Premier Doug Ford’s government is considering a lockdown across southern Ontario from Boxing Day until Jan. 11 as COVID-19 cases in the province reach record highs, CBC News has learned.
Ford said the government would announce its next steps on Monday, after he meets with hospital officials and cabinet over the weekend.
The premier confirmed the current lockdowns in the City of Toronto and Peel Region will remain in place past Monday, when they were set to expire.
“The trends we are seeing here in Ontario are very, very concerning,” Ford told reporters before heading into an emergency meeting with his chief medical officer of health and other officials.
WATCH | Ford confirms Toronto, Peel Region lockdowns will continue:
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he’ll hold an emergency meeting with CEOs of hospitals this weekend before deciding how to tackle the rising number of coronavirus cases straining the province’s health-care system. 1:25
Multiple sources in and outside government who are aware of the proposal for southern Ontario say that the lockdown plan is similar to what will take effect in Quebec after Christmas Day. The plan is to be put to a meeting of Ford’s cabinet Friday afternoon.
Quebec is closing all non-essential businesses and issuing a mandatory work-from-home order for nearly all office employees until Jan. 11 and asking all schools to go online-only for the first week that classes resume in the new year.
Northern Ontario would be excluded from all the lockdown measures, say the sources, who have knowledge of the plans and spoke to CBC News on condition they not be named.
The precise closures and restrictions in the widespread lockdown have yet to be decided, the sources say. However, one government source says in-person classes at schools would not resume in the areas under lockdown until Jan. 11.
Another source aware of the proposal described it as a modified version of Stage 1, the restrictions that existed across Ontario immediately after the first lockdown was lifted earlier this year. That source also says the government is considering imposing stricter measures in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas than in the rest of the lockdown zone.
Municipal leaders reacting to potential changes
There’s already some pushback to the possible lockdown.
Durham Region chair John Henry issued a statement calling on the provincial government to consider keeping it in the red zone, rather than placing it in a full lockdown, saying the region wasn’t consulted on any potential changes.
“We will do whatever is needed to help flatten the curve — provided the data confirms it for our region,” Henry said in a statement.
Durham, just east of Toronto, saw 89 new cases on Friday, based on provincial data.
On CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he’d support the idea of a regional lockdown in the GTA, noting that right now, it’s still easy for people to travel from Toronto to less-affected areas, especially during the holiday season.
Joe Cressy, Toronto Board of Health chair and city councillor representing Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York, said in a tweet Friday, “To beat this virus you must act fast. Why wait until Monday when quick and decisive action is necessary today.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath agreed.
“The foot dragging has to end. Telling people stay tuned for more news next week isn’t acceptable,” Horwath said in a statement Friday. “Announcing that he’ll make an announcement later isn’t helping people.
“The longer Doug Ford dithers and delays, the more out of control the pandemic gets. Instead of consulting his cabinet about the political ramifications, Doug Ford should be listening to the doctors and taking action.”
Meanwhile, at least one major GTA child-care provider warned parents to be prepared for a potential shutdown early in the new year.
“There is potential our services may be affected by increased lockdown measures,” the YMCA said in an email sent to parents Friday.
Official says lockdown specifics not yet decided
A senior government official, however, told CBC News that the sources are getting ahead of themselves.
The official said the duration of any lockdown is yet to be decided and said it is not certain that in-person classes at schools would be cancelled in the lockdown areas.
Before his cabinet meets, Ford is set to sit down with top hospital officials for an emergency meeting as the rising number of COVID-19 cases puts increasing strain on the health-care system in the province.
The meeting comes as public health officials reported 2,290 more cases of the illness Friday morning and 68, 246 coronavirus tests completed. It is the fourth day with more than 2,000 new cases in the province. Another 40 deaths of people with the illness were also reported.
In a tweet, Ford said the discussion with hospital leaders will focus on “next steps to break the concerning trends in cases and hospitals in our province.”
As he has often repeated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford said “everything is on the table when it comes to protecting the health of Ontarians.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott and Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, were slated to attend the 1pm meeting.
WATCH | Here’s what Ford said about a potential further lockdown on Thursday:
There are many things to consider before Ontario will tighten its lockdown of the province to slow the spread of the coronavirus, said Premier Doug Ford. But he said he will not make a ‘snap’ judgment about which course to take. 1:34 Hospitals at risk of being overwhelmed: OHA
Yesterday, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) called for the province to impose a widespread, 28-day lockdown that would encompass large swathes of southern Ontario.
In a statement, the OHA said the numbers of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and intensive care units are pushing facilities to a breaking point.
“We are now in the holiday season, and if members of the public choose to ignore public health measures and gather outside their households, the consequences risk overwhelming Ontario’s hospitals,” the statement read.
This morning, the province reported that there were 877 patients with COVID-19 in hospitals. Of those, 261 are in intensive care and 168 require the use of a ventilator. At the height of the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, hospitalizations topped out at 1,043 while ICU admissions peaked at 264, according to the Ministry of Health.
As a result, the OHA said, hospitals are being forced to further postpone procedures and other care that were already put off during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, and front-line workers are being pushed to exhaustion.
One Toronto doctor told CBC Radio today that he watched five patients die this week alone. You can listen to that powerful interview in the player below:
Metro Morning7:00’This could be your family:’ Dr. Michael Warner on losing 5 isolated, COVID-19 patients this week
There are more COVID-19 patients in intensive care units right now than at any other point in the pandemic. That’s led the Ontario Hospitals Association to call on the Premier to tighten restrictions and impose harsher lockdowns. 86 more people died from COVID-19 this week and five of them were being treated at the Michael Garron hospital ICU where Dr. Michael Warner works. He reflects on the state of COVID-19 in Ontario. 7:00 7-day average reaches new high
The new cases reported Friday include 691 in Toronto, 361 in Peel Region, 296 in York Region, 207 in Windsor-Essex and 126 in Hamilton.
The other public health units that saw double-digit increases are:
Durham Region: 89 Waterloo Region: 84 Simcoe Muskoka: 61 Halton Region: 57 Ottawa: 52 Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 51 Niagara Region: 47 Southwestern: 37 Middlesex-London: 30 Eastern Ontario: 16 Leeds, Grenville & Lanark: 13 Thunder Bay: 11
(Note: All of the figures used for new cases in this story are found on the Ontario Health Ministry’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit because local units report figures at different times.)
Combined, the additional cases push the seven-day average of new daily cases to 2,089.
Close to 18,000 active cases across province
The Ministry of Education also reported 133 new cases that are school-related: 111 students and 22 staff members. Around 957 of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools, or about 19.8 per cent, have at least one case of COVID-19 while 22 schools are currently closed because of the illness.
There are now 17,742 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 throughout the province, the most at any point during the pandemic.
They come as Ontario’s network of labs processed 68,246 test samples for the novel coronavirus and reported a test positivity rate of 3.9 per cent. There are another 81,235 tests in the queue waiting to be completed.
The 40 additional deaths of people with COVID-19 increases the official toll to 4,098.
17 more vaccination sites announced
Also this morning, the provincial government announced that doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be shipped to 17 additional hospital sites over the next two weeks.
The distribution is part of the initial phase of Ontario’s immunization campaign, which is focused primarily on front-line health-care workers and essential caregivers who work in congregate settings for seniors, such as long-term care homes.
The province expects about 90,000 total doses of the vaccine to arrive before the end of the year.
Speaking to CBC News yesterday, retired general Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, said that about 2,000 people have received their first dose of the vaccine this week. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses, about 21 days apart.
In addition to the University Health Network in Toronto and The Ottawa Hospital, vaccine doses will be available at:
Windsor Regional Hospital. London Health Sciences Centre. Grand River Hospital. Halton Healthcare. Hamilton Health Sciences. William Osler Health System. Trillium Health Partners. Southlake Regional Health Centre. Mackenzie Health. Humber River Hospital. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Toronto East Health Network. Unity Health Toronto. Scarborough Health Network. Lakeridge Health. Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre. Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.