Premier Doug Ford will announce details of reopening Ontario’s economy next week, the labour minister said Friday as the government debated whether or not to extend the province’s state of emergency.
Monte McNaughton did not provide further specifics, but his comments were made as the province’s current state of emergency is set to expire on Tuesday.
“We’re moving toward reopening the economy and the premier is going to further communicate that next week,” McNaughton said.
Ontario’s Solicitor General’s office said no decisions have been made regarding whether to end or extend the emergency order.
A provincial lockdown was imposed in late December and was followed by the state of emergency and a stay-at-home order that took effect Jan. 14 as COVID-19 rates surged.
While cases have since declined, public health officials have said the spread of more contagious variants of COVID-19 are a concern.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, has said he would like to see daily cases drop below 1,000 and the number of patients with COVID-19 in hospital intensive care units below 150 before lifting restrictions.
“It is achievable, we can get back there,” Williams said in mid-January.
Another 1,670 cases reported provincially, 45 more deaths
Ontario reported another 1,670 cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of 45 more people with the illness on Friday, as the province’s labs logged a test positivity rate not seen since October.
The new cases include 667 in Toronto, 317 in Peel Region, 125 in York Region and 100 in Halton Region.
The total for Toronto, however, includes 125 previous cases that were missed when the local public health unit migrated its data to Ontario’s centralized COVID-19 tracking system, the Ministry of Health said.
The new cases come as labs completed 62,710 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and reported a provincewide positivity rate of 2.5 per cent — the lowest it has been since Oct. 22, 2020.
The 45 additional deaths push Ontario’s official COVID-19-linked toll to 6,438.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in new cases were:
Waterloo Region: 64 Durham Region: 46 Ottawa: 46 Hamilton: 45 Simcoe Muskoka: 43 Niagara Region: 41 Windsor-Essex: 28 Middlesex-London: 26 Brant County: 20 Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 19 Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge: 17 Southwestern: 16 Eastern Ontario: 11
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’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.)
The seven-day average of new daily cases fell to 1,576, the lowest since late November. It has been in steady decline since its peak at 3,555 on Jan. 11.
Further, the number of confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 in Ontario fell to 15,722, down from a high of more than 30,000 last month.
Speaking yesterday, Williams said generally, many indicators are on a “downward trend” in the province.
“But at the same time, we’re not out of the woods on these issues,” he cautioned.
Of particular worry are the “variants of concern” of the virus currently circulating in Ontario. The province said as of yesterday, it had confirmed 156 cases linked to variants: 155 caused by the variant identified in the United Kingdom and one case of the variant first found in South Africa.
Meanwhile, the province said it administered another 7,694 doses of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday. A total of 362,749 doses have been given out in Ontario so far, and 87,831 people have gotten both shots required for maximum immunization.
York sees unexpected characteristics of variant
Dr. Karim Kurji, medical officer of health in York Region, said Friday morning that his public health unit has found 55 cases caused by the variant identified in the U.K. While more data collection and analysis is needed at the provincial and country-wide levels, Kurji said experts in York have observed some unexpected characteristics of the variant.
WATCH | Dr. Karim Kurji on how COVID variants can cause cases to increase exponentially:
There is obvious community transmission of COVID-19 variants, according to York Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karim Kurji, who says the virus needs to be contained as it has the capacity to increase case numbers exponentially. 7:51
“We are finding, for example, between multiple households the incubation period is as short as 12 hours to two days. This is news to us, because most people get [COVID-19] symptoms in about five to seven days,” he told CBC News Network.
Many of the people in York who contracted the variant reported that they’ve been adhering to current public health guidelines, he added.
“What is very clear to us is that we have to keep these variants at a low level while we get folks vaccinated. If we do not, there are going to be issues, unfortunately, with respect to the control of this pandemic,” Kurji said.
Cases of COVID-19 variants have also been detected in at least three public health units in northern Ontario.
The public health unit covering the Sudbury, Ont., region says it has confirmed one case of the variant that emerged in the U.K. Public Health Sudbury and Districts says three other likely variant cases are being investigated.
The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit says it’s also confirmed its first variant case with tests underway to determine the exact strain.
And the Porcupine Health Unit has confirmation of a possible variant case linked to a long-term care outbreak in Kapuskasing, Ont.
Toronto investigating 5 new cases with mutations
In Toronto, public health officials announced five new cases involving mutations at two health-care facilities. That includes one case confirmed positive for B.1.1.7, first identified in the U.K. Lab results are still pending for the other four.
The confirmed variant case is at Baycrest Hospital, where Toronto Public Health is investigating four cases in total. Baycrest is facing an outbreak of 16 positive COVID-19 cases among 11 patients and five staff.
The fifth case being investigated is at Elm Grove Living Centre. That facility is facing a smaller outbreak of three residents and eight staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Statistics Canada reported Friday morning that lockdowns took a considerable toll on the country’s workforce last month. Canada’s economy lost 213,000 jobs in January, about five times more than what economists were expecting, as retail lockdowns forced more businesses to close their doors across the country.
Most of the losses were concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, which lost a combined 251,000 jobs — mostly in retail, accommodation and food services.