontline workers will be provided. Boards will be required to make provisions for continued in-person support for students with special education needs who cannot be accommodated through remote learning for whom remote learning is challenging.
The province also announced the new Ontario Small Business Support Grant, which will provide a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 to eligible small business owners to help navigate the lockdown.
Essential businesses that are allowed to remain open will not be eligible for this grant.
The province says that municipalities and local medical officers of health may have additional restrictions or targeted requirements in their region.
To date, as part of the province’s COVID-19 immunization program, over 3,000 frontline health care workers have been vaccinated.
With files from Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press