Ontario Moves School online, Closes Indoor Dining and Gyms, as Part of New COVID-19 Measures

Ontario is moving schools online for at least two weeks, temporarily closing indoor dining and gyms and pausing non-urgent medical procedures as it faces record-high case counts that, according to public health officials, threaten to overwhelm the province’s health-care system.

Premier Doug Ford announced the changes at a morning news conference Monday. He was joined by his ministers of health and finance, as well as Ontario’s chief medical officer of health and the CEO of Ontario Health.

The new restrictions are part of a modified version of Step Two of the province’s Roadmap to Reopen, which was first implemented earlier last year.

“Our public health experts tell us we could see hundreds of thousands of cases every day,” Ford said of the ongoing surge of new COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant.

He said that this could mean hospitals end up thousands of beds short.

“If we don’t do everything possible to get this variant under control, the results could be catastrophic. It is a risk I cannot take.”

The province announced all publicly funded and private schools will move to remote learning starting Jan. 5 until at least Jan. 17.

Ford said the decision to close schools, a move that would last at least two weeks, was taken because the province couldn’t guarantee schools would be fully staffed with so many teachers expected to be off sick.

The move comes after last Thursday’s announcement when Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the return to school date would be pushed by two days to Wednesday but would still be in-person. Moore said the province wanted to give schools extra time to provide N95 masks to staff and to deploy 3,000 HEPA filter units.

Though they were asked repeatedly by reporters on Monday, provincial officials did not provide a list of any other specific steps they plan to take in order to ensure a safe return to school on Jan. 17.

Indoor dining closed, new capacity limits

The new restrictions announced today also include:

  • Indoor dining at restaurants and bars closed.
  • Only outdoor dining, takeout, drive-through and delivery are permitted.
  • Social gathering limits were reduced to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors.
  • Retail stores, malls, public libraries and personal care services are limited to 50 percent capacity.
  • Saunas, steam rooms and oxygen bars closed.
  • Capacity at weddings, funerals and religious services is limited to 50 percent capacity per room.
  • Outdoor services must have a two-metre distance between all attendees.
  • Employees must work remotely unless their work requires them to be on site.
  • Gyms and other indoor recreational sports facilities closed, except athletes training for the Olympics and Paralympics and certain professional and elite sports leagues.
  • Outdoor facilities are permitted but with a 50 percent capacity limit on spectators.
  • Museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, historic sites, amusement parks, festivals and other attractions closed.
  • Outdoor establishments are allowed with restrictions and capacity limits.
  • Indoor meeting and event spaces are closed with limited exceptions, except those with outdoor spaces, which can operate with restrictions.

The new measures will kick in on Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 12:01 a.m. and will remain in effect for at least 21 days, until Jan. 26.

New modelling from Public Health Ontario shows that the Omicron variant could eventually overwhelm the entire health system.

The projections suggest hospitalizations could peak by the end of this month, but health officials noted that tightened public health measures will blunt the rate of Omicron’s spread.

Non-urgent surgeries paused

As part of the modified step two of the province’s re-opening plan, Moore reinstated a directive ordering hospitals to pause all non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to preserve critical care capacity.

That measure had been taken during earlier waves in the pandemic, contributing to a large backlog of procedures the health system had been working to clear in recent months.

Elliott said the decision was made due to staffing pressures and the need for bed spaces in light of Omicron’s growth across the province.

The chief executive officer of Ontario Health, which oversees the province’s health system, said the directive would affect between 8,000 and 10,000 procedures a week.

“It was a tough decision, a big cost, but something that is necessary given what we’re seeing in the numbers,” Matt Anderson said.

Between 1,200 and 1,500 additional beds have been designated to provide care to patients with Omicron, Moore said.

“We anticipate through the modelling that those 1,200 to 1,500 beds will be essential to be able to provide oxygen and care,” he said.

Moore noted that the number of hospitalizations will dictate when restrictions can be relaxed.

The “tsunami” of Omicron cases is expected to result in 20 to 30 percent absenteeism for employees in all sectors across Ontario in the coming weeks, he said.

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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