Ontario Premier Doug Ford, citing rising numbers of Covid-19 cases that are accelerating at “an alarming rate,” announced Monday that the entire Canadian province will shut down effective Saturday.
Ford called the closure a temporary and one-time measure at a news conference, at which he implored residents to stay home except for essential needs like groceries and health emergencies.
“Unfortunately, despite the restrictions, we’ve seen growing numbers of people traveling between regions within Ontario,” Ford said. “Covid is spreading rapidly from high-outbreak areas to areas with fewer cases.”
The shutdown will remain in effect for 14 days in northern Ontario and 28 days in southern Ontario, he said. Ontario is Canada’s most populous province with a population of 14 million people, roughly 38% of Canada’s 38 million people.
Officials will reevaluate the situation and determine whether restrictions need to be extended before the initial designated shutdown expires, Ford said.
Hospitalizations in the province have increased 74% and intensive care unit admissions are up 80% in recent weeks, according to a news release detailing shutdown restrictions.
Covid-19-related hospitalizations have increased 74% in the last four weeks and ICU admissions for virus-related complications have more than doubled in that time, the release says.
The health system is verging on canceling elective surgeries due to the capacity concerns with thousands of surgeries already backlogged, Ford told reporters.
The premier called on Canada’s federal government to close borders to mitigate the spread from travelers.
“That’s why we’ve continually … continually asked the federal government to secure our borders – 63,000 people are going unchecked every week just through Pearson International Airport,” Ford said. “And I can tell you if they won’t act further, at minimum, we need to test air travelers when they arrive at the airport. This is critical and if they don’t do it, we will do it ourselves if needed.”
Canada announced a travel ban on travelers from the UK from midnight Sunday for at least 72 hours. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet the decision was made to keep Canadians safe from a new coronavirus variant discovered in the UK.
Indoor organized public events and social gatherings larger than a single household are restricted.
In-person services at supermarkets and pharmacies will operate at a 50% capacity but nonessential retail settings are restricted to curbside pickup and delivery.
Restaurants are reduced to takeout and delivery orders only, with indoor and outdoor dining prohibited during the shutdown.
“I want to be clear; schools are not part of the problem of Covid in our communities. But out of an abundance of caution, school closures over the winter break will be extended,” Ford said.
Kindergarten to eighth grade students will resume in-person instruction on January 11. High school students will resume learning remotely on January 11 and return to in-class instructions on January 25, according to the press release.