Ontario issues stay-at-home order as COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm hospitals

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OTTAWA — Canada's biggest province declared a 28-day state of emergency Tuesday and will invoke a stay-at-home order this week as COVID-19 threatens to completely overwhelm Ontario hospitals.

The dire news came as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada has secured another 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19. Along with the doses of Moderna's vaccine, this means Canada will now get enough to vaccinate every Canadian by the fall.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the vaccines provide a kind of hope that wasn't there when his province implemented a state of emergency for the first time last March, but he said vaccines will not stop the pandemic until a critical mass of people are vaccinated.

"The system is on the brink of collapse," he said.

The province reported 2,903 new cases Tuesday, which was the first time in more than a week daily cases fell below 3,000. But another 41 people died in the province since Monday and 138 more were admitted to hospital because of COVID-19.

There are now 1,700 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19, including 385 in intensive care and more than 260 of those on a ventilator.

Ontario is not alone. Quebec warned Monday that its hospitals are so stretched doctors might soon be forced to decide who gets a ventilator and who doesn't. Quebec hospitals have 1,497 COVID-19 patients, including 21 in intensive care.

Quebec implemented an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew last weekend, but reopened elementary schools for students on Monday. Ontario is opting for a full stay-at-home order, rather than a curfew, limiting hours for retailers doing curbside pickup, and limiting outdoor gatherings to a maximum of five people, instead of 10.

Ontario schools are closed until at least Jan. 25, with schools in the hardest hit areas including much of the Greater Toronto Area, and those in Windsor, Ont., to remain closed until mid-February. A decision on schools in other regions will be made Jan. 20.

As of 4 a.m. Tuesday, almost 360,000 doses of vaccines had been administered in Canada, about two-thirds of the doses that have been shipped to Canada to date.

Canada has approved two different vaccines to date, with two more under review by Health Canada. It is expected that 20 million Canadians will get their first dose of vaccine by the summer, and the rest by the end of September.

Both approved vaccines require two doses per person.

New modelling in Ontario released Tuesday projected that daily deaths could double from 50 to 100 per day by the end of February.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province has also detected eight more cases of the COVID-19 variant from United Kingdom, bringing the total number detected across Canada now to at least 22.

The variant is believed to spread more easily, but does not cause more severe illness. Preliminary studies from Pfizer showed that vaccine protects against the new variant as well.

Trudeau also announced Tuesday that the Canada-U. S. land border will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least Feb. 21 — another 30-day extension to the restrictions in place since mid-March.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press