Ontario imposes four-week 'shutdown' to combat surge in COVID-19 cases

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces the province-wide “emergency brake” on Thursday Apr. 1 2021

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces the province-wide “emergency brake” on Thursday Apr. 1 2021

The Ford government announced the shutdown on Thursday afternoon, and on the same day, the region held a COVID-19 community update. As I've said we will do what it takes to protect the people of Ontario. "Even if we had unlimited ICU capacity, allowing these (variants of concern) to spread exponentially is unethical".

"This is a new pandemic". "It's spreading far more quickly than it was before and we can not vaccinate quickly enough to break this third wave, this is the challenge of the new variants".

Two-thirds of the province's public health units are now under what the government calls lockdown (grey zone) or control (red zone) restrictions.

The new restrictions are virtually identical to those now in place in areas already in lockdown.

Just last week, The Ford government announced a series of modifications to its COVID-19 framework that was expected to allow the reopening of personal care services such as hair and nail salons. Essential retail, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, can also stay open, but at 50 per cent capacity.

Prohibiting indoor organized public events and social gatherings and limiting the capacity for outdoor organized public events or social gatherings to a five-person maximum, except for gatherings with members of the same household (the people you live with) or gatherings of members of one household and one other person from another household who lives alone.

Limiting capacity at weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites or ceremonies to 15 per cent occupancy per room indoors, and to the number of individuals that can maintain two metres of physical distance outdoors.

Schools and day care centers will remain open.

The government is asking Ontarians to limit trips outside the home to necessities such as food, medication and other essential services.

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The measures, introduced to combat what Premier Doug Ford called an "alarming" recent spike in COVID-19 infections and meant to last for at least four weeks, sounded economic alarm bells for some industry groups who say their sectors can not withstand additional closures and financial losses.

When asked about the new restrictions, Ford said early Thursday that it was a "tough decision". Someone who catches the dominant B.117 variant is 1.5 times more likely to die.

Ontario's hospital intensive care units had 421 patients critically ill with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, more than at the worst point of the pandemic's second wave.

But the province ultimately chose to forego a stay-at-home order in favour of the emergency brake shutdown.

New variants of the virus risk overwhelming ICUs and threaten the care of all patients, warned Dr. Steini Brown, co-chair of the province's science advisory table. "Younger people are ending up in the hospital and with these new variants, ICU admissions is two times higher, deaths are one-and-a-half times higher". In order to support working families, child care will remain open during the shutdown.

The Ontario modelling also suggests, "Vaccination is not reaching the highest risk communities, delaying its impact as an effective strategy". "All 34 public health regions will move into shutdown for a period of four weeks".

For the next four weeks, businesses and services will be impacted as part of the Ontario government's effort to prevent COVID-19 spread but it is not a stay-at-home order, like what happened at the end of 2020.

The opposition NDP accused Ford of walking Ontario into the shutdown "with eyes wide open".

Advisers said new pandemic modelling indicates the third wave is being driven by more deadly variants.

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