The province of Ontario, which includes Canada’s largest city Toronto, will be under a stay-at-home order for at least four weeks beginning Thursday as a third wave of the pandemic threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
“To boil it down as simple as possible, folks please, unless it’s for an essential reason, please stay home because the situation is extremely serious right now,“ Doug Ford, Ontario’s Premier, said during a news conference today. “What we do before we start achieving mass immunization will be the difference between life and death for thousands of people,” he added.
Hospital admissions in Ontario increased by 20% in the last day alone and intensive care occupancy has already set a pandemic record this week, as the healthcare system relies on surge capacity and patient transfers to keep up with Covid-19 patients.
“The hospitalizations happening as a result of these variants are taking over our hospitals,” Christine Elliott, Ontario’s health minister, said.
Non-essential retail stores including malls will close to in-person shopping with only grocery stores, pharmacies and garden centers open to the public. Restaurant dining rooms, personal care services, and gyms were already closed across the province.
Toronto and the adjacent region of Peel moved student to virtual learning earlier this week just ahead of a previously scheduled spring break. The Ford government says its priority is to keep schools open throughout the province.
Ford also imposed the province’s third state of emergency since the pandemic began, although healthcare experts, including the province’s hospital and medical associations have been calling for more restrictions for at least two weeks saying current measures were “not enough.”
While vaccine doses have been scarce in Canada, the rollout is ramping up now with Ontario saying it had set a record for vaccinations Tuesday, administering more than 100,000 doses.
Ford said the province will begin deploying mobile vaccination teams throughout communities in hotspots like Toronto, including providing vaccines to teachers and other education workers beginning next week.
Outside of Canada’s Atlantic provinces: the third wave of the pandemic is straining hospitals throughout most of the country.
“While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those aged 20 to 39 years of age. As well, we are seeing an increased number of adults, under the age of 60 years being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including in intensive care units,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said in a statement released Wednesday.
Dr. Tam also underscored the threat of new variants spreading and leading to more infections and severe illness.
“Although B.1.1.7 continues to account for the majority of variants of concern in Canada and has likely replaced the original virus in some areas, there has been a concerning rise in P.1 cases in recent weeks. Early evidence suggests that the P.1 variant may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, making it even more important to control its spread,” her statement said.