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Ontario moves school online, pauses non-urgent procedures as part of new COVID-19 measures

Posted in Canada, Featured

Published on January 03, 2022 with No Comments

Public Health Ontario models suggest Omicron variant will overwhelm health system.

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, education and finance, as well 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 this 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.

Ford added 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,” he said.

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

The  move comes after last Thursday, 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.

The new restrictions announced today also include:

  • Indoor dining at restaurants and bars closed.
  • Only outdoor dining, takeout, drive through and delivery permitted.
  • Social gathering limits reduced to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors.
  • Retail stores, malls and personal care services limited to 50 per cent capacity.
  • Saunas, steam rooms, and oxygen bars closed.
  • Capacity at weddings, funerals and religious services limited to 50 per cent capacity per room.
  • Outdoor services must have two-metre distancing between all attendees.
  • Employees must work remotely unless their work requires them to be on site.
  • Gyms and other indoor recreational sport 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 per cent capacity limit on spectators.
  • Museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, historic sites, amusement parks, festivals and other attractions closed.
  • Outdoor establishments allowed with restrictions and capacity limits.
  • Indoor meeting and event spaces closed with limited exceptions, except those with outdoor spaces, which can operate with restrictions.

The new measures will come into effect on Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 12:01 a.m.

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 note that tightened public health measures will blunt the rate of Omicron’s spread.

Hospitals have been instructed to pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity.

The number of hospitalizations will dictate when restrictions can be relaxed, Moore said.

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

 

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