TORONTO — Ontario's current lockdown may be extended and "extreme" new measures could be put in place if skyrocketing COVID-19 rates do not come down, the government said Friday as daily infections hit a new high.
Premier Doug Ford appealed to residents to strictly follow public health guidelines to prevent the situation from getting worse.
If the numbers continue on their current trajectory, hospital capacity will be stretched even further and many more people will fall ill, he warned.
"If these basic measures continue to be ignored, the consequences will be more dire," Ford said. "The shutdown won't end at the end of January. And we will have to look at more extreme measures."
The premier did not say what additional measures the province is considering or when they could be introduced. His office said later Friday that no new recommendations on restrictions have been put before cabinet.
Ford's warning came as Ontario reported a new high of 4,249 new cases of COVID-19.
It was a record-breaking figure even after factoring in 450 cases from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 that were included in the Friday total. The province also reported 26 more deaths from the virus.
Ontario's associate medical officer of health called the new numbers "scary."
Dr. Barbara Yaffe said a stricter lockdown, more similar to one imposed in the spring, may be necessary and urged people not to be complacent about following public health measures.
"We are in a very serious situation," she said. "We need to consider all possible measures to contain this infection. We don't want more people dying. We don't want (hospital) ICUs overwhelmed."
The current lockdown began Boxing Day and is set to last until Jan. 23.
Ford said new COVID-19 projections that will be released next week are very concerning.
"When you see the modeling you'll fall off your chair," he said. "We have to do whatever it takes."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath slammed Ford for not imposing more stringent lockdown measures sooner.
"Even the lockdown that we're currently in isn't as strong as the one that was in (place in) April," she said. "I don't understand why the government didn't do that the last time they announced stronger measures."
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the latest COVID-19 figures show much more action is needed to protect long-term care residents and speed up vaccine distribution.
"It’s clear that (Premier Ford) has completely lost control over the pandemic," he said in a statement.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner accused Ford of using "game show tactics" to tease stricter measures.
"This rerun of building suspense before announcements is unacceptable and dangerous," he said in a statement. "If the premier is sitting on information, then he needs to share it now and stop the teasing."
The president of the Ontario Hospital Association said Friday that the facilities are preparing for an impending "huge wave" of COVID-19 admissions based on the current case rates.
Anthony Dale said that in just a few weeks they are anticipating having approximately 1,700 people hospitalized with the virus, with 500 requiring intensive care.
On Friday, Ontario reported 1,472 people hospitalized with the virus and 363 people in the ICU.
"We can reasonably assume that with that rate of growth within a few weeks, we're looking at probably exhausting our province's critical care capability," Dale said.
That will mean Ontario's hospitals will need to transport patients across communities to ensure equal access to intensive care, he said. Critical cancer and cardiac care will be crowded out to treat COVID-19 patients, he added.
"This will be the biggest test of our health system in anyone's lifetime," he said.
The CEO of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario said the government must impose a lockdown similar to the measures taken last spring as well as a curfew.
Doris Grinspun said the province should also provide more supports to vulnerable populations to help them self-isolate if required and speed up COVID-19 immunization efforts in nursing homes.
"There is no time to wait because tomorrow's numbers will be even more awful," she said.
Meanwhile, the CEO of a Toronto hospital running COVID-19 vaccination clinics said the facility will run out of shots Friday and urgently needs more.
The University Health Network executive made the plea on social media ahead of thousands of immunization appointments scheduled for this weekend.
Kevin Smith said 3,000 people are booked per day to receive the immunization on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
Ford said several other hospitals were also running low on vaccines and the province will exhaust its current supply of Pfizer-BioNTech doses by next week.
"We're all hopeful the federal government will get us more vaccines," he said. "Without them, hospitals will have to start canceling appointments."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2021.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press