TORONTO — Ontario is issuing an order requiring residents to stay at home starting Thursday, except for essential activities such as accessing health care or shopping for groceries, and further delaying in-person classes for students in some hot spots.
Premier Doug Ford says he is also declaring another state of emergency effective immediately in response to surging COVID-19 infection rates.
The new measures also include restricting the hours of operation for non-essential retail stores such as hardware stores to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., and a five-person cap on outdoor social gatherings. Wearing a mask is also now recommended outdoors when physical distancing is difficult.
The province also says schools in five hot spot regions – Toronto, Hamilton, Peel, York and Windsor-Essex – will not reopen for in-person learning until Feb. 10.
Ford says he knows everyone "wants to return to normal," but stressed the health-care system is "on the brink of collapse."
"I know the actions we've announced today are difficult but they're absolutely necessary," Ford said in an afternoon news conference.
The premier announced the restrictions shortly after the province released new projections that show the virus is on track to overwhelm Ontario's health-care system.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, one of the experts behind the projections, said that if the province’s COVID-19 positivity rate is at five per cent, Ontario will see more than 20,000 new cases a day by the middle of next month.
If the rate climbs to seven per cent, that means the province will see 40,000 new daily cases.
The projections also indicate deaths from COVID-19 will exceed those in the pandemic's first wave unless there is a significant reduction in contacts between residents.
They show that under current restrictions, daily deaths from the virus will double from 50 to 100 between now and the end of February.
The data also shows a quarter of the province's hospitals now have no intensive care unit beds free and another quarter have only one or two beds free.
Brown said health-care providers will face difficult choices in the weeks ahead.
"These are choices that no doctor ever wants to make, and no family ever wants to hear," he said. "There will be choices about who will get the care they need and who will not."
Projections show there could be about 500 COVID-19 patients in intensive care by mid-January and potentially more than 1,000 by February under more severe scenarios.
The projections also said 40 per cent of the province's nursing homes are experiencing outbreaks of the virus.
Deaths continue to spike in long-term care with 198 residents and 2 staff dying of the virus since Jan. 1.
Ontario reported 2,903 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, including eight new cases of a variant from the United Kingdom.
The province also reported 41 more deaths linked to the virus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 12, 2021.
Shawn Jeffords and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press