Ontario implements strict COVID measures as omicron cases, hospitalizations surge
With COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant skyrocketing, Ontario leaders are putting major new restrictions in place starting Wednesday.
Ontario Premier Rob Ford said the province faces “a tsunami of new cases in the days and weeks ahead.” He said the new measures have a straightforward goal: to blunt the rise of the Omicron wave enough to spare hospitals from being overrun, and buy the province time to get more vaccine boosters into arms.
Ford said public health experts project that 1% of omicron cases are likely to need hospitalization. “Based on the current trends, public health experts tell us we could see hundreds of thousands of cases every single day,” he said. “One percent of hundreds of thousands is too many new patients for hospitals to handle.”
On Tuesday, Ontario reported more than 11,000 new COVID cases, with its seven-day new case average topping 14,000. COVID hospitalizations have also been growing rapidly, and as of Tuesday, 1,290 people were hospitalized.
Ford said those numbers warrant the new restrictions. They include closing indoor restaurant dining, gyms, and some other establishments, and limiting most other indoor public spaces to 50% capacity. School buildings are closed, with classes moved online for at least two weeks. And the province has ordered a pause on all non-emergency medical procedures.
“If we don't do everything possible to get this variant under control, the results could be catastrophic,” Ford said. “It is a risk I cannot take, not after what we've been through and what we've been able to accomplish together.”
Not everyone is happy with the new measures. Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, called them “devastating” for small and mid-sized businesses.
“Basically, it feels like Groundhog Day, and we're right back in March of 2020 with many of the measures,” Kelly said. “The important difference is that the business community has been desperately weakened compared to where they were in March of 2020.”
Kelly noted that Canada and Ontario already had some of the strictest COVID-related precautions in the world, with masks and proof of vaccination required to enter most indoor public spaces. Ontario has a high vaccination rate, with 77% of the population fully-vaccinated.
Kelly said the average Canadian small business has taken on $170,000 worth of COVID-related debt, and some have just given up altogether. “So many businesses are really desperate,” he said. “And especially as they are now moving back into lockdown, there’s nothing left to them. A strong wind could blow down some of these businesses right now.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently expanded the number of businesses that can apply for government support programs, and Ford said Ontario officials were also exploring provincial-level support measures. However, Kelly said that support remains “hypothetical” for most business owners.