New Year begins with move to modified Phase 2

·4 min read

Toronto – A somber Ontario Premier Doug Ford addressed the province on Monday morning, announcing new closures, the “pause” on surgeries and a delay to in-person learning for students as COVID-19 numbers surged to a record high of 18,445 in early 2022.

“We face a tsunami of new cases in the days and weeks ahead,” the premier said. “Now we are bracing for impact. The evidence tells us about one per cent of people who get Omicron will end up in hospital. That may not seem a lot and under past waves it might have been something we could withstand but Omicron is not like other variants.”

The province will be returning to a “modified Phase 2” which includes the closure of many establishments including theatres and restaurants, as well as limited capacity at retailers, the postponement of between 8,000 and 10,000 surgeries a week and online learning for students until January 17. The other measures are expected to last until later, with the pause on non-emergent and non-urgent health care procedures until January 26.

Premier Ford noted this is not the news Ontarians wanted to hear but is necessary because of the high transmissibility of Omicron. With projections of up to 100,000 infections daily, one per cent hospital admission is too high. Ontario is already seeing triple digit admissions in hospital, he said.

“The math is not on our side,” the premier said.

While most people infected with Omicron are seeing a shorter hospital stay than in past and less need for ICU care, there is still the concern with the numbers, he explained.

“Ontario Health modeling tells us we could be thousands of beds short in the coming weeks,” he said.

Even though Ontario has added capacity in hospitals, Omicron still has the possibility to overwhelm, he said.

Premier Ford said the new measures and return to this “modified Phase 2” would commence today (Wednesday). He said this is being done in a “targeted and time limited way” to deal with the pandemic, which is now impacting a third calendar year.

“It has been the greatest challenge of our generation,” he said.

Ontario has delivered 24 million COVID vaccines including 3.7 million booster shoots, Premier Ford said. As well, the province will be offering expanded supports for small businesses during this time.

In-class learning will be delayed “for at least two weeks”, he said with remote learning planned for January 5-17.

“I know this is not the news anyone wants to hear but with the new variant the ground is shifting every day,” he said.

Health Minister Christine Elliot outlined the other measures, which include a limit in gatherings of five people indoors and 10 people outdoors. As well, businesses are required to ensure people work remotely unless the nature of the business requires them to be onsite.

Restaurants, bars, and clubs are only allowed to offer take out, drive through or outdoor seating. Cinemas, theatres, museums are closed, as are indoor sports and recreation facilities.

Shopping malls, retail stores, public libraries and personal care services are limited to 50 per cent capacity. Weddings, funerals and religious services are limited to 50 per cent capacity per room. Indoor meeting spaces and event spaces are closed with limited exceptions.

Minister Elliot said hospitals will pause all non-emergent and non-urgent health care procedures for 21 days until January 26. She noted many people have been waiting for surgeries but hospitals need the bed space and staff to deal with Omicron patients in part due to the absenteeism of health care workers.

“I want everyone to know this was not an easy decision,” she said.

Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the province is looking closely at the hospitalization rate as the key metric, adding most people require oxygen while in hospital, not ICU care with this variant. He said Ontarians should continue to monitor hospitalization rates.

“Anticipate they will reach maximum by the end of January and then start to descend,” he said.

This gives time for third doses (boosters) and the arrival of antivirals, he said. Omicron is here, he stressed.

“We are not going to be able to stop it,” he said. “We are going to blunt it the best we can through the sacrifices of Ontarians.”

Ontario reported a pandemic-high 18,445 cases of COVID on January 1. On Monday, the province reported another 13,578 cases. However, the province has noted the numbers are an “underestimate” following changes to testing eligibility.

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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