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Ontario reports 3,124 new COVID cases as Ford expected to meet with cabinet today

Ontario reports 3,124 new COVID cases as Ford expected to meet with cabinet today-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Two million rapid tests will be made available for free in high-traffic settings including select LCBO locations, some malls, holiday markets, public libraries and transit hubs over the holidays. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reported 3,124 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, while Premier Doug Ford is expected to meet with his cabinet this afternoon, a source told CBC News.

While CBC News has not confirmed what will be on the agenda at the 1:30 p.m. meeting, it comes one day after Ontario’s COVID science table cautioned that the highly-infectious Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals in the coming weeks.

Even if Omicron causes less severe illness than previous variants — a suggestion that remains uncertain and controversial — the sheer number of cases will inevitably put major strain on the health-care system, the table said.

Cases linked to Omicron are doubling every two days, or perhaps even less, an unprecedented rate for variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The table called for immediate “circuit breaker” restrictions to reduce social contacts by up to 50 per cent. Without them, daily cases could reach between 6,000 and 10,000 by the end of December, the group estimated.

Earlier this week, before the table’s latest modelling was released, the provincial government announced 50 per cent capacity restrictions for large venues that hold more than 1,000 people, like professional sports stadiums and arenas.

The province also said that as of next Monday, every Ontarian aged 18 and older will be eligible for a booster shot.

Moreover, two million rapid tests will be made available for free at pop-up testing sites in high-traffic settings including some malls, retail settings, holiday markets, public libraries and transit hubs over the holidays, as well as at select LCBO locations.

A full list of LCBO stores that will be distributing free rapid tests can be found here. Many people trying to get rapid tests in Toronto reported long lines outside of various locations.

As of 11 a.m., the LCBO said that at least seven Toronto locations had already run out of stock.

But in a statement responding specifically to the science table’s forecasts Thursday, the government offered no hint that further restrictions could be coming. That’s despite the main takeaway of the modelling being that, according to the table, current measures and booster shots will not be enough to curb the spread of Omicron.

The revised projections also suggested that without additional measures, admissions of COVID patients to critical care could, in an absolutely worst case scenario, reach 600 by the new year.

The province said about 600 adult ICU beds are available, with nearly 500 more available for surge capacity if needed.

Independent physicians and public health experts have questioned whether there would be enough qualified workers to actually staff those beds, and have also cautioned that surgeries will start to be affected once roughly 300 COVID-19 patients are in critical care.

As of Thursday evening, there were 358 people hospitalized with COVID, up from 309 the same time last week. There were 157 patients being treated for COVID-related illnesses in ICUs, up from 151 at the same time last week.

Positivity rates rising

Meanwhile, today’s case count is the highest in more than seven months and a 115 per cent increase over the same time last week.

The seven-day average of daily cases has climbed to 1,914, which is a 72 per cent jump over last Friday. The metric is on pace to double every 10 days or so.

Positivity rates continue to spike across much of the province. Public Health Ontario this morning reported an 8.2 per cent positivity rate from 51,636 tests. That’s the highest level on a given day since May 11, when a rate of 8.5 per cent was reported from just 28,109 tests.

The Ministry of Health also logged the deaths of five more people with COVID, pushing the official toll to 10,107.

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