Ontario reported 927 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday — the most on a single day in the province in nearly 10 weeks — while Premier Doug Ford called on the federal government to ban flights from countries where a new variant of concern has been found.
In a statement, Ford said he was briefed this morning by Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, on a recently discovered variant that could potentially be resistant to existing vaccines and even more transmissible than the delta variant. Delta drove Ontario's third wave and now accounts for nearly 100 per cent of new cases in the province.
A World Health Organization panel has named the variant "omicron" and classified it as a highly transmissible variant of concern. That's the same category that includes the delta variant, the predominant version of the novel coronavirus now driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the United States. Much of the world is instituting travel bans on visitors from southern Africa, where the new variant was discovered.
Ford said he contacted the federal government to his express his "extreme concern about the risks [the variant] poses and the need for immediate action today."
Ford asked the federal government to ban flights and passengers from countries of concern.
"Anyone arriving before the ban is implemented should be tested and quarantined, including the many passengers arriving today," he said in the statement.
"Out of an abundance of caution, we must also reintroduce point-of-arrival testing for all passengers arriving to Canada, regardless of where they're coming from."
Ford added that he has instructed Moore to expand surveillance of new COVID cases in the province and update planning "to ensure we are ready for any outcome."
Public Health Ontario said in a statement that the new variant has not been detected in Ontario.
It said the province is tracking variants and monitoring for new ones, and genomic sequencing is being done on 100 per cent of eligible virus samples.
Canada limits travel from southern Africa
Later on Friday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that Canada will limit travel from seven countries in southern Africa, a region that has reported cases of the new — and possibly more infectious — coronavirus variant.
Starting today, all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini or Mozambique in the last 14 days will be barred from entering Canada.
17 schools closed due to COVID
Meanwhile, today's case count is a roughly 17 per cent jump over the same time last week, when Ontario logged 793 infections.
The seven-day average of daily cases is up to 711.
Moore said on Thursday that he expects cases to continue rising into the new year, and that the province accounted for increases in its latest reopening plan.
Ontario: New daily cases of COVID-19
The number of COVID patients requiring critical care has held relatively steady. As of yesterday evening, there were 140 people being treated for COVID-related illnesses in ICUs. That's up from 128 last Thursday.
The Ministry of Health also reported the deaths of six more people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 9,991.
Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the ministry's daily provincial update:
New school-related cases: 141, including 132 students and eight staff. There are currently 17 schools closed due to COVID-19, up from nine last Friday — an 88 per cent increase. There are 178 concurrent outbreaks of COVID in schools, about 93 per cent of which are in elementary schools.
Tests in the previous 24 hours: 33,901, with a three per cent positivity rate.
Active cases: 5,807, the most since Sept. 27.
Vaccinations: 19,820 doses were administered by public health units on Thursday. Of those, 12,228 were first doses, the most first shots on a single day since Oct. 9. The jump is due to the campaign to vaccinate children aged five to 11 beginning in earnest.