Ontario confirmed 2,336 more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as a government agency that tracks hospitalizations reported the biggest single-day jump in admissions of patients to intensive care since the pandemic began.
It's a situation that Premier Doug Ford addressed on Tuesday, speaking in one of the Toronto neighbourhoods hardest-hit by COVID-19.
"I'm extremely concerned about the situation that we're seeing," Ford said of the number of people in intensive care, particularly young people.
"Don't make plans for Easter," he said, saying further lockdowns could happen depending on the guidance of Dr. David Williams, the province's chief medical officer of health.
Tuesday also marked the last day for retired Gen. Rick Hillier, chair of the vaccination rollout task force, who maintained that by the first day of summer, all eligible Ontarians will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Ford was also asked about whether Ontario might adjust its vaccination plan based on the fact that younger people now make up the majority of the province's COVID-19 cases.
No plans to change vaccine strategy, Ford says
"Our goal is to make sure we take care of the most vulnerable," he said of the province's strategy to vaccinate in descending order of age groups, adding there are no plans now to change that strategy.
Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) says 46 more people with the illness were taken to intensive care units since yesterday morning, bringing the current total to 410. Admissions of COVID-19 patients to ICUs peaked at 420 in mid-January, during the height of the second wave in the province.
CCSO compiles a daily internal report that hospitals and health organizations use for planning. The latest data show that COVID-19 patients require, on average, about two weeks of critical care, according to the agency.
The Ontario Hospital Association cautioned this morning that the province "could face a surge of patient transfers and cancelled surgeries as we fight a third wave" of COVID-19.
(You may notice that the ICU figures reported by CCSO often differ from those the Ministry of Health posts on its public COVID-19 dashboard. That's because the ministry removes a patient from its count once they have stopped testing positive for the virus, even if that patient remains in critical care with complications. As such, CCSO's count is regarded as the more accurate accounting of the COVID-19 situation in hospitals.)
Meanwhile, an infectious disease expert on Ontario's COVID-19 science table told CBC News the pandemic is "completely out of control" and that total hospitalizations are already more than 20 per cent higher than at the start of the last provincewide lockdown.
Dr. Peter Juni, also a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Toronto, said the current pace of Ontario's vaccination effort is not sufficient to curb the current growth in cases. The latest surge is largely fuelled by variants of concern, particularly B117, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.
So far, a total of 20,117 samples that tested positive for COVID-19 have also screened positive for a genetic mutation that indicates the presence of a variant, including 1,210 added in today's provincial report.
The science table projects that variants currently account for about 68 per cent of all new cases in Ontario.
The new cases reported on Tuesday include 727 in Toronto, 434 in Peel Region, 229 in York Region, 194 in Durham Region, 144 in Ottawa and 123 in Hamilton.
The numbers come as labs completed 36,071 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a positivity rate of 6.2 per cent.
The seven-day average of daily cases climbed to 2,207, its highest point since January 26.
In an email on Tuesday afternoon, Ford's office updated reporters on the immunization campaign, outlining the current status of expected deliveries of vaccines until the end of April compared to the expected delivery schedule provided by the federal government in mid-March.
Ontario is awaiting the delivery of 396,630 Pfizer doses expected on April 5, 395,460 doses expected on April 12, 395,460 doses expected on April 19 and 396, 970 doses expected on April 26.
The province is still waiting for a second shipment of Moderna doses. The first 97,600 doses arrived the week of March 22, while the second shipment of 225,400 doses, which was expected the week of March 29, has been delayed and is now expected April 7.
As for AstraZeneca, 194,500 doses arrived on March 9 and were distributed to pharmacies and primary care clinics. Another 583,400 doses arrived in Canada on March 30, but U.S. manufacturing facilities still require Health Canada approval and the doses cannot be used until that approval is granted.
Ontario is awaiting confirmation from the federal government as to when provinces will receive these doses. The province has repeatedly expressed frustration at the pace of deliveries from the federal government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for his part, announced on Tuesday that Pfizer-BioNTech has agreed to move up delivery of five million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to Canada from late summer to June.
The accelerated delivery means Canada now expects to receive 9.6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that month, he said.
As of Monday evening, Ontario had received 2,358,965 doses of vaccines and administered about 89 per cent of them.
Education ministry reports 518 new school-related cases
The Ontario education ministry reported another 518 school-related cases confirmed between last Friday and Monday afternoon, including 440 students, 77 staff members and one person who was not identified.
A total of 58, or about 1.2 per cent of Ontario's 4,828 publicly-funded schools, are closed due to the illness.
Public health units also recorded the deaths of 14 more people with COVID-19, bringing the official toll to 7,351.