By Mike Baker
The Ontario government is introducing a new province-wide lockdown in response to escalating cases of COVID-19.
During the announcement on Monday, Dec. 21, Premier Doug Ford said a 28-day lockdown would begin in southern Ontario at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 26, northern parts of the province, north of Sudbury will be under lockdown for 14-days, until Jan. 8. Earlier reports had suggested the lockdown would come into effect on Christmas Eve, although Ford pointed towards a need to be fair to Ontario businesses and give them a chance to offload inventory prior to closing their doors.
Flanked by Ontario health minister Christine Elliott, chief medical officer Dr. David Williams and Dr. Naveed Mohammad, president and CEO of William Osler Health System, the premier was adamant that a lockdown was the only measure that could be taken as COVID-19 continues to spread. On Monday, a further 2,123 new cases were reported. There have been 30,875 cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario since Dec. 6.
“My friends, we have seen in other jurisdictions what out of control caseloads of COVID-19 and deaths look like… This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” Ford said. “We have seen a 70 per cent increase in hospitalizations and 80 per cent increase in ICU admissions in the last several weeks.”
Ford noted that around 75 per cent of beds in intensive care units are taken up by people who have been involved in car accidents, suffered a heart attack or been struck by another medical emergency. With more and more COVID-19 patients being placed in ICUs across the province recently, Ford said he’s worried that Ontario’s health care system may soon become overwhelmed. He noted many hospitals were on the verge of, once again, cancelling elective surgical procedures.
While the federal government has come to an agreement that will see at least one COVID-19 vaccine distributed across the country, Ford notes, due to a limited supply, it will be months before mass immunization can be achieved.
Despite investing an additional $2.5 billion in the health care system this year, Elliott stated hospitals were still short on beds as the number of hospitalizations rises.
Much of the same measures introduced during the previous lockdown in March will be enacted again. Individuals are encouraged to stay at home where possible, leaving only to go to work, pick up groceries and prescriptions, or to attend a medical appointment. Essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open, with capacity limits in place, while other retailers will be open for curbside pickup and deliveries only.
To assist small businesses through this latest lockdown, Ford says the provincial government is launching a new Ontario small business support grant. The program will provide between $10,000 and $20,000 to eligible small businesses to “help them through this challenging time”.
Ontario’s youth will also be impacted by the lockdown. Ford revealed that school closures over the winter break would be extended, “out of an abundance of caution”. Elementary and middle schools, covering kindergarten to Grade 8, will remain closed until Jan. 11. High schools will remain closed until Jan. 25.
Sinead Fegan, Trillium Lakelands District School Board spokesperson, informed media on Monday that the local board would be offering online learning to all students beginning Jan. 4.
“All students have access to an online classroom using one of the following platforms: Google Classroom, Seesaw or Brightspace. The school day schedule will continue to be followed and curriculum will be delivered via a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning instruction,” an update on the TLDSB website reads.
“Classroom teachers will reach out directly to families to ensure your child is ready for online learning on Jan. 4. If you have any questions, or if your child requires access to a device to support their learning, please contact your child’s school directly on Jan. 4,” it continues.
Wes Hahn, TLDSB director of education, previously sent a letter home to families on Dec 17 noting the local board was putting plans in place to prepare for an extension of the winter break.
In a message to regions currently sitting in the green and yellow zone of Ontario’s COVID-19 framework, Ford said the blanket lockdown was being done to lower the risk of inter-provincial travel from high-risk to low-risk zones and contain further spread of the virus.
“We’ve seen that people are moving from region to region and bringing COVID-19 with them. Health officials are telling us that province-wide action is needed if we’re going to break these trends,” Ford said. “Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake right now. If we fail to take action now, the consequences could be catastrophic… Every day we learn more about this terrible virus, and the hard truth is it’s not going anywhere until we’re able to vaccinate more Ontarians.”
He concluded, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, tough times don’t last but tough people do. I’ve seen how resilient and strong we are as a people during this first wave, and the second. The vaccines are on their way. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m asking everyone to stay strong a little longer. Together we will get through this.”