“The new variants are far more dangerous than before. They spread faster and do more harm than the virus we were fighting last year,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said during a news conference in Toronto on Thursday. “This is a new pandemic. We’re fighting a new enemy.”
While retail shops and mails can remain open at limited capacity, there will be no indoor or outdoor dining in Ontario, and all personal care and fitness facilities will be closed. Indoor social gatherings are prohibited and outdoor gatherings will be limited to five people.
Schools will remain open for in-person learning, although some Ontario students have been learning virtually since September.
In a statement released Thursday, the Ontario government said that after consultation with its chief medical officer of health and other health experts, it would impose a “provincewide emergency brake as a result of an alarming surge in case numbers and COVID-19 hospitalizations across the province.”
The province stopped short of imposing a stay-at-home order, with the Ford government saying it is concerned about Ontario residents’ mental health.
Ford said that Ontario, with more than 14 million residents, will still have one of the most restrictive lockdowns in North America for the next month.
But public health professionals say they are worried about Toronto and its adjacent suburb of Peel, which have been in lockdown since the end of November and have not been able to stop the spread of the virus.
Ontario officials released new modeling Thursday that shows variants are increasing at an alarming rate, and even with a shutdown, it will be weeks before new daily cases decrease and hospital admissions subside.
The provincial modeling predicts that unless new daily case counts slow considerably, ICU admissions could nearly double from their already historic level in a matter of weeks.
“It used to be that one family member, often a parent or grandparent, would be in intensive care while other family members would have caught a much milder form of the disease if at all. But with the new variants that are both more contagious and more dangerous, we’re seeing situations where whole families end up in intensive care, all at the same time,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, who leads Ontario’s science advisory table, as he released details of the new modeling.
Ford said Ontario has never had so many people in intensive care in its history. While new facilities and at least two field hospitals have already been opened, Ford announced dozens more hospital beds will be available at a Toronto convention facility in the coming days.
Dr. Theresa Tam said there has been a 64% increase in new variant cases detected in Canada in the past week alone. She said the vast majority are the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, and she described the current variant spread reported as the “tip of the iceberg.”