Ontario Considering New COVID-19 Restrictions, Including Extended School Vacation

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

Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

The Ontario government is considering new restrictions, including an extension of school vacations, as hospitals across the province have urgently called for new lockdowns to deal with the rapid rise in the number of COVID cases. 19.

Citing an “extremely serious” situation that threatens to overwhelm the healthcare system, the Ontario Hospital Association called on Thursday to lock down more regions and consider even tighter restrictions. The province reported a record 2,432 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with 919 people currently hospitalized – down slightly from the previous day – and 263 in intensive care units.

Premier Doug Ford called the situation in hospitals of concern and told reporters “all options are on the table,” but he said there were many factors to consider in a lockdown, including the availability of day care centers, isolation facilities for those who tested positive and help for small businesses in difficulty.

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“The worst thing we can do is rush in and make an instant decision in the blink of an eye,” Ford said. “We have to make sure that if we make this decision, Is it going to last two weeks, is it going to last three weeks, is it going to last 28 days?

“I will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to slow down this trend that we are seeing and bring it back well within the limits that we can control in our hospitals.

Earlier Thursday, when asked about extending the school vacation, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province was considering all options. However, the government has repeatedly said that its priority is to keep schools open.

Mr Ford’s cabinet is expected to meet on Friday to discuss new restrictions, including whether more regions should be moved to lockdown areas, although the government is not expected to announce whether it imposes widespread restrictions until next week.

Currently, four areas of the province are on lockdown, including Toronto and the Region of Peel, whose 28-day lockdown periods expire at midnight Monday. York Region and Windsor-Essex were also put on lockdown last week, which means not everything is essential. businesses and personal care services are closed, although big box stores may remain open.

Mr Ford said Thursday he was particularly concerned about the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton, but not the western Toronto suburb of Halton.

The board of directors of the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), which includes 18 current and former hospital leaders, on Thursday called for a four-week lockdown in every public health unit with a rate of infection of 40 per 100,000 population or more. That would mean about 15 of the province’s 34 public health units, including the entire Greater Toronto Area, would be closed to all businesses except essential businesses during the holidays.

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The OHA also recommended that the gray lockdown areas in the province’s framework – areas with maximum restrictions – be “promptly reassessed” by independent public health officials and epidemiologists to determine if further, more stringent measures are needed. .

Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the OHA, said the healthcare community is increasingly concerned about the impact of the holiday season on hospitals.

“If we are seeing widespread decisions to ignore public health advice, we are in a historic time of difficulty in Ontario hospitals,” he said. Mr Dale said the OHA was not making specific recommendations on what stricter measures might entail, but he said they could perhaps include the implementation of curfews or the enforcement of limits to private gatherings. Ford said Ontario is not considering a curfew at this time.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said he and provincial health experts had made recommendations to the government but would not say what they were on Thursday. He said he spoke to military medics in Toronto and Peel, which include Brampton and Mississauga, to see if the lockdown areas need to be a “darker shade of gray,” which means more restrictions.

Still, Dr Williams said the province is doing everything it can to keep schools open, which he says has been very successful. However, he said elementary schools are different from high schools, with higher transmission among older students in the community.

Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory said on Thursday that talks between local and provincial officials on the way forward were continuing, and he believed a regional approach in the Greater Toronto Area was needed to prevent people cross municipal borders to shop.

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He said extending the winter school break until January was an option, as was a stronger recommendation for office workers to stay home.

While Mr Tory said non-essential retailers should still be allowed to offer curbside pickup and delivery, he argued that any new rule should also address the “inconsistency” of allowing retailers Big box stores such as Walmart remain open while selling a range of merchandise as they also offer groceries.

“We need to provide fewer places to go, knowing they have real needs,” Tory said.

Initial COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada and around the world raise questions about how people respond to the vaccine, how pregnant women should approach it, and how far away herd immunity can be. Journalist Kelly Grant and science journalist Ivan Semeniuk discuss the responses. The Globe and Mail

With a report from Jeff Gray in Toronto

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