All of Ontario will move into a lockdown on Boxing Day in a bid to curb climbing COVID-19 case numbers and spare hospitals and their intensive care units from being inundated in January, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.
The lockdown will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26 and remain in place until at least Jan. 23, 2021 in the 27 public health units that comprise southern Ontario.
In the seven public health units in Ontario’s north, where daily case numbers have been significantly lower, the lockdown is set to expire on Jan. 9, 2021.
When asked why Ontario is waiting until Dec. 26 to start the lockdown, Ford said he wants to give businesses ample time to prepare and noted that the hardest hit areas like Toronto and Peel Region are already under lockdown orders.
But while the shutdown will begin days after Christmas, Ford is continuing to urge Ontarians to not gather for the holidays.
“If we fail to take actions now, the consequences will be catastrophic,” Ford said.
“We need to do everything in our power to protect our hospitals and our most vulnerable.”
Ford said people should only leave home for essential trips such as work or groceries, however the lockdown doesn’t include like curfews or travel restrictions.
Under the lockdown, schools in southern Ontario will switch to remote learning when classes resume in the new year. Elementary schools will be closed for in-class learning until at least Jan. 11 while secondary schools will remain closed until Jan. 25.
All public and private schools — both elementary and secondary — in Northern Ontario would be permitted to resume in-person learning on Jan. 11.
Child care centres will remain open for the duration of the provincewide shutdown.
“We’ve flattened the curve before and we can do it again,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott.
CBC Toronto first reported the lockdown could start on Boxing Day, but over the weekend there were reports the government was eyeing a Christmas Eve start to the shutdown.
‘Hard lockdowns’ have worked elsewhere, officials say
The measures come against a backdrop of modelling that forecasts, under any scenario, Ontario could see up to 300 patients with cases of COVID-19 in intensive care units by the end of December.
In a worst-case scenario, that number could balloon to more than 1,500 by mid-January — about 75 per cent of Ontario’s entire intensive care capacity, said public health officials at a morning briefing.
During the height of the first wave of the illness in Ontario, some 264 patients required intensive care. As of this morning, there were 265 people with COVID-19 in Ontario ICUs.
Over the past four weeks, officials said, there have been a 69.3 per cent increase in overall hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 and an 83.1 per cent jump in the number of patients requiring intensive care.
Experiences in other jurisdictions, such as in Victoria, Australia and France, show that four to six-week “hard lockdowns” have resulted in “dramatic reductions” in case numbers, officials said.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory team, said that anything short of four weeks will not be effective in Ontario, and that implementing a hard lockdown as soon as possible would be the most advisable path forward.
While jurisdictions around the world have approached “hard lockdowns” differently, they typically include stringent stay-at-home orders, strict enforcement, curfews, the closure of non-essential businesses and clear communication of the seriousness of the situation, Brown added.
A hard lockdown in Ontario could eventually result in fewer than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day, if it is accompanied by increased testing and supports for people who need to self-isolate.
“Unless there is strong support for people to isolate and stay home, we will not get ahold of the pandemic,” Brown said.
Strain on hospitals ‘simply not sustainable’
The revised forecasts come as hospitals in some of Ontario’s hardest-hit regions are warning of unsustainable pressures on front-line staff and rippling effects throughout the health-care system. Last week, CBC Toronto reported nearly half of all ICU beds at one Scarborough hospital were taken up by COVID-19 patients.
In a joint statement over the weekend, hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, along with the Ontario Hospital Association, said that health-care workers are “stressed and overstretched.”
Rising admissions of patients with COVID-19 mean that some hospitals have already been forced to postpone or cancel unrelated procedures, many of which were already put off in the spring.
“This level of strain is simply not sustainable for much longer,” the statement said, adding that a potential surge following the holiday season will only make things worse.
2,123 more cases of COVID-19
Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 2,123 cases of COVID-19 this morning as admissions to intensive care topped those seen during the first wave of the pandemic.
It is the seventh straight day of more than 2,000 further cases in the province.
The new cases include 611 in Toronto, 480 in Peel Region, 192 in York Region and 138 Windsor-Essex. All four public health units, along with Hamilton, are currently in the grey lockdown tier of the province’s COVID-19 response framework.
In lockdown zones, restaurants can offer only takeout and delivery service, and only retailers that have been deemed essential can stay open.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in today’s report were:
- Waterloo Region: 94
- Halton Region: 92
- Durham Region: 91
- Niagara Region: 68
- Middlesex-London: 64
- Simcoe Muskoka: 61
- Hamilton: 36
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 33
- Ottawa: 32
- Southwestern: 21
- Brant County: 16
- Eastern Ontario: 11
(Note: All of the figures used for new cases in this story are found on the Ontario Health Ministry’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit because local units report figures at different times.)
Combined, the additional infections push the seven-day average to 2,276, the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic.
The Ministry of Education also reported 154 new cases that are school-related: 119 students and 35 staff members. Around 976 of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools, or about 20.2 per cent, have at least one case of COVID-19.
There are currently 19,019 confirmed, active cases of the illness in Ontario, also a new record high.
The province’s network of labs processed 54,505 test samples and reported a test positivity rate of 4.7 per cent.
Public health officials also reported 17 more deaths of people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 4,167.