Province-wide lockdown coming Dec. 26 as health officials warn ability to control COVID-19 cases ‘precarious’

Ontario will move into lockdown starting at 12:01 a.m. on Boxing Day, as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and health officials warn the province’s “ability to control case growth is still precarious.”

With cases and deaths increasing, and growing public weariness with restrictions also a worry, Premier Doug Ford announced stricter measures — like those currently in place in the “grey” zones of Toronto, Peel and York, among others — for the entire province until Jan. 9.

However, a provincial report notes the restrictions would remain in effect from Jan. 9 to Jan. 23 for all 27 public health unit regions in southern Ontario which continue to record high numbers of cases.

Schools will remain closed for elementary and secondary students, who will learn from home, online, from Jan. 4 to Jan. 8, with all kids in northern Ontario allowed to return to in-person learning on Jan. 11.

Elsewhere in the province, elementary students can return to in-person classes Jan. 11 and high schoolers Jan. 25.

“Based on the latest modelling data, cases are expected to continue to grow, with multiple models predicting rates of at least 1,500 cases per day for several weeks under current restrictions. Daily mortality is also increasing,” the report says on a day where Ontario logged more than 2,100 cases.

“There has been a significant reduction in people staying home, especially when compared to the spring” when the first province-wide lockdown was put in place, it also says.

“Patterns also continue to show trends of people moving across public health unit regions. Escalating case counts have led to increasing hospitalization rates and capacity challenges in many large urban hospitals, which has resulted in new disruptions to scheduled surgeries and procedures.’ ”

Ford said Monday that COVID-19 is “accelerating at an alarming rate.”

“COVID is spreading rapidly from high outbreak areas to areas with fewer cases, and as it does our hospitals are filling up more each day” and surgeries are being impacted, he said.

He also said he is “extremely alarmed” at reports of new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 seen in the United Kingdom.

He said the temporary, province-wide shut down is a “difficult action (and) is no doubt necessary to save lives.”

Ford said “thousands of lives are at stake right now,” and warning of “catastrophic consequences” if the province doesn’t act.

When asked why he wasn’t implementing stricter measures across Ontario immediately instead of waiting until Dec. 26, Ford said the government wants to give small businesses time to prepare, and “the opportunity to get ready.”

Early discussions had the province-wide lockdown starting on Christmas Eve, but it will now start on Boxing Day instead.

Ford also announced $ 12.5 million to help hard-hit communities in Durham, Peel, Toronto, York and Ottawa, as well as a new grant between $ 10,000 and $ 20,000 to help small businesses cope during the shutdown.

Earlier Monday, provincial health officials released the latest COVID-19 modelling numbers, warning cases are on the rise.

They said province is on track to record up to 30,000 cases a day under the worst-case scenario, with ICU bed occupancy higher than 1,500 beds by mid-January.

“We are in a very very challenging situation in terms of the control of the disease,” said Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown of Ontario’s COVID-19 advisory table and dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

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He urged lockdown measures to be put into place as soon as possible, saying thousands of cases could be avoided.

Over the past month, the province has seen a 69 per cent increase in COVID-related hospitalizations, and an 83 per cent increase in ICU patients.

But provincial health officials said that looking at France and Australia, “hard lockdowns of four to six weeks can reduce case numbers in Ontario to less than 1,000 per day and possibly much lower with increased testing and support.”

However, they add, “under all scenarios, ICU occupancy will be above 300 beds within 10 days,” says the report released Monday.

The province is already recording lower numbers of surgeries and diagnostic testing compared to 2019 because of the strain COVID-19 has put on ICUs.

“With lower case numbers we can maintain safe ICU care for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients who require it,” the report says. “As noted in previous briefings, public health restrictions will require more resources (e.g. testing, isolation/quarantine support) in communities and essential service workplaces where exposure is higher.”

Peel and Windsor-Essex remain the province’s trouble spots — with 188 and 177 cases per 100,000 people, respectively — followed by Toronto at 128, Hamilton at 109 and York at 102. All areas are currently in the most restrictive, or “grey” lockdown.

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TORONTO STAR