Ontario reports 4,250 new COVID-19 cases and 18 more deaths on Sunday

·6 min read
Nurses from Humber River Hospital's mobile vaccine clinic administer COVID-19 vaccines at Toronto and Region Islamic Congregation Centre on April 1. Health Minister Christine Elliott said 3,837,881 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Ontario as of 8 p.m. on Saturday. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters - image credit)
Nurses from Humber River Hospital's mobile vaccine clinic administer COVID-19 vaccines at Toronto and Region Islamic Congregation Centre on April 1. Health Minister Christine Elliott said 3,837,881 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Ontario as of 8 p.m. on Saturday. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters - image credit)

Ontario reported 4,250 new COVID-19 cases and 18 more deaths on Sunday, as calls from health experts for a new approach to curb the third wave continue to grow.

The latest figures include 1,392 in Toronto, 714 in Peel Region, 483 in York Region, 239 in Ottawa, and 279 in Durham, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Sunday's case count is slightly lower than Saturday's count of 4,362. Daily case counts declined this weekend from a record-high of 4,812 on Friday — which marked the third straight days of new peaks.

The seven-day average now sits at 4,341, leveling off after more than a month of straight increases.

The cumulative number of deaths in the province from COVID-19 now tops 7,700.

Elliott said 3,837,881 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Ontario as of 8 p.m. on Saturday.

In a video posted to Twitter on Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is "doing whatever we can to help."

Trudeau said he spoke with the Atlantic premiers on Saturday to figure out which resources "they can free up over the coming days" to help Ontario, the Great Toronto Area in particular.

The prime minister said the federal government will foot the bill for all costs associated with the additional aid and will co-ordinate bringing staff from provinces to Ontario's front lines, including paying for their air travel.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc has also met with the premiers of Yukon, Northwest Territories and New Brunswick about how they could further assist the embattled province.

Trudeau also committed to boosting rapid testing of the virus, pledging to deploy tests in the province's hot spot areas — and specifically targeting essential workers and their workplaces.

"We are mobilizing federal healthcare workers," he said in the video, telling Ontarians "I want you to know that Canadians are with you."

Experts decry Ford government's response to 3rd wave

Late Friday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford's government announced a whole host of new measures it intended to help address the third COVID-19 wave — one experts have been forecasting since February.

Some of the measures — closing playgrounds, giving police the power to question anyone outside their home under threat of a $750 fine — have already been rolled back amid a groundswell of outrage. A stay-at-home order in the province has been extended until at least May 20.

WATCH | Director of Ontario's COVID-19 scientific advisory table says the province is in a severe crisis due to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic:

Some of the loudest criticism of the provincial government's approach has come from its own advisors.

During a live call-in radio special hosted by CBC Radio, Dr. Peter Jüni, the science director of the province's COVID-19 advisory table, said the new restrictions show that more than a year into the pandemic the province doesn't understand how the virus spreads.

Asked how he feels as an adviser when advice from medical experts is not followed by the province, Jüni said: "[Friday] was one of the darkest days in my professional career and also personally.

"What is needed is that we just all focus on what every single one of us can do...every single one can contribute to interrupting the transmission."

Hospitals continue to fill with COVID-19 patients

Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative physician and health justice activist, echoed Jüni's criticism, telling CBC News on Sunday that the new plan "totally misses the mark."

"Our Ontario government let us down," Dosani said.

"Instead of enacting policies that would actually help people, help our essential workers, they announced more policing and more enforcement."

Dosani said the enforcement approach is made worse for the fact that "more enforcement has a disproportionate impact on racialized people, low income areas…. [and] these are the communities that have been the hardest hit by COVID-19."

WATCH | Dr. Naheed Dosani urges the Ontario government to take a more compassionate approach:

On Sunday, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 in Ontario increased by 42 to a new high of 2,107.

The province says 741 people are in intensive care units with a COVID-related illness, 506 of whom are on ventilators.

"We are coming to this place where our ICU and hospital capacity is reaching a maximum," said Dosani, meaning very soon health-care providers will be tasked with deciding who gets life-saving care and who does not.

"The worst part is this was all so preventable," he said. "I cannot tell you the emotional anguish and pain that is involved in providing healthcare for people who are sick with COVID-19 and who are dying."

Dosani says providers continue to struggle with compassion fatigue, burnout and moral injury.

"We deserve answers and we deserve a government that's committed to saving lives," he said.

"Will the government answer the call? The time is now."

Pharmacist says he's sitting on vials of expiring vaccines

The province only decided in recent weeks to focus on hot spots in its vaccine rollout, marking a major shift in its strategy.

Amid confusion last week about when and how young people in COVID-19 hot spots can be vaccinated, Ford defended the province's vaccine rollout plan.

"It's very, very simple," he said, before sharing the COVID-19 booking website and phone number — despite the fact that those 18 to 49 cannot book through those means.

Ford's claim that booking a COVID-19 vaccine is simple is not true. Here's a look at how complex the situation is:

  • If you're 60-plus, you can book at a mass vaccination site or pharmacy. This should be relatively straightforward.

  • If you're 55-plus, you can book through a pharmacy if there is one offering vaccines nearby. This can be trickier in many areas.

  • If you're 50-plus in a COVID-19 hot spot — and you'll have to search to figure out if your postal code is in fact a hot spot — you can go to a mass vaccination site.

  • Those under 50 in hot spots can now qualify, too, but you can't book through the provincial system. Instead, you'll have to search for a mobile or pop-up clinic. Others under 50 who are eligible in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout — such as education workers or others deemed a priority — can book but will also need to bring paperwork.

Because of the complex situation, Toronto pharmacist Kyro Maseh told CBC News he has 160 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that expire at the end of May that he hasn't been able to administer.

The patients he's already given first doses to aren't due back for a second dose until June — past the expiration date.

But Maseh said he's run out of eligible patients, some he suspects because they are "shopping around for the best vaccine." (Health experts have strongly advised against vaccine shopping.)

WATCH | Ontario pharmacist calls for expanded vaccine access:

Even with the absence of patients, Maseh says he's been forced to turn away frontline workers under the age of 55 who've been "begging to be vaccinated."

Several people "broke down and cried in my pharmacy," he said. "They're fearful to go to work and I can't do anything about it."

Maseh urged the government to open up vaccine eligibility, calling it an "all hands on deck" situation.

Pharmacists "want to be part of the solution," he said. "That's only going to be achieved if we have as many vaccines as possible distributed."