Ford government mulling COVID-19 lockdown in southern Ontario starting Boxing Day, sources say


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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. 

Multiple sources in and outside government who are aware of the proposal 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. 

All the sources say no decision has been made by cabinet and that the lockdown measures are unlikely to be announced before Monday. 

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, are also slated to attend the 1 p.m. ET 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.

The current lockdown orders in Ontario’s two hardest-hit public health units, Toronto and Peel Region, are set to expire on Monday. 

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.

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.

Read more at CBC.ca