By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Ontario has declared its third state of emergency in the last 12 months and has implemented a four-week long stay-at-home order for all residents as COVID-19 variants of concern continue to spread at alarming rates.
Premier Doug Ford, health minister Christine Elliot, solicitor general Sylvia Jones and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams made the announcement from Queen’s Park at a press conference on the afternoon of April 7.
Ford urged the people of Ontario to stay home.
“There’s no doubt the third wave has been different from anything we’ve faced so far,” he said. “Things are extremely, extremely serious right now.”
Driven largely by COVID-19 variants, the third wave has seen an increase in hospitalizations by 28.2 per cent between March 28 and April 5. In that same period, ICU admissions soared 25 per cent. On April 7, Toronto saw 1,095 new cases following a steady spike across a seven-day period seen in Toronto and Peel.
There are more patients in Ontario’s intensive care units than any other time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This wave is different,” Elliot said. “COVID-19 variants are transmitted more quickly and put more lives at risk. Our health system partners are concerned and afraid. Our hospitals are being hit hard. Additional measures are needed to address the rate of transmission.”
Consequently, the premier issued a stay-at-home order effective Thursday, April 8 at 12:01 a.m. requiring all residents to remain home except for essential purposes such as shopping for food at grocery stores and getting medicine from pharmacies.
While essential retail remains open, all non-essential retail will be closed and limited to curbside pickup or delivery.
Big box stores, however, are permitted to sell only essential items including groceries, household cleaning supplies, pharmaceutical items, healthcare items, personal care items, and pet care items.
Ford also announced increasing vaccinations in high-risk communities, beginning with areas of Toronto and Peel hardest hit by the virus.
“As we speak, mobile vaccination teams are getting organized to get vaccines to where they’ll have the greatest impact,” he said.
While offering no details, Ford said mobile vaccination teams and pop-up clinics will be set up in high-risk congregate settings, residential buildings, faith-based locations, and locations occupied by large employers in hot spot areas for individuals 18 and older.
The province also plans to extend booking for COVID-19 vaccinations residents 50 and older.
The decision follows weeks of requests from members of the opposition and doctors across Toronto and Peel to prioritize vaccination in hardest hit areas.
Recent data from the City of Toronto and Peel Region revealed that neighborhoods where cases were lowest had the highest rates of vaccinations, while neighbourhoods where cases were highest had the lowest rates of vaccinations.
Michael Garron Hospital’s medical director of critical care Dr. Michael Warner welcomed the decision but expected details to follow.
“I look forward to learning the details on how [the] plan will be executed without delay,” he said in a tweet following the press conference.
In addition to increasing vaccinations in high-risk areas, Ford announced education workers providing support to students with special needs across the province would also be eligible for vaccination beginning next week.
Education workers in Toronto and Peel will also be eligible, with vaccinations expected to ramp up for teachers in the April break.
While schools in Toronto, Peel, and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph were closed by Section 22 orders by local medical officers of health earlier this week, remaining schools across the province remain open.
“Experts say schools remain safe spaces,” Ford said.
On Tuesday of this week, more than 20 Toronto schools were closed as a result of COVID-19 outbreaks, even before all schools were ordered closed as of Wednesday (today).
The premier pointed to lack of supply when asked why the vaccine rollout in high-priority neighbourhoods was delayed.
He added that he expects 40 per cent of Ontario residents to be vaccinated by the end of the four-week stay-at-home order, provided vaccine supply remains consistent.
Ontario has administered 2.7 million doses so far, and a record 104,382 vaccinations were administered on April 6.
Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.