Ontario is bringing back tougher COVID-19 restrictions, which include closing schools and halting non-urgent surgeries, in an effort to “blunt the curve” of the soaring infection cases across the province and slow the spread of the Omicron variant, according to Premier Doug Ford.
Effective 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 5, Ontario will return to a modified “step two” of the Roadmap to Reopen plan, which includes delaying students’ return to school by two more weeks, beyond the previous delay to Jan. 5, Ford announced in a press conference on Monday.
Students will continue learning virtually, which the premier said “isn’t ideal,” but will provide students and parents with certainty.
The measures announced will be in place for at least 21 days, until Jan. 26, while still subject to change based on new trends and key indicators, as well as directives from Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Health Minister Christine Elliot said.
The announcement came as the province gears up for surging infection cases and what the officials said will be “hundreds of thousands” of hospitalizations expected in the coming weeks due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
“Based on a real-world experience here in Ontario, the evidence tells us that about 1 percent of people who get Omicron will end up in the hospital,” Ford said. “That may not seem a lot, and under past waves it might have been something we could withstand, but Omicron isn’t like the other variants. It’s much, much more transmissible. So, the math isn’t on our side.”
“Based on the current trends, our public health experts tell us we can see hundreds of thousands of cases every single day. One percent of hundreds of thousands is too many new patients for our hospitals to handle,” he said, adding that there have been “triple digits” of daily COVID-19-related hospital admissions over the past few days.
Ontario reported 13, 578 new cases on Monday, with 1,232 people being hospitalized with COVID-19, including 248 under intensive care. This came after the province added 16,714 new cases on Sunday and a record 18,445 reported the day before.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore told reporters that infection cases are anticipated to reach the peak by the end of January and will begin to descend.
While the officials did not provide a clear timeline as to when these new restrictions would be lifted, Moore said the hospitalization rate is now the most important metric for the government in making that decision.
Other new measures announced Monday include reducing social gathering limits to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors. Indoor dining at restaurants, bars, and other food and drink establishments is prohibited, while takeout services, drive-through, and delivery are allowed to continue operating.
Certain high-contact indoor settings, such as theatres, museums, and indoor sport and recreational facilities will also be closed, while outdoor sport facilities and establishments are allowed to open under certain requirements.
Retail settings, shopping malls, and personal care services will operate at 50 percent capacity. Indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services will also be limited to 50 percent capacity, while outdoor services are limited to the number of people who can maintain two metres of physical distancing.
Businesses and organizations are asked to have their employees work remotely unless the nature of the work requires them to be onsite.
In addition, starting Jan. 5, the province will pause all non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity in the health-care system—a decision that could affect between 8,000 to 10,000 surgeries on a weekly basis.
“Generally what we would look at through a typical week would be somewhere between eight to ten thousand surgeries or other procedures that will be impacted by this [policy], so that would be what would add to our waitlist,” CEO of Ontario Health Matt Anderson said.