On January 3rd 2022, the Ontario provincial government announced sweeping new restrictions that will see schools closed to in-person learning until at least Jan. 17, a ban on indoor dining, gyms shuttered and capacity limits put in place for retail as COVID-19 cases soar in the province.
The new restrictions, which also includes slashing gathering limits to five people indoors and to 10 people outdoors, come into place on Jan. 5 and will be in place for 21 days, the government announced Monday.
"The immediate goal of these measures will be to blunt the latest wave so we can ease the pressure on our hospitals," Premier Doug Ford said Monday while announcing a return to a modified Step 2. "We face a tsunami of new cases in the days and weeks ahead."
As of Jan. 5, the government said hospitals will be instructed to pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures to protect hospital capacity.
Meanwhile, retail settings, including shopping malls, have had capacity limits slashed by 50 per cent.
Indoor dining at restaurants, bars and other food establishment must close. Takeout, drive-thru and delivery is still allowed.
Meanwhile, personal care services must reduce to 50 per cent capacity. Indoor concert venues, theatres and cinemas must also close.
Capacity will be limited to 50 per cent at indoor weddings and funerals.
While school will be closed for in-person learning, buildings will be allowed to remain open for child-care operations, and to provide instruction for students with special education needs who are unable to learn at home.
During this period of remote learning, free emergency child-care will be provided for school-aged children of health-care and other eligible front-line workers.
"The level of absenteeism we're seeing in other sectors tells us with absolute certainty that operating schools, ensuring teachers are on the job and not homesick will be a challenge we cannot overcome in the short-term, “ Ford said.
The government also said businesses and organizations are required to ensure employees work remotely, unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site.
Indoor meeting and event spaces must close and public libraries are limited to 50 per cent capacity.
Museums, galleries, zoos and science centres must close.
To assist small businesses through the latest round of closures, the government says it is expanding its Business Costs Rebate Program.
Eligible businesses will receive rebate payments equivalent to 50 per cent of the property tax and energy costs they incur while they are subject to the current capacity limits.
Online applications for this program will open in mid-January 2022.
Ford said while he understands people will be angered and confused by the new restrictions, the result of inaction would be "catastrophic."
"The evidence tells us that about one per cent of people who get Omicron will end up in the hospital," Ford said. "One per cent of hundreds of thousands is too many new patients."
Currently, there are 1,232 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and there are 248 people in intensive care.
HOSPITALIZATIONS TO 'ASCEND RAPIDLY'
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the number of people hospitalized will likely "ascend very rapidly over the coming weeks," but will peak by the end of January and descend in February.
"We anticipate a very short, quick, rapid, approach to this epidemic and the impact on the health care system," Moore said.
He said the latest round of restrictions will "buy time" for Ontario to increase third doses and hopefully see the arrival of antiviral pills to treat COVID-19.
Data from Pfizer's 2,250-person clinical trial shows the company's oral medication, called Paxlovid, was around 89 per cent effective at preventing hospitalizations or deaths due to COVID-19 when compared against a placebo. There were also no deaths among the participants that took the Pfizer treatment.
The company submitted its treatment to Health Canada for approval on Dec. 1, 2021. But while Pfizer's antiviral pill has already been authorized in the U.S. and the U.K., Health Canada has yet to make a decision.