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Ontario moves Hamilton to lockdown, lowers vaccine eligibility to age 70 in Toronto

Friday, March 26, 2021 @ 3:31 PM | By John Schofield

“Concerning trends” have prompted Ontario to move Hamilton to the Grey-Lockdown level of COVID-19 public health restrictions effective March 29 at 12:01 a.m.

At the same time, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, which includes Cornwall, will be moved to Red-Control and, effective March 26, the Timiskaming Health Unit has been moved to Red-Control under Ontario’s colour-coded COVID-19 response framework.

“Over the last week, we have continued to see some concerning trends in key health indicators in regions across the province,” Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott said in a March 26 news release. “As we cautiously make targeted adjustments to public health measures to support the well-being of individuals and small business owners, it is critical that everyone remains vigilant and continues to strictly follow all public health measures and advice to keep each other safe.”

But even as case numbers climbed, the government said in the same release that it is relaxing restrictions in Grey-Lockdown areas. 

Starting March 29, outdoor fitness classes will be permitted for up to 10 people. And effective April 12, some personal care services, including hair salons and barber shops, will be allowed to reopen in Grey-Lockdown zones.

The provincial government also announced in a March 26 news release that it is expanding appointments through its online booking system to individuals aged 70 and over, starting with Toronto on March 27 and extending to more public health units in the near future. The previous age limit was 75.

Ontario reported that as of March 25 at 8 p.m., more than 71 per cent of Ontario residents aged 80 and over had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 13 per cent were fully vaccinated.

In Timiskaming, a March 25 government news release described a “rapid worsening,” including a 700 per cent jump in the region’s COVID-19 case rate from March 16 to 22 – jumping from 3.1 cases per 100,000 people to 24.5 cases.

The Northern Ontario public health region was just recently moved from Orange-Restrict to Yellow-Protect. The move to Red-Control was made at the request of the health unit’s acting medical officer of health and CEO, Dr. Glenn Corneil.

“We have seen a rapid change in our district driven by the presence of variants of concern, and I support moving to the Red-Control level of the framework,” Corneil said in a March 26 news release. “The concern with these variants is that they are highly contagious, which means they spread more easily. It is extremely important that everyone follow public health measures, especially regarding gathering limits.”

The move to Red-Control means the closure of businesses such as cinemas, performing arts facilities and higher-risk personal care settings such as hair salons. Capacity limits and opening hours are reduced in other sectors, including retail, with masking and physical distancing required.

Ontario reported 2,169 new cases of COVID-19 on March 26 and 12 deaths, none from long-term care homes. The seven-day rolling average of new cases reached 1,855, up from 1,480 one week ago. The Greater Toronto-Hamilton area again registered the highest number of new cases, with Toronto reporting 613, Peel Region 397, York Region 254, Durham Region 123, Hamilton 122 and Halton Region 40.

Ontario’s death toll from the pandemic now stands at 7,292 people, with almost 4,000 of them former residents of long-term care homes. In a March 26 news release, Ontario NDP Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath called for March 30 to be declared an annual, provincial day of mourning for lives lost to COVID-19 in Ontario’s long-term care homes.

“The premier made a promise of an ‘iron ring’ of protection from COVID-19. That never materialized,” Horwath said in the release. “At times, staffing levels were abysmal, PPE wasn’t in place to protect seniors or front-line workers, and even basic infection prevention and control wasn’t happening.”

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