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Ontario enacting new measures to deal with omicron variant

Friday, December 17, 2021 @ 7:27 PM | By Terry Davidson

Ontario’s government is once again reducing establishment capacity limits and allowable numbers for social gatherings as it continues to struggle with growing cases of COVID-19 and the quickening spread of the omicron variant.

As part of a Dec. 17 news conference led by Premier Doug Ford, it was announced that, starting Dec. 19, at 12:01 a.m., a number of strict measures will come into force in the province in efforts to address massive spikes in new cases.  

To start, informal social gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

There will also be a 50 per cent capacity limit for indoor public spaces, such as restaurants, bars, fitness facilities, grocery stories, shopping malls and “personal care services.”

The serving of food and drinks will be prohibited in settings such as sporting events, concerts, theatres, casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments and racetracks.

In restaurants and event spaces, no more than 10 people will be able to sit together. They will also have to remain seated. This rule also goes for those seated inside concert venues, theatres and movie cinemas.

Dancing and singing will also be outlawed, save for performers.

Restaurants, bars and event and meeting spaces must close at 11 p.m. and stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.

Ford said he regrets having to slap gathering limits on people at this time of year. He also called on additional federal help for struggling businesses and those in their employ.  

“The decision to limit people’s ability to gather, especially during the holidays is an extremely, extremely difficult one to make,” said Ford. “And I know these measures will have an impact on businesses during the important season, that’s why Ontario joins Quebec’s call for the federal government to expand supports for businesses and workers.”

Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said the province, like other places both in Canada and around the world, is facing a tough challenge in omicron.   

“Like many jurisdictions around the world, [Ontario] is facing a serious threat from the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant. The situation continues to evolve rapidly, and modeling that was released yesterday is clear: that unless action is taken quickly, there could be severe consequences. There is an urgent need to help curb transmission so we can get as many vaccines into arms as possible, ensuring our hospital capacity is preserved.”

Moore also gave a dire warning on the cusp of the holidays: To avoid social contact with those who are older — even if they are vaccinated. An alternative, he said, would be to meet outdoors.

“I hope the weather stays reasonable across Ontario to enable that, because I think all of us have to learn from the past 20 months to best protect those who are older in our communities. I’m sorry to recommend that … but, off the top of my head, that would be my first reaction, is if you are going to meeting with them, do it outdoors [with] distance, masks. If you’re going to go indoors, I’d prefer that you get your third dose. Interacting with anyone vulnerable over the holidays I’m quite concerned with.”   

That day, Ontario reported 3,124 new cases of COVID-19 — a climax to a week that reportedly saw 2,421 new cases on Dec. 16, 1,808 on Dec. 15 and 1,429 on Dec. 14.

The last time Ontario last saw more than 3,000 new cases in a single day was reportedly back on May 9, with 3,216 cases discovered.

On Dec. 16, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table reportedly called for circuit breaker measures and for people to both follow public health guidelines and cut their contacts by half — lest the province potentially see up to 10,000 new infections per day by Christmas.

On Dec. 15, Ontario announced it would accelerate the rollout of COVID-19 booster shots “by expanding eligibility to all individuals aged 18 and over, as well as shortening the interval to three months following an individual’s second dose.”

An objective of the province is to “safeguard [its] hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) in the face of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.”

The government also launched a holiday testing blitz and is offering free “rapid antigen screening” through pop-up sites across the province.

As of Dec 20, those 18 and up will be able to schedule a booster shot through the province’s online booking portal or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre. They can also book through participating pharmacies and primary care settings.

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