Ontario considers new COVID-19 restrictions, including extended school holidays

Patients were lying on stretchers in the emergency department aisle, as the unit was at full capacity at Humber River Hospital in Toronto on December 9, 2020.

Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

The Ontario government is considering further restrictions, including a prolonged break from school holidays, as provincial hospitals have issued an urgent call for more blockades to resolve the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

Citing an “extremely serious” situation that is in danger of overloading the health system, the Ontario Hospital Association called on Thursday for more regions to be closed and for even more severe restrictions to be considered. The province reported a record 2,432 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, with 919 people currently in the hospital – slightly below the previous day – and 263 in intensive care units.

Premier Doug Ford called the situation in hospitals a concern and told reporters that “all options are on the table”, but he said there are many factors to weigh in on a blockade, including the availability of childcare facilities, isolation facilities for those positive test and help for struggling small businesses.

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“The worst thing we could do is run and make a sudden decision in the blink of an eye,” said Ford. “We have to make sure that we make that decision, will it be two weeks, will it be three weeks, will it be 28 days?

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“I will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to slow this trend that we see and recover it within the numbers that we can control in our hospitals.”

On Thursday morning, when asked about the extent of school holidays, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is looking for all options. However, the government has repeatedly said that its priority is to keep schools open.

Ford’s cabinet is due to meet on Friday to discuss new restrictions, including whether more regions should be moved to blockade zones, although the government should not announce whether it is imposing any general restrictions until next year. week.

Currently, four regions in the province are blocked, including Toronto and the Peel Region, whose 28-day blocks expire on Monday at 12:01. York Region and Windsor-Essex were also moved to blockade last week, meaning that all non-essential businesses and personal care services are closed, although large stores may remain open.

Ford said on Thursday that he is particularly concerned with the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, but not with the suburb of Halton, west of Toronto.

The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) board, which includes 18 current and former hospital leaders, on Thursday called for a four-week block on all public health facilities with an infection rate of 40 per 100,000 or more. This would mean that about 15 of the province’s 34 public health units, including the entire Greater Toronto area, would be closed to everyone except essential business during the holiday.

The OHA also recommended that the gray block zones of the province’s structure – the zones with maximum restrictions – be “quickly reevaluated” by independent epidemiologists and public health to determine whether additional and stricter measures are needed.

Anthony Dale, president and CEO of OHA, said there is growing concern in the health community about the impact of the holiday season on hospitals.

“If we see widespread decisions to ignore public health advice, we will have a time of historic difficulty in Ontario hospitals,” he said. Mr. Dale said that OHA is not making specific recommendations on what stricter measures might entail, but he said they could include implementing curfews or imposing limits on private meetings. Ford said Ontario was not considering curfew at this time.

Ontario’s Medical Director of Health, David Williams, said he and provincial health experts made recommendations to the government, but did not say on Thursday what they were. He said he talked to doctors in Toronto and Peel, who include Brampton and Mississauga, to see if the block zones need to be “darker gray,” which means more restrictions.

Still, Dr. Williams said the province is doing everything it can to keep schools open, which he said was quite successful. However, he said that primary schools are different from secondary schools, with greater transmission among older students in the community.

Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory said on Thursday that negotiations between local and provincial authorities on what to do next continue, and he believes that a regional approach across the Greater Toronto area is needed to prevent people from crossing municipal boundaries to shop.

He said extending winter school holidays to January is an option, as well as a stronger recommendation for office workers to stay at home.

Although Mr. Tory said non-essential retailers should still be allowed to offer pickup and delivery on the sidewalk, he argued that any new rules should also address the “inconsistency” of allowing large retailers, like Walmart, to remain open while selling variety of goods because they also offer groceries.

“We need to provide fewer places for people to go, recognizing that they have some real needs,” said Tory.

The initial COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada and around the world raise questions about how people react to the injection, how pregnant women should approach it and how far collective immunity can be. World health reporter Kelly Grant and science reporter Ivan Semeniuk discuss the answers. The Globe and Mail

With a report by Jeff Gray in Toronto

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