Ontario reported 1,699 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, as the province's vaccination rollout expands.
Health Minster Christine Elliott said there were 500 new cases found in Toronto, as well as 318 in Peel, 155 in York Region and 114 in Hamilton. The seven-day average, which smooths out peaks and valleys in the data, now stands at 1,600.
Those cases come with around 31,100 tests completed, which is well below the province's capacity. Testing numbers usually dip over the weekend, before rising later in the week.
The province is reporting three new deaths of people with COVID-19, as well as 1,175 cases that have been marked as resolved. The death toll for the pandemic now stands at 7,244.
There are 813 people in hospital, up from 765 the day before — and that's with the caveat of that figure being typically underreported on weekends.
There are also 298 people in intensive care, and 186 of those are on a ventilator, the province says. That's down slightly from 302 and 189 the day before, respectively.
As of 8 p.m. Sunday, the province had administered just over 1.5 million vaccine doses, Elliott said. There were 31,335 vaccines administered Sunday, with 299,297 now fully vaccinated.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said the province is making "tremendous progress" on its vaccine plans, and lauded the work of front-line health-care workers.
"We're so grateful to them for the vital role they've been playing in the fight against this virus," he said.
The premier once again pushed the federal government to provide more vaccine doses, saying Ontario needs a steadier supply.
"We're at a fraction of our capacity. We need more vaccines," he said.
Ontario's test positivity rate now 5.4%, top doctors say
Dr. David Williams, the province's chief medical officer of health, said on Monday that the number of new cases daily, the test positivity rate and the percentage of new cases that are variants of concern are all on the increase in Ontario.
"We're in the third wave. The numbers are slowly going up. They're not going as fast as predicted by the modellers, and that's to your credit. But ... it's still going up," Williams told reporters at a provincial update.
"We're not doubling, but we're going up continually with our variants of concern and we're now starting to see impacts on our hospital rates. That dip down to where we had hoped to get to, we didn't get to, and now it's picking back up again."
Williams said people infected with virus variants seem to be presenting more at hospital ICUs and those cases are showing higher levels of mortality, a pattern that has been seen elsewhere in the world.
Those trends were reported days after the province loosened public health restrictions on restaurants by allowing up to 50 people to dine indoors in the "red" zone of its pandemic framework — the strictest level short of a lockdown.
Williams said that decision, which was met with criticism and alarm from the physicians, was made after restaurants raised concerns about the smaller limit. He said it's businesses' responsibility follow the guidelines.
"I was okay to allow this variation to come in if there was checks and balances," he said. "It's, in a way, an agreement, a contract with the public to say, 'You really want to have this, you can get it, but you've got to follow all the rules very carefully."'
Since its last update on Thursday, Ontario is reporting 7,064 more cases of COVID-19, according to Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province's associate medical officer of health.
Ontario's seven-day average for daily cases, which now stands at 1,600, is an increase from 1,350 last week and 1,155 two weeks ago, Yaffe said. The province is also reporting an additional 42 deaths since Thursday.
A total of 31,089 tests have been completed as of Monday and the test positivity rate is 5.4 per cent, marking the first time since Feb. 1 that the test positivity rate is above five per cent, she said.
The average test positivity rate over the last seven days is 3.9 per cent, an increase from three per cent from the same time period last week.
Ontario reporting 1,424 cases of variants of concern
Ontario is reporting a total of 1,424 confirmed cases of variants of concern on Monday.
Of this number, 1,340 are of the B117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 48 are of the B1351 variant, first identified in South Africa, and 36 of the P1 variant, first identified in Brazil.
A mutation has been detected in a total of 13,226 samples, but the lineage has not yet been determined, Yaffe said.
The seven-day rolling average positivity rate for variants of concern is 46.4 per cent, an increase from 37.9 per cent a week ago, she added.
Other public health units that saw double-digit case increases of COVID-19 were:
Simcoe Muskoka: 64
Eastern Ontario Health Unit: 39
Thunder Bay: 16
Brant County: 15
Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health: 13
Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit: 12
Southwestern Public Health: 11
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit on a given day, because local units report figures at different times.)
Meanwhile, Ontario residents who are 75 or older can start booking their COVID-19 vaccines through the government's online system starting today.
People in that age group were initially set to become eligible by the first week of April, but the province announced last week it was moving up the date, saying vaccinations are ahead of schedule.
Similarly, York Region has announced that it is now offering vaccine appointments for residents 70 and over, who were born in 1951 and earlier, effective March 23.
Also starting on Monday, certain pharmacies and family physicians in some regions will be allowed to administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot to anyone 60 or older.
Ford said Monday that the province plans to expand that pilot project, with a focus on Peel Region and Toronto.
"We're going to double the amount of pharmacies up to 750," Ford said.
A number of regions are also moving to different restriction levels in the province's colour-coded pandemic framework Monday.
The Brant, Chatham-Kent and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark regions are now in the red zone — the second-most restrictive.
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph is now in orange, and four others — Timiskaming, Porcupine, North Bay Parry Sound and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington — are in yellow.
Ontario to spend $1.2B to help public hospitals
On Monday, the province also announced plans to spend $1.2 billion to assist public hospitals in recovering from the financial pressures of COVID-19.
More than half of the funds will cover "historic working funds deficits" and $572 million will address losses from revenue sources affected by the pandemic, such as parking and retail services.