Ontario enters harder lockdown, police get more powers as COVID cases soar

Allison Martell and David Ljunggren
·3 min read
COVID-19 vaccinations at pharmaceutical company Apotex in Toronto

By Allison Martell and David Ljunggren

TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) -The Canadian province of Ontario expanded and extended a stay at home order on Friday and said police will be given new powers to stop and question people who leave home as expert advisors warned that new cases of COVID-19 will continue to soar, overwhelming hospitals.

Ontario also announced restrictions on non-essential travel from neighbouring provinces starting Monday and said non-essential construction, including building projects at malls, hotels and office towers will shut down as of Saturday to deal with a raging third wave.

"The reality is there are few options left," said Premier Doug Ford. "The difficult truth is, every public health measure we have left comes with a massive cost to people."

New projections published by a provincial advisory group on Friday showed new cases rising above 10,000 per day in June if "moderate" public health measures remain in place for six weeks, and vaccination levels remain roughly flat. Ontario, home to 38% of Canada's population, announced a record 4,812 cases on Friday.

Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the advisory panel, said the moderate scenario was equivalent to a stay at home order announced last week. The number of patients in need of intensive care could reach 2,000 in May, up from 695 on Friday, the forecast showed.

The dire forecast came as Moderna said it would cut its next delivery to Canada by nearly half to 650,000 doses, and Canada announced a deal to buy 8 million more Pfizer vaccine doses.

In recent weeks Ontario has closed schools, restaurants, limited in-store shopping, and cancelled elective surgeries as a surge of admissions threatened to overwhelm hospitals.

HOSPITALS UNDER PRESSURE

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Canadian government would help hard hit Toronto, the province's capital and the country's largest city.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to help," Trudeau told reporters. "Discussions are ongoing about extra healthcare providers, and we are ready to step up."

Trudeau said Canada had agreed to purchase 8 million extra doses of Pfizer's vaccine, including 4 million to be delivered in May, nearly doubling Pfizer's shipments that month. Federal officials had previously said most Canadians should receive a first dose by the end of June.

In the north end of Toronto, Sunnybrook Hospital is preparing to open a mobile health unit, effectively a field hospital, for some COVID patients as soon as next week, a spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The city's University Health Network (UHN) is installing tents at two emergency rooms to increase space.

The number of patients at UHN on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, an artificial lung treatment sometimes used to keep the sickest COVID patients alive, reached 23, including 20 with COVID. The hospital network had previously said it could treat up to 30 patients.

Separately on Friday, Health Canada said it had received an application from Pfizer and BioNTech to expand the use of its vaccine to children 12 years and older, down from 16 years and up.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, John Stonestreet, Nick Macfie and Diane Craft)