Ontario considering additional restrictions as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

·4 min read

TORONTO — Ontario is considering additional restrictions to combat a surge in COVID-19 cases, Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday as he warned people against making plans for Easter weekend.

Ford would not specify what new measures his government is considering but said he will consult the province's top doctor before making a decision.

"Everything's on the table right now, so folks be prepared," he said. "I'm asking you, don't make plans for Easter. ... I won't hesitate to lock things down."

Ford's comments came hours after Ontario's hospitals and science advisors warned that intensive care units in the province's hospitals were facing a capacity crunch.

COVID-19 infection rates have been rising for weeks, fueled by the spread of more transmissible variants of the virus.

The province reported 2,336 new cases and 14 deaths on Tuesday, with 1,090 people hospitalized, 387 in intensive care, and 249 placed on a ventilator.

Late Monday, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory group published a report that showed virus variants were sending more Ontarians to intensive care units.

It also showed that people infected with COVID-19 variants are more likely to be hospitalized and die, placing a “considerably higher burden” on the health-care system than during the second wave of infections.

The report looked at 26,314 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Ontario between Feb. 7 and March 11.

More than 9,000 of them were infected with a variant of concern, and the study found those patients were 62 per cent more likely to be hospitalized, 114 per cent more likely to end up in an intensive care unit and 40 per cent more likely to die from the virus.

The report noted that as of March 28, more infectious variants of concern accounted for 67 per cent of all infections, and the variant known as B.1.1.7 that was first detected in the U.K. makes up 90 per cent of variant cases.

The study also found that 46 per cent of intensive care admissions between March 15 and March 21 were people aged 59 and younger, compared with 30 per cent of admissions between Dec. 14 and Dec. 20.

Researchers flagged that risk of severe outcomes from a COVID-19 variant infection is pronounced 14 to 28 days after infection, "which in turn will result in delays until the full burden to the health-care system becomes apparent."

The president of the Ontario Hospital Association said 46 patients were admitted to intensive care on Monday - the highest one-day number of admissions in the second and third wave.

Anthony Dale said if the trend continues, patient transfers will be running "24-7" to ensure they receive life-saving care and more surgeries will be cancelled, adding to the current backlog of 250,000 procedures.

"I am very concerned about the breakdown in social cohesion and the understanding of the risk and the sacrifice that is still needed to get us all through this safely together and without unnecessary death and harm and further massive disruption to hospital care," Dale said.

Ornge, the province's air ambulance service, said Monday that between Jan. 1 and March 25, at least 601 patients were transferred to different hospitals to help address the pandemic capacity crunch.

Meanwhile, vaccine supply shortage forced a public health unit in a COVID-19 hot spot to close three vaccination clinics. York Region said the clinics - including the Canada's Wonderland site that opened Monday - would close from April 2 to 5 due to delayed Moderna vaccine shipments.

Premier Ford blamed the shortage issue on the federal government.

"We're putting these mass vaccination centers up, a ton of effort, a ton of resources, a ton of people going there, and all of a sudden, bang, now we have to close it down again, up at Wonderland," he said in the legislature on Tuesday.

"When can we count on a consistent volume of vaccines from the federal government? That's what it comes down to."

Halton Region, another Greater Toronto Area health unit, announced Tuesday it would move ahead with offering vaccinations to people aged 65 and older starting March 31, ahead of the provincial schedule.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2021.

Shawn Jeffords and Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press