In an attempt to curb the rampant spread of COVID-19 across the province, Ontario residents and businesses now face a new set of restrictions.
The measures were announced by Premier Doug Ford last week and went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on January 5.
“As we continue with our provincial vaccine booster efforts, we must look at every option to slow the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant,” said Premier Doug Ford.
The Premier added that putting these targeted and time-limited measures in place will give more opportunity to deliver vaccines to all Ontarians and ensure everyone has maximum protection against this virus.
Ford says the province expects 1 percent of Omicron cases to end up in hospitals, and the province is expecting as many as 100,000 new cases per day.
The restrictions, which is a return to Step Two of the province’s reopening plan, include the closure of indoor dining, food courts, gyms and theatres, as well as lower capacity limits in most other settings.
Most personal care services will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, though some settings such as saunas and steam rooms will have to be closed.
Social gatherings are limited to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors.
Retail settings, including shopping malls, will be permitted at 50 percent capacity. For shopping malls, physical distancing will be required in line-ups, and food courts will be required to close.Personal care services will be permitted to operate at 50 percent capacity. Saunas, steam rooms, and oxygen bars will be closed. Public libraries will be limited to 50 percent capacity.
Indoor dining at restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments will no longer be permitted. Outdoor dining with restrictions, takeout, drive-through and delivery is permitted.
Indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities, including gyms, will be closed, except for athletes training for the Olympics and Paralympics and select professional and elite amateur sports leagues. Outdoor facilities will be permitted to operate but with the number of spectators not to exceed 50 percent occupancy and other requirements.
All publicly funded and private schools moved to remote learning on January 5 until at least January 17, subject to public health trends and operational considerations.
School buildings would be permitted to open for child care operations and to provide in-person instruction for students with special education needs who cannot be accommodated remotely.
Additionally, the Chief Medical Officer of Health reinstated Directive 2 for hospitals and regulated health professionals, instructing hospitals to pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to “preserve critical care and human resource capacity.”
The new restrictions come amid what Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office called an “explosive growth in hospitalizations.”
As of January 5, there were 2,081 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19, up from 1,290 on the previous day. That figure includes patients who were admitted for COVID-19 as well as those who were admitted for other reasons and are now testing positive for COVID-19. A week ago, the figure stood at 491.
According to the latest data published by the Ontario Hospital Association, 87.4 percent of Ontario’s hospital beds were occupied as of January 2.
According to Lori Marshall, President and CEO of Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, the ICU is 90 percent full.
Marshall said she is worried about hospital capacity and running out of places to transfer patients if needed.
“Absolutely, I am worried that capacity will become an issue for every single hospital in the province and not just us,” said Marshall.
The virus’s rapid spread has resulted in a seven-day rolling average of 14,435 new daily cases. However, health officials have warned the true figure is likely much higher but unconfirmed due to testing limitations and backlogs.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News