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Ontario announces provincewide lockdown starting Dec. 26

Monday, December 21, 2020 @ 4:16 PM | By John Schofield

With the continuing increase in COVID-19 cases threatening to overwhelm hospitals, the Ontario government is putting the whole province into its Grey-Lockdown level of public health restrictions starting Dec. 26 at 12:01 a.m.

According to a Dec. 21 government news release, the lockdown will continue for at least 14 days in Northern Ontario and for 28 days in Southern Ontario, with the rest of the province joining areas such as Toronto, Peel Region and York Region that are already in the Grey-Lockdown category. Hamilton and Windsor-Essex just started lockdown restrictions on Dec. 21.

Ontario reported 2,123 new cases on Dec. 21, the seventh day in a row that more than 2,000 new daily cases were reported in the province.

In projections presented Dec. 21, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said statistical modelling shows that the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units at Ontario hospitals will exceed 300 within the next 10 days and, under a worst-case scenario, could surpass 1,500 by mid-January.

At a news conference, Brown said the advisory table's projections indicate that the province could see about 6,000 new COVID-19 infections per day by Jan. 24 with three per cent case growth or close to 14,000 new cases per day with five per cent case growth.

Although COVID-19 transmission in schools remains low, the news release noted, the government also announced a delay in the resumption of in-person classes for elementary and high school students after the Christmas-New Year’s period. All K-12 students will begin remote learning on Jan. 4. In much of Northern Ontario, both elementary and secondary students will be allowed to return to in-person classes on Jan. 11. In southern Ontario, elementary students will also be allowed to return to in-person classes on Jan. 11, but secondary students will not resume classes in person until Jan. 25.

The government also announced the Ontario Small Business Support Grant, which will provide a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 to eligible small business owners and a strategy for high-risk areas.

With new cases continuing to climb, Premier Doug Ford said a provincewide lockdown is necessary to help prevent Ontarians from travelling to areas in zones with less severe restrictions and spreading the illness. He also expressed concern about a new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 that has been reported in the southern United Kingdom. 

Initial news reports said the provincial lockdown would begin Dec. 24, but Ford told reporters that businesses currently outside of Grey-Lockdown zones need time to prepare for the stricter controls, which are detailed in the government’s colour-coded COVID-19 response framework.

Ford urged all Ontarians to stay home as much as possible, with trips outside the home limited to necessities such as food, medication, medical appointments, or supporting vulnerable community members. The government is also urging employers to make every effort to allow employees to work from home.

The Grey-Lockdown measures include restricting indoor organized public events and social gatherings, except with members of the same household. Individuals who live alone may consider having exclusive close contact with one other household.

In-person shopping at most retail stores will also be restricted, but curbside pickup and delivery may continue. Discount and big box retailers selling groceries will be limited to 25 per cent capacity for in-store shopping. Supermarkets, grocery stores and similar stores that primarily sell food, as well as pharmacies, will continue to operate at 50 per cent capacity for in-store shopping.

Indoor access to shopping malls will also be restricted, with shoppers only allowed to go to a designated indoor pickup area by appointment only, to essential retail stores that are permitted to be open (such as pharmacies and grocery stores), or to the food court for takeout purchases if they are masked and physically distanced. Shopping malls may also establish outdoor designated pickup areas.

Both indoor and outdoor dining will be prohibited. Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments will be permitted to operate by take out, drive-through and delivery only.

“This was not an easy decision before the holidays, but we have reached a tipping point,” Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott said in the news release. “We continue to see sharp increases in hospitalizations and occupancy in intensive care units is reaching concerning levels. Urgent action must be taken to prevent our health-care system from becoming overwhelmed. By implementing a provincewide shutdown, we can work to stop the virus in its tracks, safeguard hospital capacity and save lives.”

NDP Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said in a news release that people will need more financial support to make it through the lockdown, along with more public health supports to make it effective.

“It should never have come to this,” she said in the release. “We are facing a longer, deeper, wider lockdown because Doug Ford caved to politics in his caucus. He caved to the demands of the CEOs of big-box giants. And he sat on billions in COVID-19 funding because he didn’t want to spend it. Once again, Ford is scrambling to catch up, and it’s Ontarians that now have to pay the price for that.”

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