Province-wide shutdown begins Saturday

·4 min read

TORONTO – Ontario will enter a new 28-day province-wide shutdown, or emergency brake, beginning April 3rd at 12:01 a.m.

Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Thursday afternoon (April 1st).

"We're into a third wave of COVID-19. The variants of concern are spreading rapidly," Ford told reporters at Queen's Park. "This is a new pandemic. We're now fighting a new enemy. The new variants are far more dangerous than before."

Rising numbers of cases, 60 per cent of which are variant strains of the novel coronavirus, have pushed the province's Intensive Care Unit capacity to its limit.

"Younger people are ending up in the hospital," the Premier said. "With these new variants, the risk of ICU admissions is two times higher. The risk of death is one-and-a-half times higher."

Projections from the provincial COVID-19 Science Table show, if left unchecked, the number of cases in ICUs would double to over 800 by the second week of April.

"We have never had more Ontarians in intensive care than we do today," Ford said. "I know pulling the emergency brake will be difficult on many people across the province, but we must try and prevent more people from getting infected and overwhelming our hospitals."

Provincial tracking data has increased rapidly over the past week. Between March 26-28, Ontario's rolling seven-day average per 100,000 people increased by 7.7 percent to 101.1.

In February, the province changed some of the restrictions in Ontario's COVID-19 Response Framework. It is illegal to gather indoors with anyone you don't live with. If a person lives alone, that person can join one household as a close contact.

People should only go out for necessities such as work if you cannot work remotely, school, groceries, pharmacy visits, helping vulnerable people, or exercise and physical activities.

All indoor events and social gatherings are not allowed. Outside gatherings of up to five people are allowed, but masking and physical distancing are required.

Grocery and other stores that primarily sell groceries, convenience stores, and pharmacies will remain open for in-person shopping at 50 per cent of those stores occupancy limits. All other retail stores including hardware and clothing stores, can remain open for in-person shopping at 25 per cent of normal occupancy.

Restaurants remain open for take-out, delivery, and drive-through service. All indoor dining and outdoor patio services are closed.

Sports facilities are closed including gyms and arenas are closed.

Outdoor facilities including golf courses, driving ranges, and ski hills will remain open. Conservation areas will also remain open.

Personal care services, casinos, bingo halls, cinemas, and performing arts facilities are closed. Meeting spaces and event centres are also closed.

Schools will remain open throughout the 28-day shutdown. In a statement made Thursday morning, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that schools will continue to be open for in-class instruction. The April Break (April 12-16) will proceed as planned. New protocols will be introduced after the April Break to ensure students and staff return to class safely.

The government did not rule out moving to remote-learning during the shutdown period.

"We will closely monitor the situation," Ford said. "I will not hesitate to act to protect our kids and your families."

During the April 12-16 break, daycare centres will remain open.

COVID-19 numbers have been on the rise since early March. In larger urban areas, the reproductive rate and test positivity has exceeded levels seen during the second wave of the pandemic after Christmas. Ontario reported 2,557 new cases Thursday, 433 people are in Intensive Care Units and over 250 of those people are on ventilators. Twenty-three more people have died in the province in the past 24-hours from COVID-19.

During an earlier briefing by the Science Table, Co-Chair Dr. Adalsteinn Brown said the number of ICU patients under the age of 60 has increased by 53 per cent. The week of December 14-20, 2020 showed 30 per cent of ICU cases in the under-60 demographic. With the prevalence of VoCs like the B.1.1.7 or UK variant, that increased by the week of March 15-21 to 46 per cent of ICU admissions.

Between December 14-20, 2020, 30 per cent of cases admitted to ICUs were in the 0-59 age group. With the prevalence of variants of concern, between March 15-21, the 0-59 age group was 46 per cent of ICU admissions.

"In the last few weeks a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and variants of concern has been observed across Ontario which has put considerable strain on our public health and health care systems," said Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health. "Implementing a province-wide shutdown is needed to bring the third wave of this pandemic under control so that we can save lives, keep our education system open and allow our vaccination program to take hold."

Shutdown measures will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. April 3rd.

Editor's note – This story was updated to clarify what is open and what is closed.

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader