Ontario reported 3,009 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and 3,089 cases on Friday, marking the two highest single-day case counts since Jan. 17.
Saturday's new cases include 954 in Toronto, 434 in Peel Region, 348 in York Region, 205 in Ottawa and 146 in Hamilton.
On Jan. 17, the province had reported 3,422 cases, marking the last time the daily case count topped 3,000.
Since Friday, the province's network of labs completed more than 59,100 tests, bringing the test positivity rate to 5 per cent. Friday's case count comes after more than 62,300 tests were completed.
The seven-day rolling average now stands at 2,552 daily cases, an increase from 1,944 the same time last week.
Ontario's health ministry did not update the daily case count on Friday because Good Friday is a statutory holiday.
At 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, the province entered a month-long "emergency brake" shutdown, which means personal care services, gyms and indoor dining must shut down, but schools and most retailers can stay open with specific capacity limits in place.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the shutdown on Thursday, saying it was necessary due to surging numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the province.
The shutdown means tighter restrictions on gatherings and restaurants and it comes after the province allowed outdoor restaurant patios to reopen just two weeks ago.
As well, owners of personal care services had been told they would be allowed to reopen on April 12, but that start date has been delayed because new restrictions will be in place for at least 28 days.
"We are facing a serious situation and drastic measures are required to contain the rapid spread of the virus, especially the new variants of concern," Ford said in a statement on Thursday.
Shutdown restrictions include:
No indoor organized public events and social gatherings allowed, and a limit on the capacity for outdoor gatherings to a five-person maximum — except for gatherings with members of the same household, or gatherings of members of one household and one other person who lives alone.
Limits on in-person shopping: a 50 per cent capacity limit for supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, indoor farmers' markets, other stores that primarily sell food and pharmacies; and a 25 per cent limit for all other retail outlets, including big box stores.
No personal care services.
No indoor and outdoor dining. Take out, delivery and drive-thru options are allowed.
No use of facilities for indoor or outdoor sports and recreational fitness, with very limited exceptions.
Closure of day camps.
Limited capacity at weddings, funerals, and religious services to 15 per cent occupancy per room indoors, and to the number of people who can maintain two metres of physical distance outdoors. The limit does not include social gatherings associated with these services such as receptions, which are not permitted indoors and are limited to five people outdoors.
'The emergency brake will not work,' ICU doctor says
On Saturday, Ontario's health ministry reported 796 patients in hospital with COVID-19, with 451 of those people in intensive care units and 261 on ventilators.
Currently, the number of ICU patients is more than at the worst point of the pandemic's second wave in mid-January, when a total of 420 people were in the ICU.
WATCH | Dr. Michael Warner of Michael Garron Hospital speaks to CBC News Network about Ontario's latest plan to tackle the pandemic:
Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, says the current restrictions are not enough to protect people who are getting sick in the third wave of the pandemic. He said the stay-at-home order, imposed in January, was the only thing that worked during the second wave.
"The emergency brake will not work," he said in an interview on CBC News Network on Saturday.
"The patients I have in my ICU right now, many of them are younger than me, and unless we take much more drastic action to cut this off, it's just going to get worse and worse."
On Thursday, provincial modelling showed that a stay-at-home order could significantly curb the surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. However, even with a four-week stay-at-home order, admissions to intensive care will likely top 800 this month, experts said.
This number would be nearly double the number seen during the second wave of the pandemic. According to Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, it is a "definite possibility" that physicians would need to begin implementing a triage protocol if admissions reached this level.
Before Ford's announcement on Thursday, 153 ICU physicians wrote an open letter to the province, arguing that the current framework will not be enough to curb rising number of cases, given the variants of concern. They urged the province to implement stricter public health measures.
The letter warned that doctors are seeing younger patients, including parents of school-aged children, and entire families infected by the more transmissible variants of concern.
According to Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO), a government agency that puts together daily internal reports for hospitals and health organizations, the number of patients in ICU with COVID-19-related critical illnesses stands at 447.
Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, says 25 per cent of all open ICU beds in Ontario are now occupied by COVID-19 patients.
For his part, Warner called the term "emergency brake" meaningless because it simply means shifting the whole province into the grey-lockdown zone of the province's colour-coded framework. Toronto and Peel Region, the areas that have continuously seen the highest number of infections throughout the pandemic, have been under this zone since March 8.
"I haven't heard the premier say anything about the people who are actually getting infected. My patients. What is he going to do for my patients who are still going to factories without adequate protection, who are not vaccinated, who do not have paid sick leave and they continue to die?" Warner said.
'Take the vaccine to the workplaces' Unifor president says
Unifor National President Jerry Dias says essential workers are still having to decide between going to work feeling sick or staying at home and receiving no money. He said lack of access to vaccines as well as no paid leave are major contributors to their plight.
"We're frustrated," he said in an interview on CBC News Network. "If you're going to send people to work, then you better make sure they can go to work safely."
Dias said he represents 55,000 essential workers in Ontario, most of whom are minimum wage workers and can't afford to take off work if they're sick.
"People have gone to work that have tested positive for COVID. Why? Because they have financial responsibilities at home. They cannot afford not to have a roof over their children's head."
He said everybody understands this except for the government, who in 2019 amended the Employment Standards Act and repealed two paid personal emergency leave days and replaced them with three unpaid days for personal illness.
"When workers are sick, tell them to stay at home, but make sure they're paid. It's the only way that they're going to stay at home," Dias said.
As of Saturday, Ontario's health ministry says more than 2.4 million vaccine doses have been administered in the province, adding that over 80 per cent of individuals aged 80 years and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The two-day accumulation of new deaths pushed the total number of COVID-19-related deaths to 7,428.